1. CRISIS MANAGEMENT
The path to healing the betrayal trauma will be different for everyone, but these are the general steps that we recommend:
Acknowledge the pain instead of avoiding it
1. ACKNOWLEDGE INSTEAD OF AVOID
When you avoid thinking of or talking about the trauma, your internal pain inevitably leaks into other parts of your life in the most counter-productive ways. This leaking out will drag on and end up being more painful than facing the reality of what has happened. And, on top of that, you will still not get better. You can’t make it go away. Suppression often makes gives what is hidden more power. Intrusive thoughts will torment you. There will be subtle and not so subtle ways that your brain and body try to tell you that a threat exists that is too important to ignore.
2. COPING IN THE MOMENT
Breathe Slowly And Deeply
This coping mechanism is completely free and portable. You have access to it anytime and everywhere. When you are triggered and find your mind racing about some fear in the future, try to breathe slowly, inhale through your nose or pursed lips, and exhale for longer than you inhale. One rhythm that helps is to inhale for four counts, hold for two and exhale for six counts. Also, you can count your breathes as you breathe. That will help take your mind off of your thoughts. By doing this, you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of you that helps your body calm itself. Continue to breathe this way until you can think clearly and return to the present moment.
Validate Your Experience
The affair and betrayal really happened. It has caused tremendous pain. Understanding that "betrayal traumas" and "PTSD" are real experiences that have been studied in many people confirms that your are having a normal response.
Whether you are the unfaithful partner or the betrayed partner, remind yourself that PTSD symptoms should NOT be unexpected. There is nothing wrong with you. You are having challenging symptoms because you are in a life-altering situation. It is your new reality AND you will survive.
Learn to Accept Difficult Emotions
Difficult emotions almost always show up in the aftermath of betrayal. Most clients feel furious, vengeful, sick, or abandoned. It’s normal to feel humiliated or ashamed. Since these feelings are so unpleasant, you naturally will feel the urge to avoid this distress by denying or trying to block what happened.
It is tremendously helpful to put a name on the specific emotions you are feeling— anger, disappointment, regret, sadness, loss, fear. This simple task will take some of the sting out of the pain and help you begin navigating your feelings with more self-understanding.
Explicitly recognizing exactly what your feelings will also slowly increase your awareness of them. Greater emotional awareness, in turn, will help you feel more in control and less like you are being rocked uncontrollably from moment to moment.
Focus On Your Five Senses
Start with something you see (the birds outside the window), hear (the buzz of cars passing by), sense with your skin (a cool breeze on my neck), taste (the bitter taste of coffee in my mouth), and smell (perfume). Try to be as detailed and specific as possible. This replacement strategy will help you get the negative thoughts in your head.
When you are not triggered, think of the most peaceful "safe place" or person that you can think of. It may be your favorite park as a child, a reading nook, a quiet beach, or sitting on the porch with your grandmother. Your therapist can help you regularly practice finding your safe place and learning how to mentally go there when you are NOT triggered.
Then, when you start to feel triggered, pause whatever you are doing, practice breathing (see above) and bring your "safe place" to mind. Breathe and notice its impact on your body and emotions. These visualization exercise can become a reliable way to return to a state of calm.
Gravity Or Weighted Blanket
Common symptoms of PTSD include sleep disturbances, insomnia, and nightmares. Reduction of essential sleep may result in problems concentrating, leading to difficulties in relationships, parenting, work and school. You may constantly feel exhausted, irritable and out of sorts. The use of a weighted blanket simulates being safely held or hugged and can help reduce anxiety and insomnia. Also, care should be given to sleep hygiene as a way to get the most sleep possible.
Humor and Fun
Humor has clear psychological benefits that can counteract the impact of trauma. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension, and counteract symptoms of depression. It also increases ability to cope with difficult situations.
Some ideas for introducing humor into your life include:
Watch standup comedies/comedic films/comedy sitcoms;
Listen to a funny podcast
Read humor-related books, magazine articles
Watch your favorite cartoons that you used to watch as a child
Write a silly short story or poem
Connect with a good friend whom you can be silly with
Draw or paint fun images
Post funny comic strips or pictures that make you smile in your office and/or home
Make someone else laugh! When you help others smile and laugh, you are also sharing in the laugh and connecting with someone else
Humor also has physiological benefits including increasing endorphins that the brain releases, which can improve mood and enhancing intake of oxygen-rich air that stimulates heart, lungs, muscles.
Turn to others for support
Opening up about betrayal isn’t easy but is essential. You may not want to talk about your partner’s affair but holding it in will feel like an increasingly heavy burden. See the separate section on communication with others of others in the Roadmap.
Defer long-term decisions
After a partner is unfaithful, most people are NOT in a state of mind to make a major decision like deciding whether to end the relationship or try repair the marriage. You should never make a life altering decision in the middle of a crisis. You should not feel pressured to decide right away.
Focus on your short-term needs
Instead, as you are dealing with the shock phase of the trauma, tune into your short-term needs. Here are some examples
Instead of lying awake at night struggling with intrusive thoughts, try aromatherapy, a warm bath, or soothing music to relax.
Instead of skipping meals when you feel nauseous or have no appetite, snack on healthy foods and be sure to keep yourself well hydrated.
Take time to watch a fun movies and favorite TV show. Invite a friend to join you so you can laugh or cry together.
Continue to practice your favorite hobbies or take up a new on such as yoga, walking, reading, or gardening.
3. Honestly face the reality has happened
The journey of facing the truth of the betrayal is healing only if it happens in a structured and safe way. That's why your therapist will share the Formal Therapeutic Disclosure (FTD) process.
With the guidance of your therapist, you will not be facing the facts alone. Both partners need support to go through this process together to achieve the level of healing that feels like genuine long-term relief. You can read more in the Getting the Story section of the Roadmap.
4. Making Meaning
Humans are meaning making machines. Without understanding our world, it is too frightful to live in. Our Affair Recovery process recognizes this and will support you in making sense of what has happened. This will allow you to build a plan for change around that understanding so you can start rebuilding trust. Read our Insight section for more on this topic.