Dealing with your emotions after an affair can feel somewhat like riding a roller coaster. You can expect to feel moments of sadness, depression, anger, moments of disorientation like your world is spinning.
While having a strong support system and learning different stress-reduction techniques can help you deal with your emotions, there’s a different technique you may want to try that can soothe your rawest emotions quickly – writing.
Writing for just 15 to 20 minutes a day for only four days – according to therapeutic writing expert, Dr. James Pennebaker – can soothe turbulent emotions and have long-term beneficial impact on both emotional and physical health.
You don’t have to be an avid, talented writer in order for this technique to help you in dealing with your emotions. Grab a pen, take a deep breath, be mindful of your feelings, and put those thoughts to paper.
Dr. Pennebaker’s basic therapeutic writing assignment is amazingly simple. His instructions are as follows:
“Over the next 4 days write about your deepest emotions and the emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. Write continuously for 20 minutes.”
When you “really let go,” you give voice to parts of yourself that need to be heard. Your strong emotions speak out, of course, but then other parts of you are emboldened to step up and speak out: your deeper wants, needs, and values.
Here are a couple of tips as you move through the process.
From time to time shift your perspective between first and third person. If your name is Molly, sometimes write, “I feel…,” and sometimes, “Molly feels….” Doing so helps you get that all important distance that helps put things in perspective.
As with any technique, food, or medicine, use what works for you. That means pay attention and notice how it goes for you. Ask yourself, “Is it helping, or not?” If so, great! You’re onto something. If not, this may be too soon, or just might not be right for you.
Dr. Pennebaker does caution against letting yourself get mired in “your deepest emotions and the emotional upheaval.” This is not journaling. You don’t go on and on day after day with this technique. So if you find yourself feeling stuck with it or not getting the distance and perspective you need, back away.
You’re in charge. Only you know how it’s going for you.
There were times when Abe Lincoln became so angry about someone doing something that he would sit down and write that person a scalding hot letter boiling with emotion. He would then tuck the unsent letter snugly in his desk drawer.
Lincoln never meant to send the letter. He said that channeling his emotions into the unsent letters allowed him to manage his emotions better and deal with the actual person in a much more grounded way.
This wisdom from Abe Lincoln is really important. It can be tempting to take out your honest feelings of anger and hurt on the offending person using scalding hot words. But that seldom pays off for you in the long run, and often backfires.
Emotions after an affair are usually disturbing, but in different ways for each partner.
One may feel guilt, divided loyalties, and longing for the affair partner. The other may feel stabbed to the heart, sudden loss of trust, and the hurt and confusion of a life turned upside down. Each will need clearer thinking, deeper understanding, and healthy relational changes. If they are to survive as a couple, change will be needed within each person and the relationship itself.
Another writing study shows how focused writing can be remarkably useful for couples. 120 married couples were given instructions to write about some marital conflict:
“from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved; a person who sees things from a neutral point of view…. How might he or she find the good that could come from it?”
Results were quite positive for couples who took the instructions to heart. They showed greater improvements in marital happiness and greater ability to manage negative emotions constructively than those in the control condition who did not write.
A couple of points stand out.
First, notice again the shift of perspective from first person to second person. That shift can really help pry loose from a fixed viewpoint and stuck emotions.
Second, there is a gentle nudge to inject a bit of goodwill into the picture. A person who wants the best for all involved will likely find the good that can come out of their situations.
After an affair, it’s easy for your emotions and feelings to feel completely jumbled and unorganized.
But a quick dose of writing about ourselves and our stories can help soothe even the darkest emotions. Writing out your own personal narrative can be therapeutic.
Writing can “nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,” according to Timothy D. Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor who studies the impact of writing on behavioral health and happiness.
When you are mired in emotion, writing can be a way to gain much needed distance and perspective that helps clarify things and connect with your inner resources.
Writing down emotions after an affair can help you to make more sense of them. As a result, you can start to process your feelings with a clearer head. That’ll make it much easier to feel better, take stock, and get perspective.
When you’ve been betrayed by an affair, it might seem as though the pain will never go away. There is no one affair recovery timeline set in stone since everyone heals differently. However, it’s important to know that the hurt will eventually start to fade away.
Understanding your own affair recovery timeline can make the entire situation feel less overwhelming.
Some people make the mistake of trying to hide their emotions. Others expect to feel better too quickly, while some can’t let go of the pain for years. Having a basic idea of when the raw and intense pain might start to subside can make it easier to deal with the effects of an affair.
If you want to salvage your relationship after an affair, it’s important for both parties to understand that it can take quite a while. Some people, but not all, do struggle with the pain and betrayal for years. For the partner who has been hurt, expect at least two years of recovery and growth to feel somewhat “normal” again.
There is a general affair recovery timeline both people in a relationship can follow and depend upon. By using this as a guideline, you can help each other move past some of the greater struggles and painful moments that can happen post-infidelity.
The good news? This timeline can start almost right away. If you’re the victimized partner, a basic affair recovery timeline can help you to better understand your emotions. It can also allow you to work through them in a healthier fashion and move through the steps of recovery as smoothly as possible.
Again, the affair recovery timeline starts almost right away. That doesn’t mean things will feel great immediately, but it can help to give you hope. Use this timeline as a basic guide for what you can expect throughout the recovery process:
After about two years, you’ll enter more of a maintenance mode with your partner. Don’t take this phase lightly. You shouldn’t just ignore all the rebuilding you’ve done in the earlier stages of the timeline.
Maintenance is about staying open with one another and resolving issues as they come up. Letting relationship problems build up again will leave you both on edge. It could also lead to old negative feelings creeping back in.
An affair is a difficult thing to get through for any couple. The timeline suggestions listed above are only an outline of what to expect in your personal and relational growth. Some people take longer, while others may move on faster.
Remember, you don’t have to go through these stages on your own. Sometimes, guidance from one area to the next can be helpful and will strengthen your relationship.
Surviving infidelity isn’t always easy when the trust in a relationship has been broken. Many times, couples call it quits before even giving themselves a chance to try to work things out.
Sometimes, ending the relationship is the best thing to do. But, if you’re committed to your partner and believe the relationship can be salvaged, there’s hope.
Keep in mind that surviving infidelity is about both partners. Both will struggle with different things through the recovery and rebuilding process.
There are certain guidelines that can help you get through an unfaithful period in your relationship. If both partners are willing to make things work, you may even get through this dark period together stronger than ever.
If you’ve been hurt by your partner’s cheating, understand that it will take time to fully recover and heal. But, if you want to make your relationship work and get through the pain, there are things you can do to make the process easier. Follow these tips to help you work through everything:
If you’ve been unfaithful, it doesn’t automatically mean your relationship is doomed. People stray for a variety of different reasons. If you’ve realized your mistake and you want to remain fully committed to your relationship, there are things you can do to help the healing process, too. Some useful tips you can put into practice include:
Unfortunately, there is no “magic solution” for surviving infidelity. But, it’s possible if both partners are willing to make the relationship work.
By following some of these guidelines as individuals, you can use them to become a stronger couple in the long run.
Dennis Daupert's specialties are trauma recovery, and couples therapy for infidelity. His style is client focused, respectful, attentive, flexible, non-judgmental, collaborative, deeply committed to healing and positive change.