Dealing with Triggers

As with all trauma and grief, many things become reminders of the pain. These can be places where the affair took place such as hotels. It are places where the illegal “lovers” spend time with each other in public and in private; at work, the gym, pubs and restaurants. For the betrayed spouse it is nearly impossible to go to those places and not experiencing anxiety and anger. This is one of the reasons why some therapists state that too many details disclosed about the affair might not be healthy as all can become triggers. On the other hand, most betrayed spouses want to know all, as they have been left in the dark too long, and getting open and honest answers helps to repair trust (bit by bit). I would like to add that many spouses who expected that their partner had an affair, did so much detective work, that they know enough details anyway.

Finding out that your partner cheated on you is traumatic.

So, triggers in this context are “painful memories of the betrayal, which elicit strong emotions”.

What is less known by those who are lucky not to have been betrayed, is that nearly everything changes in the life of the betrayed spouse: movies they used to love, music, favorite food. It is at times impossible to stomach the food that you used to like when you know that your partner took the third person to those restaurants (and paid with the card of the joint account).

Going out and being with friends and family and going to (work) parties becomes an ordeal. The betrayed spouse feels like they have to FAKE IT. Most people (hopefully) do not know about it, so the betrayed spouse fakes being happy with their spouse. However, some people might know, so the couple feels uncomfortable as they do not know how to act. Faking that everything is good feels bad, but so does showing some animosity as the latter ensures to ruin the evening for all.

Couples do not know anymore how to behave and also who they can trust. The latter is very painful. Some couples who disclosed the affair to friends or colleagues have noticed afterwards that the story got out. Needless to say that this is another betrayal.  Here again…as there is no justice, we have to rely on KARMA….what goes around comes around (eventually).

Intimacy is becoming an issue: because how can you get rid of the visions of your partner with that third person? Food, clothing, absolutely everything will be questioned. “did that third person wear these kind of things ?”Did that third person love this food and these drinks?” “Is this what my spouse gave to that third person”? “How can I ever enjoy a hotel room, knowing that my spouse used those to have sex with this third person?” Talking about sex is important, it is a topic that often is not getting enough attention when things are still “good”.

Affairs are so dirty they are in general kept secret. It is no solution to disclose to others as disclosing to too many people might mean the end of the option to heal and to stay together as too many people will voice their opinion. It might mean the end of respect for the person who betrayed their spouse. There is an unfairness in this as many people make a mess of their lives, but there seems to be some “enjoyment” in knowing that others mess up too (or better: even worse than you do). “We shall not judge, as we never know the entire story”.

So, how to deal with all those reminders?

  1. Avoidance: this works in the short term, but will hurt the betrayed spouse the most as their world is becoming smaller and they limit themselves.
  2. Flooding: get drunk and throw yourself into the hotel, bar restaurant and make a scene. Consequence: You lower yourself and people have no idea why you act as you do. People will disrespect you and probably you get thrown out of the establishment.
  3. Gradual desensitization: Take your time and when you feel confident, go into the place and CLAIM IT BACK. Do this with all: the movies, the music, the restaurants….

Is it easy? Of course not, all healing after an affair is bloody hard.

But…remind yourself…you are doing this for yourself. You are not allowing the third person (and your spouse or ex-spouse) to have ruined experiences for you that you used to enjoy.

 If you and your spouse are well on your way on the healing process, you both can gradually tackle those triggers. Your spouse needs to be fully supportive and patient. If you are no longer with your spouse, take a trusted and loyal friend and try to have some fun with the “claiming back process”. Tell each other “YOLO” and go crazy!


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