Healing After Adultery
It is better to have loved and lost, than to live with the idiot the rest of your life.
-from a popular t-shirt
"Recovery from Infidelity as a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" from Spirituality and Health magazine by Dennis Ortman:
Donna and Jim were soul mates. They met in high school, became sweethearts, and married soon after graduation. To their friends, they seemed to have the perfect marriage. When Donna stumbled upon Jim's affair with her best friend, she was devastated. She was obsessed with the betrayal and filled with rage. She had nightmares and flashbacks about the affair and complained to a friend, 'Something inside me died, and I can't bring it back to life.'
In my 14 years as a Roman Catholic priest, and 14 more as a practicing psychologist, I've heard many stories like Donna's. Many who discover a partner's infidelity have lasting reactions similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, like people whose lives have been threatened in war, natural disasters, violent crimes, domestic violence, or auto accidents. They are traumatized by the loss of partnership and security.
They are preoccupied with the betrayal and consumed by fear, anger, and helplessness. They have periods of emotional numbness and avoid anything that reminds them of the affair, yet relive the horror of the discovered adultery at unexpected times and suffer nightmares and flashbacks. They live with heightened anxiety, and dread another betrayal. Consequently, they withdraw from relationships and from life.
The recovery is arduous and can take years. In my experience, it requires three steps. The first is to reestablish a sense of security. Trauma victims are flooded by emotions and need stability before decisions can be made. Therapy, supportive relationships, and spiritual practices are essential ingredients. The second stage is to make a decision about the relationship. Honest and courageous reflection is needed to assess one's deepest desires, the partner's character, and what led to the rupture of the relationship. The third and lengthiest phase is the healing that can come only through forgiveness from the heart. The offended person who refuses to forgive will be imprisoned in resentment and rage.
Victims of adultery often blame themselves and must face their faults and limitations. Forgiving the adulterous partner may seem impossible, but is necessary for inner peace. Understanding what pain, suffering, and character flaws led to the affair can replace anger with compassion. In the end, only through forgiveness from the heart can one can be released to love again without fear.