Post Traumatic Affair Stress – is like PTSD in my experience

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In the long history I have worked with couples where there has been an affair, it is common for people to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when they find out that their husband and wife has had an affair?

This may shock you or seem unbelievable to you. Unless of course there has been cheating in your relationship. If there has then you will know what I am talking about most likely. Catching a husband / wife cheating can bring about a huge amount of stress, anxiety and trauma that lasts way more than the hours or days or even weeks after the incident.

To explain this further I will share the story of Eric who experienced post-traumatic stress after finding out about his wife’s affair. For confidentiality reasons I will change the names of all individuals I discuss.

Sophie and Eric have been married for 12 years. Last year Eric found out that his wife had sent racy photos of herself to a C list celebrity on Instagram.

Eric was completely shocked at what he saw and this immediately sent him into a frenzy of what could have happened over the years that he may not know about, so he managed to get hold of years of her text app conversations dating back 8 years.

He then spent months dissecting her records to see if there was any other incidents of infidelity. Much to his distress he found out that she slept with a teacher at the school 6 years prior to the Instagram incident once. This caused so much stress to Eric, not only the finding out, but because he spent full weeks and months reading years of text messages his wife had exchanged with male friends, female friends, her family and became his daily routine.

It became post-traumatic stress because after spending  months reading, reading, reading, reading and having many angry outbursts as well as tearful ones, he could not function normally.

The whole incident had caused post traumatic affair stress that he could not shake off. He could not eat, sleep, work, pray or be at peace anywhere. It was like a living prison for him.

He continued this negative cycle as he then sort to constantly track his wife, her phone, her friendships, her location EVERYTHING. He felt this would make him aware of what is going on as he had no clue about his wife cheating.

Eric had connections and even went as far as to involve state security, so when his wife entered certain places like hotels, the facial recognition would flag her up as entering the hotel and send him her location.  She had to put up with the facial recognition security checks, phone tracking, when we had our sessions she would leave her phone in the car as she was not sure if it was recording everything also.

For anyone listening to this, you may think Eric’s reaction was extreme, however the trauma he experienced from playing over all the cheating texts in his brain, caused so much stress he didn’t know what to do.

He lost himself, his business and relationships started to decline. Intervention was essential. I included this case study to show that just by reading text messages, someone can develop post traumatic affair stress and be so hard to shift alone.

In this situation I had to help Eric learn to trust people, as he had financial betrayal in his past, it was not easy. I also helped him to forgive his wife and move his thoughts forward. To regain peace by sleeping better and putting affair images to rest. We also worked on his self-confidence – boosting his self-esteem with personalised meditations that were loaded with positive affirmations. Shifting thought patterns brought more emotional stability to the couple.

Consider it for a moment, when you go through something that breaks your heart or you have to deal with someone that has broken your trust and has caused immense pain to you it can leave you feeling traumatised. Especially if you have been loyal to this person, feel like you have given them so much and have trusted them with your heart only for the picture of them, the relationship and even yourself to be shattered.

Many betrayed women and men begin to not only question, what happened, how, why, when but themselves…

What did I do to deserve this?

How could I be so stupid not to notice it

I can’t believe this is happening to me, whats wrong with me

Where did we go wrong?

Am I not attractive enough or good enough in bed?

Is it because I am too old, fat, argumentative, strong, weak, loud, quiet, the list goes on…

This can all take its toll on someone’s self-esteem and awaken unresolved issues from the past, like being abandoned as a child. Seeing a family member or close friend go through infidelity, separation, heart break and bring all other significant losses to the surface. All of these things can impact the way someone processes the affair. If they have other stresses and losses in their life already then the affair maybe the trigger a traumatic imprint that is difficult to shake. Making it difficult to heal after an affair.

For example, a person who has experienced rejection from their parents or peers when they were a child, may struggle even more to handle a situation where a partner has chosen to have an affair, as they may interpret this as another form of rejection. This is when feelings of trauma will surface and then there are those who this is there first trauma and it ignite so much stress to the mind and body as the sense of safety and peace as been ripped away. This is why some describe it like the rug has been pulled from underneath them and they have come crashing down on a hard floor.

Symptoms of trauma that can surface post affair can include –

  • Anxiety – heart palpitations, sweating profusely, shallow breathing.
  • Physical symptoms – back, neck and shoulder pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS, fatigue, low mood, insomnia, night sweats, night terrors, high blood pressure.
  • Flashbacks – having thoughts of your partner cheating coming back to you or flashbacks of seeing the messages, emails and made up ones of them together too.
  • Overthinking things – wondering where your partner is and who they’re talking to every time they are away from you or on their phone.
  • Worrying about hypothetical situations – imagining that your partner is with another person and if they are having another affair what will you do?
  • Not being able to manage emotions – being full of rage one minute and then breaking down into tears the next, telling them to go and then wanting them to stay and hug you closely.

All of these symptoms are more than natural for someone to feel when they have experienced something as traumatic as a loved one cheating on them. However, it can really be damaging to the person and the relationship if they choose to stay with the person and not recover from the affair.

Ended here CUT

If you find yourself in a situation where your partner has cheated on you it can be hard to know what the best course of action is, especially if you are feeling traumatised by the whole experience, however, I have put together a few simple tips that can help you reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Affair Stress and hopefully work towards a brighter future –

  1. Understand your response is normal –

Sometimes we put so much emphasis on how we should or shouldn’t react that we forget to do what feels normal to us. If you feel like you need to scream, shout, cry or sit in silence while you process what has happened then go for it! Finding out someone has cheated on you or betrayed your trust is a traumatic experience and so if your body is displaying symptoms of trauma – take time to listen and express these feelings. It’s okay not to be okay sometimes. Sometimes when doing relationship counseling in Dubai, me and the person have jumped in the car, driven to the beach to scream or throw pebble into the water to help them let it out physically from the body.

  1. Communicate

When you find out your husband or wife has cheated, it can be easy to shut them out and want to punish them by ignoring them. However, one of the things I suggest to couples is to take some time to think and then come together to discuss what has happened, why it happened (without blame) and triggers. Often, we let our imagination run away or we give in to the obsessive thoughts that can sometimes be so far away from the truth but because we haven’t communicated with our partner to find out the exact truth, we start to misunderstand everything. Or the cheating husband or wife, does not want to share any more to prevent further harm. However dishonesty and hiding things will be detected automatically.

If you are having traumatic episodes, this is a great opportunity to explain to your husband or wife what is happening. In order for you to get the help you need to release it.  Especially as symptoms of trauma can be physical as I mentioned above – for example, heart palpitations, pain, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia.

A couple in Texas were going through a difficult time as the husband Dan suddenly left his wife for 2 weeks to be with his affair partner without any warning or real discussion, he left.

During this time Alison was left feeling so traumatised as she wasn’t given a single reason why he left – this really left her feeling vulnerable and alone. She had thoughts racing through her mind about what could have happened to cause her husband to leave so suddenly, and she barely slept because she kept going over and over what she could have possibly done to push him away, which made her feel even worse as she began making up scenarios in her head that he was dead, lived a double life, rejected her for someone prettier.

He sent a message to say he was fine and that he will be in touch in a few weeks.

When Dan eventually returned to their home, he explained he just needed some time to clear his head as he had been really stressed about his life, his career and his marriage. Alison found out later that he had been in a hotel and was not alone through a note in his laptop bag from another woman.

Dan didn’t realise is how deep of an impact his sudden actions had on Alison. She spent years trying to overcome what she had been through in that space of 2 weeks. She really struggled to trust her husband again.  The abandonment was a deep deep pain routed in her psyche and body. Every few weeks it would still come out in hysterical outbursts. Shaking, crying, shouting, the fear, pain and hurt had led her to develop post traumatic stress disorder.

This is a classic example of how poor communication can really push couples apart and cause damage. If we do not explain our feelings, actions and thoughts to one another it’s a disaster. Causing both unnecessary pain and lead to divorce.

For Alison and Dan, I worked with them to rebuild their connection to one another first, then communication. I noticed that they were both overwhelmed with different stresses  but not communicating this to each other, let alone help each other. This meant a lot of situations turned into huge misunderstandings and unnecessary drama. We explored what needs they both had to experience peace and happiness and then ideas to keep their communication compassionate. The result they are happier then they have ever been and Alison’s outbursts have stopped.

  1. Have a plan in place

When you are experiencing symptoms of trauma post affair, it is beneficial to have a plan in place – by this I mean for each symptom you face, have a journal to write down your feelings and what is on your mind as you experience them. For example, you may suffer from flashbacks or images of your husband or wife with another person, this can be so intrusive, but once you write out what is on your mind or what you can see in those flashbacks, you are also able to write a counter statement next to it to change your train of thought. E.g. I see Gary kissing another woman, can be changed to, I see Gary being a loving husband – this also helps to redirect your mind to a better image. Getting thoughts out of the mind and body on to paper, email or to another person helps to release the hurt, anger and trauma from the body.

A couple in the UAE wanted my support to work through their marriage after the husband Omar found out his wife Sienna had cheated on him.

Finding out about the affair affected Omar so much that he felt like he had to take control somehow and find out what exactly happened, so he took on the task of investigating his wife. He downloaded all of the WhatsApp messages between Sienna and the other man and kept reading the messages over and over. Omar then began cross checking the messages with his calendar to see what he was doing while his wife was speaking to the man or meeting him.

He started to become consumed by his wife’s affair and eventually found out the other man’s passport details and flight details of when he came to the UAE to visit Sienna.

Needing to know everything is a common reaction when you find out your husband or wife has cheated on you because most of us find our minds won’t rest unless we have all the details.  More difficult to know is the why. We long to understand why something has happened, however, even when given a why, we may not understand it, or believe it or take it as good enough reason and continue to dig.

Many when they find out the closest person to them has broken their trust, you tend to feel like they have lost control and feel so unsettled they question everything. It can be so difficult to figure out why someone you love so much and who claims to love you can hurt you so deeply.

In order to regain that control or try to make sense of what happened the person who has been cheated on will want to fill in the gaps – figure out how it could happen without them knowing and picking up on it sooner. They will question how their partner is capable of doing so much damage and be so selfish? They will typically ask again and again.  This then becomes a stress, an obsession that is hard for the person to shift.

To help this couple I did some work with them both individually and then together. It was important for both the husband and wife to work on themselves so that they were able to see why the affair happened, work on their communication and how they could work through this difficult patch in order to be happier together. Self-esteem and trust had to be rebuilt as well as help to break flashbacks and unwanted affair images and hypnotherapy for calmness and sleep. It was important to have a plan, it gave peace, a plan for themselves and for the relationship. Without a plan of recovery, both felt stuck in a never ending cycle of stress.

  1. No Healing journey is the same

There is no set time for recovery after an affair. Often the bad days get less and less, as long as you are doing the work to release the trauma. Keeping busy, using alcohol to numb yourself will not help the process long-term. Be patient with yourself and do the necessary talking, clearing work and processing to become free. Sometimes the shock is so unbearable that you don’t want to think of it again. You may feel disgust, distain and horrible inside that you want to pretend it never happened. I totally get that, but this approach often makes the trauma last longer. Without processing in my experience trauma does not fade away.

  1. Seek support

Lastly, remember you are not alone! Often people who have been cheated on feel embarrassed or ashamed of what has happened to them, and so they begin to isolate themselves from others to avoid having those difficult conversations about what has happened. This isolation can cause an even lower mood. I encourage everyone who finds themselves in this situation to never be ashamed of what has happened to them. Your husband or wife’s decision to cheat is not something YOU should be ashamed of and it is even more important to seek support when you are going through something so difficult as it can be a lot for one person to deal with alone.

If you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder most people benefit from outside support. I believe in a 3 step model, coaching, counselling and subconscious mind processes. Where we connect the emotional, mental and physical body for releasing, where there are physical symptoms and anxiety. This is something I offer online and in person as often the heartache, pain, stress, fear, unsafety feelings get stuck / trapped in the body and no amount of talk counseling will help.

Seeking professional couple counselling online help is a personal choice and it is beneficial if you trust and like the therapist. Someone unrelated to the couple, who can guide the healing and recovery process.

As explained affair discovery can bring trauma and stress that gets stuck and repeats and manifests in many unhealthy ways. If NOT addressed the relationship can end. I hope today I have been able to give you hope that relationships can get stronger after an affair with the right support and love you are able to get on the right track to healing from Post Traumatic Affair Stress.