The tears were surely a testament to that.
Fear of what was to come?
In every moment.
Before I had been on the receiving end of infidelity, I imagined that I would respond to the news that someone had cheated on me with anger, misery and a deep sense of betrayal. And when I did eventually encounter infidelity, those anticipated feelings were definitely present. But they weren’t alone.
These four emotions caught me by surprise after I was cheated on:
When evidence of a jewelry purchase appeared on the account activity, the first emotion I experienced was one of relief. For months, I had been experiencing an undercurrent of anxiety, a low-level hum that indicated that something in my life wasn’t calibrated correctly. My then-husband’s sudden exit with a brusque text message confirmed that my subconscious was indeed onto something. Yet, it was only with the discovery of the affair in the days after the text, that the pieces began to fall into place.
Relief is the last emotion I would have expected to feel upon the discovery that my husband was cheating. Yet the sense of release was unmistakable. I felt reassured that I wasn’t going crazy; the cause of my anxiety was finally revealed. Even as I struggled to accept the horrific truths, I found comfort in the fact that they had been brought to light. After all, an adversary you can see is less frightening than the one hiding in the shadows.
It is often the case that the betrayed partner has a sense that something is wrong in the marriage. However, due to the cheating partner’s efforts to keep their transgressions hidden and the betrayed spouse’s fear of facing the truth, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is amiss. The discovery of the affair is conformation that something is wrong and it helps to provide an explanation for the words and actions that may have been misaligned.
The discovery of an affair is sickening, a sucker-punch to the heart that may well bring you to your knees. Yet alongside the grief and anger, you may just find yourself relieved to finally know the truth. There is pain, but now it is in the light.
I had no reason to feel sorry for him.
He had been lying for years, stealing my money, my heart and my trust. He ended the marriage in the most cruel and cowardly manner possible and then led a fabrication-fueled offensive against me in court. One the one hand, I hated him, this man who had turned from my protector to my persecutor. Yet at the same time, I felt sympathy for him, the man whom I had loved and wanted to see happy.
I envisioned him lost, hurting and confused. I wanted to provide comfort, reassurance. I simply couldn’t shut off all of the concern that I held for him; caring for him was a deeply-ingrained habit if nothing else. And then reality would intrude again, and the empathy and compassion would be replaced with indignation and a desire for justice.
As is common with cheaters and abusers, he tried to cultivate sympathy, both from me and from others. His hand held several victim cards, and he played them carefully, both to distract from his actions and to gain favor for his benefit. Interestingly, this “poor me” act had the opposite effect on me; the more he tried to garner commiseration, the less I felt sorry for him.
Many cheaters cry crocodile tears and make pleas of “needing to find their happiness” in an attempt to continue their actions and to continue to avoid the consequences. They may bring up stories of childhood trauma, times they have been betrayed or claim misery at work or home. If these appeals for sympathy are unaccompanied by a claim of responsibility for their choices, they are using your kindness and tendency to nurture against you.
From an outsider’s perspective, sympathy for the betrayer makes no sense. Yet from the inside, the emotional response is often not so clear-cut. After all, this was a person whom you loved. You’re probably struggling to understand how they could do these things to you and you may see them as operating under extreme duress, as though their own mind was holding a gun to their back, ordering these out-of-character actions. They may even be using your sympathy to manipulate you, knowing that if you feel compassion towards them, you’ll be less likely to enforce consequences.
In the beginning, you may find yourself swinging between a need to make them pay and a desire to soothe their pain. In the long run, you can find a balance between sympathy and rage. From a place of detached compassion, you can begin to find peace and some sense of understanding while maintaining the necessary boundaries that will keep you safe.
“Living with her was impossible,” my then-husband expressed about me in an email to my mother. “She was always negative and nothing was ever enough for her.” Even though I knew his words were woven from fabrications and projections, they still filled me with a sense of doubt. Was I always negative? Was I impossible to live with?
I learned that he had long ago paved the way for his friends to believe his version. At work, he told outrageous (and completely invented) stories of my transgressions and irrational demands. Further complicating matters, upon learning about his rapid and covert exit, others assumed that I must have done something terrible in order for him to act in such an extreme manner.
I knew all of these claims were false. I had years of emails, notes and photos to counteract many of the lies and countless friends and coworkers that fully had my back. His lies rose to absurd levels and often contradicted each other.
Yet still I wondered. Somehow still believing his self-serving lies even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Because that’s the power of gaslighting. It turns your world upside down while you’re simultaneously being told that you’re just seeing things. It plants seeds of doubt deep within your brain that spread their tenacious tendrils of uncertainty months and even years into the future.
Gaslighting is frequently used as a manipulation tactic to try to distract from and excuse an affair. In addition to the self-confidence blow delivered by being rejected, gaslighting can lead to a major crisis in your ability to trust yourself and your perceptions. So you can find yourself in the crazy-making place of questioning your own character when it was your spouse that made the decision to betray the vows.
I pursued the facts with the tenacity of a dog attempting to reach the last bit of peanut butter from the bottom of the jar. Nights found me at my computer instead of my bed, diligently building a case against my husband until it filled the better part of a large plastic bin.
As the court process slowly made its way to a conclusion, I transferred my energy to running. Then, to dating. And once I found a groove there, I focused my endless energy on moving into an apartment and creating my new space.
Others questioned where I found the reserves to keep moving. I questioned if I would ever be able to stop. I felt consumed by this manic and all-consuming energy, an unexpected side effect of the betrayal and abandonment.
Post-divorce mania is characterized by an increase in energy accompanied by an intensity of focus. It’s a compelling drive, a sense of being propelled by an internal motor that refuses to idle. It often has an obsessive quality, focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all else.
This mania is initiated by a fear of slowing down and feeling too much. It’s maintained because it’s compulsive nature feeds our dopamine receptors, keeping us coming back for more. It’s a side effect of the need for action, the gas pedal to the floor and the steering misaligned.
Like with any mania, it’s hard to see the bigger picture while you’re in it. Especially because it feels better than being sad and powerless. And also like any mania, it’s unbalanced. Too much yang and not enough yin.
Ultimately, there is no “right” way to feel after betrayal. The emotions will be strong and sometimes unexpected. They will tumble over each other and trip you up in the process. You’ll have moments of overwhelming pain and glimpses of radiant hope. And most importantly, no matter how overwhelming or surprising those emotions are, you WILL make it through.