I often talk about the magic of time when healing from betrayal, like here, and here, and here. And yes, time, on its own, can reduce the sting we felt on D-Day. But time won't lead toward full healing. It will allow the space to heal...but you're going to have to create the conditions to heal.
Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, writes that "Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare."
She's talking about healing a relationship. But with betrayal, the damage isn't only done to our relationship with a spouse. Frequently our relationship with ourself is damaged. We're angry at ourself for not knowing. For not being stronger. For somehow betraying ourself. And it's that relationship that needs repairing as much as (or more) than our relationship with our spouse.
How? Well...we hear so much about forgiveness in regards to betrayal. But before you consider whether or not you can forgive your spouse, ask if you can forgive yourself?
Forgive: You were, after all, doing your best. You may have been completely ignorant of your spouse's behaviour. You may have suspected but not confronted. You may have confronted but believed his gas-lighting. You may have doubted his gas-lighting but feared leaving. You may have left but forgiven him despite everyone's objections. Whatever your reason for being angry with or infuriated by yourself...let them go.
Healing can only begin when you forgive yourself.
Acknowledge: Can you truly acknowledge the pain he's caused? Even if he's denying, minimizing, blame-shifting...can you nonetheless stand in the truth that you absolutely know? It's critical that you acknowledge the pain in order to get clear on where you go from here. As long as you're buying into his myths – that it was "only" talking (behind your back and about your marriage), that you were too busy with the kids or your sick mother, blah blah blah – then you can't heal. You don't fix a broken bone by telling yourself it's just a sprain. You tend to it.
Where's your line in the sand? You also heal by taking steps to protect yourself in the future. And one of those steps involves determining what's your line in the sand. Sure we all said cheating was a deal-breaker...only to eat our words. But now that you've experienced it, what's your line. What will you do if he cheats again? Or if he doesn't cut off contact? Or if you start to feel that all-too-familiar knot in your gut? Get clear on that...and have a plan. It's not enough to simply tell yourself you'll leave, or sleep on the couch. You need to have something of an escape plan, even if you don't plan to leave. Think of it as a deposit into your self-respect bank.
Our hearts are capable of healing, even from being shattered. But we need to create the conditions to ensure such healing occurs. Otherwise, we're simply broken souls disguised as whole.