The traumatic nature of disclosure of infidelity intensifies when the threat continues, through the continuation of the marital affair or lack of proof of its discontinuation...This can't be overstated. The insanity we feel when we suspect an affair increases exponentially when we confront the cheater, expect that he'll end the affair only to be left without any proof that it really is over.
And though the research paper focuses exclusively on wives of sex addicts, this holds true for all wives who've discovered their husband's secret life.
It's the reason that any husband remotely interested in saving his marriage must immediately establish no contact with his affair partner. It's the reason that there needs to be total transparency – with you having access to his computer passwords, cell phone, all records and whatever else makes you feel that he some measure of accountability. It's the reason that he must always be available to take your calls any time you need to check on him. It's the reason that he must always be where he says he is, with whom he says he's with and for how long.
It's not about you becoming police and watchdog, it's about you being able to slowly feel safe again. Post-trauma can even follow you into a new relationship, or impact friendships. We become suspicious. We don't trust our own judgement.
Trauma following betrayal isn't the exception, it's the rule. Sure there are some women who recover more quickly but the rest of us are generally shell-shocked and paralyzed for a year, or two, or three. Post-trauma leaves us frightened and anxious, feeling isolated and unable to determine our next step. It's not something we can force ourselves to move past or will ourselves into stopping. Self-help books can't make it go away, though they can help us recognize that we're experiencing it.
I spent the first half year wondering why I wasn't feeling any better and was, in fact, feeling worse. More hopeless. Though my husband was in counselling for sex addiction and attending a 12-step group, though he was doing what he could to support me, I felt fearful and anxious. I also found myself highly mistrustful of just about everyone. I questioned their motives, wondered who they "really" were. I felt constantly off-balance. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When a friend, who worked at a support centre for sexual abuse survivors, suggested that what I was experiencing was post-trauma, I dismissed it. As I've written here before, I thought post-trauma was what rape victims or veterans dealt with. I thought what I'd experienced didn't "qualify" me for post-trauma. It seemed too dramatic a label for something so, sadly, common.
But what my friend had said at least made me open my mind to the possibility. Now it seems I'm reading everywhere that being cheated on leads to post-traumatic response.
It's not just semantics. Be recognizing the depth of your trauma, you can better heal from it. By truly acknowledging that what happened isn't just about your husband being an ass, you can recognize that your responses/reactions to a wide variety of things – from a friend cancelling a lunch date to the death of your pet – are through the lens of post-trauma.
Betrayal is traumatic. But continued betrayal or inability to determine if betrayal is continuing is worse still.