When You Discover an Affair
Infidelity: Finding Out about Infidelity Can Cause Anxiety, Traumatic Stress Disorder
When Julie’s husband Tim picked her up at the airport, he had a bottle of champagne on ice in the car. For the last several months, they’d had a long distance marriage as Tim shuttled between two states — one where they owned a successful restaurant chain and another where they were opening a new restaurant. Julie, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons, and had arrived for new restaurant’s opening night.
After stopping at Tim’s temporary home, they arrived at the restaurant where Julie noticed a sign that read “Welcome Julie.” At dinner that night, her father-in-law toasted her as the best thing that had ever happened to his son. But Julie could barely keep it together. During their first stop, she’d found a bottle of Viagra in his medicine cabinet with a prescription for eight tablets.Four were left in the bottle. And she and her husband hadn’t had sex for two years, because, Tim had said, he was too stressed by the job.
Later, Julie found receipts showing that Tim had been in a hotel with another woman on Valentine’s night. Julie’s husband had talked about flying her to the city where he was on business so they could be together, but, it hadn’t worked out. So, on Valentine’s Day, he’d sent her $350 worth of roses from a local florist, calling later that night and telling her he was just going to “curl up with a book.”
Instead, the trail of time-stamped receipts showed that he’d gone to a bar, picked up a girl and taken her to a hotel. Julie was destroyed by her discovery.”This guttural noise came out of me,” she recalled. It was like a deep gut scream, like my insides were being pulled out.”
Discovering your spouse is having an affair can be a life-altering experience — for either gender. According to accounts published in the New York Daily News, Richard Cohen found a diary illustrated with photos in which wife, Paula Zahn, wrote about her alleged affair with his pal, the married ContiGroup CEO Paul Fribourg. The day after the discovery, one of Cohen’s friends was quoted as saying, “Richard felt like he’d been stabbed in the heart twice when he found out his wife had been cheating with one of his best friends.”
Likewise, according to reports in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, when Olympic skier Andy Mill discovered his wife, tennis star Chris Evert, was having an affair with Australian golfing legend Greg Norman, Mill — who considered Norman his best friend — Mill was heartbroken by his betrayal, saying: “A year and a half ago I’d have taken a bullet for this guy. I didn’t realize he was going to pull the trigger.”
WHO IS THIS PERSON?
Tim and I had really great times together. We were crazy about each other and he treated me like a princess. When he would introduce me, he would say, ‘This is my beautiful wife, Julie. I’m so lucky to have her in my life.’ We even had male friends who would call him and say ‘cut it out, you’re making us look bad.’ Everyone thought we were the ideal couple,” said Julie. When I found out he was cheating on me, it was like I didn’t even know who he was anymore.”
Realizing that you’ve been living with someone who’s betrayed you in ways you never suspected, makes you wonder if anything in the entire relationship was real. Moreover, in today’s world of epidemic sexually transmitted diseases, finding out the very person who promised to love, honor and cherish you until death do you part has engaged in behaviors that could expose you STDs, including HIV/AIDS, can destroy your sense of personal and emotional safety.
The discovery of infidelity is devastating because it shatters basic assumptions about the security we expect in committed relationships,” wrote the late Dr. Shirley Glass, author of “NOT Just Friends: Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal.”
Dr. Glass, who was known as “the godmother of infidelity research,” compared the emotional shock of discovery of an affair to the trauma experienced by those who have gone through horrific events. She made an impact among marriage therapists by saying that betrayed partners in adulterous affairs often suffered from post-traumatic stress similar to that experienced by combat veterans.
Dr. Don-David Lusterman, author of Infidelity: A Survivor’s Guide, agrees. The discoverer is profoundly traumatized,” said Dr. Lusterman in a phone interview. It really is a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your marriage is very important to you and if you really believe the contract of monogamy still applies, it’s a terrible shock because your whole life is tied up in your marriage.”
The shock of betrayal has a profound effect on your physical and emotional health. Researchers at the University of Oregon found, Exposure to traumas with high betrayal was significantly correlated with a number of physical illness, anxiety, dissociation, and depression symptoms.”
DEFINITION OF INFIDELITY
Deception is inherent in the definition of infidelity, says Dr. Lusterman. Infidelity is occurring if one person continues to believe that the monogamous contract continues, while the other person is secretly doing otherwise,” he said.
It’s the carefully calculated deception that hurts even more than the fact your spouse has been having sex with someone else.Upon discovery that they have been deceived, betrayed partners are often especially harsh with themselves for not seeing it coming. After she discovered her husband had been cheating on her, one woman said she felt she ‘must be dumber than a box of rocks.’
People say, Oh my god, that’s been there for year! Where have I been? I never pieced it together. It never even entered my mind,” said Dr. Lusterman. While they’re grieving the loss of the illusion of someone they loved, they’re also kicking themselves because they believed every excuse and lie. After all, this was supposed to be their best friend “ the person who had their back.
In intimate relationships, there is a truth bias, so people tend to take their partner’s word as truth unless there is a prior history of lying and deception,” wrote Dr. Glass. After the betrayal, the traumatized spouse questions everything they trusted and depended on. They say that they no longer know whom they are married to or what their marriage stands for. The most severely traumatized are generally the ones who had the greatest trust and were the most unsuspecting. However, even someone who is suspicious and is initially relieved to learn that they weren’t paranoid has difficulty accepting the reality of a partner’s deception.”
While not all betrayed spouses experience PTSD, many experience it to varying degrees. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD affects 7.7 million American adults. For most people, the symptoms of PTSD appear within the first three months of the trauma. For others, it can take years and another triggering event before PTSD emerges.
Those suffering from PTSD may have the following symptoms: They startle easily and have persistent, heart-pounding anxiety about what this all means for them. Not wanting to be fooled again, they often become hyper-vigilant, on the constant look out for any sign that things aren’t as they appear to be. That hyper-alertness tends to extend to other relationships as well because being betrayed by the person you trusted the most can make you feel like you can’t trust anyone. They may lose interest in things they normally enjoy. They may constantly relive the facts around the betrayal and/or the moment the betrayal was uncovered. They avoid situations that remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are often very difficult. They may have trouble concentrating and problems sleeping. They may feel hopeless and helpless. They can have crying jags or feel numb and detached, especially with people they were once close to. Emotions are easily triggered. If he’s 15 minutes late getting home from work, she’s a wreck when he arrives because that’s what he used to do when he with the other woman.
The physical effects of PTSD can be alarming. According to Dr. Mark Lerner, of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, physiological responses may include rapid heart beat, elevated blood pressure, difficulty breathing, shock symptoms, chest pains, cardiac palpitations, muscle tension and pains, fatigue, fainting, flushed face, pale appearance, chills, cold clammy skin, increased sweating, thirst, dizziness, vertigo, hyperventilation, headaches, grinding of teeth, twitches and gastrointestinal upset.
Knowing that the crazy feelings you have are a normal” part of betrayal can help with the scary feeling that you’re losing it.”The good news is PTSD is treatable. Treatment often involves a combination of medication, talk therapy and EMDR “ Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR uses eye movements, auditory tones and tapping, or other tactile stimulation to help trauma suffers process the information about disturbing situations.
Julie and Tim’s crisis didn’t have a fairytale ending. Tim wasn’t just having an affair, he had a sexual addiction. Like many addicts, he denied there was a problem. So, the marriage didn’t survive.
Julie, on the other hand, has rebuilt her life, turning her pain into an opportunity to help others. Working with other women who’ve experienced similar betrayal, she co-founded a non-profit called New Life Partners. NLP is a faith-based online support group for women whose husbands are sex addicts.”After the discovery of Tim’s extreme acting out, most days I felt like I was choking on my own life,” Julie said. “Today, I have a rich life filled with great warmth and joy. Family, friendships and my relationship with God yield goodness. Much goodness.”
The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress has a traumatic stress library and an international registry of professionals who have been trained to help people experiencing traumatic events.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing website includes information about EMDR and how to find an EMDR clinician.
New Life Partners provides a faith-based e-mail discussion forum, online chats, small group forums, Bible or book study groups and an annual retreat.