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The most typical response is to discovering cheating is to withdraw. People withdraw because they never want to be so vulnerable again. This is the typical coping mechanism many of us used as children when hurt by our parents or children at school. Never again will I allow myself to be that vulnerable again, that hurt again and they retreat. A wall comes up and intimacy is blocked.
Whilst this is a common coping mechanism it’s not helpful or effective for the relationship to work out long-term. As if a person is withdrawn in the relationship, the connection will remain strained. It’s a process the person cheated on with the person who cheated on them need to work on together to build safety, trust and intimacy again. Often the partner on the receiving end of the the anger and withdrawal perceives it as a punishment. Beliving that their partner is putting them down or holding back affection to hurt and annoy them, this is not true. It’s an adaptive response to being hurt. It’s natural and the cheater must have patience and be willing to continue to reassure their partner that they are taking steps to make lasting changes.
There are several hallmarks of trauma Dr Gabor Mate a world renowned trauma expert identifies. First is that it is not just the bad things that happen to you, its also the absence of good things that should’ve happened to you. So its not just what happened, it’s also what didn’t happen. In the context of an affair it could be the absence of effort, and love shown in the relationship that was missing. It could be the lying, the deceit, the denial, lack of empathy, patience and compassion in the aftermath of an affair that can cause trauma.
As mentioned it is also not the event that happens, but it’s what happens in the individual, inside the individual, as a result of that external event. It happens in the body and it happens on the level of the psyche. Ultimately, it causes a disconnect from the Self. If the affair has caused trauma to you it is highly likely that you will question your value as a partner, that your physical body will be affected lack of appetite, poor sleep, hard to concentrate for example.
Your feelings and emotions will be affected from anger, confusion, hurt, disappointment and sometimes loneliness or shame.
Trauma also shapes your view of the world causing a constriction. That’s what I meant by it constricts you, you may see marriage, relationship, men, women, sex in a different way. Some view themselves as naïve, stupid, a fool as I mentioned. This is an example of how the trauma affects a view of the world, relationships or the self.
Often people struggle to know what to do about their relationship because their gut feeling may be to give it a chance and see the good in their partner and want to forgive and the mind is saying no, run, or it might be the opposite the gut is saying leave and the mind is saying but what about the children, the finances or pain and public image of a breakup.
Trauma makes it difficult to be in the present moment so it is hard to enjoy life.
As trauma causes a constriction within us, unless healed properly the relationship and the persons natural growth process can be stunted. This can leave the couple to constantly feel on edge and not like something is missing.
Trauma also affects the capacity to regulate our responses to the present moment. The part of the brain called the mid-frontal cortex is responsible for us having a flexible response to various situations, which means when an external trigger occurs, we can be flexible in our response, according to what is needed. We can choose A, B, C or D as a way of responding to something that occurs. But trauma restricts us to a set of predictable automatic reactions. It might be a fear reaction, an anger reaction, a hiding reaction, a running away reaction, shutting down the reaction. The more traumatized you are, the more limited, restricted, and stereotyped those reactions will be.
You’ve been traumatized not when you felt pain, but when after the trauma you were more limited in your view and in your capacities to respond than you were before.
Why am I sharing this? Because I want you to know how important it is to be kind to yourself and patient with yourself. It’s also so important to get the right help, I focus on not only looking at the pain of the affair but also the trauma it has caused the person in their body, emotions, feelings, view of the world. Those feelings, beliefs and decisions about life, themselves need to be cleared.