If you've just discovered that your spouse is cheating on you, I am so sorry. This is such a shocking realization. You probably feel like you're living in a nightmare. Everyday I get a message from someone who's in the same spot as you: they're shocked, devastated, betrayed, horrified, blind-sided, and profoundly hurt. They tell me, "This wasn't supposed to happen to me!" and "This is the most painful experience ever!" I know it is, hang in there, you can get through this and I'm going to help you figure out exactly what to do.
First, know that your feelings are so understandable and so normal. You are not going crazy, you are not losing your mind. You are just very, very hurt. I want to reassure you: you CAN get through this, this doesn't mean your marriage is over and that your spouse doesn't love you. It means something traumatic has happened to you and we have to find a way to cope with the trauma now. Then in a little while, you can make some decisions about what you want to do about your relationship.
Your first instinct might be to throw your spouse out and tell the whole world what a jerk you're married to. I understand this impulse, but please don't do that. You are panicking right now and you are not thinking clearly. Your brain is in crisis mode and you are making decisions based on fear, not logic. We need to help your brain calm down so that you can make a thoughtful decision, not an impulsive one. So the first thing to do is to take care of yourself; we'll worry about your spouse later.
You also might also be feeling some pressure from friends or family to do something dramatic. Please don't. Most people think they should do something to punish their spouse because they think that's what they're supposed to do. Let me tell you that what most people say they'd do if they found out their spouse was cheating is NOT what they actually do. So please don't give in to any kind of social pressure: do what's right for you, take as much time as you need to think about this situation, and take action when you're ready. Don't let anyone push you.
For most of us, this is a very complicated situation. We love the person that hurt us and while we want to punish them, we don't want to completely push them away. Feeling this way doesn't mean you're weak or foolish, it means you truly care about your spouse and it's really hard to know what to do when you have so much conflicting, confusing stuff in your head.
The right thing to do right now is to focus on caring for yourself. You need intensive care for your heart and mind. Just like if someone had been shot, we wouldn't expect them to do anything other that rest and recover, the same is true for you. You've been emotionally "shot" and we need to get you the care you need to heal.
To start healing, please follow these steps:
1. Get lots of rest. You will not have much energy for the next couple of days. This is normal and ok, your energy will return. For the next week, try to take naps, relax in a comfortable spot and think about how you're feeling, try to sleep a little longer at night. If your mind is racing, it's ok to take an over-the-counter sleeping medicine (follow the directions on the bottle exactly) to help you sleep. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns.
2. Avoid alcohol, drugs, caffeine. Your brain is flooded with stress chemicals right now and adding alcohol (a depressant), drugs, and/or caffeine (a stimulant), will only make matters worse and slow down your healing. If you're a coffee drinker, it's ok to still have 1 small cup per day, but less is more. Soothe your brain by drinking water and herbal teas.
3. Eat healthfully and get a little exercise every day. We want to calm your system down and give your brain the fuel it needs to recover. You may not feel like eating, but please push yourself to have a little bit of nutritious food (i.e., yogurt, oatmeal, fruit, salad, chicken) every day. Avoid fast food and junk food. Some of us feel like eating a bit extra during this time to help soothe our feelings. Focus on eating healthfully and normally, try to avoid doing anything to the extreme. Also, please get out for a little fresh air, some sunlight, and exercise each day. A 10 minute walk is perfect. Taking a small walk, even if you don't feel like it, will help your brain recover (we make healing chemicals during exercise) and you'll get better faster.
4. Write your feelings down. You are going to be thinking a lot about what has happened. You'll be thinking about how you feel, you'll be remembering good things, you'll recall some bad things, and you'll probably have a million questions. All of this information will keep floating around your brain unless you write it down. Once you've written down your feelings, your brain can release them and you'll start to feel calmer. I suggest you buy a small spiral notebook for yourself - dedicate one page to positives, one page to negatives, one page to questions. Write your thoughts on the appropriate page and add more pages as necessary.
5. Think about blessings and gratitude. After you've written in your notebook about your painful feelings, take a few minutes to think about what's good in your life. A terrible thing has happened to you, but there are still good things all around you. Look at your life, your friends, your home, your family, your kids. Think about what you are still blessed to have (i.e., a best friend who'd do anything for you, kids who adore you, etc.), think about what you're grateful for (i.e., I am grateful for this comfy home I have, grateful I can take a day off to take care of myself, grateful for my dog who will sit with me as I cry). The more you think about your blessings, the better you'll feel and the faster you'll recover.
6. Ask for the support you need. Taking care of yourself takes time and energy, which means you'll have less energy for the other responsibilities in your life. Ask for help where you can. If you need more time for yourself, ask a friend if they can help pick up the kids from school this week. If it's hard for you to focus on work, let your boss know you're dealing with a personal issue (you don't have to say what it is) and ask for the help you need. You can also make a deal with a co-worker: if they can cover a little bit for you this week, you'll be happy to return the favor when they need it. You might also consider taking some time off.
7. Distract yourself. Do things to take your mind off of your situation. Go to a movie and really try to lose yourself in the experience. Read a book from an author you love and try to really get into the story. Go volunteer at a local animal or homeless shelter. Doing something to care for other people makes us feel better and distracts us from our pain.
8. Open up with a close friend. We all need someone to talk to about how we're feeling. Right now, you can't talk to your spouse as openly and candidly as you'd like, so I suggest you choose one very close friend to talk to. Choose a friend who is a good listener, who can be open and honest with you, not someone who is going to push their opinions on you or tell you what to do. I'd avoid telling a family member because they're often biased and once they know about the affair, they may never think about your spouse the same way. If you do decide to continue with your marriage, you don't want your family thinking badly of your spouse.
If you found this article helpful, the next ideal step for you is to get your FREE copy of How To Really Cope After Your Spouse Has Cheated.