Imagine you’re at your out with friends and one mentions that they know your partner is seeing someone else and compliment you on having an open relationship. Saying you guys give me hope that open relationships really can work.” “You reply with rapidly thinning lips… “Actually, we are in a monogamous relationship!” You are then seen running through the Street screaming on the way to confront your partner at work.
The devastation of finding out that your partner has been sleeping around behind your back can seem quite horrific. The emotional pain can feel almost intolerable, and can lead to you reacting in ways that in hindsight you may regret. When emotions are extremely high, such as being very angry and hurt, it is likely that you are going to react in a way that is not overly rational. The worst decisions can be made in the heat of the moment. This can include throwing your partners personal items onto the street below, publishing their nude photos on the web which you modify with extra massive love handles, and telling them to get out of my life, I never want to see your face around here again!!” When things simmer down, you may realise that you’ve thrown them out of their own flat and just ended the relationship forever. This might become regretful and it may be too late to repair the damage you’ve caused. Not only do you then have to cope with the issue of your partner being unfaithful and all of the complex issues that comes along with that, but you now you have to consider the fact that you have potentially ended the relationship in an instant without giving it a chance, and that you did it in a way that made you look like a real tragedy.
The best thing to do if you find out your partner’s been playing around behind your back and you feel that you could do or say things that you may regret, is to avoid confronting the person until you are feeling a little more rational. Perhaps go for a walk or phone a friend and talk about it. Part of this is to be able to express how you’re really feeling without putting on a brave face. Once you are feeling less intense, you are probably in a better place to confront your partner in a way that you will feel comfortable with in the future.
The initial impact of finding out about a partner’s infidelity is usually filled with powerful feelings such as pain, shame, jealousy and anger, sometimes accompanied by a strong desire to punish both your partner and the other party. This can sometimes lead to a strong desire to get back at them including maybe doing the same thing to him or her. A problem with vengeance is that it often backfires hideously.
It is tempting when feeling hurt and angry to start telling yourself that your partner is actually a tragic person and that you must have been blind to it in the past. It’s important to note that even if your partner is untrustable, and you decide that this is not acceptable for you in a relationship, that it doesn’t take away their positive qualities. In other words, their behaviour is terrible , but they themselves are not a completely terrible human being.
After some time, the intensity of these feelings can become less strong and the issues of betrayal, trust and wondering if you really knew your partner at all can start to surface. These are all extremely difficult longer-term issues to deal with. This can include a whole lot of emotional issues surfacing from other unresolved issues inside of you. It can also trigger off that cancerous belief that “this proves that relationships can’t work,” or in same sex relationships you may feel “gay relationships can’t work” you can even question your own value as a person. Relationships are a potent trigger for underlying emotional stuff to surface when you least expect.
Some people cope with this by severing all ties with their partner and keep any positive feelings about them buried by keeping their anger fired up and constantly focusing on all of the negative things about the ex. This can be effective in making sure you don’t re-connect with them, but it also can eat you up from the inside and become quite unpleasant. The other problem with this is that once your anger diminishes, feelings of love or affection for the other person can re-appear and be quite confusing, particularly if you’re in a new relationship. Also, if you end the relationship without discussion or closure, it can mean that you take the unresolved issues into your next relationship, or perhaps avoid relationships as you’ve developed the belief that no one can be trusted.
If you decide to work on repairing the relationship, it can be a lot of hard work because trust is a very difficult thing to re-kindle. You may have a relationship where your partner and you spoke openly about everything for years, and have no reason to mistrust the other. However it can sometimes be just one moment where one person does the wrong thing and it can shatter all the trust built up over the years. With your trust betrayed, it is also easy to look back and place question marks over many memories: “when we were in Sorrento for a break and she went for a walk on her own for 3 hours, was she really secretly meeting someone?”
Rebuilding trust can be achievable if you persist through the hard times and communicate effectively. This however, can be a long process and both parties may need to be patient, as it can take longer than expected. You may also find that just when you thought trust was re-gained, the issue may flair up again. You may find yourself again wanting to follow them to see if they are really going to where they said they would be. If you find that you go into an emotional tail-spin for a long time over the situation and it becomes disruptive in your life, it may have triggered some underlying issues that may need exploring with a psychologist.
Re-building a relationship also sometimes means re-negotiating the way you deal with things such as sexuality. It might also be a good opportunity to talk about your expectations of a relationship and explore the possibly of re-thinking your own rules that you have about relationships. This might include turning demanding rules into preferences. If you still feel strongly about what you want in a relationship, then talking about it can clarify them for you. It may also be a time where you both learn a lot more about each other and actually become closer after the hard repair work. At the end of the day, no matter what situation, it is vital to communicate with both your partner and ideally someone else that you can confide in.
Eric is a Clinical Psychologist whose approach is warm, open, and humorous. He works respectfully with his clients to help them understand their stuck emotional patterns and their way of being with both people and life events.