It’s pretty much agreed, across infidelity recovery writers and theologians, that there are seven stages of recovery. I know we can certainly see the process in our own recovery. It’s clear that I should say right now though, these things are not linear and also you can be flying through stage five, hit a wall and be back in stage two before you know it. I will also put a content warning right here, there is copious amounts of swear words in this post. The word fuck features heavily because I know this whole process for me has featured fuck a lot.
These seven stages are a guide, a guide which has been so helpful for us to go through, it’s helped us identify where we are and what we are doing and why. It’s good to have that awareness as you travel through all this, and, for both parties, understand this is a process which NEEDS to be gone through if you’re gonna come out the other side.
These posts will be split up as there is so much to say about each one. It’s too much for one sitting.
Without further ado. My seven stage recovery stages, stage one and two. I’ll do stage three, four and five in the next post and then stage six and seven in the next.
Stage One of Recovery: What the Fuck is Happening?
Stage one really is all about discovery. The discovery or confession of an affair is one of the most traumatic things that can happen in a relationship. Even if you suspected that an affair was happening it can still be a massive shock to you. It can blow apart everything you thought was true about your relationship and can mean that you feel very unsafe in your own home.
Many people experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as panic attacks with multiple and frequent triggers which may seem unrelated to the affair, severe depression, weight loss, weight gain, disordered eating, inability to look after ones self or others, racing thoughts, intrusive thoughts, uncontrolled obsessional thinking, lashing out, the list goes on. I’m going to write more about betrayal trauma on another day but it’s a completely real thing and if you’re an unfaithful spouse right now you need to understand that your partner may become someone you don’t recognise, and you need to make them feel safe again.
At the point of discovery what you thought was real. Your strongly held belief. The things you and your partner had pledged to one another, becomes unreal. That calls in to question everything else you believe to be real in your brain. Your brain seeks to protect you from the emotional harm you are experiencing, it places you into “fight or flight or freeze” mode. You may experience rushes of adrenaline. Be unable to leave your bed. Have intense anger. Or you might cycle between all of them.
It’s all completely normal in recovery.
You’re still responsible for yourself, if you lash out there may still be consequences. I sent some unpleasant emails to the other woman and that’s come back to bite me on the butt later down the line, but it’s OK. Gotta own that decision and I understand the emotional state I was in when I did it. It’s important to know that that decision does not mean I’m a terrible person or that she is a victim. Neither is true. Also I have no desire to contact or have anything to do with her now. I’ve moved past that stage. Just don’t do things, wherever possible, that will jeopardise the life you want for what you’re experiencing right now. I know that’s fucking difficult though. Like I said. Been there. Done that. Not gonna wear the t shirt though.
One thing I’ve learnt is that once you’re in that feeling you have to ride it out. Trying to change it, hide it, push it down, none of that helps at all. You’re gonna have to feel it. Figure out why you’re feeling it and ride it out. You’re in a state of grief and shock right now. You’re going to feel so many things.
Check out our resource page on discovery too.
Stage Two of Recovery: Tell Me What The Fuck You Did.
Stage two is all about disclosure. Disclosure is very counter intuitive particularly for the unfaithful spouse. Many struggle to understand why their betrayed spouse want to know the details of the affair. Is that not going to cause more hurt? Will it not just cause more distress in the marriage? This is often tied up in extreme levels of shame, stress, trauma and embarrassment. I completely understand why people don’t feel sympathy for this, I really do. It was entirely the same for me, I didn’t.
Not at all in fact. In my house you make a mess you clear it up. It took me time to understand that people experiencing such levels of shame and distress aren’t able to confess things or be honest because they fear the consequences so intensely. It has to be a two way street and I say that with bucket loads of compassion for both parties here, but mostly for the betrayed spouse. It’s very fucking hard to be compassionate towards someone who has wrecked your world, disabled you emotionally and often times physically because of that emotional pain. I get it.
You don’t owe them anything. However if you want answers and want a future together you’re going to have to take your head for a wobble and try and listen without exploding. This video playlist helped me understand that a lot, it also helped my husband, the unfaithful spouse, understand what he needed to achieve.
Disclosure is a two way street.
Everything about disclosure is counter intuitive. As the betrayed you need to decide what it is you want to know, to what level from an overview to the microscopic details. I advise that you take time, and really consider what you want to know. You will always know the things you’ve heard. You can’t unhear them. I can tell you now, it doesn’t ever go away. Recovery from affairs is fucking painful. Stupidly so. The things you hear during this phase will probably never leave you but when I received FULL disclosure it helped me heal and focus on rebuilding the marriage rather than reliving the affair. Esther Perel gives a very helpful list of questions which can be immensely good starting point – instead of focusing on details they focus on discovery and understanding. They give you things that explore rather than focus on minute details.
Be aware, disclosures tend to trigger of many many many thoughts in your head. For me so many things fell in to place which I never understood before, many times over the previous six months where I hadn’t understood his decisions or behaviour. So many things flooded me (read about flooding here) and we marathoned (read about marathoning here) a lot. Honestly, marathoning is destructive rather than constructive. It’s dangerous for both parties and best avoided where you can. We all make mistakes. It’s recoverable if it happens.
Trauma is a Two Way Street
Remember as well that the unfaithful spouse is experiencing trauma. They are seeing the damage of their actions unfolding in front of them. Any unfaithful spouse who is genuinely remorseful and cares for that person is going to be traumatised by seeing their spouse in the depths of despair, they may also be experiencing mental health crises of their own. In amongst all this is their memory repressing things, hiding things that they need to feel shame and upset about, so when they say they “don’t remember” often this is true.
Unlocking this is possible. Some will use it as an excuse but some will directly be experiencing things that are akin to the PTSD symptoms their spouse is feeling. Patience and a commitment from the unfaithful spouse to unlock those things is important. They will need to do work to sort themselves out and remember to meet the needs of their spouse.