Handling Unexpected Disclosure

 by Randy Hermann, MA, LPC, CSAT

The discovery of a spouse’s infidelity, whether it involves physical/emotional contact with  another person or pornographic images, can be one of the most painful, traumatizing life events one can experience. It can also be one of the most confusing and reactive times. Here are a few suggestions to help you handle the initial shock and help maintain a measure of sanity and emotional health.

Do tell someone, don’t tell everyone – Seek out a trusted friend,  relative, pastor, one or two people that will listen and support you through this. Oftentimes shame may keep you from reaching out for help but it is imperative to not carry this alone. Seek professional help if necessary, preferably with a therapist that has a good understanding of marital affairs and sexual compulsion issues. Resist the urge to tell everyone. Decide who
is appropriate, not potentially harmful (certain relatives, partner’s co-workers, etc.) to the future of your relationship should you decide to stay with your spouse.

Think safety and security, not trust – Your physical and emotional safety is priority. If there has been physical sexual contact, get tested and insist your spouse does also. Have someone help you discern and establish appropriate boundaries. Decide if separation is necessary to your emotional security. Don’t be overwhelmed by wondering if trust can ever be restored. That question can only be answered somewhere down the road. Stay in the present. Seek counsel but trust your own instincts.

Get the facts, not the specific details – You are entitled to know certain things up front. Was there physical contact? Is this someone you know (friend, co-worker, relative, someone from church)? What is the general nature of the acting out behavior? Again, know what is important for your physical and emotional safety. Resist the urge to gather all the gory details. These can act to re-traumatize you for years to come and can be counter-productive to your healing journey.

Don’t judge your feelings, do process them – Many feelings will come up, often times conflicting. It is important that you do not judge them as right or wrong, good or bad, but acknowledge them as normal and part of the process that you are going through. You do not have to act on your feelings and can merely create space for them. Processing with a friend or therapist, journaling, and taking them to God can all be helpful things to navigate through the craziness you may be feeling at any time.

These are but a few suggestions. If you find yourself in this situation, it is most important to remember that it is not your fault. Recognize that this is a time to take care of yourself. Find safe people to share with, connect with God, and seek professional help if necessary to help weather the storm of the discovery of infidelity.


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