Many extra-marital affairs begin and end without raising the shadow of a doubt in the unsuspecting spouse’s mind. Many others leave meaningful clues for anyone to see them and still, the innocent spouse’s reaction is of blind denial as he/she can’t confront the truth. Affairs are discovered only sparingly, either because the cheating partner decides to speak in order to get rid of his guilt, or because the spouse stumbles upon undeniable evidence or finds someone who leaves the cat out of the bag.
The discovery of infidelity is always a devastating blow, only comparable to the news of death of someone close.
The difference is that with death you lose someone dear to you while love remains, whereas with infidelity you lose that person, the feeling of being loved and secured, your love and trust for another human being and life as you knew it. Perhaps you may even lose your children and house, if a divorce follows. The sense of safety shatters and all lives involved fall to pieces (not only the innocent spouse’s life, but also the cheating husband’s and the children’s lives too).
The first reaction to discovery is physical: the person feels lightheaded, can’t breathe and may faint, feels pounding heartbeats, tightness in the chest and perhaps chest pains.
When the impact of discovery penetrates the brain, the first mental reaction can be shock or disbelief, best described as the numbness that follows a catastrophic event. Then there might be denial, as the mind tries to find a way to skip the news, to question its source and undermine its value.
Anger will follow, sometimes directed at the partner, the third person involved, the messenger, at fate or even at God and the unfairness of it all. Anger can be ensued or preceded by pain and both will reoccur because these emotions are part of the grieving period.
Pain becomes more acute with the passing of days and depression is the next likely step. The person will lose interest in life and in people and may have suicidal thoughts. There will be social consequences too: isolation and difficulty functioning at work, at home or in any other place.
Mood swings, irritability, hopelessness and fear are normal.
Some people will develop anxiety as they feel for ever unsecure and obsess trying to continuously find new signs of betrayal.
Eventually, acceptance will be the last stage of the grief circle and the person will move forward. Only after acceptance, a couple will be able to choose if they want to stay together and rebuild the relationship or not. Only after that, there will be hope for the future.