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Infidelity: A Blueprint for Recovery Part 2 – Taking infidelity recovery into the holiday season and dealing with grief, trauma, and triggers

In my last blog, I talked about a blueprint for recovery for couples surviving betrayal, infidelity, and cheating. I explained that the *betrayed spouse’s reaction to The Discovery, or revelation, of sexual, emotional, or financial infidelity could be compared to, or diagnosed as, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As we approach the holidays, it’s important to understand that the betrayed spouse’s feelings of sadness, despondency, anger, and disengagement can be exacerbated by environmental triggers such as the ‘anniversary effect’ and holiday sensory overload.

The anniversary effect is the term we use to describe the return of the intense pain on or near the anniversary of The Discovery. This can be devastating for the betrayed spouse because he may have been feeling as though the pain was finally manageable. When intense emotions such as difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, or becoming emotional with little provocation return, he may find himself questioning his marriage and his sanity. What happened?

When an affair is discovered or revealed the betrayed spouse feels intense pain immediately. Unbeknownst to him while he was experiencing the pain, his body was recording stimuli such as the angle of the sun, the temperature outside, sunrise and sunset times, aromas, and sounds (read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk). If he discovered his partner’s infidelity around the winter holiday season in the United States, his body was registering some pretty intense stimuli: the end of daylight savings, holiday decoration displays, and holiday music in stores, the smell of traditional food. As the anniversary of The Discovery approached, his body was registering the stimuli, remembering, and feeling.

Even if The Discovery occurred at another time during the year, holidays (even those without the intense environmental overload) can still be difficult. Surviving an affair may mean grieving the idea of a ‘perfect’ holiday, vacation, reunion, or other traditional family time. Betrayed spouses may notice they feel like they are ‘faking it’ for the sake of the kids or the in-laws, or trying to create an ‘amazing’ holiday in spite of their pain.

If you are recovering from infidelity and you notice you are feeling emotional, disconnected, angry, or sad and you can’t pinpoint why, take a look at the calendar. Remember, triggers are on your radio, at the movie theater, outside your window, and in your shopping mall. You are not going crazy – your body is just remembering.

Next time: Infidelity Recovery Part 3: Apologizer vs. Rebuilder

*Genders and the words ‘partner’ and ‘spouse’ will be interchanged throughout these articles.

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