Affair Recovery And The 7 Stages Of Grief

It’s very common to hear from people who are worried that they are not healing from their spouse’s affair as they believe that they are supposed to.  Part of the problem is that people have their own ideas about how they should heal.  But on top of this, others are usually not shy about telling you their own opinions about your healing.  Also, we often compare ourselves to others and wonder if we are measuring up. Finally, we sometimes make assumptions about popular mental health ideas and assume that our recovery should fit into what the experts say.

For example, I’ve had people share that they believe that recovery from an affair should neatly track with the seven stages of grief.  If they feel that they are not on track with each of the seven phases, then they worry that they are not healing correctly.  Someone might say: “I have a friend that I often confide in about my husband’s affair because she went through this also.  She is still married today, which makes me think that her advice is good.  She went to a very good counselor and she will share some helpful things that the counselor told her.  The other day, she told me that before I can heal from the affair, I am going to need to go through the 7 stages of grief.  I really didn’t think too much about this, until I actually looked up and researched the 7 stages of grief. Then I became alarmed because apparently, I’m supposed to feel denial, then pain or guilt, then bargaining, followed by depression and loneliness, before I feel a little hope again so that I can start to rebuild.  You are apparently supposed to experience one step before you can progress to the next step. This is bad news for me because I never really felt denial or guilt.  I have not ‘bargained’ either.   My husband basically told me about the affair and I believed him.  There was no denial.  I knew it was happening and that he was telling me the truth. I also felt no guilt.  I did nothing to justify my husband’s actions.  There’s no bargaining, either because I don’t feel like I should need to make any deals with anyone. I certainly want to feel the ‘hope’ that is described, but I worry that I won’t get there because I haven’t experienced the other ‘phases.’  Must you go through the 7 phases to heal?”

Everyone’s healing is different because everyone’s personality and situation is different.  I am not sure that I went through the 7 phases in a linear fashion, either.  Although I do believe that at some point after the affair, I felt various emotions on that spectrum at various but unpredictable times.  For example, I certainly felt guilt – but it wasn’t because I blamed myself or did anything to contribute to my husband’s decision.  I felt guilty that my kids’ lives could potentially be impacted by the affair.  I did sometimes try to bargain, like when I would say to myself: “Please let my children make it through this and end up with a happy childhood.”  So what you’re feeling or experiencing does not have to track with any stage at all.  And sometimes when it does, it’s not in the way that one would think – as evidenced that some of my emotions were about my kids instead of myself.

I honestly found that it was a mistake to make any assumptions about what I SHOULD be feeling or experiencing and to just allow myself to feel what came up.  I journaled a lot so that I could release the feelings rather than taking them out on other people (especially my children.)  It doesn’t do any good to compare yourself to others or to put yourself on a time table.   I never really felt denial, either.  I’m a pretty stoic realist and I just wanted to accept what had happened and to get on with it.  And yet, I eventually got to the stages of hope and recovery just fine without going through any specific steps or stages.  So I would not worry too much about any of these 7 descriptions.

I think that well meaning people just use the 7 stages or steps to infer that recovery from an affair can be a sort of grieving process.  I DO agree that statement.  You do have to come to terms with the fact that the life that you had before the affair is going to differ with life after the affair – at least for a little while as you are processing and adjusting.  It absolutely is a new reality.  And that can certainly make you grieve the loss of the old reality, especially as you are trying to heal.  However, in time, the new reality can become your new normal after you have recovered.  In my experience, this can happen without needing to follow any preconceived steps.  I certainly advocate having a counselor help you navigate the process, but I don’t feel that you have to go through any formal steps or that you need to stall your progress to ensure these steps.  I consider myself pretty much recovered and healed and I did not follow any formal step process.  I allowed myself the time to feel whatever came and then to deal with it.  We did work with some experts along the way. But ultimately it was out marriage and we ourselves had to do the work to heal it.  You can read more on my blog at  http://surviving-the-affair.com

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