In my years as a therapist, I've seen countless people through the sometimes devastating aftermath of infidelity. Of course, no two relationships are alike, and the immediate days and weeks following the discovery can be full of extremely strong emotions that vary by the minute. Will your relationship survive — and should it? Will you ever be able to trust again — and would you want to? What does all of it mean, and how did your relationship get to this point? Was it ever what you thought it was?
All of those questions will take time and exploration to answer. Now, however, you can take a few important steps to find your footing. Address your physical and logistical needs. If there was an argument, do you have a safe place to sleep? Are there close friends or family that need to be on standby to help with logistical issues if you or your partner have decided to get some space from each other? Are there children or pets that need to be prioritized in order to not let things get outwardly explosive? The more intertwined your lives have become, the more mindful you need to be that as emotional as you may be feeling, there are logistical considerations to be taken care of, so that you keep the nuts and bolts of your daily life stable.
Mobilize your coping strategies. Though you may not be ready to make any decisions yet, you need to lay a solid foundation where you can think decisions through, enact a plan, and begin the healing process. This means doing everything you can to get sleep when you can, get fresh air and exercise, decide who in your social circle might be helpful to have know about this, and try — even in the chaos — to make time for things that usually help you relax, like exercise, meditation, artistic hobbies, or yoga. Don't look at it as getting through one event, but rather taking care of yourself through a period of life that will have several different stages.
Plan communication. Depending on how the discovery of infidelity happened, and how much you are entrenched with your partner in terms of living situation and family, you may be doing anything from pretending everything is normal while you have breakfast with your children to screaming at each other nonstop to giving each other the silent treatment.
Whatever you do, make sure it is an autonomous choice, and that you are not being goaded into talking — or not talking — out of pressure. Do you want to sit down and have a conversation about it once you are feeling more calm? Do you want to talk it over in a therapist's office? Do you want to meet in a neutral place to discuss a plan for the coming weeks while you get your bearings? Now is the time to figure out how to communicate in as reasoned a manner as you can muster, because games and stunts will not be helpful in the long run.
Enlist your support network. One of the toughest parts of the initial stages of something like this is that you may feel very alone. You may be embarrassed to talk about it to others, or you might want to tell everyone you've ever met — but know that you should not. Choose carefully.
The decision of what to say and what not to say is a personal one, but you should keep several things in mind. Tell the people who you know will have your best interests at heart and be in the position to offer emotional support. The level of detail is up to you, but don't tell someone solely out of anger. It might come back to haunt you if you decide to make amends with your partner. And make sure that you remind yourself that just because a loved one has a certain opinion about your relationship or your partner — for better or for worse — doesn't absolutely mean you should agree with it.
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist