Dealing With Betrayal in Midlife: 4 Steps To Healing

Recently I wrote about how the separation of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver might be touching fears about marital stability in midlife. I had mentioned affairs as one possible pitfall in a midlife marriage, particularly one where one or both partners hadn’t kept up with their emotional homework over the years.

Nevertheless, it was truly nowhere within the realm of my mind that the next week we would be reading that Gov. Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with a member of the family’s household staff.

I cannot and do not suppose that I can know what is going on in the minds of either of these well known individuals, or what has gone on in the privacy of their marriage over the years.

Instead, my thoughts are with those of you who may be asking the question, “What if something like this happens to me?” Or perhaps, “What do I do now that this has happened to me?”

What do you do if you wake up one morning to find out that the entire foundation your marriage has crumbled?

The first thing I want to say to you is yes, you can survive this. Your marriage may or may not survive, but you can. Say, to yourself, “I will survive this.” Repeat as often as necessary.

Second, you absolutely must reach out to others for support. And you now have the opportunity to find out about what authentic, deep, real support feels and looks like over the following days, weeks and months.

Do try to be mindful of who you choose to involve in your circle of support at this time. Attempt to reach out to people who are not close mutual friends with your spouse, or who are otherwise so near to the situation that their feelings may cloud their perception, or make it difficult should you and your spouse reconcile.

Third, it you want to try to stay in your marriage (and this is a possibility) I highly recommend you read After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, by Janis Abrahms Spring. It provides excellent guidance to both partners attempting to repair their relationship when one has had an affair. It can even be helpful if the marriage is not salvageable, as a guide to trying to understand what happened.

Fourth, consider a good counselor for either yourself, or yourself and your spouse. An impartial, compassionate and objective counselor can be of tremendous help as you seek to heal the painful wounds that result from betrayal.

Remember, repeat: “I can and will survive.”

Photo credit: CAAPhotography via Flickr

About Karen Caffrey

I'm a psychotherapist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. I enjoy helping people become more fulfilled and resilient, so they can lead better lives.
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