After an affair has devastated their relationship, many are stripped of their self-esteem, their positive view of the world, and their trust in other people. It’s not uncommon for those entering a new life as a single person to feel that they will be alone forever.
For some this can stem from their lack of trust in others, or a reluctance to expose themselves to the possibility that they could be similarly hurt in the future. For others it can be that their self-esteem has been so badly damaged that they can’t conceive of someone else wanting them. Concerns about body image, male pattern baldness, a perceived stigma about divorce, having kids while trying to date etc … all of these things can congeal into one gelatinous goopy mess of negative thinking and beliefs.
When a person is in the throes of major life upheaval amplified by the pain, betrayal and devastation of an affair, planning and working towards a life for themselves can feel overwhelming.
Moving on can feel to some like a betrayal of their family, their faith, and their dreams for their ‘perfect life’. Some cling to the false hope that someday their ex will come back to them and make their family whole again, returning life to how it was before the affair. Their old life is a wraith that they entertain with every tear and every moment of despondency and pain.
Clinging to the Wraith
It can be easy to slide into a sea of self-pity and woe is me. It’s tempting, and there is a strange comfort in being alone in your own misery. In there no one tells you to get over it, move on, buck up, get a grip. It’s far more satisfying to dive into another Jack Daniels, or inhale another quart of ice cream, or indulge in another sobbing session while sprawled dramatically on the bed.
Self pity becomes your oxygen. But you learned to breathe it without a gasp. So, nobody even notices you’re hurting.
~ Paul Monette
Convincing themselves that no one else has been through (or can understand) what the affair has done to them only serves to insulate the faithful now-ex from the reality that many have experienced the same thing and survived and moved on, happily and successfully.
Someone clinging to the past might pride themselves on how they stoically function during the day, how their kids aren’t affected because they hide it so well, how everyone around them thinks they’re so strong and bubbly and resilient, and yet they still refuse to move on with their new life. They tell themselves that they bravely put on a mask of “I’m alright” for the world to see, and how they suffer alone, crying from the depths of their soul every night.
Anyone who dares to say that it’s time to move on, or suggests that the faithful now-ex is wallowing in self-pity, or holding onto an unrealistic fantasy, is ‘against them’. Those friends get pushed away and new friends are chosen from the ranks of people who will credit them for ‘standing‘ or smiling bravely through their devastation. In reality they’re bolstering the now-ex’s cycle of feeding their own pain while tightly hugging the wraith of their past.
Being Miss Havisham
Whilst many do long for someone to share their life with some still harbor fantasies of their cheater, some now-ex’s still hold the cheater up as the impossible standard for any new relationship because they’re clinging to a fantastical and wildly romanticized view. That spurious idealization of the past can bring with it a fresh tide of martyresque feelings that they gave the best of themselves only to be tossed aside.
For some now-ex’s, they use their old life as a measure of who they were, where they were supposed to be, who they were supposed to be with. The affair and subsequent loss of the relationship leaves them with deep-seated anger, venom and sense of injustice, that shackles them to the past.
Others may simply believe that they’re not able to attract someone new. There may be a sense that even if someone did find them attractive they are broken and unlovable (or incapable of loving anyone else). They take refuge in the memories of their old life.
I don’t want it to end, and so, as every therapist knows, the ego does not want an end to its “problems” because they are part of its identity. If no one will listen to my sad story, I can tell it to myself in my head, over and over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God. It gives definition to my self-image, makes me into someone, and that is all that matters to the ego.
~ Eckhart Tolle
For many it’s easier to stagnate in a familiar past than it is to forge a new, unfamiliar future. They prefer the nostalgic memories of their ex-cheater and their own idealization of that ex relationship.
They prefer to live that version of reality in their heart and heads, metaphorically wearing their old wedding dress or tuxedo as they wistfully survey their decaying wedding banquet.
Negative thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Affairs can rob you of the life you thought you had. Don’t let your negative thinking rob you of the new life that you could have too.
In her ‘Schlepping Through Heartbreak’ blog on Psychology today, therapist Vikki Stark identified 33 erroneous beliefs following a breakup. Some of the more common ones we encounter here are:
- I am no longer desirable
- Why me? It’s just not fair
- My ex spouse is right – I am defective
- I can’t handle my future alone
- My spouse made a fool of me
- My whole marriage must have been a lie
- I’m unable to make decisions alone
- I can’t make a man happy
- I’ll never get over this
- I will always be alone
- Divorce means my kids’ lives will be ruined
- I’ve wasted the best years of my life
- I can never be truly happy again
- No one else will ever be interested in me
- I am not complete without a partner
- He was the only person for me
As she points out, strong belief in something doesn’t make it true, and suggests that if you’re checking a considerable number of these negative points, you are believing a lot of things that aren’t true.
I challenge you to have the courage to fight these negative beliefs and do whatever it takes to create a future for yourself. No doubt, you’re sad. No doubt, you may be hurting. But that doesn’t mean that you permit yourself to define yourself as a helpless victim. You don’t have the luxury of doing that.
Stand all these negative beliefs on their head and reach for the light! Pour some steel in your spine and fight for your life.
~ Vikki Stark
If you choose to stay in mourning for your old life then you choose to become your own version of Miss (or Mister!) Havisham, forgoing new life in preference to the one that failed you. An affair can mark the end of one life, but it can also mark the beginning of another one if you choose it.
Rebuilding can liberating and invigorating … have great expectations for yourself and of yourself.