We take a break from our regular programming to bring you this special COVID-19 inspired blog post! Thank you, coronavirus.
With the closing of schools and many businesses for the foreseeable future for most of the country, the reality of a longer-haul situation as we all work together to contain COVID-19 is settling in. Along with the challenges of staying at home while trying to work and manage childcare, there are financial uncertainties, concern for loved ones near and far, and the anxiety of not knowing when our lives will return to normal.
If you’re a betrayed partner, you can add to all of that the reality of dealing with betrayal. Taken together, COVID-19 and betrayal have the makings of a very real challenge.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to change our daily routines. And one thing we know is that change of any kind, just by its very nature, moves us out of our comfort zone and puts stress on our emotional, mental, and physical systems. If you are a betrayed partner, you were already living outside of your comfort zone. Dealing with the virus has added more change and may be pushing you even further outside of what is known and comfortable.
In this post, I want to talk about some basic things you can do during this time to take care of yourself in a general way and, more specifically, to help yourself with the stress and anxiety that you are dealing with.
One of the first things you can (and should) do is establish and settle into a new staying-at-home routine. Having a routine, even if it’s a new routine, will help calm your nervous system and give you a sense of daily predictability, which can be super-helpful when so much around you is out of your control.
The following graphic was posted by mindset coach Jayne Jewell. I think it is a fantastic list of questions to keep in mind as you create the new patterns and routines that will sustain you mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally over the coming weeks.
Here are some other suggestions and resources that you may find useful as you and your loved ones shelter-in-place.
- Keep as much of your normal routine in place as possible. Dealing with betrayal often blows up your daily routines as normal functioning is compromised by the energy it takes to process the trauma around what has happened or is happening. So, you may already feel like your routine has been lost and you are a bit at sea. One thing you can do is to think about the easiest part of your routine that you could put back in place that would help you feel a little bit better. Don’t reach for “I’m going to get back to working out four times a week.” Instead, think more, “I’m going to take the bath I used to take before bed,” or, “I’m going to return to doing a just a few minutes of meditation each morning,” or, “I’m going to get in bed and go to sleep at the time I used to so I feel more rested.” Start with the smaller, easier thing that will make you feel just a little better, and you will remind yourself that you have choice and control over many of the things in your life. Betrayal makes you feel powerless and helpless. So does the pandemic. Putting back in place some of the familiar routines that have sustained you can remind your whole bodily-based system that you are not powerless or helpless and that, while you don’t get to control the infidelity or the coronavirus, there are plenty of other things you can control, and doing so will make a positive difference in how you feel.
- Keep working your recovery. Here is a side benefit of COVID-19 – everything is now online! If you are in an area of the country where you haven’t had access to a well-trained therapist, that has now changed. Restrictions on treating clients across state lines have relaxed, and therapists around the country have moved their practices online. In addition, many 12-step meetings have moved to an online format. So take advantage of this unique moment in time by plugging in to the almost endless array of online resources you can find to support your healing.
- Set shelter-in-place boundaries and use your support system to help you keep them. Getting stuck in lockdown with a significant other who has cheated on you is a potentially combustible situation. Now, instead of having the natural break of being separated at work all day or evenings out at meetings or seeing friends, there you are, the two of you, in your house together, 24/7. Have I also mentioned that everyone is more stressed out right now due to the pandemic? Even the couples who are in healthy, happy marriages are finding the new normal challenging. For you and your partner to come through this time without one of you ending up in an orange jumpsuit, you are going to need some ‘for real’ boundaries. Here are some suggestions:
- Decide when you will talk about things and when you will not. For example, you might need a boundary that during the workday, when one or both of you needs to be working, you will not take a break, run into each other in the kitchen, and start discussing the betrayal and end up in a two-hour fight. Instead, you will wait until working hours are over to discuss things. You might also need to agree that conversations after 9 p.m. always go south because you are both so tired, so you will not have any ‘loaded’ conversations after that hour. Additionally, you might need to find times to talk when the kids are not around so that you protect them from hearing things they shouldn’t. Set some clear boundaries around when you will talk and then honor those boundaries. Everyone in your house will benefit enormously from this containment.
- Decide what things you will talk about and what things you will wait for therapy to talk about. In the aftermath of betrayal, emotions can run extremely hot for both partners. As a result, there are some topics that you need help to even get close to touching. They are just too painful or conflictual to talk about on your own, and attempting to do so is likely to do more harm than good. Deciding what to talk about and what to hold for therapy is actually a great conversation to have with your therapist. Your therapist can help you sort things through, and it helps the therapist to know what topics need to be given time and space in sessions.
- Decide how you will talk about things. Again, emotions are hot after betrayal and it can be very difficult to manage the pain, anxiety, and anger you feel – to stop your feelings from spilling out in rage and verbal vengeance. Add being stuck together 24/7 and you can see why I mentioned the orange jumpsuit earlier. Setting boundaries around how you will talk is vital. These boundaries are in place to help you contain yourself appropriately as much as you can. This does not mean you can’t be angry and talk about your pain. You can. But you need to do it in as constructive a way as you can manage. Boundaries around how you will talk include things like: I will not name-call; I will not hit, shove, throw things, or punch walls; I will not make threats; I will not belittle or intentionally shame my partner; I will ask for a time-out when I feel myself losing control of my boundaries; etc.
These boundaries will only be helpful if they are maintained. To do that, you need support. Reach out to your groups, 12-step buddies, therapist, friends, and family. These are the people who can help you keep your boundaries intact. They might even help you think through what boundaries you need in these unique circumstances.
- Stay connected to others. While online contact is different than in-person contact, it still works fantastically in terms of helping you stay connected with friends and family. Every day, I have so much gratitude that I am experiencing this virus during a time when we have so many tools and ways to stay connected with one another! That said, betrayal can make us want to isolate. But in our current situation, as we deal with the coronavirus, we are already too isolated. Make it self-care priority number one to stay connected to your friends, family, support systems, and faith communities. Hold your book clubs online, have your dinner party online, do church online, play a game online, have coffee with a friend online, etc. Doing this will help you to not feel isolated and will help to keep depression and hopelessness at bay.
- Turn off the dream stealer. By dream stealer, I am referring to the TELEVISION. It is easy when you’re stuck at home to turn the TV on and to let it drone in the background while you work, cook, care for the kids, etc. However, this is bad for you in every way. It increases anxiety, increases depression, decreases connection, robs you of motivation, and generally casts a haze of lethargy. TV is guided fantasy. And that is fantastic when it is time to sit down and relax for an hour or two with friends and family. But if you watch too much of it or leave it on as a constant presence, it will increase the negative repercussions of being at home while robbing you of the positive opportunities you have to connect to yourself and others.
- Maintain conscious contact with your Higher Power. One of the biggest issues we are all dealing with as a result of COVID-19 is that we cannot control what is happening. This is doubly true for betrayed partners. You can’t control the betrayal and you can’t control the virus and you can’t control how these issues are changing your life. Feeling out of control is scary and unsettling. Maintaining a sense of spiritual connection and engaging in the practice of surrendering what you can’t control to your Higher Power can help you maintain a sense of hope and calm. The word Emmanuel, in Hebrew, means God is with us. Remembering that God is with us (even during COVID-19 and betrayal trauma) can help you maintain a perspective that prevents you from getting sucked into the fear and despair that can come from feeling powerless.
- Play. Laugh. Go outside. Move your body. Be silly. Play games. Run around with your dog. Watch a comedian and belly laugh. Do a fun craft. Make a kickball diamond in the backyard. Teach your dog to jump through a hula-hoop (I’m doing this one). Put up the volleyball net. Get out the croquet or bocce ball set. Plant a garden. Watch some birds. Take a walk. Grill out. Sit around the fire pit in the evening.
After betrayal if can feel like you will never laugh again or feel light and joy inside of you. So being told to play or laugh can make you want to wave your middle finger in the air. However, in whatever way you can, whether that is a moment of play with your child or pet, an episode of Schitt’s Creek, or talking about funny memories with your best friend, try to allow yourself a moment each day where you put down the betrayal and the pandemic and take a break to smile or laugh or rest.
We will be back to exploring our current topic next week: earning your way into a healthy relationship. Until then, stay well, stay sane, and remember… Hope, always.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.