When you’re cheating on your spouse, you are living a double life. At first, the adrenaline rush of being noticed, wanted, and appreciated is exciting. But inevitably, you just need to survive an affair and protect your sanity.
I found that having an affair was absolutely exhausting. I split myself mentally and emotionally in two people. In my “real” life, I was a mom and wife who felt disconnected. (Later I would come to understand that I was having an identity crisis of epic proportions.) I did my best to carry on with regular life – meeting with clients, making dinner, tucking the kids into bed, interacting with my husband.
In my “fun” life, I was giving and receiving adulation and attention. I was treated like a queen, and I loved it.
As my affairs wore on, I increasingly focused on my fun life to the detriment of my “real” life. I wish I had known how to survive an affair and how to protect my sanity. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have taken a nosedive. Perhaps I wouldn’t have hit rock bottom.
Here’s the advice I would have loved to hear back then.
Live in the moment to survive an affair
When you’re living a double life, compartmentalize. Live in the moment and focus on what’s happening in front of you.
If you constantly think about the next rendezvous with your lover, you will be so distracted you won’t get much done. You might even get sloppy and start making mistakes. And I don’t mind using your lover’s name when talking about your spouse. I mean forgetting about a big deadline at work or picking up your kids from a birthday party. If you let the wheels come off your entire life, you’ll be a hot mess (trust me!).
At work, focus on doing the best job you can. It doesn’t matter whether you work full-time (like I did – and still do) or volunteer part-time. Your job at that moment is to complete whatever tasks are in front of you.
At home, be present for your kids. They need your love and attention. Give them both in generous helpings.
Compartmentalizing when you’re interacting with your spouse is nearly impossible. You will glance at him (or her) and wish you were sitting on the couch next to your lover instead. I certainly did.
Be nice to your spouse, to the extent that’s possible.
Take care of yourself
You know the drill. Eat well. Drink lots of water. Work out. Meditate. Get enough sleep.
Even on a good day, taking care of yourself can easily fall to the bottom of the list. When your life is complicated, it might not even make it onto the list.
The stress of having an affair can crush you. You might lose a lot of weight. You might have fitful nights of sleep. Your mind might race constantly, unable to slow down. If you’re going to survive and affair, you need to manage that stress.
Eat what you can and make it as healthy as possible. Set a timer so you don’t forget to drink water. Go for a walk every day during lunch. Download a meditation app (there are zillions to choose from) and listen to it every night before bed.
Still can’t sleep? Talk to your doctor. Maybe you can take an over-the-counter sleeping pill on occasion. Or maybe you need to be on an anti-depressant.
Go to therapy
You need someone to talk to – someone who won’t judge you.
An individual therapist who specializes in relationships is a godsend. She (or he) is trained to help you survive and affair. And guess what? She’s probably counseled other women having affairs. (It’s OK to ask about this. She won’t share details about other patients, of course.)
Therapy is critically important because it provides an objective perspective to what’s happening. She is not emotionally tied up in knots over your marriage or affair. As a result, she will ask insightful questions, provide you with tools and exercises and hold you accountable for making progress.
Your best friend cannot do this. She loves you too much to be objective.
Don’t believe in therapy? Let me ask you this: If you broke your leg, would you go to a doctor? If you chipped a tooth, would you go to the dentist? Going to a therapist is no different.
Create or join a support network
If you are super lucky, a tight-knit group of girlfriends will be there for you. They won’t judge you for having an affair. They’ll listen. They’ll offer support.
Most of us are not that lucky.
Your life may get so complicated that you withdraw from friendships. If word gets out, your circle of friends may shrink – by a lot. You may be considered toxic.
And then what? Who on Earth can you talk to who “gets it”?
Consider group therapy. In group therapy, you are surrounded by people going through the same thing. They can empathize and offer hard-earned advice. They might even ask you for advice. It’s a safe space, and it can save your sanity.
I needed group therapy when I was having an affair. That’s why I created The Shelter. It’s a community of and for women having affairs. If it sounds helpful to you, I invite you to check us out today.