Managing Explosive Emotions After Infidelity

6 min read
Pt. Mohit Shastri/Bigstock

Source: Pt. Mohit Shastri/Bigstock

Marcus Aurelius once said, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”

As an expert in infidelity counseling and anger management, I know that the betrayed spouse’s journey after an affair can be unbearable. Rather than choosing to walk through the pain in order to move past it, my client’s solution to dealing with the betrayal was to try to hurt her partner as badly as he hurt her. Her expression of anger was destructive, which resulted in an unsafe environment and an uphill war to heal and move forward.

I often hear my clients ask: How do I stop being so angry after my spouse’s infidelity? While my partner and I have decided to work on it, I feel that I can’t let go of the anger. The roller coaster of emotions may be overpowering and destructive. At times, I feel rage and want to punish my partner for their wrongdoing. What shall I do, as I don’t want to lose my partner? How can we move beyond our anger?

For many couples, the discovery of a partner’s infidelity is an overwhelming betrayal that breaks one of the most fundamental assumptions of a relationship: its exclusivity. Infidelity triggers difficult emotions and severely impacts the betrayed partner and the relationship as a whole.

Feeling angry is a natural response and, at times, is even necessary when experiencing infidelity.

The anger itself is not the problem; how the anger is processed and expressed is what can cause problems. Your spouse broke your trust, and your relationship has been seriously damaged. In this situation, it is likely that the betrayed person will become extremely emotional, angry, and even enraged.

One of the core needs that drives anger is the need for integrity and justice. Our values matter to us, and we expect them to be honored. We feel anger when we encounter injustice, unfairness, or betrayal. Someone has violated a principle that we hold to be important. Someone has done something that we believe to be immoral or unjust.

In response to betrayal, your anger motivates you to stand up for yourself when you are being manipulated, exploited, used, or taken advantage of. It makes you want to hold others accountable for violating deeply held values. Your convictions compel you to try to fix what is broken, to “make the wrong right.” Feelings of anger activate your desire to fight for change and give you the power to do so.

Yet, responding to anger constructively is not easy. Anger is a powerful emotion and can be very tricky as it distorts our perception. If you respond to anger with defensiveness or aggression, the anger may escalate to create more damage. Instead of arguing or defending, remember that anger often masks a deeper emotion, like pain, fear, or grief.

It may feel counterintuitive, but moving towards your partner when she or he is enraged is a path to healing. Every time infidelity is raised, it is an opportunity to relate to it in a more constructive way. It is an opportunity for healing. If you embrace each other, you will help your partner to move through this pain and loss to create hope for a better future.

When feeling angry after an affair, responding in the following productive ways can help you with repair and healing:

  • The impulse to lash out and hurt when you have been hurt is very human but ultimately not helpful if you want to reconnect. Avoid hostility and express your pain gently.
  • There is no benefit in attacking a partner who has taken responsibility after betrayal for the wrong done and who is trying to make amends.
  • Compassion, respect, and integrity are some of the main qualities that can serve as an antidote to prevent anger from raging out of control.
  • Instead of reacting quickly, pause and take a deep breath.
  • Be predictably and dependably present with your partner in moments of pain and anger. This will help to ease pain and build trust over time.
  • Ask what you can do in challenging moments to help and support your partner.
  • Don’t ignore your partner, as it will likely be perceived as avoiding, silencing, or dismissive.
  • Being present and nonjudgmental when your partner is angry and overwhelmed may help the repair process.
  • Allow expression of emotions rather than shutting them down. Validate and do not dismiss any part of the emotion or its expression.
  • Accept responsibility for your part and consistently be humble. Do not become defensive or aggressive.
  • The truth needs to be addressed, but it needs to be spoken kindly—not in a fit of rage with the intent to destroy or wound.
  • When anger, rage, or other strong emotions begin to subside, offer reassurance and comfort.
  • Admit and confront the pain underneath the anger, as it is essential to the healing process.
  • No amount of “revenge” will be enough to stop the pain that was initially inflicted. Causing pain in response to pain will leave both parties in a worse state than before.
  • Be courageously vulnerable as it is the way for both partners to connect, yet vulnerability is hard to practice, especially when you are dealing with a break of trust.
  • Regulate your emotions. Emotional regulation through checks and balances is critical to keeping post-infidelity anger from becoming a destructive force in the recovery process.

Regardless of the outcome of your situation, whether it is reconciliation or separation, you can maintain your well-being and self-respect. Acting with integrity, respect, and compassion is the healthy way to respond. When recovering from an affair, reacting mindfully in these constructive qualities is essential to keeping your life stable, your relationship nontoxic, and your situation safe.

If you feel that it is hard to overcome betrayal by yourself (which is very common), I strongly recommend that you get some professional help to deal with that. I urge you and your partner to find an infidelity counselor who can work with you on how to recover and reconnect after an affair.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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