Coping with Obsessions
Being overly preoccupied with the details of the affair/infidelity is a normal part of the emotional reaction to being betrayed and dealing with the extraordinarily intense feelings that accompanying feelings. There comes a time, however, that you may decide the obsessive thinking has served its useful purpose and is now interfering with your everyday functioning in a way that concerns you or your loved ones.
There are specific strategies that you can use at this time to help stop obsessing. Here are just a few:
1) Practice some form of containment, that is to say, give yourself certain times during the day that you are allowed to think/talk about the affair and limit yourself to only those times. In the beginning you may need to have 3 times a day for 30 minutes; then go to 2 times a day, and then decrease it to 15 minutes and then to every other day and so forth. This applies to conversations with your spouse as well (remember this is only AFTER the initial full emotional exploration is complete);
2) Use your support system wisely. For instance, you might tell your best friend that it is no longer healthy for you to focus on the affair or even talk about it so you would like to go shopping, to a movie, for a cup of coffee, etc. and if you slip and bring up the topic, please hold up a finger (or some other such loving cue) to remind you of your resolve. This can apply to your spouse as well during those times when the affair is supposed to be a non-topic;
3) Engage in distracting and fun activities – doing some things that reconnect you with your positive energy, or at least divert you from some of the black thoughts and feelings, can give you some temporary relief and, in the later stages, can actually be rejuvenative and lay the groundwork for optimism and hope for the future.
4) Use cognitive therapeutic techniques – these are a little hard to describe but consist of techniques such as thought stopping, reframing techniques and positive self talk to deal more effectively with negative thinking and destructive thought patterns;
5) Use an individualized combination of relaxation techniques;
6) Use regular exercise for those who find it relieves tension and stress.
If you try some of these tactics and nothing really works then one of several things may be going on. You may be trying prematurely to suppress your obsessive thinking and you still need some more time and some more answers/discussions/interactions about it to adequately explore all your concerns. Or, you may need some professional help to assist you through this most difficult phase.
Professional help can come take two forms. One is therapy, either individual or couples therapy, to help sort through feelings and develop strategies for dealing with everything as positively as possible. The other is medication. I can almost hear you now saying “but he/she had the affair – why should I have to take medication???” The answer is that because sometimes when our emotional system is asked to handle too much trauma, shock and negative emotion all at once and over an extended period of time it throws our brain chemistry out of balance. Sometimes it goes back into balance on its own and sometimes it does not. Obsessing for too long a time as well as experiencing certain other symptoms over an extended length of time can indicate that something besides the healing passage of time is needed. Research has shown that in these cases that the most efficient therapeutic approach for the fastest symptomatic relief is the right combination of therapy and medication. So even though it seems so very unfair, medication may nevertheless be worth considering, if you are really miserable and haven’t been able to get relief from any other source.
There is more information available on this topic, if you still have questions not answered by this section please call me. I’m usually available within 24-48 hrs to answer questions, schedule phone coaching sessions or office coaching/therapy sessions, or direct you to other resources.
Remember: Research / statistics on infidelity indicates that receiving counseling after the discovery of an affair is the single best predictor of recovery.