Obsessing over a partner’s infidelity is a natural response to the trauma of discovery. Most individuals find themselves unable, at times, to stop turning over in their minds the lies, snippets of conversation, unanswered questions and things that never added up. Re-visualizing the same devastating images of the affair couple together is also very common. Although this can be agonizing it is actually part of the healing process that will probably go on for some time.
It might feel strange to think of these sometimes excrutiating experiences as part of healing when it just feels like going over the same thing over and over again. However, there are many reasons why almost everyone obsesses after being traumatized. Here are a few common ones.
Usually, the mind cannot easily assimilate what has been revealed. It can be shocking. At first the mind reacts to shock by refusing to fully absorb it. Replaying everything over and over can be a way of grappling with the paradox of knowing what is happening is real, on one hand, while not being able to fully believe it, on the other.
The feeling of belonging that marriage gives many is based, in part, on a shared history. The revelation of an affair is a direct assault on that experience. Many of the stories, and meanings attached to those stories about the marriage no longer feel true. A much more painful story starts to take shape. Assumptions about who each spouse is and what the marriage has been about no longer hold. The mind tries to reconstruct the history of the marriage, searching among the ruins, sifting through debris, trying to find the pieces needed to rebuild a more truthful narrative. This is a struggle to make sense of what has happened.
For many, discovery brings on an emotional roller coaster that can feel like it is going to careen out of control. Repetitive questions or thoughts about what has happened is a way to focus one’s energy away from one’s intense and sometimes unbearable emotions such as hurt, anger and despair. This is important and useful at times. It can help the discoverer to continue to function at work, or as a parent during the crisis.
Trying to Regain Control
Obsessive thinking can also be about trying to achieve emotional mastery over the trauma. It’s as if the mind says, “If I re-raumatize myself over and over, then I am in control of it, rather than it being something that is happening to me.”
So, those repetitive thoughts, questions and images are serving particular functions. But if one desires to truly heal, it is important to get help to move beyond this mode of experiencing. In my next post I will discuss different ways to deal with these disturbing experiences.