“Fifteen years I’ve invested in this marriage,” said Joe. “Fifteen years, and then I come to find out she’s had an affair with her old high school squeeze. It’s not bad enough to think you’re happy all those years, but then to get socked with something like that? Not to mention, my mind no longer feels like it’s my own. Everything I think now seems to come with its own dark cloud. Over and over in my head-it’s like a funeral in there. I’d like to be happy, like I was. Or thought I was. And that’s just it. How am I supposed to think things are going to get better, when my head is stuck in this pool of negativity? I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

Joe isn’t the only person who has felt his thoughts were no longer under his control, or that he’s drowning in dark and ugly thoughts.

If you are the spouse finding out about an affair, you probably feel like you’ve received a blow to the gut. It’s ugly, negative news. If you’re like Joe, who was under the impression that everything in his marriage was going well, it feels even worse, because in addition to the betrayal, you’ve found out that you cannot trust your own feelings.

As the “victim”, you may feel like you’re going crazy. In an effort to grasp the how’s and why’s of your spouse’s affair, you are probably trying to comprehend what is often incomprehensible. Sometimes, in your effort to understand, you question if there are any foundations of truth anymore, and every little thing that happens seems related to the affair.

Do you experience these thoughts?

1. “I don’t think this marriage will withstand this strain.”
2. “He’s a scoundrel. I can’t stand to look at him right now, let alone touch him.”
3. “Is the other guy smarter than me? Better looking? What does he have that I don’t? Is it because I gained a few pounds?”
4. “Did I spend too much time with the kids, and not enough time with my husband?”

Negative thoughts include a mix about the victim, about the cheater, and about the marriage itself. Everything begins to be defined in relation to the infidelity.

Negative Thought Loops

In seeking to understand what has happened, you may become hungry for details-many people in your situation are. Thinking of the betrayal will spark questions, it will create images, and all of these thoughts-centered on this negative situation-can begin to consume your every waking minute and invade your dreams.

You will probably continue to be haunted by negative thoughts until you take the necessary steps to handle what can feel like an overwhelming inner struggle. There is no overnight solution for escaping the negative thought loop, and as you work to climb free of it, you will experience slips along the way. But you will heal-and own your own thoughts again.

Reclaim Your Inner Sanctuary

You don’t want to dwell in turmoil and misery. Your mind is your inner sanctuary, and only you can reclaim it.

As the injured spouse in all of this, you weren’t consulted about the affair, and you certainly didn’t ask for this to happen to you. Yes, it is unfair that your spouse betrayed you, and that you have no peace-even in your own mind-from your spouse’s awful actions.

You can’t change the past, but you can affect your future by managing your thinking. There is no quick-fix. Negative thoughts can be tenacious, and yet you can repair your thinking, if you are willing to struggle against your old thoughts and practice positive replacements.

Before you begin any healing effort in your marriage, you must protect yourself first. You are not going to fully trust your spouse for a long time. If you are going to repair your marriage, though, you will have to begin prior to the time when your full trust returns. To protect yourself, you need to experience some major positive changes in your spouse’s behavior before you work on your own nightmarish thoughts.

When you are ready to repair your thoughts and regain control and power over what goes on in your head, you can start with these steps:

Step 1: Play the Hunter: Thought-tracking

Like a hunter, you will track your thoughts, locating the telltale footprints of the negative ones as they occur.

If you were interested in losing weight, you would track what you eat. If you tracked everything you ate, you are likely to scale back on food in general, and probably more so those that aren’t waistline-friendly. Or, if you wanted to eliminate smoking, you may track how many cigarettes you actually smoke and find that just by accurately tracking your cigarette usage, you are likely to smoke less.

When tracking your thoughts, develop awareness of the times or places you are:

. Less likely to have negative thoughts
. More likely to have negative thoughts
. Have no negative thoughts at all, or almost none

Step 2: Play the Detective: Uncover negative thought-loop patterns

Look for patterns as to when you experience negative thought-loops, or in other words, times when your thoughts seem to get stuck in a repeating loop of negative ideas:

. Are these loops related to certain times of the day? When you’re trying to settle down for bedtime? Or, do the thoughts begin during your commute in traffic? Or, when else?

. Are these loops related to an activity that you engage in? When you’re watching a movie, or when you go to your favorite restaurant for dinner? Or, where else?

. Are these loops related to something you see or hear? Maybe you see a car while driving that is the same model or color as the paramour’s car, and it sets off the negative thoughts. Or, you’re listening to your radio, and a news story comes on about a politician’s affair. Or, something else?

Step 3: Break negative thought-loop patterns

Once you have discovered the patterns that define when negative thoughts are occurring for you, create actionable steps that break the pattern, planning ahead for when these occurrences may crop up.

. Time of day: If you’ve discovered that your thoughts turn negative at bedtime, change your bedtime ritual. Take a warm soak in the tub, or read poetry in your chair rather than the newspaper in bed. If these thoughts occur during your commute, listen to a book-on-tape.

Do anything that grabs your attention away from those thoughts and breaks the problem pattern.

. During an Activity: You may have found that your usual movie fare is contributing to those negative thoughts. So, switch your taste in movies, at least for the time-being while you are retraining yourself out of this pattern. If you normally sit down to a romantic comedy, choose an adventure film, or suspense. If your favorite restaurant is where you find yourself caught up in negative thoughts, find another restaurant-even if it has to be in a different neighborhood.

. Something You Unexpectedly See/Hear: Maybe you’ve discovered that you are randomly broadsided by things you see and hear-you never know what will cause the thought-loop to launch. In this case, be ready: actively fight the thought as you realize it’s occurring. Have something in place that you can use as a deflector.

For example, if you see a car that reminds you of the one driven by the paramour of your spouse, turn your head and look at a building out of your other car window (of course, not if this would interfere with your safe driving). If you hear something on the radio, lift your hand and turn the dial to another station.

Take an active stance of some sort to break the pattern-don’t give it an opportunity to gain a foothold on your thinking, which means stopping the problem-thinking at the earliest possible time in the sequence.

In order to be successful at these techniques, you have to practice other thoughts when there is no problem thinking. You have to have a ready list of pleasant or positively entertaining thoughts prepared prior to the time one of these loops begins.

For example, when something brings up a mental image that would lead into a negative thought loop, have a standby image ready with which to replace it. Picture a bucket of turquoise-blue paint, and when an unbidden image pops up in your head, grab an imaginary paintbrush and lay the paint on thick, covering the scene.

If your thoughts are not your own right now, there’s no point in needlessly suffering and feeling as if you’re losing control of everything in your world, including your own mind.

Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,

Stephanie Anderson


Marriage Sherpa

P.S. Now, I’d like to hear from you. When do negative thought loops occur for you? Simply scroll down and click the comment link at the bottom of this page.

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