In forgiving infidelity, it could potentially improve your health. Let me explain.
The emotional devastation you face when your spouse has cheated on you has the power to suck you down into a vortex of hopelessness and desperation. I’ve heard it described as a sickening cocktail of rage, anguish, anxiety, self-doubt, and sleepless nights. The psychological impact is tremendous …
What you may not realize is that these emotions can cripple your physical health as well. And the longer you remain in the smothering embrace of negative emotions, the more likely it is to have an impact on your health.
Forgiving infidelity is asking a lot. However, there are ways to ease the pain and minimize its unhealthy effects. In this article, we’ll look at the idea of forgiveness which is a huge hurdle for many. I will also review a proven alternative to forgiveness-one that has the power to help you reduce your emotional anguish, even if you’re not ready for “forgiving and forgetting.”
But first, let’s look at how marital problems can take their toll on your health.
Marital Turmoil Impacts Physical Health
Two of the most important pillars of long-term physical and mental health are shaken to the core when your spouse cheats. These are your social support structure and your stress level.
Many studies have shown the importance of stable, healthy, human relationships in physical health. For example, we know that having a supportive friend present during stressful situations reduces cardiovascular activity and improves long-term health.(i)
When your spouse cheats on you, your best, most supportive friend no longer feels very reliable. This upset can cause your blood pressure to go up and increase your cardiovascular activity. When this goes on too long, it can be bad for your health.
More to the point, unchecked chronic psychological stress can be absolutely devastating. When you are stressed out, powerful chemicals like cortisol are released into your bloodstream. For short-term stress these chemicals are necessary for your survival. If you’re about to step in front of a bus, they send signals through your body telling you to get out of the way.
But when stress goes on too long, these powerful biochemicals erode your health from the ground up and impact every system in your body.
Obviously, when your spouse cheats on you it can be VERY stressful. When you don’t address this stress, it can eat away at your body as well as your mind.
Put simply: Negative feelings can take you on a downward health spiral. The longer you remain in this state, the harder it can become to let go of those negative feelings, and they can expand into other negative effects. Suddenly, this becomes your new normal: unhappy and unhealthy.
Before it reaches this point, you need to take steps to preserve your health. Here are some options …
Forgiveness: A Bitter Pill To Swallow
According to a study published by the University of Tennessee’s Department of Psychology in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers have measured lower blood pressure levels and heart rates in those who have gone through the act of forgiving someone for their transgressions.(ii) In short, those who forgive have lower mental stress and their cardiovascular system reacts in a positive way.
Now I know many of you will find the idea of forgiving infidelity your spouse has committed to be a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you’ve just learned about an affair. It probably doesn’t feel realistic to forgive your spouse right now, and the truth is it may not be. You can’t simply flip a switch on your emotions that way.
But you need a way to eliminate the torment you’re living in and the anxiety it provokes, while protecting yourself from its damaging physical and psychological effects.
Luckily, there is an alternative to forgiveness.
Acceptance: An Alternative Escape from Turmoil
In his book, How to Survive an Affair, Dr. Frank Gunzburg introduces an alternative to forgiveness that he calls acceptance. Essentially, this means coming to terms with that which you cannot change. You can’t change the reality of your spouse’s affair no matter how much you may want to. But you can accept this awful past so you can move on toward a brighter future, and doing so may diminish your stress levels a great deal.
Here are a few steps that will help you begin the journey.
Step 1: Name Your Pain
When you are ready to move forward with your life and leave behind your negative, unhealthy emotions, one of the first steps you can take is to acknowledge exactly what you’re feeling by naming your emotions.
Ask yourself the following questions, and take some time to consider your answers. You may even want to write some responses in your journal:
- What thoughts and feelings are tormenting you?
- Describe what feelings are overwhelming you: anger, disappointment, sadness, jealousy, or a combination of these feelings?
- When thoughts turn toward your spouse, what feelings do you associate with him or her?
- What scenario plays over and over in your mind?
Step 2: Process Your Emotions Instead of Stuffing Them Down
Once you have identified how you feel, you need to process these emotions. Don’t just stuff them down or hide them away. When you do this you only amplify their physical and emotional impact. Instead, try these simple techniques for releasing yourself from the grip of your painful feelings:
- Breathe – Take a few minutes to breathe deeply into your abdomen. Focus on the air coming into your body and think about what it feels like as it passes through your nostrils. As you exhale, let go of all the tension in your body and say the word “relax” to yourself. This alone can have a profound impact on your health.
- Distract Yourself – If you can’t breathe through your emotions, distract yourself from them. Brooding tends to amplify negative feelings. Try taking a time out from life. You might go for a jog, go see a funny movie, or take a long, hot bath.
- Talk it out with a Friend – Remember what we discussed about social support earlier? Well, if you can’t rely on your spouse, you may be able to talk to a trusted friend instead. Getting your emotions off your chest this way can be a big advantage.
Step 3: Accept When You are Ready
Acceptance doesn’t have a timeline attached to it. It’s a place you will arrive when you are ready, after you have a firm understanding of what you are feeling and how these emotions are affecting you.
As you work through the affair and it starts to move to the back of your mind, you may feel yourself moving toward acceptance. Don’t block this progress because you think you “should” still feel bad about the affair. Do what is right for you and your marriage, and only you can know what that is.
Now I’d like to ask you a few questions …
What happened to your health when you found out your spouse cheated on you?
Did you experience health problems as a result of the turmoil it caused?
If you haven’t reached a place of forgiveness for the affair, what is your opinion on attempting this idea of acceptance? Do you think it could bring you peace?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,
(i) Lepore, S., Allen, K., and Evans, G. 1993. Social support reduces cardiovascular activity to an acute stressor. Psychosomatic Medicine. 52, 42.
(ii) Whited, M., Wheat, A., and Larkin, K. 2010. The influence of forgiveness and apology on cardiovascular reactivity and recovery in response to mental stress. Journal of Behavioral Medicine.