Perhaps one of the most derailing experiences for both spouses is the infidelity flashback – that re-experiencing of negative emotion, such as betrayal, sadness, anger and depression, or remembering the pain felt at the moment of discovery, or when the betrayed spouse actually caught the straying spouse cheating. Infidelity flashbacks are incredibly common and they are just our brain’s way of sorting through all that negative emotion – but what can be incredibly difficult about it is when these flashbacks crop up in the most unlikely of scenarios.
Perhaps you’re finally able to make love for the first time following the discovery of the affair and you suddenly get a flashback of how you felt the day after you discovered it. Perhaps you’re feeling happier than you’ve felt in a long time and you get a flashback of the memory of discovering that your spouse was cheating on you. Whatever the infidelity flashback, it will always be unpleasant. But there is a way to cope – to remember that these flashbacks will not go on forever, and that eventually, you’ll get to a stage where remembering the affair will just cause a twinge of unhappiness rather than an overwhelming feeling of sadness.
Work through the flashbacks as a couple
If you work through the infidelity flashbacks of the affair as a couple, rather than alone, it can make them easier to deal with. To begin with, before the marriage starts to be rebuilt, the straying spouse can find the flashbacks of their betrayed spouse a little bit irritating. They might think that their spouse is putting too much focus on the affair and that they are just using the affair as an excuse to start arguments.
But it’s also important for the betrayed spouse to learn to discuss these flashbacks without playing the blame game as this will only cause arguments. The betrayed spouse should say something like “I feel upset because I was watching something on the television that brought back unpleasant memories. Could you give me a cuddle so that I feel better?”
This approach is much better than “I can’t watch television anymore without wanting to cry because of the horrible things you did to me”. The straying spouse should then hold their spouse and do their best to make them feel better, to help them cope with those negative emotions – instead of acting irritated or exasperated with their spouse.
Rewrite flashbacks and make them something positive
Flashbacks can be incredibly negative. But once you face a flashback together – perhaps the straying spouse sits and holds their spouse after they’ve gotten upset after watching a certain television programme, the flashback doesn’t always have to be negative. Next time the betrayed spouse watches that television programme, they can remember that restorative experience with their spouse, rather than the negative emotions attached to the programme. They can remember those feelings of trust, contentment and happiness surrounding that experience with their spouse – and next time, the flashback will be much, much less hurtful.
Avoid triggers for flashbacks
Within reason, if you know that a certain location, area, activity or product is going to cause you pain and upset, it is best to avoid it. For example, if the straying spouse often met up with the affair partner in a certain restaurant or bar, it is completely understandable that the betrayed spouse would want to avoid that location. However, although it is preferable to avoid triggers for flashbacks where possible, in some cases, this is completely unreasonable or unavoidable – for example, if the betrayed spouse experiences triggers in every room of the house, in their car or on the train, there isn’t really any way to avoid it.
The only way to turn these negative triggers around and to prevent flashbacks is for the betrayed spouse to try to remember all the times that they took that particular journey or spent time in a certain room and had a positive experience, rather than a negative one. Try to remember when you took that train journey and all you thought about was how picturesque the view was. Or when you were sitting at home and you had fantastic news about your best friend’s pregnancy.
Whatever it is, you will be able to attribute a positive experience to whatever location, object or item that currently has negative triggers for you. When you start to have a flashback, instead of letting yourself get upset, think about all of the positive things you can and with time, you’ll start to retrain yourself into letting that item or object have positive triggers for you rather than negative ones.
Ride the flashback
Sometimes, the best way to deal with a negative trigger is to experience it rather than stamp it out. Some people will need to feel the full extent of that pain, rather than stamp it out – so maybe try to ride out the pain of the flashback. It will be uncomfortable, it will be difficult and it will be upsetting – but afterwards, you might find that you feel cleansed and just a little bit more able to move on. When you’re in the middle of a flashback, remind yourself that it is just a flashback. It is not new pain and it is not rediscovery of the affair. It is just a memory – that’s it, no more than that. Reminding yourself that it is just a memory and nothing more is a great way to put things into perspective.
Eventually, your flashbacks will pass almost entirely. As the marriage grows stronger and stronger and the relationship becomes more solid, the flashbacks will wane as there is no longer any need to attribute negativity to certain locations, places, objects or activities. Sometimes, something may throw you off balance, causing a flashback – perhaps coming across the affair partner in your local supermarket. But if you deal with it in one of the ways outlined above, it doesn’t have to throw you back completely. View it as a wobble, nothing more.