Experiencing flashbacks is one of the re-experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have experienced infidelity in your marriage, you probably find yourself struggling with this. In a flashback, you may feel or act as though the discovery day when you learned about your husband’s infidelity is happening again. One wife aptly described it this way: “It happens so fast. I just read something or saw something that would remind me of what happened, then I’ll be surprised I’m in that situation again. Same place, same time, same feelings.”
Wives who frequently experience this, especially those who discovered it only recently, feel despair and hopelessness. The anger and the pain are something they want to get rid off but had no idea how. As a consequence, they would lash out at their husbands or they would obsess again about the affair story. The husbands in return, would feel angry at the outburst and obsession of their wives. Thus, as a couple they feel that they’re back to square one, where it seems like their efforts to move on and rebuild their relationship are not going anywhere.
Flashbacks are normal responses given an abnormal situation. Angry outbursts are also automatic responses when experiencing flashbacks, but this is an ineffective way to deal with flashbacks. It’s like a child throwing things when angry and frustrated. The child must learn how to express anger and frustration appropriately without throwing tantrums. Similarly, the wife who is lashing out at her husband must need to learn how to cope and deal with flashbacks that won’t further destroy their marriage. There are different steps to cope with flashbacks individually and as a couple:
- Identify the triggers. Triggers could be a place you and your spouse passed through. It could be a date, establishment (e.g., mall, coffee shop) or his activity (e.g., went home late, went to bar with friends).
- Cope as a couple and share the trigger with your spouse. Also, tell your husband whenever something accidentally triggers you and what you’re experiencing right at the moment (e.g., quick heartbeats, sweating, quivering). One wife shared that while they were driving, they passed by a certain place which triggered a flashback. You could say something like, “I feel irritated again, that place triggered me because you and her went there.”
- Tell him how he can support and soothe you to help you calm down (e.g., rub your back, hug you, reassure you with words). One wife shared she would say something like, “whenever I get mad at you, please remind me of the book (Secrets of Fascinating Womanhood) I am reading.”
- Avoid the triggers if you can. Refrain from watching tv programs of movies which you know is about infidelity. This could make you think ill of your husband again or lash out at him, which is unfair for him especially if he is doing everything he can to make you feel emotionally secured and to earn back your trust.
- Cope as an individual. You can write on a journal or diary your thoughts, feelings and questions. You can pray and meditate and listen to spiritual songs. It is not advisable that you keep on texting your husband or calling him in the office to request for assurance every time you have flashbacks. Turn to him when your flashbacks are unbearable and cope as a couple.
- Accept your flashbacks and don’t block it. Although experiencing this can be frustrating and distressing, allowing your body to feel it will not kill you. Blocking it or suppressing will just prolong your healing process.
Remember that the problem in this kind of situation is not your spouse. Yes, he is the one who caused you this pain in the beginning, but he is also the source of your healing. That is why you need to include him in your coping with flashback.
With recent discoveries, flashbacks can be intense and recurrent. But as time passes, its frequency and magnitude diminishes. Although it makes you feel you’re back in the beginning, it doesn’t really mean that you’re not progressing. It is but a normal feeling and reaction.
- Recovering From The Affair: Your Guide To Saving Your Marriage After Emotional Or Physical Infidelity by Lee H. Baucom, PhD.
- After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful by Janis A. Spring, PhD.