Remember the scene from the movie “Best Man” where Lance fights flashbacks of betrayal running through his head at the altar. Yet, somehow, he finds the strength to marry Mia despite her having slept with his best man Harper. He doesn’t allow the flashbacks that could be a setback to keep him from making a decision and commitment to move forward in his relationship. While this is a movie, it truly imitates life. With forgiveness and the below strategies, your marriage can confront and conquer flashbacks after an affair just as my husband and I have done.
I can honestly say I’ve been here personally, minus the altar scene. I have been haunted by flashbacks and sexual visions that I too have battled as a result of my husband’s affair. For every victory my husband would win, it seemed like he’d have to take a step or two back almost every time a flashback was triggered.
No matter how hard I fought (and, oh yes, you can trust and believe it is a fight to combat such ugly visions, the devil tried to get all up in the details and will do the same with you too) I could not free myself from these thoughts until I did the things I outline below. Often times it truly can feel like you are taking one step forward and five steps back. This typically proves true especially when you’re experiencing headway between you and your spouse. I remember asking, “Will this roller coaster ride ever end?” Hard as it is to grasp, I promise you with patience and the below strategies, they will slowly become a thing of the past.
Seek Spousal Support
Understand flashbacks are a shared responsibility and experience. For the spouse who has strayed, this can be very hard because flashbacks stir up feelings of guilt and/or frustration. However, as challenging as it may be, the fastest road to getting back to “normal” and advancing the marriage is for the unfaithful partner to be extremely patient and understanding. Though it will not come naturally, I promise you it is a powerful bonding experience. If you both approach this with the right attitude you can actually end up feeling closer than ever before in your marriage and not only survive, but thrive.
Identify Your Triggers
In an effort to either avoid or prepare yourself against future occurrences, you should become sensitive and conscious to people, places, things, and situations that trigger your flashbacks. Pay close attention and, as time goes by, you will be able to stay clear of the situations that can cause emotional harm.
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Understanding triggers allows both spouses to work as a T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More) to avoid flashbacks and/or fights. I can recall saying to Chris “When you’re late getting home from work or other functions and I haven’t heard from you, I worry about where you are, who you’re with and what you’re doing. Can we figure out a way to be proactive in avoiding this from happening?” Perhaps there is a place that triggers a flashback (e.g. driving by the restaurant you walked in on your spouse and the affair partner as you discovered the affair). Until you are over the affair, I strongly suggest avoiding it and taking a different route until you KNOW it will not phase you. Trust me, you will get to that place if you persevere!
Flashback Self Soothing
I’m encouraging you to try various activities until you determine what works best for you. Pay very close attention to what calms you when you have a flashback and put this into practice repeatedly along with other soothing/relaxing activities. Perhaps you want your spouse to acknowledge your feelings by offering to hold and reassure you. Or maybe you want your spouse to extend you time and space to be by yourself. Let your spouse know what works best for you and don’t be hesitant in communicating your truth. Be upfront and forth coming with what is on your heart.
Flashbacks are inevitable. Don’t try to stop them initially until you have mastered managing them (this will come in time, trust me I know). Trying to stop them early on could intensify and increase more flashbacks. Say to yourself, “This is just a flashback passing by.” Flashbacks are like roller-coasters. No matter how terrifying they may seem, no matter how much it feels like it will never end, they last no more than 10-15 minutes on average. Occasionally, they might last a little longer, but that is rare. Just like roller-coasters have ups and downs, so will you in terms of them coming in waves. Just hold on, recognize it for what it is, seek the help and support you need while taking comfort in knowing…this too shall pass!
If your flashback frequency occurs less often and doesn’t hit you as hard, pat yourself on the back because you’ve made progress! The more you’re able to identify that you’re getting a healthier handle on monitoring and managing your flashbacks, the faster they will improve. You will know that healing after an affair is nearly complete when flashbacks don’t make you think twice and you can carry on immediately, functioning in your day while having confidence in yourself and the marriage.