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Women & Divorce Trauma - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia discuss this on CBS 11 by clicking here.

Kennedy heir and award winning journalist, Maria Shriver’s headline breaking divorce from former California governor and megastar, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has dominated the summer celebrity news. The pending divorce settlement will leave Maria with millions of dollars but it may also leave some psychological trauma.

So, how does infidelity trauma affect most women?

Most of the time it is devastating and there are few resources for women to turn to that explain what they are going through.

Marital Crime: Infidelity is a marital “crime” and systematic concealment and falsification characterizes every affair. If you don’t lie, you can’t cheat. When you are the recipient of lying and infidelity, you have to go back and rewrite all of your past and present experiences. You begin to doubt your own perceptions since reality has now been redefined by these discoveries.

Trauma is Lack of Power: Trauma is a condition of powerlessness and when it is inflicted within a marriage, it is especially devastating psychologically for women. Trauma is magnified exponentially when it inflicted by the husband since that is supposed to be the one person she can count on.

Life Rearranged: Infidelity “rearranges” life for the woman who has been betrayed. When you are reeling from infidelity, previous formulas about life no longer apply. Trust is shot, the past and present are redefined and the future is an uncertain road that stretches on into oblivion. Your husband becomes someone “you no longer know.”

Isolated and Alone: Infidelity trauma is especially difficult especially when a celebrity is involved. The couple usually decides to withdraw into silence, as the affair is played out on the public stage.

But do all women endure long standing trauma after infidelity?

I think that most women go through some phase of trauma as they regroup and regain their emotional strength. Because women identify so fully with their relationships, their entire life is fundamentally affected. Happily, most women do move past it and are wiser for it. However, they have to be mindful of how damaging infidelity is on their self-confidence and sense of order and control in the world.

Here are the can make infidelity and divorce trauma better or worse:

There is a simple and direct correlation between the severity of the trauma and the effect on the woman.

  • How Long the Affair Lasted
  • The Number of People Involved (number of partners or the birth of a child as in this case)
  • Who was Involved (Best Friends versus Strangers)
  • The Level of Falsification and Concealment
  • How Long It Took to Discover - Affairs that involve incremental disclosure are much harder to handle. Such disclosures affect the basic feelings of control, safety and predictability in the offended woman. Overwhelming anxiety increases as the progressive discoveries are made.

Without a doubt, the betrayed woman is more likely to ultimately leave the marriage.

According to the research, Maria leaving Arnold is very predictable. A profound discontent seems to disrupt her faith and allegiance to her husband and over time, she may become disillusioned. Although the woman may often agree to stay in the marriage initially, she usually does not get the right treatment for trauma which sets her up to gradually detach from the marriage. However, sometimes the betrayal is so hurtful, as in this case, that the woman cannot stay in a marriage she now finds intolerable. Remember, that the erosion of affection is a progression, not an event, and many people—including the spouse who has cheated-- are shocked when the betrayed woman finally calls it quits.

Here's what women can do to cope with betrayal in their relationships:

First of all, we need to be compassionate with ourselves. Women are incredibly compassionate with others but often are hard on them. We often do not acknowledge our pain and do not process where we are. Infidelity is something that we survive but that we do not ignore.

Here are the three steps:

Kinder To Ourselves: Stop beating ourselves up all the time but don’t ignore the pain. Recognize that being sad and confused is a normal part of recovery and that things will get better. This doesn’t last forever.

Recognizing our common humanity with other women

Mindfulness: focusing on the blessings we have right now and not indulging in catastrophic views of the future.

We need to remember that after trauma there is always the potential of growth. In fact a substantial number of women show depression and anxiety but they move on and become wiser and better people. They have more self-confidence, are more aware of their personal strengths and they are more insightful with others.

For More Information:

"Flourish" by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

"Trauma and Recovery" by Judith Herman M.D.

"Self-Compassion" by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.


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