Many women look forward to Valentine’s Day as the celebration of their spouse’s love and commitment, the day he pours his love into your spirit. But if your heart has been shattered by betrayal, the candy hearts, flower bouquets, and saccharine cards with words of love and commitment serve as cruel reminders of all you have lost.
As a psychologist, I counsel many women whose lives have been torn apart by the discovery of infidelity or a spouse’s sex addiction. If you fall into this category, especially if you are still in the early shock phase, you are aware that your wedding anniversary may be a trigger for tremendous grief. You have likely figured out that your D-Day anniversary, or the day you discovered your mate’s betrayal, will also be agonizing.
However, if you are like the women I work with, the one day that can sneak up on you is Valentine’s Day. This generally shows up in one of three ways: 1) dealing with Valentine’s Day triggers, 2) boundary decisions about what you want from your mate on February 14th, and 3) what, if anything, you do to honor him on that day.
In our overly commercialized modern world, come February, you can count on Valentine’s Day reminders to be in your face no matter where you go. You can’t escape the hype — from the stuffed animals and candied hearts in the grocery stores, to Victoria’s secrets ads that suddenly seem to quadruple, to the jewelry commercials that beckon your man to gift you with diamonds as a symbol of your love, to the radio stations that all conspire to play the exact love songs for ripping out what little remains of your heart.
No matter how you try to avoid it, Valentine’s Day serves to remind you of your doubts about whether there was any truth in words of love from your past Valentine’s Days — or whether you even believe in love anymore. When you are triggered into painful emotions or memories, just notice what you are experiencing without attaching to it. Remind yourself that the pain will come and go, as painful feelings always do.
If possible, reach out to a group of supportive women who understand and accept what you are going through. If not possible, find a way to get the feelings out, so they are not poisoning you from the inside. This might be journaling them out,r praying, drawing, screaming, walking,doing yoga, or getting yourself to a kickboxing class. Whatever you choose, make sure it fits your personality, has some physical component to release the impact of the pain that is in your body, and does not have a long-term harmful effect on you or others.
Other than faithfulness, determining what you need from your spouse on Valentine’s Day can be trickier than you might think. You may expect your mate to create the perfect Valentine’s Day that heals all your wounds, only to see your hope crater in despair when you realize the wounds are just too big for a quick fix and that you can no longer trust the romantic fantasies he creates for you. Alternatively, you may want to pretend the day doesn’t exist and just get through it any way you can, with the only goal to keep your heart from shattering into another million tiny pieces.
I ask the women I work with to think carefully about what they want and need from their spouse on Valentine’s and then to communicate that need to him. Many of the women I work with decide they cannot go through the motions of Valentine’s Day rituals and need their mate to treat it like it is just any other day. If this is the route you decide to take, and your spouse respects your wishes, monitor your reactions as a way of learning where your heart is really at.
If he complies with your request to skip Valentine’s this year, don’t blame him if, after the fact, you discover that the romance rituals were what you wanted. That is a sign of your ambivalence, and perhaps an unrecognized expectation that he read your mind instead of listening to your words. Remember that an open the door to your mind is also an open door to manipulation. It’s not a healthy option for either of you.
A part of your recovery journey is to make your words and resulting behavior match up regarding what you need from him if you are to have any chance of rebuilding trust. Without holding yourself accountable for making your words and behaviors synch, you’ll never be able to hold him accountable; become aware of this and include dealing with it as a part of your healing path.
If your spouse disregards your wishes, recognize this is a sign of how far he still has to go in recovery. A man deep on a recovery path would respect your wishes and respond with compassion but without absorbing guilt if it turns out YOU were wrong about what you really needed.
If you decide to participate in Valentine’s rituals in some way, you will also be faced with what you want to do for him in return. Hallmark generally does not make cards for your specific situation. You will sift through a lot of cards and might go into sugar shock before you find one that you can tolerate. Some women report a brief written note or generic friendship card to be less painful.
Regardless of your choices in healing from your betrayal, be kind and gentle with yourself on Valentine’s Day. If you can’t be grateful about anything else, be thankful it only comes once a year.
Dr. Janice Caudill is the founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery. MCR offers individual, couples, group therapy and multi-day intensives for partners of sex addicts and wounded hearts struggling with sex addiction, infidelity, love addiction or love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, or relational trauma in the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Richardson, Frisco, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and surrounding areas.
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