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Ask the therapist: he cheated on me multiple times – I thought he was my person for life

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Dear Lucy,

I was with my ex-boyfriend for 8 years. I thought that he was my person for life, and we would be married and have kids. I then found out that he cheated on me, multiple times. We broke up not long after that, and that was a good two years ago. I should be over it, but I still feel so angry about it. It is getting in the way of potential new relationships, but I don’t know how to get rid of this feeling?

Lucy…

Ah, anger, my old friend. 

Here’s the things about anger. Actually, bear with me, there are a few things about anger….

The first thing, is that you are perfectly entitled to feel angry. Feeling angry is ok. 

Quite often, and this may have been your experience as a child, adults make children feel that they are wrong to be angry.

However, anger gets bad press. What we need to separate is that feeling anger isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes, the behaviours that can come with anger are destructive and frightening. When a child gets angry often some behaviour accompanies that – they shout, they throw things, they hit, bite, or sulk….it is these behaviours that adults take issue with.

But to a child, they are being told off for their feeling, which they cannot help, and not the behaviours, which can be helped. This translates to anger being relegated to a set of emotions (and there are a host of these) which should not be felt, is undesirable, and to be avoided or suppressed at all costs. You want to get rid of the feeling.

I’m not sure you can get rid of a feeling that wants to be heard, even if it is an uncomfortable feeling. So I say let it be heard, let it be, let it surface.

You are angry, and that is ok. Your whole past, present and future got obliterated in a moment. Your faith and trust in another person dismantled. Someone you loved caused you immense pain. And for that, anger seems rather fitting. By wanting rid of your anger, and its persistence, you are perhaps giving yourself another thing to be angry about. This only adds to your burden. So I repeat, it is ok for you to be angry. 

The second thing about anger, is that it can be a masking emotion. We find it surprisingly easy to get to anger, and then the social conditioning sets in and we stop at anger, and try to shut it off. Perhaps, its better to say that we get stuck on anger, as opposed to working it through to the other emotions that often hide-out behind anger. We grapple with anger because it’s often a cover for deeper, underlying feelings.

These can be, I’m afraid to say more painful or uncomfortable feelings than anger itself. This is why anger can be described as a protective emotion – not only does it trigger our fight or flight response to protect us from perceived external threats, but it also protects us internally from some of these more painful feelings.

The feelings that anger commonly mask include hurt, fear, disappointment, shame, guilt, embarrassment, betrayal, jealousy, worry. And, if these feelings haven’t been able to surface – because we’ve found ourselves stuck on anger – then they can continue to call on anger as their cover.

You say that it’s been two years since you found out about your ex-partner’s multiple betrayals, and the relationship ended; time really has no relevance in our internal worlds when the emotional intensity is as fresh as if it had only just happened. And this can often be the case when the full emotional gamut of response has not yet been experienced, surfaced, and worked through. 

So, I say sit with it. Sit with your anger, until it whispers its true name to you. 

If you have a dilemma you’d like me to put some thought to, email me directly: lucy@lucybutlercounselling.co.uk.

Lucy Butler

Psychodynamic Counsellor

www.lucybutlercounselling.co.uk

@lucybutlercounselling

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