How to Control Triggers After Being Cheated On

Triggers arrive unasked for, invade our lives, and have us looking like out-of-control crazy-makers after infidelity. They are an invasive consequence of having our lives and futures threatened by being cheated on. Yet we want to be free from the stress that triggers create so we can heal from the betrayal pain and live our lives in peace. Learning to control triggers after being cheated on can often feel like an impossible task. When they hit us, we question whether we really can control them or if they will ever stop. Triggers can land so intensely that they often feel outside our control. Now that your partner cheated, are you wondering whether you will have out-of-control triggers for the rest of your life?

Disclaimer: I still get triggered at times. I spend time doing self-care and mindful healing because I am not perfect, but I want to live a fulfilling life free from the stress triggers cause. As a betrayed wife, I have chosen to live with more awareness of my triggers and to create the felt sense of safety I need in my life to be stress-free. In this post, I want to share what I have learned about controlling and processing triggers, or rather, accepting them and learning from them to feel safe and heal my betrayal trauma.

Out-of-control Triggers

So why do we have reoccurring or out-of-control triggers that override our brains and steal our peace? And when we lose our calm, why do we become a crazy-maker with our partners, friends, or family? We hate doing it, right? Afterward, we feel bad and beat ourselves up for what we said and did. Out-of-control triggers leave us exhausted, emotionally unsafe, and at risk of hurting others and ourselves.

Once they arrive, it seems we can't shake specific triggers or worries out of our heads. Suddenly, we become fixated on a thing that overrides everything else. Our brains decide that this thing is a threat and the crazy-making feelings start within us. We perceive triggers as threats to our survival, and they hijack our brains and even our bodies!

We get fixated on some triggers

When triggered, our beautiful minds are no longer our best friends. They become master detectives, security guards, police officers, judges, and juries in an instant. And we can't think clearly because we are pounding the gavel so hard on the podium inside our heads. The issue takes precedence over everything in our lives, front and center, while our brains go crazy trying to resolve our perceived threat. So how do we control invading triggers once they start? The reality is that we feel the pain and stress of a trigger in our minds even though what we fear may not even be happening in real life.

"I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." - Mark Twain.

Yet we can sometimes act as if we will die if we don't neutralize or fix what our minds perceive as threatening. We become over-anxious, stress-filled, and frankly tunnel-visioned in our mission to end our sense of danger. But are we actually in danger? Or are our fears from our past being projected into our future that has triggered us? Questioning whether or not the trigger is showing us danger in the now is an essential step toward controlling it. 

Being Cheated on Triggers the Fear of Rejection

Triggers are a consequence of having our lives and futures threatened. The social rejection of being cheated on is so profoundly and resoundingly painful that our brains consider it life-threatening. Therefore, our minds become hypervigilant at reading danger signs; even a hint, memory, or suggestion of infidelity sends us into a tailspin. Our thoughts get stuck on overdrive, looking out for any sign of rejection, abandonment, or cheating occurring again. It's exhausting and feels out of control! Sadly, we can often get stuck on this exhausting trigger treadmill after being cheated on and left feeling we have no control over our life or the pain we are in.  As betrayed wifes, betrayal and all the baggage it causes really sucks for us.

The facts are that intimate betrayal is traumatic and we are left with many emotional responses! And for those of us who didn't form healthy attachments as children, being cheated on may trigger an even stronger compulsion to watch and look for threats. Threats take us back to our vulnerable past times when we weren't safe. Yet the trauma of being cheated on is enough to push even the most securely attached individuals into panic or stress states. Being cheated on is so traumatic that it leaves us with deep wounds that take a long time to heal.

Being Cheated on Feels Life Threatening

Are You Waiting for the Next Shoe to Drop? A danger after being cheated on is that the trauma can lock us into watching and judging our partners even unconsciously. We can get stuck on high alert, and any slight in love or affection sends us off the edge into triggered states. Behaviors that remind us of cheating have us pushing the red alert button in our heads. Inconsistencies in our partner's behaviors send our brains into overdrive, evaluating and questioning.

Our emotional volatility is fear motivated and we are afraid of being rejected or hurt again. So our minds remain vigilant and on the outlook for threats to our safety.  After being cheated on, it seems that any hint that looks like a betrayal, no matter how subtle, is perceived as dangerous or life-threatening to us. Our brains get wired, watching and waiting for cheating signals which send us into massive states of stress or hyperarousal even unconsciously.

Intimate betrayal is traumatic

We Change Who We Are When We Get Triggered

Whether the threat that has caught our attention is real or not gets lost on our over-anxious brains. In an instant, we change who we are and how we behave if we get triggered. Triggers cause us to lose our heads in the broadest sense as the thinking part of our brain disconnects, and what feels like a crazy-maker takes over. So we act out of character because we cannot think clearly, yet we are acting out! Us, not someone else. It's like a hostile takeover occurred within us! Everyone sees and hears us, but we don't even know who we are at that moment. When we are triggered, we feel out of control, and unable to respond the way we want.

While triggered, we can get fixated on strategies that we know would never work if we could think about them at the moment. But we aren't thinking; we are in a state of life-threatening stress! Sometimes we withdraw and shut down; other times, we overcompensate or get controlling. Our state changes while triggered, and we become angry, rage, cry, demand, or shut down—anything to control our partner's attention and divert it onto making us feel safe. We want to stop our perceived threat of re-abandonment, rejection, or whatever we have triggered over. The behavior we are displaying comes from a place of deep agony and fear, not because we are a horrible people.

Getting Triggered is Not Wrong

Sadly, our triggered behavior rarely has the desired effect on our partners'. We want support and safety from them, but they are mostly so overwhelmed by our conduct that they withdraw or fight back to protect themselves. Some courageous few stand firm and take it. But we push and push and push our partners in our attempts to alleviate our deep primal fear. The way we can behave when triggered doesn't support us or our relationships because we are not acting safely. Yet all we want is to feel safe. So how do we control our triggers so we can feel and act safe?

What if we were to accept that getting triggered is normal behavior after being cheated on? How would we feel about ourselves if we believed that the way we are experiencing these circumstances is the same as nearly every other betrayed woman? Who has the right to tell us that getting triggered is wrong? Is it us telling ourselves we are wrong? Are we carrying a burden of added fear or shame because our pain button gets pushed, and we react by getting triggered? Or do we turn it on our cheating husbands, punishing or blaming them because we get triggered?

When Triggered, it's Easy to Blame Our Cheating Partners' 

Unfortunately, blame stops us from accepting and processing our triggers. It is a way of rejecting our triggers and making them someone else's problem. Blaming our partner for our triggers inhibits our healing and leads to resentment. Resentment leaves us feeling like a victim, and victims can make others responsible for the way they feel.

Accepting that triggers are a normal reaction after infidelity can begin to put us in control of our betrayal recovery instead of feeling like a victim. Acceptance helps us recognise our triggers as normal and healthy threat responses after being cheated on.  When we own our emotional responses, rather that seeing them as terrible, we can use them to help us understand and recover from the pain they are protecting us from.


Our hyper-vigilance can calm down

Expect to Feel Triggered After Being Cheated On?

What would it feel like to accept that your triggers are helpful and typical experiences after being cheated on?  If you saw each trigger as your brain doing its job to keep you safe instead of blaming your partner (or their affair partner) for it, what might this mean for you? After all, keeping you alive and secure is the role of your brain. Your triggers are your brain doing it's job to help you stay safe!

So after betrayal, the unwanted nagging inside your head is your brain looking for problems to solve to keep you safe and that's important. Accepting our triggers supports us in healing our betrayal trauma by telling us exactly what needs to be healed at this time and helps us process our triggers in more controlled ways. 

Triggers are Normal After Being Cheated On!

But will the trigger noise ever stop? Will we ever be free from the fear of being cheated on again? Maybe, somewhat, eventually. As humans, do we ever overcome mind-chatter? Isn't this what differentiates us from animals?

Let me give you an example that helped me understand how to accept triggers and integrate them into my life. Those with children know that we constantly scan the environment subconsciously to ensure our baby's safety. We do it naturally without even thinking. It's an awareness that comes through both experiences and owning the responsibility for that child's life. We learned what to look out for, and we do it without barely a thought or a pause in our conversation...or so we think! In reality, our brain is always watching, processing, and evaluating.

As our children grow and mature, so too does our need to keep such a close eye on them start to relax. There was a natural growth away from us towards their independence as they grew up. The need to be vigilant becomes obsolete as we see them taking responsibility for themselves. But we will always be their mothers, and our hearts will remain turned towards their safety no matter how old they are—our actions and ways of handling the role of mother change over time, but not our emotional commitment to them.

So too, does our need to know everything about what our partner is doing lessen as we either see them taking responsibility for their actions or as we develop our own safe life environment to live in.

We Can Learn to Trust Again After Being Cheated On

As time goes on, if our partners repeatedly prove themselves trustworthy or we build a safe life separate from them, our hypervigilance around them or future partners does calm down somewhat. Our brains start to see and evaluate patterns of behavior we can acknowledge and eventually rely on as safe both in ourselves and our partners. We learn to trust again, slowly, as we consistently feel safe. Not as fast as we or our partners wish, but in our own time. It's a different type of trust, not a naive trust, but a trust that comes through our brains witnessing repeated safe experiences.

We also learn to trust ourselves and our ability to eventually heal from the traumatic thoughts that previously sent us over the edge at the drop of a hat. We can learn how to control our triggers after being cheated on, as we consistently recognise that we feel safe and are safe.

If our partner fails to show themselves as someone we can rely on or trust, our developing self-trust guides us to protect ourselves. We can do this by getting outside support or professional guidance and by setting healthy boundaries. Experience teaches us to trust ourselves and do whatever is necessary for our emotional and physical safety. Triggers can therefore lead us to take responsibility for ourselves, our safety, and our future.

It takes time and effort to heal from the betrayal's trauma and our partner's actions while they were unenlightened. We heal faster when we build a sense of felt safety by surrounding ourselves with people who accept our pain and understand our initial need to fix our perceived or real relational threats. 

Being Cheated On Feels Life-Threatening at the Time

While initially, our brains perceive the social rejection of being cheated on as life-threatening, we can heal and move on from that place of primal panic. It's harmful to remain in a state of ongoing stress, and it takes time and practice to move on from a trigger. As humans, we feel safer when we feel connected to other humans.

Triggers are natural and normal reactions after experiencing infidelity.  Do you and your partner accept that your triggers are normal responses and happen after being cheated on, and that you are not wrong to get triggered? We need compassion and understanding when we are triggered, not rejection or punishment. Accepting and owning a trigger helps us begin to put words to how we feel while triggered. By identifying and naming what is triggering us and bringing acceptance and ownership to our emotions, we support ourselves in learning to handle and control our triggers. Learning to control our triggers by joining with our feelings and not rejecting them is a part of our healing journey.

We Can Learn to Control Our Triggers 

How do we learn to control our triggers? To me, learning to control a trigger is like juggling. At first balls go everywhere all at once, and everything feels out of control. As we drop balls, we can often feel defeated, and that the art of juggling is beyond our scope. Sometimes we get hurt by the balls as they hit us in the face or fly astray and hit other people. Things can also get broken by out-of-control balls, but when we catch a ball it's a small victory. As achievements grow, so too does our confidence that we will eventually juggle one day.

Just like juggling, it takes a lot of time and practice join with our feelings and learn to control our triggers. As time goes on, we build confidence in our ability to move on from a trigger. Some people may appear to learn faster than others, but perhaps they aren't juggling as many balls. Comparisons are irrelevant in life because we all have our unique histories and journey.

When Triggered, Become Your Own Best Friend

We learn to become our own best friends in this healing process after being cheated on. Learning to sit with ourselves when triggered by joining with our feelings and walk ourselves through triggers is the best way we can learn to control them. But first we need to calm our minds so that we can think clearly. What can you do to calm yourself so you can engage with your wise mind after being triggered?

Suggestions on calming triggers so you can think clearly and engage with your wise mind again:-
  • Move away from or stop engaging with whatever or whoever is triggering you. 
  • Practice relaxing breathing techniques. (the self-care course has many breathing techniques to follow)
  • Take a walk to clear your mind, preferably in nature.
  • Take a hot shower or bath, a yoga lesson, or do a body scan to relax mindfully.
  • Wash your hands to help bring your focus to your five senses. (Feel the water on your skin, notice the temperature of the water, smell the soap,  watch the soap make bubbles as you rub your hands together, and listen to the water running down the drain).
  • Talk to yourself about the trigger and evaluate whether you are physically overwhelmed by something that isn't deserving the level of attention you are giving it.
  • Put on your favorite music and express your painful feelings through dance or movement.
  • Make peace with your big feeling first and then any other underlying little feelings.
  • Use a feelings wheel to identify your feelings.
  • Write about the trigger for 20 minutes. (Use the questions below.)
  • Talk to or send an email to a safe friend or person about the trigger.
  • Give yourself time and space daily to process the trauma and grief of being cheated on.
  • Join a course on healing from infidelity to support yourself in moving forward from the pain.

Whatever the Trigger, You Need Space to Heal

Sometimes when we give ourselves the space to regain ourselves, we discover that the trigger was a broken record playing from our past or a story we made up and were ruminating over. And sometimes, we find out that our intuition is talking to us, but we are not listening because we don't like what it is saying or we are too frightened to act on it. Maybe we are not ready to accept the changes infidelity has brought into our lives and need more support or healing. Ultimately, triggers are challenges that show us what needs healing and grow our resilience to help us heal. Even if we don't feel like facing it while experiencing it, there is a reason that certain trigger is there.

Whatever the reason for the trigger, giving yourself space to heal is your path toward controlling the emotional responses it brings. Suffering ongoing or suppressing your emotions and triggers is not a safe future for your mind or body. Remember, identifying threats is healthy human behavior, and our amazing brains want to keep us safe. Most importantly, we create safety when we calm ourselves enough to think about and process our triggers in healthy ways. We need to feel it to heal it. The bigger our reaction when our fear got poked, the more critical it is to own that we need healing.

Become Curious About Your Triggers

So how do we control and heal our triggers? We can learn to become curious about them and tackle each one as it arises. Firstly, we give ourselves the time we need to calm our activated minds down (see above), and secondly, we ask ourselves brave and meaningful questions that re-engage our brain's thinking parts. Whatever trigger you are facing, try asking yourself the following questions.

  • What does this particular trigger mean to me?
  • Why am I feeling this trigger now?
  • What happened before I got triggered, which might have fed into becoming triggered?
  • How might I solve it, or is this trigger even mine to solve?
  • What healing is this trigger leading me towards?

Above all, taking the time or creating the space to think about our triggers productively calms us and helps us control the emotional response to our infidelity stress more efficiently, without hurting ourselves and those around us. In short, it takes time and practice to learn how to control our triggers. We need compassion from others and to be compassionate with ourselves while learning to process them, not judgement.


" Avoiding your triggers isn't healing.  Healing happens when you're triggered and you're able to move through the pain, the pattern, the story and walk away to a different ending."

-Vienna Pharaon

Please reach out if you are struggling with overwhelming triggers. Being triggered is not wrong; it's a sign that you need more healing and are still recovering from whatever caused the trigger. Perhaps you are in the process of learning to accept that betrayal is a part of your history and not a part of your now. Sometimes we need extra support to help us control or process our triggers and other times we need a safe person to talk about our triggers with. Please accept my gift of a free call if you need help...

You are not alone in this healing journey.

Much love

Yours on the Journey

About the Author

I'm the Betrayed Wife, mother of adult children, former teacher, and now a certified life coach and relationship facilitator.

The betrayed wife's personal experiences, her highly attuned ear, and deep insights are what her clients love most about working with her. She lives on a farm with her husband and spends her days gardening and tending to her flock. More about  the betrayed wife's personal infidelity story...


  • I received the following comment via email in response to the newsletter.

    Clearly, you have put an incredible amount of thought into triggers. Thank you! I really appreciated your insight.

    Here is my experience with triggers

    The first time I got triggered in relation to my husband’s infidelity, it took me completely by surprise. A bit like the evening a friend introduced me to the cocktail, a Long Island Iced Tea, in a bar in Lang Kwai Fung when I lived in Hong Kong (look it up, it sounds innocuous, but tea has nothing to do with it other than the colour and the drink has about five shots in it). It was a new experience, and I shouldn’t have, but I was completely surprised by the effect that it had on me. It took me completely off guard. I thought I could handle a stiff drink (possibly 1 but clearly not 2 of those). So when I tried to get off the barstool, I had to feign fixing the buckle on my right shoe just to get my head vaguely in the direction of my knees.

    Actually, I was shocked at my response and felt a bit let down by my body which I thought could handle it. Similarly, when I was first triggered post-discovery, I was also shocked and disappointed with my response, as if my body or mind had let me down and I was having an overreaction to something I would normally handle. The circumstance of the first infidelity trigger I experienced was that I was in the ER of the hospital the day after my husband had connected the exhaust hose to his car window but managed to remain conscious after many hours (I think that had something to do with the driver window being down…). Any ho, back to the trigger. He was, according to protocol, on 24-hour watch, so someone was with him all the time. I walked into his curtained cubicle, and there was a lovely young, pretty Asian nurse on watch duty. And within seconds, I had projected my hatred of his mistress (also a young pretty Asian woman) onto this unsuspecting and completely innocent person. There was no logic. I was profoundly resentful of her and her being there despite a tiny bit of my brain saying how stupid that was. I was triggered and couldn’t control my obvious visceral, physical, and emotional response to her. Like in the bar decades earlier I should have sat down and put my head between my knees but all I could do was simultaneously seeth at her and any pretty Asian woman of around 25 years who may have walked into the room. All totally illogical, but that’s what triggers do to you. You can’t control when they will turn up and grab you by the throat or what your reaction might be – whether that be being flooded by tears or homicidal intent.

    For the next few years, I found that triggers would come at the oddest time, prompted by either an internal recollection and some random memory or by an external stimulus that would immediately connect the stimulus to an immense hurt. The triggers that were historical and prompted a recall of the past were filled with loss and sadness. The triggers that were current in nature were commonly accompanied by frustration, fury, and anger. The triggers which were future-oriented were dominated by resentment, anxiety, and fear.

    I believe by not having him in my everyday presence, that I was relieved of a lot of triggers that spouses who cohabitate with their betrayer have to deal with. Having now interacted with a lot of betrayed partners, it also appears that women seem to get triggered more frequently than men.

    Years later, I am still surprised when I am triggered. It is always unexpected, but over time the reaction is not as severe as it used to be. I don’t feel as emotionally drunk and out of control as I used to. But they still surprise me with the intensity of their grip.

    To handle them, I either mentally fully go with it, fracturing that pretty nose and castrating him. That was in the early days. Then I got to call it for what it is, a trigger, and to try to either reason or distract myself.

    One of the best trigger techniques is what I call the wise owl approach. When triggered, I would ask myself, if you had an incredibly wise owl advising you, what would they say. The wise owl’s response would probably remind me to identify it for what it is; it’s a trigger. Yes, it will hit an emotional button in some form, but you that I will get over it.

    G.M.

  • This past week after seeing my husband through an illness that caused a hospitalization, I triggered on an old facebook post I had made. It had to do with marriage and the sacrifices each spouse makes to the other to keep the faith and trust of the other. Likely bad timing on my part, I showed it to my spouse and we both realized the date on the original post was when he was deep into his three year affair. My husband did not take my triggering well. He got defensive, called my trauma a pity party and accused me of faking my emotions. In an instant, all the work we had done to try and heal up to this point was undone for me. I realized he was never going to be a safe person for me to share my pain with. In fact, he may not be a safe person at all. He has been doing all the work AR had required of him and by all appearances one would think he had been successful. He had embraced religion and joined a bible study and quotes scripture on a daily basis now. Yet, he is still emotionally unavailable and disconnects at the first sign of trouble. That he thinks somehow my triggering is something being done TO him, or that it isn’t even a real thing for me leaves me speechless.
    It takes the person on the front lines of betrayal to really know the truth of that work. I worry that he is telling other men like himself to do things he himself does in fact not do in his AR mentoring.
    Neither of us handled the incident well. We are going on three years post discovery.

    • Oh, Susan, how painful!

      Before you knew you were being cheated on, you were an amazing wife and supporter of the marriage. And now, while your husband is sick, you still are an amazingly supportive wife and partner. You live by your values.

      Getting triggered is outside your control. Asking for compassion while you process your pain is still within your value system, and you would have given compassion to another who was in pain. When others fail to show empathy or see the pain in another, it leaves us, especially those who have stood on the front lines of betrayal, in shock and speechless.

      I wonder, three years ago, would you have believed or tolerated some of the things your husband used to push his emotional discomfort/shame away from himself by dumping it on you and calling you fake and having a pity party? In this post, you clearly express that getting triggered over a painful remembrance is acceptable within a safe relationship. What would a safe husband have said and done when you shared your trigger? What did your triggered self need at that moment to calm down?

      In the Future-Proofing Your Relationship Course, I advise couples to ask for a ‘re-do.’ This gives the hurt partner space to ask for what they want and an opportunity for their partner to try handling an incident better. That way, both can learn more about each other and grow from the experience. We have had many re-do moments in my relationship, and I see many more in the future.

      Thank you for sharing your triggers, Susan. They were both discovering new information while your husband was cheating, and how your husband handled you being triggered by being unsupportive and denying your reality.

      Much love
      Kate
      xxx

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