Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why Couples Fail After an Affair | Part 3 - Hiding in Denial

Why Couples Fail After an Affair: A Four Part Series

Part 1: Not Knowing What Happened
Part 2: Not Getting It
Part 3: Hiding in Denial
Part 4: Failure to Grieve

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Have you ever talked till you're blue in the face trying to get someone to see his or her reality, but to no avail?

Is Something Wrong With Me?

Sandy is a strong, attractive 32-year-old mother of two. She and her husband recently reconciled after her husband discovered her involvement in three affairs over the past three years.

She's adamant that she'll never cheat again but refuses to give up her male friends and Facebook account where she made all of her connections. She's also insistent that she be allowed to have her privacy without any checks or balances. When her husband tells her those relationships concern him, given her past history, she says, "You've just got to trust me."

When I asked her why it was so difficult to give up Facebook and the passwords to her email account, she said, "I just want to be normal. I know it's been a problem in the past, but if I have to give those things up, it proves there's something wrong with me. I know I won't do it again."


If you can't accept where you're at, you'll never get where you're going.

This is particularly true after an affair.

Nothing hinders our journey to wholeness more than denial. How can you safely go forward if you can't first accept the problem and then take action?

On our wedding day, I said to Stephanie, "I promise to be faithful to you and to have faith in you, trusting your loyalty to me and proclaiming our love to the world." If you had asked on that day if I would ever cheat on Stephanie, I'd have been insulted and told you I'd never do that. So why, after I cheated, would I believe my own propaganda when I swear that I'll never do that... again?

Here is my reality: I'm a person who sincerely promised to be faithful 'till death do us part' and then managed to cheat on my wife. If I could do that once, what would keep me from doing it a second time?

Good intentions? Will power?

A new promise, even though I broke the first one already?

If I'm going to accept my reality, I have to accept the fact that I'm the type of person who says he won't and then does. Thinking I can do better the second time, after an affair, because I'm going to just try harder may produce an illusion of security, but it does nothing effective or reliable to prevent the inevitable.

Denial Can Trap Us All

hiding in denial after an affair

"No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it."

- Albert Einstein

Until I can change how I see the problem (and the problem is me, what I've done, and what I'm capable of), I will never be safe for my wife.

Until I can accept the reality of my own defects of character, I'll never get where I'm going. If the right help is attained, we can find hope as well as a plan to find growth and clarity for both spouses.

Just in case you think I'm only talking to those of us who have been unfaithful, please think again.

We're all capable of getting trapped by denial. My mate is never my problem; my mate just reveals the problem in me. Notice, I didn't say my mate doesn't have problems. I said my mate's problems are the thing that will most likely reveal my problems.

If you want to see your own defects of character, all you need to do is examine your reactions to your mate's bad behavior.

Hopefully you'll have, or are developing, the courage to accept your own reality.

When couples fail after an affair, it's typically about one or both parties failing to change how they see themselves, their spouse, and/or their situation. It's their inability to accept their personal reality, which, as Einstein would point out, leaves us with no viable options for a different outcome.

The one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that people affected by infidelity are closer than ever before to experiencing the extraordinary life they've always wanted, but the only currency they can use to get there is their illusions.

You must exchange all illusions of having a different reality in order to obtain a better life.

Denying your reality only leads to more of the same.

Pretend Normal Never Works

"Pretend Normal" is a term we use at Affair Recovery. It's not as much about how we present ourselves to others as it is about our refusal to see ourselves and to admit the actual ramifications of what we've done. We don't want to accept the realities of our limitations or our defects of character.

We prefer to live in denial and pretend that we're "normal," and we set out to prove that reality. I'd much rather prove that I'm something than accept that I'm powerless and incapable. Who wants to be honest and admit what they've done or how they've acted? What would people think if they really knew? What would we think if we were really honest with ourselves about our actions or lack of character? It's much more entertaining and comforting to focus on the actions and defects of others than it is to swim through our own inner cesspool.

"We would rather be ruined than change. We would rather die than climb up on the cross of the moment and have our illusions die."

- W.H. Auden

That quote certainly holds true for my life. The last thing I want to do is look past my denial and honestly face my reality.

If you're serious about finding an extraordinary life after an affair, begin with finding a new lens through which to see yourself and others.

Here are my suggestions for how to gain a new perspective:

  1. Join a small group that directly addresses infidelity. This might sound frightening, but after treating infidelity for over 25 years, I can tell you there's absolutely no better way to gain new perspective than in a small group. I was able to learn far more about myself and my wife by listening to others who were addressing the same issues. I highly recommend learning about our online courses that provide an invaluable small group experience: Harboring Hope, Hope for Healing, and EMS Online.
  2. Find a guide, sponsor, or mentor. When I met my mentor, I was blind as a bat to my own reality. Healed individuals are vital guides in this process. They may not be perfect, but I'm pretty sure they've already made the majority of mistakes I'd like to avoid. Learning from another's mistakes after an affair might take a little humility, but it's worth the effort. All of our online courses have group leaders who have experienced infidelity and are willing to not only lead but also share some of their experiences. Also, you can usually find a good supply of sponsors at most 12 Step meetings.
  3. Another way to gain perspective is to read and watch the stories of others. If you can't talk to them, at least you can find stories of others who are like you and hear the lessons they learned after an affair. When Stephanie and I began our journey, the first point of hope I found was in a book that shared the story of an individual who could have been my twin. I had always felt like a freak. I couldn't imagine there was anyone like me. Until I read that story, shame prohibited me from even acknowledging my reality, much less accepting it. My only caution is to make sure the stories you read involve healthy individuals.
    There are three places you can find Mentor Videos on our site:
    1. on the Success Stories page
    2. in the Recovery Library Membership where there are at least six full-length Mentor Videos, and we continue to add more on a regular basis
    3. The EMS Online course which includes a Mentor Video each week.
  4. EMS Weekend
  5. If you find yourself at a place you never imagined, and you weren't trying to blow up your life, I'd invite you to consider that maybe there is more to your reality (and more hope for your future) than you may realize.

I hope you'll take the time to search for your own pathway to healing and recovery which will benefit not only your life, but the lives of all those affected by your choices. Every great book has a bad chapter, but it doesn't have to define the entirety of your life and story. You can begin today to write the best chapter yet.

Continue Your Healing With EMS Online! Registration Opens Soon.

Our Emergency Marital Seminar Online, better known as EMSO, isn't a one-size-fits-all program for couples. Over decades of experience exclusively in the field of infidelity, our methodology has been honed to better serve couples as they address the betrayal, reconnect as partners and restore their lives.

"I would like to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your ministry and the materials you have provided as part of EMSO and Married for Life. We, all five couples that started EMSO, have just completed the Married for Life 52-week course. We are now deciding what to study next as a group, as we so value the relationship we have together as couples. With God, with your materials and with each other, we have saved our marriages." - B. Minnesota | EMSO participant, March 2021.

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Hiding in Denial

Thank you for this article. It has truly opened my eyes to see some things more clearly. It has been three years and as many marriage counselors since I discovered my husbands affair. Not much has changed since that first day.

He believes telling me it will never happen again should make me trust him and heal my heart and when I explain why those words will never fix our problems,he becomes defensive and tells me I am living in the past. He has told me several times since I discovered his affair, that he has no life or friends because I refuse to let us move forward. How can we move at all when he lies about little things and only makes small changes for a week or two and then it is back to the same stuff?

More often than not, I am thinking about divorce because he is stuck in the whole I am doing better frame of mind because he lives in a constant state of denial. All of his misdeeds can all be summed up to these three things:

1. You are making to much of this.
2. I promise I will do better.
3. I lied because I knew how you would react and I didn't want to argue with you.

As far as I know, the affair ended the day I know told him I knew but still I feel all of the issues that led to the affair have not been addressed because he keeps saying it was once in a life time mistake. He is a good guy and husband and he will never have female friends again so it won't happen. Staying away women is not the answer and is unrealistic. When will he ever see that he is the problem?I am at the end of my rope .Can anyone help me?

Your denial piece - perfect timing

Thanks for driving home what my H and I have been trying to deny for the past 4 years - that he is still vulnerable. For 4 years, he has been faithful. Over the past weekend, in a very vulnerable situation where he was tempted, even though we had discussed the possibility of this situation and a "game plan" to avoid it, he slipped. All the promises of the past 4 years and my naive belief that his promises were valid, the "impulsivity" monster reared its ugly head again. I asked one of my counselors once "When will we be healed?" and she responded "Your marriage will always be in recovery." We both realize that now. I am empowering myself to leave the relationship if need be, and he has begged for more individual therapy, as well as learning more about himself. We will see. But I realize we both have to be ever vigilant, not unlike an alcoholic who can remain sober for years, but then relapses. He's a good man inside, but he does have a weakness if opportunities arise. I appreciate the reminder that we have to continue facing reality and never get lax about our relationship. I truly think there are many good people out there who desperately want to do the right thing, but don't have the emotional tools to do it. Thanks so much for your wisdom and suggestions.


My spouse (the betrayer) and I have done all the above steps. He is still in denial -- 17 months after confrontation. I had hoped by going through counseling, EMS, Harboring Hope, group talks, and mentoring that we would be recovered or at least on the way to recovery by now. However, he is still hiding information and will not share it with me. I abhor dishonesty. I am a person that needs a complete timeline of who, when, where, and what was said. His refusal to give the needed information indicates to me that his committment to working on our marriage is not genuine. Until I get all the info I need, I remain in this limbo and cannot move on, forgive, and start rebuilding my life. He keeps the pain front and center for me. I fear becoming an embittered and resentful person, but I cannot let this go and keep my own self respect. I did that once already. And he had a second affair. This was the second time with the same woman! What do you suggest we do now.....after all this has already been done?

Karen 58

I too am in a similar situation - he wants to sweep everything under the rug and continues to deny what he has done. He is bound and determined to make me the reason he was inappropriate. I have had a cross to bear because his ap is present in his daily life and they have conversations nearly every day and I am sure I don't know half of the interaction.


I understand how you feel,Margie. My husband works with the AP also. He says he gave her up, but they can communicate on their company phones and company computers and see each other daily. I have no way of monitoring this or knowing for sure that he doesn't talk, text, or be around her every single day. Based on his behavior at confrontation and after, I feel that he deletes anything between them immediately and then dumps the trash, so nothing is on his phone for me to see. I wish I could believe him, but after 17 months and no desire to tell me the whole truth about their relationship, the only way I will begin to believe him and be able to move on now is if he takes a polygraph. He refuses to do that. So I know he is hiding something. I have begun to emotionally distance myself and prepare for a life on my own. I cannot live with a person who does not want to do whatever it takes to heal our marriage and continues to withhold information. It's gone on too long and I want my life back, with or without him. The three counselors we have seen only want to start from this point in time and move forward. I cannot do that and sweep what happened under the rug. I did it once, stuffed my feelings, and moved on --- and he proceeded to have another affair. I will not be able to do that again.

I could have written exactly

I could have written exactly this! My husband says these three things to me regularly!


I had an affair with my daughters best friends dad 3 years ago. Since they were best friends they are involved in almost everything together which is one of the reasons the affair happened. We were always around each other. Now 3 years later we are still trying to repair our relationship. One of the things my partner is asking is for me to pull my daughter out of the activities the affair partners daughter is in. One of the main this is taking her off the dance team at school. She has been dancing for over 10 years. We live in a fairly small town so there aren’t other options for her to dance outside of school. My daughter is crushed. She feels like she is being punished for my mistakes. She feels like her life is completely changing while her best friends life hasn’t changed st all. Is taking her out of dance a solution? I feel like I’m stuck beteeen my partners happiness and my daughters.

Daughter's Dance

Absolutely not! By no means should your daughter have to give up dance.
Maybe it's time for him to get involved with his daughter also AND ...


I am the betrayed spouse and I feel I am stuck because of my own denial of the affair and where my life is because of it. It is 4 years past d day, my husband went into therapy with a great psychologist for a year. He became a healthy, remorseful, accountable, supportive person. He loves me more than life itself, shows me daily, tells me often. I went to therapy for a few months as well but it seemed more about his recovery than mine at the time. I feel my resistance to the fact that his 3 year affair happened, that I went thru breast cancer 6 months after it started, that they got together at quarterly meetings out of town, contacted each other via phone and text almost daily. I know all the details, but I just can't get past it, I still want to punish him, remind him, make comments, still struggle to accept it. I find it easy to pull away, if life gets in the way, if we aren't doing things together, romantically, if he isn't 'dating' me, I pull away. I don't want to go thru life without him, that I do know but I just can't love him like I want to, like he loves me. I keep holding back. Frustrating.


This article hits right on the spot today. One year after the most recent DDay. Many years of emotional affairs except the most recent last year when he moved out for 3 months and lived with the affair partner.). It always happens around the same time of year and when the counselor begins to work towards figuring out what and why the same time. He stops his counseling.

We talked through things and he committed to doing things differently. The first 6 months after DDay were good. Counseling, attentive, etc.

Then the same behaviors started to happen again and I called him out on them. I got the typical “you’re overreacting, we’re just friends, it’s just a “like” on her Facebook page.” This is a completely different woman from last year but was someone I had confided in last year. I later found out she relayed information I had said back to him. I also have a video of a mutual friend took of her making a joke with him about how his new woman(mistress) was so much more fun to be around than xxx(me). Now these two are talking daily and have gone secretive about it. He doesn’t understand that he is not being Safe for me. He also has his ex-wife (no kids) and three of his emotional affair woman still as friends on his Facebook page and sees absolutely nothing wrong with that.

How do they get to the point where they can see and care that it causes me pain.

I keep bouncing back and forth that I’m the one in denial that he will ever change.

As a side note - he suffers from PTSD due to war. I’ve read infidelity can be a common occurence. Does this correspond with your studies/counseling history?

Text cheating betrayal

I discovered a text from a woman who is part of a group that went abroad for a wedding. I did no go as our son had exams. My husband and his new friends started a watsapp group to share wedding photos. I was happy for this bunch of people and was due to meet them all at a reunion weeks after the return from the wedding. I could make that engagement and encouraged my husband to go. There was a second meet up and again I didn’t go. I trusted him to go although he was the only male with six women, two of which are his relatives. He insisted o should no miss the next event and was excited telling me I would really like and get along with the group. He showed me photos from the events that he took and I noticed one of the women’s expressions seemed seductive and I had a gut instinct she was attracted to him. I did not mention this to him. Two weeks later he was showing me something on his phone an I too the opportunity to look at the group chat, selected her name and walla! A very flirty text from said seductive face lady. There was a message from him two months earlier saying she disappeared and he had been trying to send her some of the wedding photos. Her message to him read along the lines: you know o blocked you from watsapp as I didn’t want you developing feelings for me as it could cause difficulties in your marriage and that’s wrong. She then added I know I’m too hot and gorgeous, you eyes shows clearly you’re flirting and I am your weakness, maybe you’ve been hit by a love bug, what will you do when your wife is in the group followed by laughing emojis! Well I simply passed the phone to him and said do this is what you’ve been up to! He started saying it’s nit what it seems and he didn’t do anything. When asked why would she say such things he said he didn’t know and had not given her any signals to imply any of it.
He showed me the group chat and there was a lot of exchanges of banter and teasing also him complimenting her selfie photos. I suggested maybe she saw that as him Florida g or interested in her. He has denied having any interest in her and said he sent messages to the other ladies also that were no different to ones he sent her, however they were deleted except for the one he sent her months before and the the one from her. He said he was not even aware that she blocked him and had deleted the messages on regular text as they were silly nonsense. This didn’t sit well with me as he did not delete what he sent the others. He denies that he noticed her coming on to him also, instead saying she picked on him at the events and was sometimes insulting and even called him a stalker for commenting on her posts in the group. Apparently she took his phone at the last event and took half dozen selfies of her which his cousin was taken aback by.
Regarding the text she sent. He did not respond saying he thought it was a wind up and he refused to enter a back and forth with her. He said he didn’t think much of it and did not wonder about whether I would see it. Since I discovered it he admitted he can see how it looks and that he should have set her straight or delete it. He acknowledged I was hurt and did not fully believe him as I could not understand why she would be so comfortable confident and forward to presume his feelings or motives toward her without good reason. He made a decision and posted on the group that he was removing himself due to disruption to our relationship as a result of a personal message she sent him; that he did not want to give anyone false signals or be misinterpreted as a man in a group of women. I was really shocked he did this openly. She then posted saying that the context of her message was asking him to stop interacting with her in a way she perceived was flirting. She apologised to the group got any hurt her message may have caused to anyone and particularly to me his wife. I did not believe this to be genuine as,
She however went on to say there was a wider context to the message she sent based on previous communication and interactions, she did not imply that her message was a joke as he thought. She also stated that there is no innocent party and he needs to own his part to how the situation arose initially. That the truth lies in the middle and no one may know the true story.
The whole thing just got to me as indeed there were questions about the deleted texts and the intention.
I want to believe he was just enjoying the group and each of the groups individuals, as he is usually a fun friendly person.
In my view he did not uphold the respect of our marriage during my absence by texting with her and then deleting them. There was secrecy and some of the exchanges were at weird hours like 2am. Also failure to set her straight and ensure boundaries once he received the message. It hurt me that he did not even think about me when he got such s text.
I feel like trust has been betrayed which has left me feeling a deep sense of loss of how innocent and happy things were before and now uncertain whether this can be restored.

I understand

My partner went through something similar. I believe it to be an emotional affair. However, my partner responded by protecting the other person. Since then I missed the peace I used to enjoy and feel.

Lieing for so long that the Ws spouse believes the lies.

The lies make no since.social friend Told him I his wife told her he couldn’t get it up. One night stand Premature ejaculation tries to keep going but it won’t get up. She asked if he wants to stop angrily! He says yes! He says he’s not ready for this. He says he thought she said. Don’t tell her I said but she’s wrong. Don’t make since. Then two weeks later she come up and asked if he was ok about what happened and she don’t want no ties. Don’t make no since unless she worried he telling people about her! Then he said after closing she asked him f he wants to come back? Do t make no since. Therapist told him he made up fillers to make him fill better but there lies. How do you go back and fix this?


My husband said he would do a full disclosure with a polygraph. He is a serial cheater. He promised his kids he would do this for my healing.. He can't do it. He can't come clean. Refuses 😔He has chosen to protect his secrets over the healing he could give his family. I am devastated all over again. The truth I did get is it truly showed what kind of man he truly is.
Those husband's out there doing everything they possibly can to right their wrongs. Do all the reading, counseling and classes, kudos to you guys. You are men with integrity.


Michelle, your husband probably does not want you to become knowledgeable of his past, since that information might be a 'deal breaker' for you. Not knowing what you will or will not be able to forgive. That is a personal decision you must make, and maybe do a polygraph on his present and future behavioral intention. The truth is, that not all people are capable of fidelity, and those people should consider being single. We can't be critical of the other's beliefs, just decide on whether we are personally tolerant of it. He is an autonomous individual, and his behavior is up to him. You on the other hand are not mandated to accept it, not can he demand your tolerance of it. Two people must BOTH chose to be together. One sided work only helps the individual with their own issues, and can't propagate to the other one. I am an unfaithful man, that has benefited greatly from this program, and I can assure you that I progress every single day, for almost 4 years now. I wish you healing for you and your family.



... and on the subject of integrity, I can not accept that for myself, because if I was a man of integrity, I would not have strayed. But thank you for your positive thoughts, as we can only take praise for our effort, and commitment to our spouse and family from now on


Can someone say more about this - “If you want to see your own defects of character, all you need to do is examine your reactions to your mate's bad behavior.”

I’m really trying to understand some of these blog points to facilitate my healing. But I’m perceiving a few of the key points as largely mute and struggling to relate.

I am 2 years out from DD #4. I’ve reacted every possible way; from that first conversation of “I’m not ok with this and we need to talk” to “I can’t stop you but don’t do this in my house” to “you have a problem and I can’t be around you unless you get help.” I’ve looked at all of those reactions. I’ve been kind, firm, empathetic, angry, sad etc. I’ve played each one over and over to understand it. It’s a crazy situation and I rocked that mess! I did awesome! So what does that say about me?

It feels like a lot of this is putting responsibility on the partner who acted out and then falls back into a victim blame “fix your part” trap. It’s not my problem! This also assumes people can physically leave relationships but that’s ableism. Some of us will not have that option before we die. I don’t have time! So I’m really confused how the only part I can fix is me, but the problem isn’t with me, but it’s somehow still my responsibility to change the situation if it doesn’t work for me, and oh it was actually me if I look close enough??? And that’s on me somehow… can I get some clarification here?

Empathy what’s that ? Mental illness

I believe from what I’ve had to learn the hard way and had to endure for 30 years there has been little to no remorse no emotion no nothing ! Therapist are uneducated about the part mental illness plays in infidelity and impulsive behaviors. Check out BPD and NPD it’s quite revealing and could be as in my situation not a good thing. Maybe many could save time money and their life discovering if they are in these series of lack of empathy, not getting it, denying reality. It all fits like a perfect puzzle !

What type of affair was it?

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