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

Hope Rising 2019

If you're the betrayed spouse, I want to invite you to our previousHope Rising conferences now available On Demand. We have an annual one-day conference in Austin, TX where speakers will speak into your specific situation of infidelity and help guide you through the recovery process. It's not as hopeless as you think.

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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? I did just tonight.

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'm swearing 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 to experiencing the extraordinary life they've always wanted than ever before, but the only currency they can use to get there is their illusions.

You must exchange all illusions of having a different reality 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. For more information about groups, click here.
  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.

Harboring Hope registration opens next week on March 18th. Subscribe to be notified.
This online course for the betrayed is life-changing.
Please note, it typically sells out in 1 hour.

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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