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

Am I Who They Want?

Am I Who They Want

Sarah’s Story

“Do I even matter to him?” Sarah* asked. She told me how she had allowed Chuck* to move home last month and even though he said he loved her he still seemed to be pining away for his affair partner. She was torn wondering why she even let him come home if his heart was still with her. Like many, she asked herself over and over again “am I a fool for even trying to work on the marriage? During a session together, she shared a portion of her heartbreaking story.

“Three days after discovering the physical part of the infidelity, we sat down and he told me everything, but he cried when talking about his AP. In the past month, he’s taken steps to make things better and he hasn’t contacted his AP but, she has tried to contact him. He says he loves me and he wants to help me heal but the only time he gets emotional is when he talks about HER. Can you imagine how hard it is for me to feel he is really remorseful? It’s making me an emotional wreck. Is it possible that he’s really committed to me and the marriage? At times he seems so depressed and hopeless. Is he really choosing me?”

Detoxing

Overpowering hopelessness engulfs the depressed. Dreams that once lit paths toward an exciting future are extinguished and replaced by the nightmare of consequences that arise from infidelity. I know it’s gut wrenching to hear this, but it many cases, it’s common that even after an affair ends, the dreams of a life together with the affair partner often remain. These lingering fantasies create a significant barrier for the hurt spouse to feel chosen and for the unfaithful spouse to find passion for the marriage. It would seem the only remorse, compassion, or life, left in the unfaithful spouse is expressed when they share their feelings about what their affair has cost them, or even their AP, rather than their spouse. While troubling, this is very normal within the detox phase of recovery.

If the unfaithful spouse falls in love with the affair partner and feels they've found their soul mate, new dreams are cast for the future. Dreams that once included their mate are now replaced with those constructed in the fantasy world of the affair that they now believe will bring greater happiness. It’s very common, although not guaranteed, that those involved in affairs come to their senses and begin trying to put their lives back together. While rationally they understand the need to stay and work on the marriage, their feelings lag behind. Rewriting their future creates a more significant loss than the loss of their affair partner. They may finally be able to see the flaws in the other person, but the dreams of how their life would be are still appealing.

Knowing something is not true doesn't necessarily make the allure of what was imagined dissipate. I can know the truth and even act on that truth, but it doesn't always feel true. For instance, I know that when I wrong my wife an apology from me will help mend our relationship. Therefore, when I’ve neglected her thoughts or feelings I may choose to apologize. Just because I know this truth and chose to act on it does not change the fact that I feel that apologizing will humiliate me. Pride drives that feeling, so I choose to act on truth instead. Though an unfaithful spouse may know the right thing is to return home, end the charade, and work on the marriage, the thought of doing so may produce feelings of confusion and rage.

If the unfaithful spouse erases their dreams of future happiness with their mate, they will seem more hopeless in the short run. It certainly doesn't mean they don't love their mate. Love is a choice and choosing love in the absence of feeling in no way diminishes the depth of love. It does however impact how that love might be perceived by the betrayed spouse.

Doing what you know to be right is difficult indeed if, due to a loss of vision, you can no longer trust your feelings. It's like flying an airplane in the dark; you know how the plane is flying by the instrument readings. You also know if you ignore the instruments and fly by what you feel to be right you'll crash the plane. You must follow what you know to be true, not what you feel. All too often I see unfaithful spouses who have tried to “do the right thing” but they don’t feel it is doing any good. They wear out and give up and cave into chasing fragile, disjointed feelings instead of pursuing what is real and lasting. Feelings are wavering and deceptive and there is far too much at stake to be guided by our feelings alone.

Grieving the Loss of the Affair Partner

After an affair, often if the unfaithful spouse seems to be grieving the loss of their affair, the hurt spouse feels as if they've made a colossal mistake. It's easy to assume they aren't committed, but that may not be true. More often than not the root problem isn't a lack of commitment to the marriage but a lack of shared vision.

This isn't just a problem for the unfaithful spouse. Dreams of the future for the betrayed spouse aren't simply rewritten, they are shattered. The impact of the betrayal causes them to question their past, their judgement, their image of the person they married, their present and their future. The devastation of infidelity isn't their only barrier; they've also lost their vision of how life was going to be. The same hopelessness demoralizes both partners leaving both grasping for shared dreams that could energize their life together.

That isn't to say couples have to always feel passionate about their future together. But in the absence of passion, at the very least, they need to be committed to doing the next right thing. At the same time they need to once again begin dreaming together and be willing to imagine a life together both would enjoy. Recovery is hard, but it doesn't have to remain passionless.

After an affair for the unfaithful spouse, moving forward isn't just about terminating their affair. It's recreating a future vision with their mate. Recovery for the hurt spouse isn't just grieving and forgiving, it requires the courage to once again dream with their mate regarding what they want, and creating shared vision for their life. There is one caveat here: You must address the initial trauma of the betrayal before you can begin healing the relationship itself. Once you have found qualified outside help and are able to talk rationally with one another, casting a new vision for your future will be extremely helpful in giving you something worth working towards.

Finding New Momentum

Here is a jumping off point for those who need to create an exciting vision of meaning and purpose. To create new vision you first have to discover your mate all over again. This is certainly not a definitive list of everything that can or should be discussed, but it’s a great start. When you’ve finished set aside more time to talk about your goals for your life.

This exercise is to be shared together. Schedule time to go through each question, I suggest finding a minimum of thirty minutes at a time. You could consider skipping your favorite television program to begin the process. You will not be able to complete this in a single setting and it might take weeks to complete, but the effort is worth it. Try to be as open and honest as possible.

Take turns going first in answering the questions. There are no right or wrong answers. This will cause you to consider your future with one another. It’s well worth the time.

1)  These things have made me proud….

2)  As a child these were the things I dreamed of…

3)  These things I have yet to accomplish, but hope to do…

4)  These things I hope for during my life…

5)  These things I fear…

6)  These things have caused me the most personal embarrassment or shame in life…

7)  These people I have admired… (why)

8)  In the past 24 hours these things I could have improved on…

9)  Theses things have challenged me… (at least 5)

10) These beliefs have guided me…

11) In my heart of hearts this is the type of spouse I want to be…

12) These things I still hope to experience in life…

13) These are unfulfilled dreams I have for you…

14) These sufferings I’ve seen you endure…

15) These things I hope for you…

16) These things I admire about you…

17) These goals I still hold for you…

18) These strengths I see in you…

19) These are the hopes I have for you…

20) I see these wounds in you…

21) These events have molded me…

22) These wounds I have healed from…

23) As I go forward in life I would like to become more…

24) This is how I’d like to be remembered when I’m gone…

25) Growing up these were my biggest hurts...

26) As a child this is what I was most ashamed of…

27) In our marriage these things have made me proud…

Creating new vision requires a desire to understand your mate rather than getting your mate to understand you. Take the time to dream about the life you’d both like to have. This will put you on the path towards a shared vision, but it will most likely require some outside help to truly heal. I’d like you to consider attending our EMS Weekend to learn from other couples in the same situation and grow together as a couple while also finding hope and clarity for a life well lived, even after infidelity or addiction. 

 

*names have been changed

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Comments

Excellent posting.

This topic is spot on. I experienced these exact emotions two years ago and didn't understand why I felt horrible at being the "winner" while he pined over his affair loss. Every day I doubted the decision to reconcile .....thinking myself a fool to try again. I had no idea about the detox process. Boy is it ugly. It's a horrible time for the betrayed in a multitude of ways compounded by outside pressure of friends/family who want to add input to "recovery".

I'm going to read this a few more times to really let it sink in. Than you for sharing this gem.

Wow

I am still in the process of recovering and this article really helps with understanding and clarity. I still wonder why I wasn't grieved over as much as my husband's AP. It truly leaves a whole that is hard to heal. This article helps in understanding both sides. I can't say it makes the healing easier, but it definitely gives me a different perspective that I can look at and try to understand. I must say that your articles are one of the things that have kept me going forward in the last year and a half after discovery. Thank you from the bottom of my healing and tender heart!

Ditto!

This is exactly what I experienced. I can say I was trying to make our marriage work but I had constant fears of "was I trying to be the winner?" Or did I really want to make things better? I finally got past those feeling to now enjoy a great relationship with my husband.

SO TRUE

I went thru the same thing with my husband. After the two year affair was finally over he went thru a horrible depression and misery. I felt like there is no way he would want to be with me. He would cry over the loss of her and be angry at the same time. Now two years later we have the strongest relationship. Or marriage is better than it ever was before. Healing takes a long time but it is well worth it.

Wow

Thank you Rick and AR
Your articles have saved me
and given me hope
I never wanted to read so much about such a painful subject but in the educating you help us to do comes healing
Many thanks
This has to be hard work when you do it with such diligence, exhausting research and heart

Article Why is Wayeard Grieving

Great article Rick. While the content doesn't exactly apply to my marriage/situation, I feel it will help many. However, the list of questions at the end were really spot on to help any relationship. Lately my spouse and I have been saying how we needed to be more intimate (verbal) than in the past. I can see how questions such as these would help so many couples achieve that kind of intimacy. Well done.

Extreme self absorbed depression

This was a positively brilliant article. The script in our house would be reversed . After the affair was over, I spent months sobbing my heart out for my affair partner, in a wretched state of loathesome misery, all the while my poor husband watching me go through a period of seemingly endless depression. He often wondered WHY I seemed to have no remorse for him ( I didn't). It was an all consuming, completely self absorbed time of endless sorrow for me. Utterly unfair to my spouse. An outsider would wonder why on earth he stayed .

I stayed in this pattern for atleast 6 months and very slowly warmed up to him . We stayed together and worked on the marriage for the sake of the 3 children. The trauma of ending the affair was so all encompassing and overwhelming, that my husband and I sort of flopped back together at first like fish dancing in a frying pan . 18 months later, and healing has finally come into the house as we have worked out a new life and a new vision for ourselves .

People fresh out of affairs seem to take that extreme self absorbed energy and re-focus it into extreme self absorbed depression . It truly is all encompassing. It's not fair to anyone around them. It's like a double betrayal to their spouses and children . I can say that, because I'm the one that did it .

extreme self absorbed depression

The cheating spouse's depression caused by missing the affair partner may be hard on them, but the betrayed spouse also suffers for it. I wondered what did I do to make my husband want another woman and why am I the one feeling guilty? He rejected me for her. Plus, I'm not sure the affair is over. He doesn't talk, moved out of the bedroom, barely speaks, but doesn't want a divorce. Knowing he put her before me and let her be vindictive toward me is hard for me to handle. I'm not sure if I want to continue in this marriage. I'm going to therapy to figure all this out. I've been married nearly forty years and never thought I would be in this situation. I don't know my husband any more.

you are correct...

no one suffers more than the betrayed spouse that's for sure.  it is a real phenomenon if you will that the unf spouse grieves for the loss of the affair partner, but that doesn't minimize the pain the betrayed feels throughout the course of the entire ordeal.  there's a term for it called Limerance and i think the article/audio would be great to listen to:  https://www.affairrecovery.com/radio/limerance  have you done anything 'infidelity specific' as general therapy usually isn't enough to handle what you're facing as you're facing something that's out of the ordinary difficult and painful.  

excellent response tahoemama...

thank you for sharing that.  i've had many reach out lately about this issue and am wondering if you'd be open to sharing more about your response.  maybe i could have you share a bit more about your experience and then i could use it in one of my video blogs or in a follow up newsletter?  i would conceal your identity for sure my friend, but wondered if you'd be open to expanding a bit more about your situation?  not on video, but in print so to speak?  if you're open to it you can email me at overcominginfidelity@gmail.com or you can respond here with a way to contact you or email the site at info@hope-now.com and they will push it to me.  if you're not open to that, please don't worry at all.  

getting over the affair partner

My horrible saga began in 2005 when my husband started his affair. In 2010, when faced with my evidence of the affair, he moved out to be with AP. After 6 months he came home "to start over." But he never, to this day, got over the fantasy he has had about a life with his AP. And so here we are 7 years into "recovery" and he is still longing for her and seeing her. I am now devastated beyond belief and now completely without hope and have asked him to please file for divorce. He never gave up the idea of what he believes their life could be together and therefore he never really, fully committed to making our marriage work again. I would say he is in love with her but I don't know how well he really even knows the real her. I think he is in love with a fantasy.

so sorry anonymous...what work have you done?

anonymous, i'm terribly sorry to read your story.  7 years into recovery is a long time to remain stuck with the fantasy.  what recovery work have you done?  have you both been able to get help, or has your spouse done any specific recovery work?  if you'll share what work if any you may have done, maybe i can make some suggestions as well.   i felt compelled to respond as that's a long time to stay stuck.  hope you're doing ok friend.