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

Am I Who They Want?

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Sarah's Story

"Do I even matter to him?" Sarah asked as 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 for his affair partner. Sarah was torn wondering why she even let her husband come home if his heart was still with the other gal.

Like many, Sarah 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

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 in 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 rekindle 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. This is hurtful to say the least!

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 often 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 still linger.

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 the damage. Therefore, when I've neglected to consider her thoughts or feelings, I may choose to apologize. But just because I know this truth and choose to apologize does not change the fact that I feel like doing so 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 had erased their dreams of future happiness with their mate, they will feel more hopeless in the short run. This 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, especially 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, but you also know that 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, give up, and cave on the work of pursuing what is real and lasting.

Feelings are wavering and deceptive. There is far too much at stake to be guided by our feelings alone.

Grieving the Loss of the Affair Partner

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

The lack of shared vision isn't just the unfaithful spouse's problem.

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. Hopelessness demoralizes both partners, leaving them grasping for shared dreams that could energize their life together.

This isn't to say that 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 that both would enjoy. Recovery is hard, messy work!

For the unfaithful spouse, moving forward is more than just terminating their affair.

Moving forward is recreating a future vision with their mate. Similarly, recovery for the hurt spouse isn't just grieving and forgiving. Moving forward requires the courage to once again dream with their mate about what they want, and together, create shared vision for their life.

There is one caveat here: The couple must address the initial trauma of the betrayal before they can begin healing the relationship itself. Nearly everyone needs to seek out qualified, expert help in order to talk rationally with one another about the damage and trauma. Casting a new vision for the future is extremely helpful in giving the couple something that is worth working toward.

Finding New Momentum

To create a new vision for your future, 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 completed 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 and remember there are no right or wrong answers! This will help you to consider your future with one another. It's well worth the time.

To create new vision you first have to discover your mate all over again
  1. These things have made me proud...
  2. As a child I dreamed of...
  3. I have yet to accomplish but hope to do...
  4. I hope for __________ during my life.
  5. I fear...
  6. These things have caused me the most personal embarrassment or shame in life...
  7. The people I admire... (and why)
  8. In the past 24 hours, something I could have done better...
  9. These things have challenged me... (name at least 3)
  10. The beliefs that have guided me...
  11. In my heart of hearts, the type of spouse I want to be is...
  12. I still hope to experience in life...
  13. Some unfulfilled dreams I have for you...
  14. I've seen you suffer and endure...
  15. I hope for you...
  16. These things I admire the most about you...
  17. I still hold these goals for you...
  18. I see these strengths in you...
  19. The hopes I have for you...
  20. I see these wounds in you...
  21. A few key events that have molded me...
  22. I have healed from these wounds...
  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.

New dreams and new vision require expert guides to wade through the enormous trauma and uncertainty that infidelity creates. Our EMS Online course is a safe place for spouses on both sides of infidelity to grieve and heal. This course will give both of you the opportunity to connect with other couples in the same situation and provide a path for growing together toward a new life of freedom and purpose. Registration opens monthly and you can subscribe to our notification list to be alerted beforehand.


Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe to Registration Notifications!

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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.

Not feeling like a winner

That's how I feel. My husband says he has picked me as the one he wants to be with. It's pretty insulting and hurtful to feel like I was selected as the one to have to heal through the betrayal.

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.  

Attachment Injury

I think its important to not try and speculate on which spouse suffers more. The depths of the human heart are vast. There is no generic blanket statement that can be used to cover all affairs. I can only speak for my situation. I can only speak for myself. Was it "Fair" to my husband that I continued to pine for the ex-affair partner? NO. It was horrific for both of us. I had to conceal the sorrow as best as I could, to spare my poor husband more pain and more humiliation. Did I suffer more? Did he suffer more? Speculating on questions like that, just further shifts the blame back and forth and dosen't move a couple to an actual healing state. Was my Husband a checked out Zombie for years, obsessed with work and completely ignoring me like a corpse until I felt dead inside and found a "friend" to start chatting with? Yes. Was that the right thing to do? No. Was it the human thing to do? Probably. Going back to the Grieving. Grieving over the loss of an affair partner actually lights up a phenomenon called "Attachment injury", an injury going way back into childhood. Im under-qualified to explain it at any length, but its an excruciatingly real activity that occurs in the brain, and causes horrendous pain and depression.

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.  

Response to Longing for Affair Partners/ Depression

Sure, I dont mind opening up. Are you apart of this site, or a different one?

Kindly,

Lynn

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.

 

She isn’t atttracted to me after she cheated

After 25 years of marriage my wife cheated on me then left me only to allow me back with her after 2 months gone but he got what he wanted and disappeared. That was 2 and a half years ago and she has no remorse or regret and especially no empathy she sais that now she just isn’t interested in sex and refuses to let me show her any passion or desire. The last time I saw her show any passion or desire it was towards another man. I lost my virginity to her 30 years ago and have never been with another and I love her so much but I’m constantly having nightmares panic attacks and I believe her when she blamed me for pushing her to cheat. I try to get her to talk to me about what she is feeling and I get I’m fine. I’m not fine not at all and we lay next to each other but I’m more lonely now. Why is she no longer attracted to me, why does she seem to not care about my feelings I miss not sex but the closeness and intimacy and not having to wonder how she really feels about me because she showed me. Why is she like this now why can’t get her to trust me and open up to me. What happened to the woman I married she disappeared when her infidelity began but won’t return should I just leave but that won’t help the pain and suffering from being neglected by the only woman I’ve ever loved

You deserve better

I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I know you're lonely and heartbroken, and feel like your life has been turned upside down.
But as an unfaithful wife, I can tell you that if she's not showing remorse or regret, or making any effort to mend the relationship after over two years, it's time for you to move on.
I know you can't imagine a life without her or being happy with someone else, but I promise you.. there's someone out there who will love, appreciate and value you, and make you feel whole again. Allow hope to give you courage to leave.. good luck.

Samuel and Wayne

Every time I read articles or listen to videos from this site I cannot help to wonder about Samuels and Waynes ex wives. I wonder if the reason Samuel and Wayne found theirselves divorced years after their infidelity is that their wives really never got over the betrayal and simply waited until the children were older. I think that infidelity is simply abuse to their partner and if it were truly treated like that in society it would stop more partners from committing it. I quit listening to many infidelity videos because my husband never could have empathy or remorse for what he did and now is battling cancer. It’s been 4 years since his 7 month affair and almost 4 years since d day. I pray everyday he beats the cancer so he can go on with his life. I have given up on a future with him and will help him during his battle with the cancer, but I plan to move on once he wins this battle. I cannot live with someone who has no remorse for cheating with a girl 33 yrs younger that was not a good person, lying on my life when caught and a multitude of other horrible things.

Reply to Sharleen

I hope you find the life you want and heal. It happened to me after 27 years of marriage, and he wouldn’t admit it for 21 years. I stayed, but I basically cut him out of my life unless there was something that required both of us to attend together. The affair lasted 5 months in 1996, until her husband confronted him and asked if he was willing to lose me for a cheap barroom slut (that was disclosed 21 years later) and burst his fantasy bubble. I had enough emotional and psychological abuse during his affair to make me realize that I no longer loved him, but I stayed to keep from hurting our daughter and families. I asked about her - he denied. And I did what I wanted to do. I became involved in the things that I enjoyed doing, and didn’t include him. I realized that he could never look into my eyes, tell me that he loves me and has always been faithful to me and our marriage vows. When he finally admitted the affair after all those years, apologized, and asked what he could do so I would love him again, l told him “look into my eyes, tell me you love me and you’ve always been faithful to me and our marriage vows”. He cried. He knows that I will never love him like I once did. I care about him. He is remorseful and I know that he loves me now, but I am not the same person. Betrayal destroys. I pray you find healing and peace.

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