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

A Betrayed Spouse’s Journey: Rewriting the Past

The following is directly from our Harboring Hope curriculum, specifically designed to help the betrayed spouse heal and move forward in their own recovery.

In your journey of recovering from infidelity, a crucial step in the process for the betrayed is to

Begin to let go of a few things:
The past, your spouse's recovery, and your former ideas of the future.

Though it is challenging to release your former marriage (whether you remain married or not), this is necessary if something new is to begin. Unfortunately, what was before can never be regained or reestablished to its original state, but with the right help and process, a new beginning is possible.

This process is difficult and painful, but also necessary if healthy, new life is to emerge.

In the letting go, you will have to let go, not only of the past, but also of things in your present, and the future. Our hearts and minds do not have switches that allow us to turn them on and off at will. Instead of being tossed back and forth from one day to the next, we must let go and leave our former understandings of the past, present, and future on the roadside so we can travel on to the new path for us.

Therefore, with the information you now have, you must rewrite your past to reflect what actually happened.

Letting Go of the Past
We attach our feelings to the moment when we were hurt,
endowing it with immortality. And we let it assault us every
time it comes to mind. It travels with us, sleeps with us, hovers
over us while we make love, and broods over us while we die.
Our hate does not even have the decency to die when those we
hate die—for it is a parasite sucking OUR blood, not theirs.
There is only one remedy for it [forgiveness]. 1

—Lewis B. Smedes

Grieving what you have lost and working on forgiveness take time. Chances are, you have not completed those tasks. That is perfectly understandable. Letting go of the past will happen slowly and in chunks. Some critical things must occur before you can truly begin to let it happen.

Rewriting History

We believe that one of the first tasks in letting go of the past is embracing the definition of forgiveness as "giving up the possibility of a better past." Giving up the hope of having a better past is imperative if we're going to work through the rewriting of the past.

Forgiveness: Giving up the possibility of a better past.

What do we mean by rewriting the past?

You and your spouse had a history together—memories, moments, struggles—all of which helped define your marriage. However, now that your spouse's infidelity is disclosed, you'll find that the past you thought you shared together is not what you thought it was. Therefore, with the information you now have, you must rewrite your past to reflect what actually transpired. This step must be completed, whether or not your spouse is still in the picture.

If your spouse does not desire reconciliation, he or she may not be willing to share much about their infidelity with you. An unfaithful spouse who leaves the marriage will usually rewrite your mutual history together in a very different way, by painting it black and telling you how awful it was.

Do not take anything they say as truth.

If your mate desires reconciliation, the rewriting of your mutual past must be done together. If he or she is having trouble telling you what you think you need to know, please find a therapist with whom you both feel comfortable. We once had a client who found out seven years later all the things her husband had been doing during his time of infidelity. Keeping the secrets so long was not in anyone's best interest and they ended up divorcing. We know that her husband deeply regrets not coming clean sooner.

Remember, the goal of talking about the past is not to punish your spouse.

Certainly he or she must eventually begin to take responsibility for past actions and the pain inflicted upon you. The purpose of having your questions answered is to enable you to begin to rewrite history with the goal of having a shared past and no secrets between you. The past is something you both share, and it is important that you are no longer left out of any part of it. The ultimate goal of talking about the past is to bring you closer, with a new acceptance of each other.

We all want unconditional love, but we can never experience it if our spouse only conditionally knows us.

At this point it is likely that your past seems completely tainted. Pictures may be painful to look at. But this will not always be the case. Whether your marriage is reconciled or not, the day will come that the past will come back together—the good memories mixed with the bad (the infidelity, for certain). The past will be excruciatingly painful for a while, however, as you learn of hurtful things and secrets.

Hurt over the Past

The pain of your new history will take a while to fade. Do not hide from this pain, however difficult that may be. You must talk to your spouse about your thoughts and your feelings. It helps if you are able to talk without destructive anger.

Please remember, as you become upset, not to inflict pain upon your spouse.

Stop yourself before you become destructive in your anger and remember: "In your anger do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). You may not feel regretful immediately if you don't contain your anger, but one day your conscience will return and cause you great sorrow over the hurtful things you said or did. Please do not beat yourself up if you have already done and said things that you regret. Forgive yourself and start anew.

Anger is a natural and understandable reaction to your pain over this newly discovered history.

Just try to rein in your response with God's help.

New information will cause new pain. Please remember to pray or wait for twenty-four hours before asking questions. The urge to want to hurt the other when one is in pain is understandable. To act on this urge is not right. If things begin to escalate, please take a time-out, but give a reasonable time frame when you both will return to the conversation. According to John Gottman, a psychologist, researcher, and expert at determining marital stability, depending on an individual's fitness rate, if one's heart rate goes over a hundred beats per minute, they are incapable of any meaningful constructive communication. So make sure you are calm enough to reestablish the conversation and work through it together.

Forgiveness

As you learn to let go of the past, forgiveness is of crucial importance, and several critical aspects must be considered regarding forgiveness towards your mate and yourself.

In regard to your mate, there are three broad considerations:

  1. Forgiving him or her for the hurts surrounding the betrayal.
  2. Forgiving him or her for the countless lies surrounding the betrayal.
  3. Possibly needing to forgive him or her for not being a better spouse apart from issues of the betrayal.

In forgiving yourself, here are three common challenges:

  1. Forgiving yourself for marrying your spouse. You may even have some guilt that you need to work through in regard to premarital sex or not being in a better place mentally or emotionally.
  2. Forgiving yourself for not being in a "healthier place" when you met him or her.
  3. Forgiving yourself for not realizing what was going on sooner OR for not digging when there were clues.

Letting Go of Things in the Present

I. Your Spouse's Recovery

We want to be clear on what we mean by letting go of your spouse's recovery. We don't mean letting go of any expectations of your spouse. Still, it is important to be reasonable in your expectations and it may be helpful to think them through with a counselor. It is reasonable to expect your mate to do something to facilitate his or her own recovery: quit the affair, find a counselor, join a group, find a mentor or accountability partner who is familiar with the battle and farther down the road, read, and so on.

While these things will help you feel more secure as you recover, you must let go of trying to control your spouse's recovery. It is one thing for them to report their actions and whereabouts; it is another when you begin to try to control their life. At first, it may be difficult for you to discern the difference. Your unfaithful spouse may feel as if you are being controlling by having expectations. You may need to seek out an objective third party as you have those discussions.

II. Fear

It is challenging to deal with the fear that may pop up throughout the day. You may suddenly wonder what your spouse is doing that instant, and you may develop a need to call him or her obsessively throughout the day—particularly if you know their pattern and what time of day they were being unfaithful. Checking is okay in the beginning, but you must begin to let go of it as your spouse's actions show evidence of his or her progress and recovery.

We know it is difficult to let go of always reassuring yourself that you are safe. One of the biggest battles in your own recovery is the battle with fear. Be diligent in regularly exposing and confronting your fear. Please understand that it is understandable right after disclosure that you feel the need to check several things regularly: your spouse's cell phone, the computer, receipts, and bills. You probably need to do it quite a bit in the first few months. However, if you are still checking these things as frequently as six months after the last revelation, then you'll want to ask yourself if you have let fear overtake you and are allowing it to have its way with you.

III. Daily Evaluation of Your Spouse

This is a difficult thing to let go of. Frequently, what betrayed spouses are doing as they daily evaluate their mate is one of two things: (1) trying to figure out if they made the right choice by staying, or (2) trying to predict the future based on how things are going today. Neither is helpful. Daily evaluation gives only a false sense of control and safety and will make you feel a bit crazy as more time unfolds.


As you journey ahead, our Harboring Hope program is a wonderful fit for betrayed spouses looking to heal and find restoration for their own trauma. If you and your spouse are looking for a process-oriented solution to the trauma of infidelity or addiction, I'd like to invite you to register for EMS Online. Registration opens today at 12:00 PM CST.

  1. Hardie, Leslie, LCSW, and Haney John Mark, PhD, LPC. Harboring Hope. Austin: Hope for Recovery, 2008. Print.

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Comments

What About Addiction and Relapse?

Great article. What advice do you have for women whose unfaithful partners are dealing with addiction? Should we try to have no reaction at all when our partners show the mood swings that typically lead to porn use, drinking, cybersex, or hours wasted on the web or a smartphone? If you turn a blind eye to these moods and behaviors, you're being co-dependent right? With an addict, it's hard to figure out when you're letting go of your own obsessive thoughts vs. putting your head in the sand.

Addiction

I too have this problem. I'm a year and a half from Dday and have discovered about the indidelity and the substance abuse all at the same time. Though he has been to rehab and has never failed a drug test since, I panic. I panic every day. I'm not the person I once was and we r not the couple we once were. I don't know how to forgive. I am so angry and confused that the man I loved and the man that says he loves me would even need to take drugs and need to b with another woman. I'm trying to find a way to deal and for our family to find a way to heal.

Letting Go

All of this is very valuable as usual. Letting go of many things is important. The most important one is, the unfaithful partner needs to let go of the affair and affair partner. In my experience that has been the most difficult and failure to do so has nearly destroyed any chance of reconciliation.

infidelity

My husband and I have been married for 32 years.I found out about my husband having an affair in 2013,prior to me going to Europe for 9 weeks with my sister.On my return as far as I knew it was over he made that very clear before I left.A year later in 2014 I found out he was still seeing her.We separated for 2 months.He begged to come back said it was over with the 2 of them.I had him back.He even left her a message in front of me to tell her to keep away and how much he loves me and his family,that was set up by both of them. Again in March 2015 I found a personal phone just for her,unfortunately I read some disturbing messages by both.Again I kicked him out.He told me he had had a wake up call and he is not that man anymore.He let me know that she was trying to contact him and he was not returning her calls.Unfortunately she also has a partner in her life which I have made him aware of her seeing my husband.He didn't believe me.We separated for 3 months in March 2015 and the only reason I have him back is because of this wake up call.He has been honest with me with every question I have asked till now.Most of his answers were very hurtful and painful to hear. I have let him know that I have changed and if you are committed this time around own it otherwise let me move on with my life.My husband has been unfaithful many times before until our 1st child was born in 1994.

Can't seem to forgive myself or my cheating wife

Biggest obstacles I just can't seem to get over are forgiving myself for marrying my wife of (it will be 25 years on June 18) and forgiving my wife of her 2-year emotional affair she had with the married youth pastor at our former church.

It's been nearly 4 years since D-Day and we are as disconnected as ever spiritually, emotionally and physically. Not even sure why we are still together other than the fact we have one child in high school left in the house as the other two recently graduated from college.

If I had steady better-paying employment, I would have been out the door years ago. My wife just isn't worth it to be in this living hell. I used to think she was the first few 6ears after D-Day as we went to individual and marital counseling for 2-plus years, but I am seriously at my the end of my rope.

Have prayed and prayed and prayed for God to be BIG in healing our marriage and for my employment situation, but He has provided time and time again He isn't up to the task and has forsaken me in my cries and pleas for help.

Strength to endure

I’ve been married for 21 years as of the 10th of this month, and I am largely in the same boat. My husband has been unfaithful more than once with the most recent time being two years ago. Our children are teens.

Regrets? Check
Anger? Check
Fear? Check

I’m staying. But that’s not to say I don’t have days when I want to just walk out and never talk to him again. I’m human. And this is hard....very hard.

I try not to compare my marriage to others’ because that just seems unhealthy. A lot of people go through what I’m going through. It seems there are certainly more marriages that have been touched by infidelity than not. What is wrong with people? is what I want to know!

I guess the answer is not that simple.
For now, my daily prayer is for strength to endure and that God will be with me no matter what happens. And I know He is.

I don’t know why God allows us to suffer (Who does?!). We’re not promised smooth sailing everyday. This is not Heaven. But we are promised that He will be with us when we pass through the deep waters. Right now, I think it’s over my head!

Remember that half the weight of the marriage is on the cheating spouse. They have a responsibility to work at saving it, too. It all comes down to that pesky free will. You can ask God to intervene but the whispers to your spouse and the knocks on the door of her/his heart may go unheeded.
God isn’t to blame. Their imperfect, fragile humanity is.

God bless you as continue to make your way to the shore!

Hurt but hopeful

@wanting victory. My husband was in a 7 yr emotional affair (that turned semi-physical towards the end) with a much younger woman. This article touches so much of what I’m struggling with. Past happy memories are tainted. When I busted him our daughter was 6 yrs old, this was a little over a year ago. He swears he never slept with this other woman, ‘only’ kissed her once shortly before I discovered what he was doing. I also got the trickle truth for about 10 months, which was torture. We decided to try to make it work, he said he loves me & our kids. Then early this year (in January) I found out he was googling her & calling her but hanging up when she answered. I felt so betrayed & devastated again. Why would he do this after all the pain he already put me through? I never expected any of this from him, I believed him when he said he would do whatever it takes to make us work. I don’t know what to think or feel anymore, I feel I’m in limbo. The reason I share this with you is because you mentioned your pay scale. I make more than double than my husband, I can survive financially without him but he can’t without me. I asked him if this is why he’s with me, he says no. But would a cheater admit this?

Re: Wanting Victory

I am going through a downward spiral in my spiritual beliefs as well. My ex husband cheated on me with a woman from his work that he says was “just friends”. This was in 2015 and even though I found out about it 5 months (to my knowledge) into it he still to this day denies even an emotional affair even though he hung out with her every weekend without my knowledge, had a secret Facebook account, secret texts, stole money out of my purse to “help her out” (she was married too). And finally we grew somewhat apart because he never showed any sort of remorse and then he got upset after the next year that I wasn’t giving him the attention he thought he deserved! He filed for divorce and we have been apart 9 months now. It has been devastating and my being a stay at home mom with social anxiety, my financial situation is bleak. I have a college degree and have applied for three different positions only to be turned down, I guess where I haven’t work 8n ten years! People say “hand it over to God. He will take care of it. vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord. God will take the bad and turn it into good working it out in our favor.” Well here it is 4 years later and I have handed it over to God and I have prayed and prayed and begged and pleaded and cried gut wrenching tears (still do) and Nothing Has been resolved. I have no job and no idea what to do (medical problems too), and I still see no way out of the Hell that I am in. How Long must one wait for God to work it to good? I feel like he has forsaken me also, hard for my faith to be stronger when I don’t feel that God is there for me.

Can't seem to forgive myself or my cheating wife

Biggest obstacles I just can't seem to get over are forgiving myself for marrying my wife of (it will be 25 years on June 18) and forgiving my wife of her 2-year emotional affair she had with the married youth pastor at our former church.

It's been nearly 4 years since D-Day and we are as disconnected as ever spiritually, emotionally and physically. Not even sure why we are still together other than the fact we have one child in high school left in the house as the other two recently graduated from college.

If I had steady better-paying employment, I would have been out the door years ago. My wife just isn't worth it to be in this living hell. I used to think she was the first few years after D-Day as we went to individual and marital counseling for 2-plus years, but I am seriously at my the end of my rope.

Have prayed and prayed and prayed for God to be BIG in healing our marriage and for my employment situation, but He has proved time and time again He isn't up to the task and has forsaken me in my cries and pleas for help.

Still feeling wretched

It has been over three years since I discovered my husband's emotional affair. We had already argued about this 'friendship' he was having with a female co worker. My gut reaction was that there was something off about her from the day I met her. My husband and I had been together for over twenty years when she began working with him. The friendship accelerated way too fast, she became proprietorial about him, never had a conversation with me at any social events and never really spoke to my husband in front of me.

He went from talking about her non stop to lying and hiding the friendship. By then she had been made redundant years earlier and he was working at a different company but they were emailing each other constantly and met for lunch. I had no reason to suspect he was still in touch with her. It was all in secret.

My problem is that she clearly knew it was a secret (that's how I found out - she gave a big "hush hush" performance in front of me). He always insists that he just forgot to mention it because I had argued about how much he talked about her. I did, but I was using the constant talking about her as representing a symptom of the problem rather than the cause - convenient how your words can be used against you to justify the hurtful behaviour.

I also have a hard time forgiving myself for marrying him. It is nearly 25 years. I think back to who I was, my ambitions, the opportunities I've missed and I look around our shabby apartment and feel such anger at myself for being so stupid. It's easy to talk about moving on and the future when you feel you have one but I feel it's too late for me. I wasted my life and ended up without love or money. Living in a shoebox with someone habitually silent and self absorbed who thinks the ideal friend is a woman who flatters you (and is trying to destroy your marriage at the same time). He behaves as if it was all an innocent mistake that he accidentally got caught up in. It's like watching a 5 year old defend themselves. I do rewrite the past but it's one in which he never existed, a kind of "what if"? fantasy, and it makes the present unbearable. I no longer sleep, I am ill with anxiety and severe depression. He dismisses the whole thing, always decides I'm starting arguments or having a go at him if I want to talk. My life is very emotionally lonely, a fact made so much worse because of his attachment to this other woman. (I even used to tell him how lonely I was but he'd dismiss it by telling me that wasn't his fault, as if I was blaming him!! No, I was looking for support). I can only hope that I will find peace again and that you do too.

Only if

I could have written this. The same, I wonder where I’d be if I hadn’t tied my pony to his cart. The same, he’s blaming me for reacting to his behavior. It’s tough that we believed the lies for all those years. I’m in harboring hope now, and I’m trying to ‘get real’. I’m 60 and I’m ready to be my own person. Best of luck.

Resentment

It has been a little over 2 years since my husband told me about his emotional and physical affair with our associate pastor's wife who is the same age as our oldest daughter. He was the pastor of a 600 member church. He was in this affair 3plus years.
We lost everything, our home, jobs, church family of 17 years. He has been the most devastating experience of my life. Our finances are not even half what they use to be.
I struggle daily not to be bitter towards my husband. The only thing that gets me through each day is our morning devotion with each other and our weekly bible study. I pray for him everyday. God never promised us everything would be perfect and that we would be free from devistation or tradgety in our life. He uses this time to give us an opportunity to grow in our personal relationship with christ.
I was looking forward to retiring from my job to spend more time with my parents, unfortunately that did not happen. I had to go back to work.
Since the reveal a lot has happened in my life. My husband was diagnosed with crohn's disease and recently had to have a section of his colon removed. He was out of work a total of 12 weeks with out pay. One of our daughters had a nervous break down and was placed in a mental hospital. She is a mother to two little ones. My mother was diagnosed with cancer. And my father was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia. This past Feb. My father passed away. There were other things that took place as well but these were the big things.
I really felt like God had abandoned me, but through counseling , prayer, devotions and bible study God is and has always been here for me. I am choosing to use what I have been through to glorify my Lord and savior.

Intimacy and apathy

It’s been 2 months since discovery of my husband’s affair. He has ended the affair and is doing/saying all of the right things. My problem is that I feel like I’m past the shock phase and am now very angry/disgusted. We are separated right now but I’m having difficulty with enduring any physical contact from him right now. When he tries to touch me or hold my hand, I feel a range of emotions from apathy to disgust. Knowing all of the sordid details of his affair have left me bereft of any desire for physical intimacy of any kind. Anyone know of a way to work through this? Is it even possible?

The anger doesn’t have to last

Angie- it totally makes sense that you are now moving into the anger stage after the numbness of the initial shock phase... that’s exactly what I experienced too. It was horrible and so hard to be in that emotional place - such craziness and confusion! From our experience, I want to highly encourage you both to sign up for the EMSO online course- sooner vs later – it is the best thing we did for our marriage and I am convinced we would not be together or individually healing without it.
You need the assurance of knowledgeable, caring people that have gone before you and determined the way to navigate through this anger and pain... that’s what we found the EMSO course to be. We each knew we couldn’t survive where we were at initially - with emotions flying and raging all over the board!
Although the anger and pain was unbearable at times, the EMSO course gave us hope and a map that there was a way through this crap - and if we just trusted the process and did the work and stuck with the program that God could heal us and our marriage. And He is. It’s been 2 1/2 years since Dday and we are still amazed at how much healing has occurred- because we trusted the tools and the process. I pray that you are willing to trust it as well. (and by the way – three of the couples from our EMSO group have stayed together and we continue to regularly “meet” - our little recovery and healing group is now a healing and growth group!)
Blessings to you as you begin to find your hope and healing!

Distance...

I'm no expert, but it seems to be completely normal and healthy for you to avoid physical contact with your husband if you're not comfortable with it. I don't think it's something you have to "work through" right now...that's something that would come down the line once you've processed all this. My thought is to focus on recovery. If he's doing and saying the right things, then great. Keep moving forward with therapy, etc., and don't try to force anything (like physical contact/intimacy). Just my two cents.

Intimacy after infidelity

I am 2 1/2 years after discovery and sex / intimacy is very difficult for me . I recently told him I need to hold off from having sex because the pressure is too paralyzing for me . I was once a very sexually active person . I liked sex and never refused my husband . My advice is hold off for a bit , get your bearings. If you are emotional recovering sex and intimacy will eventually come naturally. I wish you peace and strength

This may be why your spouse resents you

I am not clear on how rewriting the past is related to my spouse’s resentment.

ME too

I don't understand how my spouse (the unfaithful) has a reason to resent me. Why? Because I need answers. Why? Because my heart is torn in two and I'm trying to understand the lies versus the reality that our lives have become. Resentment? Possibly because I won't just let him pretend our lives are wonderful?

He has resentment!!!

I am lost with him having resentment towards me and he is the one that broke our vows. I have been chasing pleading and trying to reason with him. There is no reasoning. He just says he needs space to think. He has not apologize tried to talk about things nothing. After 33 years I deserve more than this. So I put him out. Now I feel hopeless because every thing we worked for is going to be destroyed. I love him he has been a great husband but these 4 months I feel like I’m in hell. I think I have watched every video and I know it would work if he was open to it. I’m getting on a bus and leaving everything behind and going to try to find a new life.

Regards

Hopeless

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