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

A Betrayed Spouse’s Journey: Rewriting the Past

betrayed rewriting pastThe following is directly from our Harboring Hope curriculum, specifically designed to help the betrayed spouse heal.

In your journey of recovery from betrayal, a crucial step in the process of 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, challenging to release your former marriage (whether you remain married or not), this is paramount 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 can and will be painstaking, but absolutely necessary if healthy and 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.

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].

- Lewis B. Smedes

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.”  To give up the hope of having a better past is imperative if we’re going to work through the rewriting of the 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 has 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 usually will rewrite your mutual history together in a very different way, by painting it black and telling you how awful it was.

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.


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 standing up for yourself.  
  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 all 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.

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. 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 little bit crazy or crazier, as more time unfolds. 

As you journey ahead, our Harboring Hope program is a wonderful fit for spouses looking to heal and find restoration for their own trauma. If you or your spouse is looking for a process-oriented solution to the trauma of infidelity or addiction, I’d like to invite you to one of our upcoming EMS Weekends. We have limited spaces open for June and we have a waiting list for May. If you’d like to be on the waiting list you can sign up for the open EMS Weekend and then let us know you’d like to be placed on the waiting list for May or June.

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



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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.


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.


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.

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