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

How Can You Move Past Ambivalence After Infidelity?

The Paralysis of Ambivalence: A Two-Part Series

Part 1: Is Ambivalence Common When Healing From Infidelity?
Part 2: How Can You Move Past Ambivalence After Infidelity?

The easiest–and cheapest–way to start on this journey is to take our free First Steps Bootcamp. It's an online guide with 100+ pages of content and a full-length video of a mentor couple who was in as big of a mess as it can get. You'll take a big sigh of relief when you have a clear plan and learn that you're neither crazy nor alone in this journey, whichever side of the infidelity you find yourself on.

For many, ambivalence can feel paralyzing. Between the up-and-down, back-and-forth emotions, it seems to never end. Often, the struggle to find clarity leads many to a place of hopelessness and despair. The good news: There is a way to get out of ambivalence.

How Does Ambivalence Affect Us?

Part 1: Is Ambivalence Common When Healing From Infidelity?, I mentioned the book Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change.* Authors, William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, do a great job of explaining that "ambivalence is simultaneously wanting and not wanting something, or wanting both of two incompatible things. It has been human nature since the dawn of time. It is therefore normal when a person is ambivalent to hear two kinds of talk mixed together."

  • The first type is "change talk": Statements that favor change.
  • The second type is "sustain talk": Arguments for not changing.

Basically, as Miller and Rollnick explain, ambivalence is like having two voices in your mind that can't agree on what to do. When you're ambivalent, you can seem resistant or even oppositional to change. In reality, you may want to change but, at the same time, you may also want to maintain the status quo.

What Does a Commitment to Change Look Like?

The way out of ambivalence is through the hard work of recovery, the hard work of seeking clarity, and the hard work of understanding. Remember, a commitment to change and a desire to change are not the same. Commitment carries you through on the path of change long after your desire for change has faded. It certainly doesn't mean there isn't another part of you that wants something else. For example, I may guarantee that I'm going to do what it takes to lose weight, but that doesn't mean there's not a part of me that wants to skip working out tonight and eat chocolate cake instead.

When someone comes to my office and is truly ambivalent, I ask them two defining questions:

  1. Tell me about the voice or voices telling you to save your marriage. What are they saying to you? Are they primarily internal or external voices?
  2. Tell me about the voice or voices telling you to end your marriage. What are they saying to you? Are they primarily internal or external voices?

If I can get them talking and expressing their struggles, I can usually get them to develop momentum.

Why Can't You Change Their Ambivalence?

A truth I tell both wayward spouses and betrayed spouses is that you cannot want it more than your mate wants it. You have to come to a critical stage of recovery called acceptance.

  • If you can accept both your ambivalence and possibly your mate's ambivalence, you will be one huge step closer to healing, clarity, and maybe even restoration.
  • If you cannot accept this ambivalence, you cannot face it head-on and work to overcome it.

Let's say you're the wayward spouse and you want the marriage to work. Your mate, on the other hand, is ambivalent and doesn't know whether they want to remain married. You may be mad that they won't make a decision, that they won't make a commitment to chose you. But remember, the infidelity recovery timeline can be eighteen to twenty-four months — or even longer. They may not know what they want right now. They may need more time to experience a greater sense of clarity.

As co-author of Harboring Hope Leslie Hardie, LCSW, often says, "It's not time that heals all wounds, it's what you do with the time." Truer words about recovery have never been spoken!

How Can You Move Past Ambivalence?

I encourage all spouses (wayward and betrayed) to make a definitive, short-term commitment, NOT to commit either way to the marriage. Instead, I ask them to commit to the work of recovery.

When you focus on the work you need to do for yourself, then you're free to visit all possible outcomes and find new pathways to self-respect, dignity and healing. If you're busy focusing on what they're doing and their ambivalence, then you can become angry with them and feel completely and utterly stuck. If you allow yourself to not make a decision now, on the other hand, it creates space to do your recovery work and truly absorb it. It allows you to not only work on the relationship, but it also allows you to work on healing yourself.

  • For unfaithful spouses looking for clarity and guidance during recovery, I highly recommend registering for Hope for Healing. Over the course of 17 weeks, you will hone your understanding of what recovery means, begin to escape your shame, and finally tackle your ambivalence head-on.
  • For betrayed spouses needing additional support and resources during the healing process, I highly recommend registering for Harboring Hope. Over the course of 13 weeks, you can discover ways to address your pain, grieve what happened, and work to rebuild your confidence.

To date, these courses have helped thousands of participants, and they may also help you during this challenging season of your life. If you have questions about any of our programs and courses, please don't hesitate to message us at info@hope-now.com. One of our knowledgeable and caring employees will get back to you with answers.



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It would be so valuable to

It would be so valuable to have more articles for those of us who were betrayed and our spouse had absolutely no remorse or desire to stay in the marriage. I have seen only a few of the hundreds of amazing articles on dealing with these issues. Having a spouse who was once loving abruptly turn into a monster I didn't know is extremely hard. Worse, I was bedridden from a chronic illness (our son was sick too) and over 18 months, he spent over $60,000 on first class travel, luxury hotel rooms, dinners and gifts for a direct report at work. He hid and stole money - millions of dollars and basically refused to pay my son and I, even though we couldn't afford our medical treatments. I was too sick to do much about it, even though a knew.

More needs to be said to those whose spouses have no remorse, never apologize and leave for their affair partner.

Peace for the betrayed

I agree with you Mary. My once loving husband decided he wants out of our 33 year marriage. He treats me like I am evil personified and I am only out to 'get' him. I am disabled, and have been for almost 20 years. After D-day, my husband promised to 'make things right'...needless to say, that was another lie. He was never remorseful, even acted like I was crazy because I would not 'let it go'. He totally ignored our son during his 2 year affair, and now doesn't understand why our now teenage son doesn't want anything to do with him.
I would love to see more articles for those of us who have been abandoned by our cheating spouses. They leave us with many unanswered questions and seem to think we don't deserve so much as an apology, much less be remorseful. The pain is extreme.

Susan Anderson

Susan Anderson is a therapist who has written some great books about abandonment. I got a lot out of them. Especially the grief cycle of abandonemnt which is different than normal grief. The stages are: 1. Shattered, withdrawal, Rage, Internalizing and lifting.

thanks for posting mary...

i'll talk to rick and see what he says or what he can suggest.  we're always open to wanting to help our clients and participants as best we can and you make an interesting obvservation for sure on what we could do better at.


Agree With Mary

I completely agree with Mary. I really have not read a lot on what to do and how to handle a lack of remorse, no responsibility for the affair and becoming unrecognizable. My spouse that i knew and loved has died. I do not recognize this person I am still married but struggling to get divorced. We live in two different countries and my life since discovery has been a complete hell. We were married for 26 years, still are actually. I am stuck in between wanting desperately to reconcile and knowing that is not going to happen. To see advice on circumstances of this nature would be helpful. I am literally at my wits end. I am broken. My life is broken. How can the recovery process begin or happen for me?

i'll talk to rick about it thanks for the comment

it's a good point.  i'll see what Rick can do and what we can provide for perspective.  

Unfaithful wife, ambivalent husband

I betrayed my husband (most of what I read is from the unfaithful husband) and he is the ambivalent one. I would love to hear more from an unfaithful woman's perspective. No one I've talked to seems to understand what we're going through. Everyday is different, my husband has days he can speak to me, more in which he can't even stand my presence. He's mostly quiet and sometimes mean and sarcastic, throwing the many details he knows now about my affair right in my face. He hasn't left me and I'm lucky he's even stuck by my side this long. He tells me he doesn't like me, hasn't and won't ever forgive me because he doesn't have to, and that his love is hanging on by a thread right now. His anger and resentment seem to only be getting worse while I do my best to be better every day... I'm sustaining us financially right now, I take care of everything in the household and our newborn son (which is another layer of added resentment), I tell him how sorry I am, how much I love him, and I've told him everything about my affair though I had lied for 5 months about it. I could desperately use some guidance and access to a support group/person. I'm also struggling with even forgiving/loving myself.

I'm an unfaithful wife

Hi, I'm more than Happy to be your support person if need be. I feel like we are in similar situations, and I know this comment was posted awhile ago. I'm trying to get help, I k ow its hard and our D-Day was actually this past week. I had said something a month and a half ago, but am of my past came out this week. If we could get in contact somehow, or be able to speak on how you've healed your marriage, I'd appreciate it.

How did it turn out?

Your comment seems like it could be written by me, except my husband is the most caring and sweetest person when he wants to be in our relationship. We have a 5 year old and a daughter on the way. I would love to see how things are with you guys now because I feel like this is never going to end or only going to end one way.

Wondering how you're getting on, 4 years later...

Hi Zee, I know you wrote this a long time ago, but it's the only comment I've seen that sums up my situation too, almost exactly. If you happen to still get messages from AR, I'd love to know how long your betrayed husband's ambivalence lasted, how you both changed over time, and if your marriage survived. Thanks, Fenchurch (Jessica)


I just read both articles on ambivalence and it was nothing short of truthful, definitely eye opening. I also see ambivalence as not being an enemy but a tool to bring me closer to where I want and need to be to get off the fence. As the betrayed, I struggled with this perplexing emotion and was not able to put a name to it's face. Now I recognize it and am not as afraid of it anymore. Thank you for sharing.

Grief over spouses affair

I'm stuck in a state of sadness for over a year. My husband has not ended the affair. He still lies about seeing her but I am positive he still does. I've stayed in the marriage for one, I love him, but also practical reasons because of my age and other things I have to consider. I wouldn't be any happier alone because the sadness of what he has done and is still doing would still be there. 42 years of my life have been with this man. On the other hand, I feel like a loser for staying. Like I'll just put up with anything. It's changed who I am. The daily routine of things I've always done have little meaning to me now. Sometimes I think I'm just ready to die just to relieve the heartbreak and pain. It's like being underwater and trying to swim to the top and get air. He knows how much this has hurt me but doesn't seem to care. I thought he loved me. I feel worthless as a human being, wife, mother and grandmother. My self-confidence is gone and I rarely leave my home anymore. I don't know how it will end.

What type of affair was it?

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