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

What Didn’t Work For Unfaithful Spouses

In a recent survey of Affair Recovery readers, those who had been unfaithful identified certain courses of action that proved to be unproductive or even harmful.

The question, “What was the least productive thing those who were unfaithful did after the infidelity came to light?” was structured with seven categories we provided followed by an opportunity for participants to make other suggestions. The provided categories were as follows:

27% withheld information too long from spouse

25% maintained contact with my affair partner

19% wanted my spouse to just get over it

17% acted defensive

7% believed / acted on bad advice

5% refused to get outside help

Survey participants also had the opportunity to identify other courses of action that proved to be unproductive. Three of these stood out.

I wouldn't take the risk of reengaging with my mate and give him/her a chance for fear of misleading him/her.

Focused on trying to be perfect rather than authentic.

Made it about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery.

Why were these courses of action unproductive? Let’s see if we can discover some of the reasons.

27% withheld information too long from spouse.

29% of the unfaithful men and 26% of the unfaithful women agreed that they withheld information too long from their mate. If there is one thing that delays healing after the affair it is stringing out the discovery process. It’s tempting to try to control your spouse’s reaction by controlling the flow of information, but to reestablish trust the unfaithful spouse has to first trust their mate with the information. The longer the details of the affair are dribbled out, the more difficult it becomes to reestablish trust as well as to move beyond the discovery stage to the tasks of grieving and forgiving. Every time your spouse gets a new piece of information they go right back to square one and have to start the entire recovery process over again. Actually, they may go back even further than where they originally started since now they also feel betrayed by you withholding information.

If you are currently in the discovery stage with your mate, take a lesson from those who’ve gone before. Let go of the information so that you can use the time productively and make progress in your recovery.

25% maintained contact with the affair partner.

33% of the unfaithful men and 18% of the unfaithful women reported maintaining contact with the affair partner was the least productive thing they did during recovery. The number of respondents in this sample is small so this may not be statistically significant, but I would suspect the larger percentage of men may be because the men having more interest in saving the marriage than the women. It’s been my personal experience that when women have an affair, they’re less likely to want to save the marriage. This is because men are able to compartmentalize their affair and may still want the marriage even while betraying their vows. Women tend to check out emotionally long before an affair is possible.  

19% wanted their spouse to just get over it.

17% of unfaithful men and 22% of unfaithful women identified wanting their betrayed spouse to “just get over it” as the least productive thing they did during recovery. As mentioned before, being able to process what occurred during the affair is one of the key success factors to healing after the affair. A possible explanation for the men who wanted their mate to get over it might be a lack of empathy. They failed to see how they wounded their mate. Empathy is crucial in surviving infidelity. Women, on the other hand, tend to have more shame and this might explain their attitude. Regardless of their motivations, it’s interesting that this category was third in least productive actions. Giving the hurt spouse space and time to heal is obviously necessary. Additionally it’s important for the unfaithful spouse to take responsibility for what they’ve done and to join their mate on the healing journey.

17% acted defensive.

29% of unfaithful men and 7% of unfaithful women identified acting defensive as their least productive action. It’s interesting that women tended to be less defensive. This may be due to the fact that the women take more personal responsibility as the unfaithful spouse for the decision to have the affair. All too often when men have affairs they’ve given little thought to their motives beyond the fact that they’ll never get caught. This might explain why they tend to be more likely to be defensive about what they’ve done. Perhaps it’s their attempt at justifying their behavior after the affair.

7% acted on bad advice.

12.5% percent of unfaithful men and 4% of unfaithful women said they acted on bad advice. Sad to say, everybody has an opinion as to what they would do if they were in your situation, yet people actually walking through recovery seem to always report surprise at how they responded when the infidelity came to light. Most of us believe if we are cheated on, we will be out of there, but other factors come into play and influence our decisions. Hopefully, the people we listen to are those who have successfully navigated the recovery process.

6% refused to get outside help.

0% of unfaithful men and 11% of unfaithful women reported not getting outside help as their least productive action. Personally, I believe infidelity tends to be more shameful for women than for men. This shame might account for why these women were less likely to get outside help. It might also be the fact that the men were more likely to want to salvage their marriage and therefore had more motivation to get help from the beginning. Regardless, not getting help didn’t help these women.

Out of the other suggestions that participants made as to least productive items three stood out:

I wouldn't take the risk of re-engaging with my mate and give him/her a chance for fear of misleading him/her.

For those who feel they lost their desire for their mate before their affair, re-engaging in the marriage is difficult. Frequently, there is ambivalence as to whether to continue in the marriage after the affair. Some feel no hope for change in what they considered a miserable marriage. Others doubt whether or not their marriage can be restored. They fear their mate could never forgive them or wonder if they could ever rekindle feelings for their mate.

People who have low desire for the marriage may avoid re-engaging to avoid giving false hope. It’s interesting, however, that this approach was identified as one of the least productive actions for unfaithful spouses. Without taking the risk of re-engaging, it’s impossible to determine the possibilities for healing and for a meaningful life together. Re-engaging is essential to surviving infidelity.

Focused on trying to be perfect rather than authentic.

People often have affairs because of intimacy avoidance. They are too focused on trying to please their mate rather than being honest with their mate. If an individual’s goal in recovery is to save the marriage, then authenticity is not pragmatic. You will tell your mate only what you think they want to hear in order to motivate them to continue in the relationship. However, this leads to a performance-based relationship and we discovered that it’s never really enough. The ensuing dissatisfaction can lead to more temptation to have an affair. It also fails to resolve the issues that were present in the relationship prior to the infidelity.

Intimacy in marriage almost always creates short-term instability. When we are authentic with one another, it highlights the differences. The most severe consequence of trying to be perfect rather than authentic is how it robs us of love. I can never be loved unconditionally as long as I only conditionally let my mate know who I am. What convinced me of my wife’s love wasn’t the fact that I was perfect, but that she chose to love me in spite of my imperfections. Authenticity is crucial to surviving infidelity.

Made it about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery.

I found this comment to be particularly interesting. It’s certainly easy to make recovery about our failure with little or no consideration as to how our actions affected another. While it has the appearance of humility, to be focused on our shame is still 100% self-centered. Love is concerned for others, not what others think of us.

If you’re in the in midst of recovery and surviving infidelity, I hope you’ll learn from those who’ve gone before. It’s not time that will heal you, but it’s how you use that time. Are you making decisions that bring new life and health, or are you still stuck in a spiral of destruction? EMS Online is a great way to start down the right path. I hope you’ll choose life.

Sections: 

Descriptions: 

RL_Category: 

RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:

Comments

Shame

It seems like shame/guilt/depression could easily be underlying features in all of this. It would be interesting to see an article dealing with shame from the perspective of preventing future infidelities.

Also, most articles I've read have told the hurt partner not to "obsess" over the details of the affair. Where's the fine line (or is there one) of being honest versus obsessing?

Thanks for the article. Again it's hard to read, but I value the difficult insights.

Guilty as charged by numbers one and four

As an unfaitful spouse I wish I had found this site prior to disclosure. I would have been much more prepared to care about my wife's recovery than my own issues. Good article!

Easy Way out

Being the unfaithful Husband. I turned it into not what my wife needs but how we get past this. The truth is I must turn to God and give it up. Cant live by Number one and four. Must be real. Wish I had found this sooner!

Missed only the one about bad advice

Wow my husband could be the poster child for what not to do,I guess, except for the bad advice. He would never ask for any advice as he knows best about everything. He says he tries to be "perfect" but that I am unsatisfiable so he just quit trying. I am not sure what he was trying to be perfect at. Marriage counselors are all idiots and books and other programs are way too touchy feely according to him. We muddle along not talking about anything except his job mostly, I am very sorry to have made such a poor choice in life. Trying to learn how to be kind and "loving" to someone who can't love anyone is a very hard road indeed.

Not alone

Hi Sharron,

Thanks for helping me realise I'm not the only one who went through the same experiences with a narcissist. Unfortunately, it's harder to explain all of this to our toddler.

Good luck in your recovery, I too am focusing on healing my old wounds that allowed this kind of person into my life.

Take care, and know that there are others out there who know (through experience) how you feel.

To recovery

You have got it, we can't change those who hurt us but, we can change ourselves. It is a comfort to know you aren't the only one struggling. It would be nice to have some kind of roadmap to get through and make your life. I am still here trying to move on without understanding or feeling understood.

helpful article

this is a very good summary of what not to do. The problem is that as the unfaithful one I am mostly spinning around not sure what to do. I think the point around "Made it about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery" is a very good one. I am consumed by my guilt and so it's incredibly difficult to focus on my mate's recovery as everytime I think about anything I feel guilt and remorse. What can we do to break out of the cycle?

Agree

sadcheater, I agree with your assessment. If the unfaithful spouse (as I was) feels terrible about this, and begins to feel guilt and shame, it definitely blocks the initial ability to assist with the hurt spouse's recovery. Sorry I don't have a lot of insights yet to share with you (as I'm on the journey to better supporting my wife and my recovery), but I wanted to let you know that you're not alone. I would suggest therapy, the Hope for Healing course, or simply begin scheduling time for your spouse to ask questions in which you listen, then tell the truth. A very wise person told me, telling the truth early on is for both spouses, as it speeds up the process of not always going back to D-Day with every new piece of information that dribbles in slowly.

ditto

I can agree with these statements so much, from the perspective of a "wounded spouse" and now an abandoned one, as my husband of nearly 26 years seeks a "new" affair partner and pursues divorce, almost overnight.

From that perspective -- I see that the dribble and holding back of information literally stalled out the recovery process for us, along with never yielding defensiveness, and I didn't see it in this article but "blaming the spouse" for the infidelity (though never directly, always it was "but you were doing.x.y.z" --not adultery, btw). This blame always gave lip service to taking responsibility, but he never let go of blaming, and started a fresh course of blame with the abandonment. Counsel was inadequate, to non-existent, too.

I would warn any couple that is seeking recovery to let the injured spouse have their anger, and for the unfaithful spouse to confess all as quickly and honestly as possible, with much apology, never being defensive, because -- as the poster before me wisely stated: it is for both spouses. And get a good godly counselor, such as David Clarke, even if it means moving. The money would have been well spent, the move worth the effort (and helpful in our case).

The worst advice we got, and took, was to reduce "processing" to twice a week. This slow dribble of release of pain and anger, and discussion, and apology, was slow death to our intimacy, and made restoration impossible.

The second worse advice my unfaithful spouse found and took was to use self-hypnosis to make himself "feel" good about himself, rather than letting godly sorrow and repentance take hold. As a result of that, he decided that I could just be positive and heal from this a whole different way. That perspective that I could heal this way, too, shut down our processing, indeed our whole relationship.

He left after this conversation, that he had been building up to for a couple of weeks, and that was that. Now I am in worse pain than ever, with very little hope of healing.

He also held onto contact with the last affair partner, because it was just a "harmless" emotional affair that lasted for two years, and is probably still a temptation in his mind.

This left him wide open vulnerable to yet another affair, and this one promises to be an "exit" affair unless God Himself intervenes. The one he is seeking sympathy from now is "just a friend" that he can take on dates while we are separated (not divorced). How people get through divorce when they truly have loved their spouse and don't wish for the divorce, I will never know -- but if he follows through with his threat, I have to say that I hope I come to know.

I thought the recovery process was a nightmare, and ours was made impossible by the holding out on his part, but this is like waking up from a bad dream only to find yourself in a nightmare that you cannot awaken from. No hope.

Unfaithful spouses, please, have compassion on your mates! Let them process, and show you care by being 100% honest and sorry. You'll heal faster, and your spouse will heal and love you for bearing the burden. Don't expect it to be instant or easy, and let the injured spouse tell you when to have these talks, and say anything they want to. Take it like a man or woman, or the chances for your marriage to work will end up about nil. As you are kind, and grow in compassion, and remorse, your mate will believe you are sincere, and follow you to a better marriage. This is what I have heard actually works anyway. Every night processing is not too much. Don't let anyone fool you with the very bad advice of processing twice a week. It does NOT work! In any case, let the injured spouse be the one to decide. I would have insisted on doing it this way, from the beginning, when he still cared -- had I only known. Don't make our mistakes.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer