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

What Didn’t Work For Unfaithful Spouses

What Didn't Work for Unfaithful Spouse

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 was: 

"What was the least productive thing you, the unfaithful
spouse, did after the infidelity came to light?”
The question 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.

  1. I wouldn't take the risk of reengaging with my mate and give him/her a chance for fear of misleading him/her.
  2. Focused on trying to be perfect rather than authentic.
  3. 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. It’s been my personal experience that when women have an affair, they’re overall 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.




5% 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.




Three Additional Regrets of Unfaithful Spouses:


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.

I 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.

I 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 you. 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? 

Our Hope for Healing course for unfaithful spouses can set you on a new pathway to your recovery. Maybe what’s lacking in your recovery is expert, third party care that can help you see what you’ve been missing? Perhaps your frustration at the inability to gain momentum and new life has created a willingness to finally trust an expert third party with your recovery? If you’ve been unfaithful and want to get your life back and maybe your marriage, sign up for our Hope for Healing course.





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I wonder if there are so few men (or people in general) who responded who feel lint getting help was the biggest mistake is only so low simply because those refusing to get help are also extremely unlikely to respond to the survey and that’s women who refuse to get help are more likely to eventually give in and get help when faced with the consequences than men who refuse help are.

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