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

Anger: Its 6 Roots

anger six roots

It seems to me much is written about managing anger, but not as much about the roots.  If there is a universal emotion that we see as therapists when infidelity has been exposed, it’s anger. Whether it’s anger at their spouse, themselves, or the whole world, anger is a very common part of disclosure. If reconciliation is going to happen, the anger has to be addressed. Many times I have to help spouses realize, if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be angry about it. We’re angry because our heart is broken.

“The fiercest anger of all, the most incurable, is that which rages in the place of dearest love.” 
― Euripides

Anger is generally a secondary emotion generated by other feelings. Now there are exceptions and not all anger is negative. In my mind, anger only goes negative when it becomes destructive in your life or in the lives of others. There are certainly ways to manage anger to keep it from being destructive, but eliminating the root of anger is an easier way of taking care of the problem. As Michael Wells says, “Don’t sweep the cobwebs, kill the spider.” The following is a short list of the roots of anger I see most often when treating infidelity.


An inability to eventually let go of resentment will frequently result in anger. If the resentment isn’t released, it will result in either anger or a perceived victim status. It’s difficult to let go of resentments, but doing so is a gift you give yourself. It has little to do with the other person. Please don’t think that forgiving a wrong perpetrated against you is the same as condoning another’s hurtful actions. Rather, resentment prolongs the harm perpetrated by the other person. In short, it keeps the hurt going. The resulting anger robs you of your peace and ability to gain traction in your own recovery. This foreboding anger can also delay healing in your spouse’s recovery. In the short term, it’s expected that anger will not only be present, but off the charts. However, as you move towards finding help, healing and the possibility of restoration, the anger must be diffused. Remember, forgiveness is not about reconciliation; it’s an act of self-liberation that frees you from being a prisoner of the past and allows you to live in peace with your past.

Soul Wounds

Another significant source of anger is soul wounds. Our past is littered  with occurrences where the very essence of our identity was wounded and possibly, forever altered. It’s also where we began to believe lies about who we truly are. The memories where these lies are anchored can hold significant amounts of anger and pain. When similar circumstances occur in the present, the old wounds resurface and old emotions echo from the past, influencing how we feel in the present. These wounds can be a significant source of anger and can cause our emotional response to a circumstance to be exaggerated to say the least. It’s part of the reason we say “Pain that is not transformed, will eventually be transmitted.” When a hidden pain is triggered, we can have a $500 response to a $5 incident. If you find you tend to overreact to circumstances, then it might be worthwhile to seek professional help to determine if there is a past wound affecting your ability to have peace in the moment.


It may sound strange, but guilt is also a source of anger. I don’t know about you, but each time I get caught for speeding, I get mad. Now it’s not that I’m not guilty, it’s the fact that my first response to guilt is anger. I hate it when I’m called to account for my bad actions. In fact, many of us will use anger as a way to push away our guilt and shame. Our defensiveness and anger are often a measure of the guilt we feel internally and have no idea how to remedy. I can’t tell you how many unfaithful spouses deal with this paradox and feel powerless to remedy the situation.  If you find yourself dealing with anger, a great exercise is making a personal inventory and honestly focusing on your own areas of failure to see if your anger is a way of avoiding taking responsibility for your own actions.


We have a strange way of giving others power over our life. If we feel we are being disrespected or another is making us feel “less than,” anger is a common response. We hate it when others fail to value or affirm us. Why do you think we get so mad so quickly when someone cuts us off while driving? Or, my favorite, when someone interrupts us while speaking? Both actions send the message that we are “less than,” that the other person has more important places to be or things to say. When we feel undervalued, it triggers a response in us to place all the blame on the other party. Let me ask you, who is giving the other person the power to decide how much value I hold? I am. Once we realize that our value doesn’t change based on individual interactions we will be much more free to love even those who may disrespect us.


There are times when fear is at the root of anger. The "fight or flight” response is a God-given mechanism intended for self-protection. In the moment of danger, we will frequently utilize anger as a method of self-protection. Don’t misunderstand; there are times to honor your fear. There are circumstances that are not safe, but not all fear is justified and at times anger blinds us to its root. When asking yourself, “Why am I angry?” always ask if the root is fear. You’ll find it’s far more productive to deal with your fear than it is to deal with anger. If fear is the root, then focus on how to increase safety.

Righteous Indignation

I saved the best for last. At times anger is justified. When a wrong is done and needs to be corrected, then anger serves an intended purpose. Even in this case, however, it’s important to manage anger. If you believe in the concept of love, then it’s important to be loving, and maintain love within the expression of your anger, and that is not the same as being abusive. While angry, it is still possible to speak the truth in love. It’s OK to right a wrong, but be sure to stay within the bounds of love as you follow your quest.

I hope and pray your search for the roots of anger will result in a new found peace for yourself and for those you love.

If you are a hurt spouse and need help dealing with your anger at your spouse or even at your situation, then our Harboring Hope course will be a safe place to help you heal. As a betrayed spouse, your journey of forgiveness and anger management is not for the faint of heart and Harboring Hope will help you make sense out of the overwhelming emotions including anger, confusion and help with the trauma you’re dealing with. Learn more about Harboring Hope.





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On the receiving end of anger

8 months after confessing my 2 month affair and committing to forward movement and healing with my spouse, I am still on the receiving end of his anger. Our time together seems great. But the $5 mistake quickly becomes a $500 reaction, including verbal and emotional abuse. I couldn't be more sorry for what I did and would do anything to move forward with him. But he remains stuck - in his hate and his anger and pain. It breaks my heart to see it fall apart when I've put in everything that I could.

Healing from betrayal is a

Healing from betrayal is a long process. Is he in counseling? Are you both in counseling together? He may need ongoing reassurance. There may be issues he still needs to address - it's a process - new triggers crop up,... When you've been betrayed your whole foundation has broken apart. Your whole sense of life as you knew it is shattered. You don't like the feelings you feel. You don't like having to deal with all those feelings... You don't like yourself for having been blind, etc.... There is a lot to process. My understanding is it is harder for men to heal and reconcile than for women... And it takes the betrayed longer than the infidels. Have you asked him what else he needs beside more time to heal?

Oh, poor you...

So you now find yourself on the receiving end? Take note of how it feels and times it by 100. Anger is a terrible thing but it's hardest for the one feeling the anger, never forget that. It can have huge consequences on his health, both physical and mental and can remain a problem if not resolved, for him, because you can always walk away and escape it. He will need to process it and get past it and that's harder than escaping.In order for his anger to be resolved well, a lot of work will need to be put in. 2 months will not begin to cover this sort of anger. The betrayal is so enormous and the fallout is long lasting. As easy as it was to hurt this man, it will not be anywhere near that easy to convince him to trust you again. I'm afraid you will have to exercise patience and a whole lot of selflessness to bring it back and it will have to be sincere because he's watching closely where maybe before he wasn't. If you are complaining after just 2 months, I fear you don't have what it takes for the task ahead. Take some time to read through some of the success stories and you will see how hard others have had to work to rectify but they were willing, rightly disposed and remorseful. And your last sentence is so selfish, it blows my mind to read it. It's an indication that you are really only concerned with your side of things, the work you've put in, much like you had to think in order that your overstep could be accomplished in the first place. I pray for your husband/partner and hope that he finds the strength to do what will be right for him. That he doesn't remain in the anger and if it means leaving you behind, so be it. Shame.

Down play

Well as a man I really think the wording $5 mistake is selfish. You crushed his ego. That’s what men have, big egos. When you take away their manhood it hurts to the core. And saying it’s a $5 mistake is incredibly selfish. It wasn’t a mistake but a choice. It’s almost as bad as saying “well it isn’t like I slept with ten people”. Downplaying it shows lack of remorse. You didn’t tell him it was his fault did you? Well he may be 50% at fault for the marriage problems but 0% at fault for the affair. Until he realizes that his ego won’t recover. I don’t care what professionals say about letting go of your ego. It’s what makes us men. You’ve put in everything you could huh? Go back to counseling and try again.

$5 mistake and 2month affair

Well I don't know this lady, but she did say her affair was 2 months long and she's put in 8 months work --so far -- trying to make it up to her husband. And by $5 mistake, I suspect she means that her affair was just 2 months as opposed to for instance the 4-Year affair I just found out my husband had. More than a $5 "mistake." He's 68 years old and should have had better sense. Not condoning anyone's affair....just sayin.'

From the mind of the betrayed

Your reply sounds very familiar to me... your words are the same that I hear from my husband since his affair. He continues to say he is giving more than he ever has and it still isn't enough for me. Today's actions from him doesn't take away what he has already done; broken vows, disrespect, put another above me, left me feeling I have no one truly to have my back and stand up for me or our marriage. Advice from one betrayed woman - say I'm sorry a million times and mean it, reinforce that it was a foolish act and you will work every day to repair the damage, understand all that you have taken away from him - his very identity and meaning. To me, like feels worthless at times and I'm sure he feels the same. My heart is shattered knowing that my husband shared things with another woman that was private and intimate - not really sexually but on a heart, mind and soul level. This pain is real and the anger is a direct reflection of this pain and mistrust. He trusted you with his heart and life will never ever be the same. This entire situation has me questioning my entire existence as I'm sure he does also. Who I am is forever altered. I miss the carefree spirit I once was who believed in love and above all, my husband. It is a hard pill to swallow believing that you should have had your guard up. I never questioned but gave him full trust only to be blindsided. Proving your patience, understanding, remorse, commitment to him (& your marriage) and love is an everyday event you must make him feel and see. You broke his world. Like my father use to say "if you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler"

Thank you

Thank you for putting to words what I have been fighting to say and even understand since 6 months ago.

My wife read this and finally better understands a lot of what I am going through.

Thank you

Just like another comment on here, I found it hard to put in words how I felt when my husband cheated and feel guilty three years on for still feeling anger and not being able to move forward. Your description of how you feel sums me up completely. I was betrayed by the person I trusted the most. The thought of him sharing his feelings with another woman over me and probably discussing why he was unhappy with me, is heartbreaking and i just cannot forget it never mind forgive it. Like you, I no longer believe in love and feel I have wasted years of my life thinking we would be happy forever. And like you say, I miss my husband and who we were. I am another person now, and I dont like myself. I once was a caring person but now I feel irritable, angry and miserable. I commend anybody who can move on and continue as normal, or rather should I say, find a new normal. I wish I could.


I’m all for giving you $5x10,000 to not be on the betrayed side of this selfishness.


Anger is the most difficult thing to manage, and process after infidelity. That has been my own experience, as the betrayed spouse, and trying to empathize with my unfaithful husband. He has yet to deal with his own wounds that set the stage in himself to cheat and lie. While he is aware of the entitlement as a precursor to the affair, he has not done and has consistently refused to do the work to resolve why he became abusive towards me in order to justify his own actions. He was angry with me for not responding in a way I've yet to understand.... I guess I was supposed to continue acting like nothing was wrong in our relationship. He accused me of refusing intimacy with him while he set e stage continually for me to NOT want intimacy with him! Even in counseling I would tell him what we needed to find resolution about... He never followed thru on any changes in himself but would be angry when I could not respond to him. He had a different set of standards for his behavior than mine. And he was angry that I couldn't trust him, and still don't because he has yet to address half the issues. I admitted when resentment built up. I communicated when Triggers would send my emotions into a downward spiral. I have worked extremely hard to disperse my anger - unfortunately without him working on the myriad of issues that his sex addiction, porn addiction, 2 affairs spanning 15 years, his financial abuse put our whole family thru I have grown so detached from him or any hope of restoration. That is the deep sadness and reality of not addressing the issues. Anger is a killer of the spirit and so much more. Now the anger in our children just perpetuates...


I am the betrayed Spouse who has had anger issues in the past which was in part the cause of the deterioration of the marriage. Affair on him not me. I read a lot on the subject of anger which is a very tangible emotion to have to reckon with. What I don't hear a lot about is emotional apathy which can trigger anger. I am often the target of being the problem - but want to say this. I spent years expressing in both a kindly and not so kindly way that I needed support which fell on deaf ears because of what I view as emotional apathy for another's needs. Anger is no good - and easily seen, judged. Emotional apathy not so much and the focus turns to the anger as being the rooted issue. Not so. Emotional apathy can create an angry response over time if never addressed or viewed as a rooted issue causing separation and isolation in a marriage.

Thank you, Elizabeth

Your perspective feels very relevant in my situation. In the end, I was the emotionally & physically betrayed spouse.
I think a series of personal events (job layoffs & family deaths), as well as my negative attitude toward life caused me to no longer be the confident man she fell in love with. Because of that, it was easy for another perceived successful man to sweep her off her feet.

Having come from a broken home & previous failed marriage, I had not learned to communicate as effectively & affectionately as I should. During disagreements, it either came out whiny, angry or I just shut down (I became apathetic for the sake of non-confrontation). She is a very strong willed, independent (and prideful) woman, that was attractive. She nagged, pleaded, yelled and I just went deeper into my depression. I am responsible for my lack of leadership (spiritual, financial and emotional) as a husband.
Unfortunately, we both became resentful and angry at the others lack of communication. She, during the marriage (leading to an emotional affair & filing divorce) and me after discovery. It seems, in part, she was attracted to the "confident & successful married man" she didn't have. Much of his current success is based on her dedication, organization and hard work and ironically, he's now getting a divorce.
Time will tell how he continues to interacts with our children. As our kids grow and see the situation, I wonder what distrust they will feel about relationships?


It has been almost 5 years and the anger and triggers are still there. This article was enlightening to me. I know I have some soul wounds that need to be addressed still. Thank-you great article.

Sooooo angry

I am 14 month post discovery and I'm still so angry at my husband. Every time I am around him I am angry and every time he speaks my first thoughts are "is this the truth or a lie". For background sake, I accidentally saw an email between my husband and another woman when my husband handed his phone to me for some help. I later looked through his phone and found many others between him and a total of 5 other women which were inappropriate (flirty) and mentioned many dinner "dates" (my word). Many were signed "all my love" or similar and had comments like "you looked so beautiful last night" or "I miss you so much, if only I could hold your hand" or similar comments. When confronted, he said they were just friends, nothing happened, etc. He admits that he told at least one of the women that his marriage was problematic. As far as I knew, we had a good marriage with the exception that my retired husband was always gone (to the gym, library, etc). I had asked to spend more time together which he ignored. So I have multiple problems,

1. The mutiple relationships (at least emotional, if not physical). He claims they were nothing and to just get over it.
2. Lying - he was taking these women out to dinner, lunch, etc and not telling me what he was doing (omission), or outright lying saying he was going to a meeting, but going elsewhere
3. Deceit - he was paying for meals with gift cards he bought as part of grocery shopping so I wouldn't know (I handle finances).
4 I thought our marriage was good and he told at least one women that our marriage was problematic. Said he felt distance, but yet he was always gone, probably has something to do with feeling guilty on his part.

When I first discovered all this, I asked him to leave. He asked that we go to counceling, which we did, but it was a waste of time and money. He either continued to lie or acted like a jerk. I cancelled joint sessions after 8 sessions and went on my own for another 4 or 5. I then moved to my daughters to help out with her kids for 6 months (mainly to get a break from the situations). Now it is time to go back home. How can I escape the anger when husband is not really sorry (says I'm sorry I hurt you). I think all relationships have been ended, but how am I to be sure since he was able to fool me so completely in the past. I did make it clear that if any thing else occurred, our marriage would be over. I don't wear my wedding ring anymore since I feel vows were broken. He still wears his.

So how do I get out of this mess of anger and get back to my old happy self. I want my old life back (but not with my husband if any of those old behaviors contine).


I have tried to forgive my cheating husband but i can't. I wish now I had not even tried to forgive. He thinks everything is ok but its not.


I am in the same place. Husband makes no effort to help me work through this. I have asked him for a written apology detailing everything he had done to hurt me which 8 months later he still hasn't done. He says he is sorry he hurt me but just wants me to move past it.

It's not just the Husbands...

My wife had an affair over this past summer while out of state. She lied for 4 months that nothing happened just friends. Than she finally said actual sex but just once. All the calming things you'd expect to hear if you were totally blind and stupid. Phone records look like she went back for more that same night and by her own confession she went on a shopping spree with him the next day and spent the following night there as well. She claims that she felt guilty about the "one time" but just wants the subject dropped and me to accept her "I'm sorry" without her honestly giving any details or showing any remorse. I'm about to the DIVORCE point. She clams up and stonewalls me if I ever mention it. But snice she has some communication defect and can't just say what she wants honestly, I should expect nothing less. She claimed to be miserable in the marriage but never voiced it to me. She just snuck off and had her fun. Now she thinks we're great and my anger isn't righteous.


I like how this article identifies and describes the different causes of anger. I was able to identify two within myself as a betrayed spouse. The word "angry" has been assigned such a negative meaning, yet this article helped me to see that anger does not have to be ALL bad. But for those causes that are, I will have to continue to work through those

Very good article!

I'm going to have to save this one. I have come to the realization over the past couple weeks that I have a lot of anger. This article came just in time. I have several roots to my anger but as the unfaithful one of the biggest portions is rooted in guilt. I just keep ruminating over what I did now almost 4 years ago and just can't forgive myself and move on. I have tried many things but am still struggling. I am 100% sure the inability to forgive myself is rooted in other factors from childhood and that is going to take a lifetime to get a handle on I think. Still, I refuse to give up and will continue to work on myself. To healing!


I do have anger still as the betrayed. I'm struggling with how to show this anger. I've had fits and rage and all that happens when you start dealing with the affair but there is still anger there. I guess it is also that we are only a few months into recovery. I just don't know how to deal with my anger and not show it to my husband every time a trigger pops up.

Great Article

I am the betrayed spouse. My ex husband married his affair partner abut a year after our divorce. I wanted to save our marriage. My ex is extremely angry with me which blows my mind as he has gotten what he wanted (a life with the woman of his dreams as he told me). It was enlightening to read this article as I do think my ex has numerous sources of anger including resentment, soul wounds and guilt. Our marriage counselor said "he would never get over his anger for me." She never elaborated on this but I believe she knew something from his personal counselor she couldn't tell me. Is the severity of the anger proportionate to the guilt? I have a feeling the anger he AND his new wife have for me fuels their relationship. "Infidelity and Private Lies" is a great book by Frank Pittman explains that in detail. I just wonder if some personalities are more prone to holding onto the anger and transmitting that pain? Anyway, this site is wonderful.


My heart breaks for you. Are you doing better these days?

Husband is very angry

My husband found out a month ago that I cheated on him several years ago. It was a terrible mistake. After I did it, I put a lot of time and energy into out relationship and into myself trying to be a better person and a better wife. I grew to love him even more deeply and I hid the affair from him because I knew he'd be devastated. It has been a month since I told him/he found out and he has extreme anger right now and I totally understand it. He is mad that I betrayed him and he is extremely hurt. I wish I could help him with his anger. I know right now that it is only hurting him. He can call me all the bad names in the book and I deserve it. I wish I could make him feel better, but I can't. I hope time and therapy will help him. I desperately want to make things work, but I have no idea if he can let go of his anger. Right now in the early time period, he needs to let his anger out. I need to listen and be patient and be there for him. Still it brings me so much sadness and pain to see him so hurt. There's also guilt and shame because I hurt someone I love so much.