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

How do you deal with anger after infidelity?

deal with infidelity anger

"How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it." -Marcus Aurelius

I spoke with an angry man recently. He had an affair about 2 years ago, and since then he has been trying to gain his wife’s forgiveness. It hasn’t worked.

 

Unfortunately, when spouses are unwilling

to change response patterns, sometimes it just doesn’t.

However, for those who are willing to do recovery work, It is more than possible to find healing and reconciliation. Remember though, for an injured spouse the journey after betrayal can be excruciating.

What’s sad in this particular situation isn’t her inability to forgive. It’s the fact that the bitterness resulting from what has occurred and her lack of anger management is destroying them both. In her hurt, rather than letting go, she has tried to hurt him as badly as he has hurt her; this is her antidote, like many, to dealing with betrayal. She may have finally succeeded.

Due to the enormity of his choices and gruesome betrayal, the lack of help they’ve received, and because of the way she’s treated him, recovering from an affair seems near impossible. He now believes his wife is either mentally ill or she is just plain evil. He has trouble seeing the third option which is a vital part of the overall equation.

Anger Can Affect the Entire Way We See Our Situation

  • She is expressing hurt as destructive anger; anger management at this point isn’t even an option.
  • Typically, anger after betrayal is a secondary emotion. Behind the veil of anger, frequently you will find guilt, feelings of inadequacy, fear and/or hurt.
  • Anger is the emotion that we often use to deal with painful feelings, especially when as it runs alongside recovering from an affair.
  • Anger empowers us, motivates us, and strengthens us. It can even help protect us.
  • Anger can also kill us and those we hold dear.

It isn’t uncommon, when we are wounded by a loved one after betrayal, to feel that primitive rage that is programmed into the core of our being. If left unchecked, it most certainly will destroy everything in its path.

For those suffering from a betrayal, the pain can trigger that primal fight or flight response. But hopefully there are internal checks and balances that keep anger from becoming a destructive force. Other emotions such as love, compassion, respect, and integrity can help form a safety net that prevents anger from going out of control; this is the healthy balance we look for in anger management.

The anger is not the problem; 

it’s how anger is expressed that causes problems.

Anger can be viewed in a continuum from aggressive to passive-aggressive. When anger is expressed through aggression, we either cease to care whether our actions will hurt someone else, or sometimes we actually intend to cause harm.

When we display passive-aggressive anger, we do what we know will drive the other person crazy. For example if our mate wants to talk, we’ll just give him/her the silent treatment. Either way, through such expressions of anger, we move away from our natural desire to be caring and loving individuals. We allow ourselves to act in ways that are completely contrary to the way we actually want to be. I’ve met very few individuals who profess wanting to be an instrument of destruction in the lives of others, even after betrayal. Most of us hope to be a blessing to others.

So what goes wrong?

For some it’s a matter of a belief system. They may believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. According to such a belief, destructive anger and even a lack of anger management is justified, even necessary, for restoring the balance of fairness. But by exacting revenge from others, you wound yourself and become even angrier, creating the opportunity to establish a long standing, dysfunctional pattern in your own life. He or she hurt me and deserves to be hurt in return. It appeals to our human sense of justice. But this type of response is not ever driven by love and almost always gives way to resentment and long-term unforgiveness.

Addicted to Anger

Some may actually find themselves powerless to control the impulse to wound and to hurt. For such individuals, anger may have become an addiction. Some people are only responding the way others treated them earlier in life. Regardless of the reason, it is not OK and will exasperate any and all attempts to reconcile when recovering from an affair, or at the very least, to move on. It may seem justifiable given life’s circumstances and the hurt that has occurred, but it’s not. Difficult as it may be, destructive anger needs to be controlled. Anger management is crucial to dealing with betrayal in a healthy manner.

 Legitimate Anger or Torture?

Who wouldn’t be hurt and angry if you were betrayed, slighted, or rejected by a loved one? But anger needs to be expressed assertively not aggressively. The truth needs to be spoken, but it needs to be spoken in love, not in a fit of rage with the intent to destroy or wound. There is no glory in attacking a mate who has taken responsibility after betrayal for a wrong done and who is trying to make amends. It may help bring momentary relief, but in the long run it leaves only an empty and alone feeling. No amount of torture when dealing with betrayal will be sufficient to stop the pain that was initially inflicted. Furthermore, the torture performed as a response to that pain will leave both parties in a worse state than before.

You may be asking, “How can I ever be with someone who has betrayed me?” and that’s a great question. The answer will never be found in fits of rage. You may not choose to be with the one who betrayed you. Your mate may fail to accept responsibility for what has happened which may leave you feeling unsafe. He or she may choose to abandon you, leaving you few choices. You may feel incapable of getting beyond the pain or you may have lost the desire to be with your mate. These are all possible outcomes. But if you continue to respond with integrity and honor, respect and love, then at the very least, when all is said and done you will have your own self-respect and life intact which is essential for recovering from an affair.

Break The Pattern

When thinking about the couple at the beginning of this article, I grieve that he failed her and himself by breaking his vows to his wife. I grieve the fact that she was unable to control her anger and so wounded herself, her husband and her children. I grieve the fact that now his anger has become destructive and is costing him his self-respect and causing him to respond in ways he never wanted. I grieve the fact that their lack of anger management destroyed what they both wanted. Since they have been living in this horrible cycle of anger for two years, we can assume that they both actually want the marriage. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have stayed around for two years, enduring her destructive anger, and she wouldn’t have hung in there for two years dealing with betrayal, destroying herself and her husband. But I’m afraid this destructive cycle of anger and hurt may have caused just as much damage as the betrayal, and caused each to become someone or something they never wanted to be. But anger will do that.

If you are stuck in this destructive cycle I would encourage you to consider EMS Online. The EMS Online course will give you a safe place to break through the barriers of anger and start on the road to healing and recovery. 

 

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Comments

Thank God my anger is finally subsiding

After reading this story, my heart went out to this couple. I know I am withing a couple weeks of one year since I exposed my wife's two-year emotional affair and she finally came clean. After lots of individual and marital counseling over the last 10-plus months, God has been loving enough to put us on a more solid path toward healing and reconciliation.

At the same time, during the first half of the year after disclosure, I was an emotional basket-case and lashed out in anger a lot. Even until recent months I have been passive-aggressive in my attitude, which I knew in my head was unhealthy but in my heart I just wanted justice and to inflict the same kind of hurt that I experienced from her betrayal. Every time I would lash out with little comments around the house or in a full-blown bout of rage that put her safety walls back up with me, I knew this vicious cycle just couldn't go on.

Fortunately we have very patient and Godly counselors who have been unpacking our past garbage and giving us tools on how to deal with the past of our unhealthy relationship that led to the affair and also given us tools to help correct communication struggles. It is something I have to pray about daily and review in my own heart and mind in how God truly wants me to respond in love to my wife.

I am also very fortunate that God has placed some really good friends and mentors in our life that have spoken truth with love. It is their words of wisdom repeated time and time again that has helped disarm the anger that was boiling within me during those initial months following disclosure. And while the enemy still likes to try and throw the trials and circumstances of life into my face (we had to leave our church of 9 years with all of our friends because the other man -- now the former youth pastor -- still attends there with his family, and we sold our house of 10-plus years as we await a possible move from the area) as we are in transition between rentals and I am applying for jobs out of state so we can move from the tension and get a fresh start, I am learning more and more to just give it all over to God.

I pray daily -- and ask others for prayer -- that I can become the man of God I need to be while watching God also work in my wife's life so we can truly form a new, healthy marriage foundation for the second half of our life together. I want to take what has been anger and pain and turn it into a ministry to help others struggling with bad marriages.

Excellent post

I appreciated your frankness about your anger. You could have been talking about my situation. I am 6 months post discovery of my husbands emotional (hopefully that is all), but he will not talk about it or accept responsibility. He just wants me to get over it. So needless to say, I am angry. I really don't know how to escape this nightmare. We started going to couples counceling, but I cancelled after a few sessions because he kept lying (I presented proof of the lies, then he would admit it), or would just shut down. I am now in individual counceling and am trying to figure out what I want.

Re: excellent post

I so understand where you are exactly!! I am there as well and it is so hard to make him understand I need to talk about it. We need to. He is ashamed and I get that but to get past this we have to face it and his reluctance to be forthcoming with everything is really making me bitter and though I try to deal with it I find I am losing the battle. I, too, have sought individual help so that I might not give up without having tried to do all I can. I don't want to give up but I do not want to live in the shadow of lies and wondering what was the rest of our lives.

Prayers to anyone going through this. I have 22 years and a beautiful family at stake. In true motherly fashion, I have considered burying it deep down so my family will not be affected. Though my children are grown (young adults), I know they would be deeply affected by a divorce. In doing that, I find myself dying a little each day. I don't know what will be left of me or us if some resolution can't be found. That is why I sought out individual help, to see if I can find a way to move forward and not lose myself, without knowing what I need to know that would help me to understand this whole horrible mess.

God bless.

To Reddyleigh

Thank you for your affirming message. We appear to be in the same place in life. I wish you well and totally understand your sacrifices for your family. I feel the same and am working to become the best person I can and have the best life possible (both for myself and my family) considering the hand my husband chose to deal me. I have made it perfectly clear to him that even though I graciously gave him a second chance, there will be no third chance. Be strong my friend!

What *are* the choices for

What *are* the choices for those of us whose partners do not take responsibility for their actions, continue the affair, and leave us?

What helps in forgiving someone who won't say, "I hurt you, and I'm sorry"? What helps in forgiving someone who didn't stay around to be forgiven?

You eventually have to grieve

You eventually have to grieve the many kisses you have felt, you separate from the past by gradually rebuilding you life and your identity as a single person. If you experience trauma or triggers, then counseling will help.
I was told that I would learn how to manage all the emotions involved and find a healthy place. At the time I didn't believe I could, but I eventually did. I divorced, not because of the affair ( he did end it), but because of ongoing lies and his failure to get his own anger under control. Those 2 were my bottom line.
So sad. I don't understand his ongoing need to lie.

forgiveness

What helps in forgiving someone who didnt say sorry or ask for forgiveness is the freedom it gives you, the forgiver. Holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. You only hurt yourself while the other person is unscathed. But choosing forgiveness frees you from the prison of bitterness and hate. After my husbands 2nd emotional affair i found myself hating his 1st affair partner who kept creeping back in and seemed mentally unstable (showing up at his work in her pjs with her 3 kids in the car to hysterically ask why he wasnt answering her calls seems a bit unstable imo.) But when i had those feelings of anger and hatred towards her I'd pray for her and ask God to help me forgive her and He did. Eventually my anger towards her seeped out of me even as i prayed and i felt compassion toward her and pity that she thought such a dysfunctional hidden relationship was ok. I prayed for her and her children's salvation as well. She didnt know i forgave her. She didnt ask for it at the time. But it helped me and my mental and spiritual well being. She eventually started coming to our church and while i cant say for sure, her motives seemed to be to wedge herself back into my husbands life. She ambushed me in the bathroom one day and although she apologized she passed blame and dodged responsibility while trying to put a wedge between my husband and i by telling me he said she wasnt the first he cheated with etc. But i calmly told her i had forgiven her and had prayed for her and was glad she was going to church and bringing her kids. I felt at peace while she trembled and was teary. Not long after our convo she stopped coming to our church but i felt at peace knowing i handled the situation in the right manner. Forgiveness was for me, not her.

Unfaithful Anger

Anger prevents real communication. In my case it's my unfaithful wife who has anger problems. Can't discuss sensitive, personal issues necessary for healing because she works herself into a frenzy, gets contemptuous then stonewalls. It is frustrating and disheartening. Losing hope. I ask her to please get some individual counseling to help address this. She says no, she is fine, I'm the problem. What do you do with someone so stubborn, other than leave. Nearing our 29th anniversary.

Something is missing from this article

I get that bitterness can get in the way... I believe the operative necessity to release the anger is a mutual desire to reconcile the marriage, but both spouses must understand and empathize with the other person. The unfaithful spouse cannot be intimidated by what needs to be done to rebuild trust.
If the unfaithful spouse refuses to do what it takes to rebuild trust and communicate well and stop diminishing the anger and hurt and distrust in the other spouse, they find it hard to overcome the anger in general. It's natural to maintain anger as a safe barrier if the betrayed spouse does not see efforts to build trust.
Too often my unfaithful spouse as well as inept counselors used my anger as the reason for lack of progress and failed to see my spouses continued insistence that I should "just get over it -it's done"! They failed to acknowledge that my husband continued to lie about finances, and continued to undermine me as a parent, and continued to call me crazy because I still had devastating emotions due to the TRAUMA of the betrayal. Years of lies and cover ups are traumatic.
Unfortunately, bitterness does have a way of building a serious callous if there isn't enough understanding or compassion for the betrayed spouse. There was a lot of pressure from my spouse and outside counselors to have my emotions catch up with my desire to forgive - more pressure and expectation than my h had to become accountable.

You just cannot rush the healing process in a betrayed spouse and yet it seems that is what everyone else wants to try to do.

Agreed

I'm rowing the same boat as you....you're not alone, friend.

Amen! I agree 100%. My

Amen! I agree 100%. My experience with 3 counselors are that they are too quick to push forgiveness and moving on before getting questions answered, reviewing causes and sharing pain experienced. My unfaithful wife uses that against me now. Even though I remind her counselor #1 was undermined because she lied about and denied the whole adulterous relationship until 6 months in when I found her secret cell phone. Even then she lied and denied the extent of the affair until after she quit counseling and DDay 2 one year later when I found the PA evidence. Cheaters by nature lack accountability about their affair and the deceit, and too many weak counselors don't hold them accountable, leaving the faithful spouse alone to fight that nearly impossible battle.

I'm so angry at my husband

I'm so angry at my husband for his continued betrayal AFTER I gave him chances... I wish I could forget everything that happened. I can't.
I just don't see a resolution .

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