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

Expectations of Empathy: A Betrayed Spouse’s Journey

betrayed expectations empathy

Each week, my staff and I work hard to find content that's not only comforting, but insightful and revealing. When one spouse can understand what's reasonable and what's to be expected in healthy recovery, much needed perspective is found, momentum is gained and healing can flourish. Alternatively, when one spouse feels as though they are on a completely different island than the other, disconnection occurs and recovery spirals.

Our Recovery Library is filled with over 3,000 pieces of hard hitting and insightful information designed specifically with those in mind who are in crisis and looking for direction. This week I'd like to highlight three new additions to our library which will help provide both clarity and hope for those who are suffering and looking for direction.

Recently, a subscriber posed the question to me in our Expert Q & A, asking, "What Are Reasonable Expectations for My Unfaithful Spouse's Behavior?":


Clients of ours frequently find themselves wondering "What is the best approach for us: EMS Weekend or EMS Online?" Such is the case with another subscriber who asked what program they should pursue for their recovery:


Finally, Samuel shared a video blog entitled "Empathy: A Game Changer in Recovery". Empathy is a critical piece to the puzzle for unfaithful spouses to "get it". I think Samuel does a concise and wonderful job explaining why empathy is so critical to the healing process:


If you're hurting and need help, we have several ways to support you in your recovery. I'd like to personally invite you to consider doing what you've never done, to experience healing you've maybe never experienced. Our resources are more than capable of bringing about healing and transformation to even the most difficult situation. The time to take action is now. Whether it be pursuing recovery for yourself or for you and your spouse, we can help. Harboring Hope, our course for betrayed spouses, opens today at 12:00 PM CST. If you are the betrayed partner looking for a safe place to find healing, I encourage you to register as soon as you can.

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Empathy! Game Changer

I think you are real and right-on!!
Thank you for your honesty.

Empathy

You nailed it.. It shows us you guys are growing a heart.
Consistency in empathy is a gamechanger
True empathy will lead to change
Empathy...to change....over time sets the spark that will lay groundwork for trust
Trust... Is everything

Empathy - game changer

100% gold advice!!

Couldn't Agree More Sam

Sadly, empathy is very rare even though it's the most important ingredient to recovery in my opinion. I'm a betrayed spouse who was 110% committed to saving my 15 yr marriage and family w/ 2 pre-teen boys for over 2 years of false recovery relapse with my ex wife's affair partner. It's very painful being repeatedly injured by a non-remorseful and unempathetic spouse. It kills you inside. I finally had to walk away fix myself and be strong for my kids. Sadly that's what it took for my ex to START having empathy (3 yrs out). Just too much damage done to repair or restore trust. A cheating spouse must have empathy, but the very act of adultery is the most selfish thing a spouse can do. Expecting them to change over night while you're on your own "island" just seems like wishful thinking...if they were capable of empathy, they probably never would've cheated in the first place.

I completely agree with your comment

What you wrote is so sad but true. I am a betrayed spouse as well. We have been together for almost 20 years.Living with no empathy or remorse from a cheating spouse kills you slowly and painfully inside. I hung in almost 7 years and endured not only no remorse;but just continuous lies, cheating (that I was unaware of) verbal and emotional abuse. I kept thinking he would "wake up" and straighten up. I thought surely I have to mean something. I guess not.I have had to walk away as well for my own safety and sanity.

Empathy

Bulls eye.
It's just hard when for a year and a half i have answered his questions of "What do you want from me?" and it's always empathy. Sadly, he said that he's not sure he can ever feel it for me.
But Bulls eye none the less.

Might be good to give more relevant examples about it. ie being at a wedding and empathizing with the multitude of triggers just there. Yikes!

Game Changer...Empathy

Oh my gosh you said everything that is going on in our lives right now... I mean right NOW...as I am typing this!! My husband (in affair recovery, but not truly giving it his all) left for work this morning after a fight around 5am that could have been avoided if he would have used empathy instead of anger. He makes me feel like the fighting is all my fault; that the solid 6 months of arguing is because I want to fight and I don't want to let him love me!! Are you kidding me?? I am sick of living like this.

Pornography (lying and betrayals) has destroyed 28 years of marriage. We have 2 grown children and 6 grandchildren and we can't figure US out?!?! We have gotten physical 3 times. He's bruised me each time, while I have endured his awful verbal abuse.

As I watched you talk about empathy I wished you were my husband...not really, really I wish my husband would have said exactly what you said 3 hours earlier. What you said and how you said it coming out of my husband's mouth would have been amazing.

I was also in affair recovery but stopped calling in because our long distance arguments while separated by 4 time zones interfered with my group!! I'm back in Halifax with my husband because he was so sorry and was going to do everything to make it work....I've been back since June.

We had a breakthrough yesterday and he finally admitted that until then he wasn't 100% all in. Now he is and shouldn't I be happy!!! Really is that what I get?!?!? I wish I never would have stopped calling in. I still have my workbook, but I don't know what to do.

- I am an empath

I totally agree with you about empathy. We are almost 4 years our from Dday 1, 2 years from Dday 2 and 3 months from Dday 3. We have taken every course AR offers, including EMS twice, during this time. My husband is acting better , but I see no empathy. He says he feels it and if I could just " look into his heart" I would see it. The problem is,since I don't have X-ray eyes, I can't "look into his heart". All I can go by is actions. His actions show a man who does NOT want to discuss the 20 year affair, who never comes to me to ask how I am doing or how I feel or do I need to talk or ask any questions, let's just not talk about it and things will be fine. His therapist has even told him to stop answering my questions. I bought "Worthy of Her Trust" , put it on a prominent place on the kitchen table and it has just sat there for two weeks without one word being asked or said about about it. I am about to just give up. I am no longer going to try to connect or make any effort. I'm tired of trying and getting basically no real effort back. He knows what I need from him to heal, but he won't do it because "'he wasn't raised to show emotion". My position on that is "'you are a grown man and you can do whatever it takes no matter how you were raised if you really want things to change". Result? Nothing. No change. So I'm not "getting over this" in fact my therapist says I'm getting worse. Empathy is great for those who can feel it - I am an empath- but he just isn't and I don't know how to work through it except sweep it under the rug and try to live my life separately and just do what I want and he does what he wants. We are over 60, divorce at this stage really isn't an option......

Empath

Why is divorce not an option in your 60's? I know several people who split late in their relationships and ended up much happier in their lives. We live so much longer these days and if you are around for another 30 or so do you want to live it in a bad relationship? 60 is not old and many people live healthy vibrant lives even if they are mot married. Be strong and either your husband takes notice and wants to make a change or if he doesn't then let him go.

Yes!

It wasn't until my wife sat down one night and just said, "It hurts me to think about how much pain you must have felt when I cheated on you. I am so sorry for what I did to you. When I really put myself in your shoes I hurt to know how much pain I put you through." THAT was the empathy I was searching for and needed so badly from her. I needed her to "get it". Until she said that to me I didn't feel like she really got it. From that point forward things got a lot better.

I kept telling her again and again that I just wanted her to "get it". She didn't know what that meant in the beginning. Finally, out of the blue, she sat down that night and told me. I was blown away. Trust followed after that. We're just over 2 years out from DDay. We're better now than we've ever been.

empathy

That would be so great to hear instead of "I don't want to talk about it any more. I've owned up to it, and can't undo it. If you want to keep harping on it and feeling sorry for yourself leave me out of it". You are lucky to be able to move forward. No things can't be undone but pain unacknowledged can turn into something else. I hope more husbands share their story of being betrayed, it is lonely thinking you're the only one. I'm in year 3 after D day evidently going solo. Not sure how this ends, if it weren't for kids and grands I would already be gone (I think). Triggers are still abundant but not as destructive. Kind of living together, apart. Separate rooms is more the norm as you may imagine other things as well. But one comment like you revealed could change everything,gives hope. Thanks for sharing.

Empathy

Samuel;
This was excellent, and prompted an extremely meaningful, deep conversation with my husband. You asked for input and something that I, the betrayed, would like to add is this; empathy is very much about listening, but it's also about seeing. About looking at the face of the one who's shoes you're putting yourself in, reading between the lines, watching, watching, watching. Seeing signs of pain, confusion, mistrust.....hearing the unspoken. Looking below the "surface"....at the heart that continues to beat, though broken.
Thank you for your teaching, for paying it forward. This was particularly significant to us, and has opened a line of connection and communication that we will remain eternally thankful for.
God's peace ~

Empathy

Yes, empathy is a game changer. Consistently putting yourself in our shoes. We’re 3 years out from Day, and even now when he slips back into the man he was for 26 years ( not infidelity, but being defensive)...after all the work we’ve done to survive his infidelities...the disconnect is overwhelming. He expects me to only see him through the lens of the past 2years since he came completely clean because I insisted that he take a polygraph due to too much still not being disclosed... I couldn’t live that way...waiting for the next shoe to drop. So when he pats his back for all the many things he’s done right over the past 2years, I tell him yes, but I am still trying to heal from the previous 26 years. He tells me that if God has wiped his slate clean...so should I. That I haven’t forgiven him.
I tell him that I think that we should be able to talk about the man he was before, the damage that he brought into our family without me demeaning him and without him getting defensive. It seems to me that that would be a sign that we are moving forward and out of the pain towards a better than ever marriage. I need him to have consistent empathy for as long as it takes. Am I asking too much?

Empathy, not getting it, deflection, restoring sentiment

I watched your video because I, as the betrayed spouse am in desperate need of finding a source that I can relate to. Up to this point 6 months past discovery, 4 months since no contact with AP, I have yet to gain the empathy that I have been openly begging for. My husband is the one who begged me to stay. Begged me to give him the chance to “fix this”. And while he has made efforts, to help himself
Overcome an addiction to porn and building inappropriate relationships with women...now to the point of a sexual relationship for almost a year...he has yet to empathize with me. And when i allow myself to be vulnerable enough with him to share my feelings about some things...in spite of how delicate I deliver the conversation, I find myself being prejudged as though I am going to “let him have it”. I don’t feel so am met with an understanding heart. I don’t feel like I am heard. I merely feel like I am barely tolerated. Head thrown back, eyes rolled, and words farted my way of “how long is this going to take...?” Im not even asking him to agree with me or demanding I am right. I am just asking to be heard and cared about. Right now I don’t even feel like I matter. He shares little sentiment towards me saying it’s hard to hug a prickly person ...as though I am looking for ways to punish him. I find it hurtful and it only adds to my feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. He actually said to me that my “sharing” with him makes him feel like crap. So, then a I am left feeling guilty for sharing how something made me feel and that something* never really gets addressed. So things become perpetual. He has a counselor he goes to. His defense is that he can’t really ever say anything and has told me his counselor agrees. But I find it difficult to believe that an educated physiologist would ever suggest that someone “really can’t say anything”. I would argue that one would have plenty to say that they would benefit from if they just understood their audience and empathized with them...no? So I am left feeling unheard, misunderstood, unloved, taken for granted, like I don’t matter, and as a result of my own inability to shut my mouth about my feelings of pain...I am also unable to gain his sentiment...this is all too hurtful...and I am finding less and less hope that this will work out.

Agreed

Spot on! I cried, I cant agree with you more ! I am 13 months from our Dday and I still feel I have not gotten a heartfelt apology . It is all I ever wanted . Married for 18 years with 2 teenage boys hard to leave but fear I must , I just get defensiveness , can’t help
But wondering why no empathy and if he has truely fessed up to everything why is he still soo defensive and dismissive ? Without empathy and trust of course there is nothing !

Defensiveness

In my case, defensiveness was a sign that disclosure wasn’t there. I required a polygraph. After being with my UH for 40 years, I required a polygraph. That is extremely sad for me to say that. The polygraph revealed so many more layers of deception. Now, my education in retirement is SA and IA. The polygraph will continue to be in our relationship going forward. I can relate it to his cancer check ups. His cancer is now declared cured. Unfortunately, now I see polygraphs as his cancer check ups. It’s a sad place to be thinking about it too much. There was anxiety before the cancer check ups, now, it’s anxiety before the polygraphs.

What if the betrayer will NOT show empathy

Samuel - love your video-blogs. I am approaching 17 months out from D Day. It has not gotten easier. While is was away visiting my brand new grandson, my husband went to the other side of the globe seeking his next "chapter" in a quest to fulfill himself. By taking this action, he plunged me into the middle of the ocean with no life raft. His only "action" to fix/repair/deal with the fall out from his "quest" is to become the role model of steadfast, integrity based positivity. We have attempted three disasterous marriage counseling sessions. He will NOT participate in counseling on his own. He can show others empathy - but none for me. He says that he cannot as he is the one that caused me this much pain and is too overcome with guilt and shame to deal with my anger and hurt. He just wants to hold the line and stay the course and wait for me to get over it. I cannot simply get over it without his forward motion to recovery. We are in a stalemate.

How does one successfully ask their partner to hear what is needed when they will not. I do not see a future unless he can be moved to action.

Agreed

I am in the same boat and feeling like giving up. I'm tired if being the relational worker bee by myself. My husband is on the exact same page as yours. Help, anyone?

I’m living 8n the same game.

I’m living 8n the same game. He has been out of the house for 9 months. Still no timeline, to tell all, no transparency. He wants it to be over and wants to start “building positive” experiences. The thing is, he isn’t stupid. Still swear he has had some sort of psychotic break and my real husband is stuck behind this facade of a man.
When the subject it broached (always by me) I get an eye roll, berated into accepting “you know everything you need to know” and told again that “it’s over” which he has a hard time accepting I can’t believe. The topic is rapidly changed to everything bad I’ve ever done to hurt anyone and anything and to shut me down. He actually told me to fix myself and then come and see if he’s still interested at all.

When will empathy come?

I’m living in the same game. He has been out of the house for 9 months. Still no timeline, to tell all, no transparency. He wants it to be over and wants to start “building positive” experiences. The thing is, he isn’t stupid. Still swear he has had some sort of psychotic break and my real husband is stuck behind this facade of a man.
When the subject it broached (always by me) I get an eye roll, berated into accepting “you know everything you need to know” and told again that “it’s over” which he has a hard time accepting I can’t believe. The topic is rapidly changed to everything bad I’ve ever done to hurt anyone and anything and to shut me down. He actually told me to fix myself and then come and see if he’s still interested at all.

I really believed I was all

I really believed I was all alone in this terrible, devastating desert I've been forced to walk through.....Ive done sooo much reading and blog time- 100s of hours trying to heal myself of the betrayal trauma. After 5.5 months of hell the betrayal keeps coming. My unfaithful husband actually went 3 months and 4 days with supposedly no contact then after he made a stupid decision that continues to show he's not wanting to try to reconnect with me I blew up and asked him to leave for a while.....what does he do but call his AP and try to hide the fact by using a phone that we, his wife and kids, cant track usage. I don't think I can take much more. He will say he's sorry but I promise you- there is no remorse. He is so stuck in the selfish attitude that I am to blame for everything. My teen kids are soo disgusted with him. I am devastated, praying 24/7. Is it really over? Should I walk away? God please let me know. My heart breaks for ALL of you who are in this horrible state with me.

The EMS weekend did a good

The EMS weekend did a good job of showing what empathy really looks like and how to do it. It also shows how shame makes it about "you" and not your spouse.

The group dynic helps you see how others can do it and how it helps thier spouse move forward.

My h is very very slow in these ideas and has Asperger's to make the needed repair and demonstration of truly getting it so much more fundentally harder and the weekend helped him as well as our group calls. He is still far behind the others and still I see real and good changes in him. He said the weekend really helped him get it more because he thought he already "got it". He is now seeking to get it even more and knows he never will fully know the extent of hurt and distruction he caused myself and our children. He is working on how to show it because he truly isn't good at that and it very much gets in the way of healing.

I would highly suggest you take ok r a look at going to the weekend. It's been 11 months and we still meet with 4 of the 5 couples in our group via phone lessons once a week.

Right on

Exactly true. Being betrayed is the ultimate ‘you don’t matter’ and ‘your heart and feelings don’t matter’. empathy is required for true reconciliation.

moving forward

How do you get past that gut feeling that the secrets and infidelity your unfaithful mate committed are still happening? He states its not but I cant shake that gut feeling, it has been right so many times. I am starting to think it is my safety net, but can that safety net get out of control?

Affair recovery moving forward

I am also stuck with that gut-feeling.. he lied for so long, why would he suddenly now not lie.... ?
But making that a safety net is feeding negative energies in the recovery. Ask! Ask! Ask! about every niggly feeling until the answers feel safe enough to become your safety net.

Spot on

My husband and I have been separated for four months. Recently I asked him if he would get a rug I needed down from a high place so I wouldn’t further injure my shoulder. He is living in our home and I moved out. I called it the storage room instead of the third bedroom. He said yes he would get it down for me. This was all over texting. I went the next day to get some stuff while he was at work and it wasn’t down like he said it would be. I confronted him and he said I didn’t know what you were talking about. I call that room the third bedroom so if you wanted me to do it you should have told me to get it from the third bedroom. It’s a three bedroom single-wide trailer. It’s a room that we designated as a closet and storage room for the family. He focused more on the specific name of the room and how I messed the meaning up than his lack of doing my request. He just doesn’t get it!

Empathy

It’s been 16 months since I found out for sure ( even though he lies & lies & lies & makes me feel like I’m insane) he absolutely will NOT talk about it.... we have been together for 45 years ( both young teens. Both virgins) married for 31 years. The betrayal is beyond devastating. I want to heal & move forward but he just will NOT have a conversation ... he is the master stonewaller & bully... he’s too busy he’s focusing on work etc...I have become physical several times ( from the pain & frustration & his lack of empathy & non communication) I’ve never hit anyone in my life but I went into a black out rage ( not proud of it but he deserved worse!) I just don’t know how to get him to talk I feel like he must still be with her ( but haven’t found any proof ) I am an emotional wreck & SO unhappy. I just don’t know what to do. I’ve sent him a few articles & he said he deleted all of them. He absolutely refuses to go see someone. The articles have saved me cuz I know I am NOT crazy. HE IS! There was NO reason for his affair ( other than him turning 60... she’s 15 years younger... no kids & divorced 3 times...) he picked a real gem. She KNEW he was married but doesn’t care...I still love him & want our marriage to work ( not sure how/ why) I am just at the end of my rope... any suggestions?

Empathy

Too much blame destroys the "game," but every bit of empathy on my spouse's part gives me a ray of hope as I pray for things to change. He has made a few concessions so as not to trigger me but has yet to make a firm decision about breaking off contact with the EAP.

Whoa, I am very new to this

Whoa, I am very new to this site and I am wondering what "EAP" means? Does this mean the affair partner? And Nancan, if it does, I'm no expert but it doesnt seem right at all that a partner would keep any relationship with the affair partner.

Empathy

I agree empathy is crucial. In addition, empathy needs to be present instead of defensiveness. The unfaithful needs to move out of self-centeredness and more toward humility.

Too much blame destroys the game as read below

My spouse has no empathy for being able to sit in my negative emotions. I have such a hard time wrapping my mind around this idea of I’m going to hurt you and then act like it’s all your fault for the whole horrific mess!! How wounding and heartless for every betrayed spouse to be blamed for their spouses infidelity!!! Why does it have to be this way?!?! Why can’t they look inward t themselves and take full responsibility for their actions?!?! Why do they choosing to push their spouse away?!?! My heart is just shattered and then all I hear is that it’s all my fault!!!

My empathy is rejected

Samuel, thabks for this. I did H4H and am familair with the term of leaning into the betrayed partner's pain. When I respond empathetically to my husband (whether he is spiraling in dark thoughts, raging with sarcasm and, or simply expressing his pain in a calm manner), he seems to only get more upset. I say things like "I see why you would think that.." or "i cant begin to imagine..." "I understand why you feel that way" he usually snaps back with "No you can't. You'll never know unless you experience it. And it must be nice to know I'm not going to do that to you. You'll never understand!"

It feels like no matter what words I use to show empathy he still rejects them. Any thoughts on responding further or differently?

Response to Empathy, A Game Changer in Recovery

Samuel, you are so funny, I appreciate your honesty, and you are right the unfaithful need to show empathy, however, coming from their background it can be very difficult, my husband never learned empathy or sympathy. He is having to learn it now. But it makes the betrayed feel understood and we need that from the unfaithful.
Thank you

Response to Empathy: A Game Change in Recovery Video-Samuel

Samuel, it is like you said everything that is in my head! Spot on...he doesn't get it...really he doesn't. Don't live in the past...get over it...move on...trust me...I don't even think about her...its out of my mind...why can't you stop thinking about it...it's been 9 months...come on...

So, I am stuck. I am forced to move on and internally suffer, which in turn comes out in other ways...shut down...going through the motions...but know that there is nothing I can do to change what happen and rely on God to get me through it as I won't get over it.

Samuel, thank you for sharing your insight. I wish it could be on YouTube with some capturing title to lure the men to watch it and learn! Ha

betrayed and shown little remorse

We are Christians but after almost 6 months after 1st day (there have been 2 more-last one 5 days ago) he is so into his own pain and anger he simply has not and can not be there for the sickening pain I'm going through. He was deemed in severe diepression and has been on disability for 2 months with intensive 6 hour day one on one and group therapy.... nothing has changed. I, on the other hand have received very little help and I've tried to get it. Thank the Good Lord there is Affair Recovery and other youtube blogs-this is the only thing that has kept me going.

Agree 100%

Thank you for putting in words what I have felt I needed. I am in round two of my husbandś infidelity. The first happened after a miscarriage and during another one. He felt he did not have a problem. This last affair lasted a year, while we had our toddler son. It also came with a revelation that he had been talking to woman throughout my pregnancy and my son infancy. He has had issues showing empathy. He has taken some responsibility, but wants things to change before healing happens. Thank you for putting it in words. I am not sure of the status of the marriage, but I know that my healing comes first.

Empathy-Game Changer

It is laying down the tools that used to work to hide the affairs/addiction! Don't bring denial, minimization and justification-not to mention ego!- to the fight that doesn't have to even take place. Empathy is also not, in a weak moment, or during a sad movie saying, "I'm sorry". Empathy is simply listening (just like you said, Samuel) and being mindfully present. Maybe voicing how obviously hurt (devastated/saddened/grief stricken) your spouse appears. When my spouse can do that, I feel seen, heard, and respected. He has now, with a year of practice, been able to then take it a step further and say, "that must feel scary" or "that must have been so difficult to wrestle with all alone" and sometimes, "wow, I had no idea that's how you felt. I'm so grateful you told me. How can I help with that?" That is growth! (Because he would deny the situation, tell me I didn't or shouldn't feel that way or I was just plain wrong about the situation, right before getting angry and saying super dumb things. I was not seen or heard, solidifying the lie that I didn't "matter".) I'm so grateful there is empathy between us.

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