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 1,900 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 a couple new additions to our library as well as a piece from our Survivors' Blog which will help provide both clarity and hope for those who are suffering and looking for direction.

Recently, a subscriber to the Recovery Library 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 particular protocol of recovery they should utilize for their  situation:


Finally, Samuel shared a video blog entitled "Empathy: A Game Changer in Recovery". If there is one piece to the puzzle for the unfaithful spouse to get, it would be empathy. 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. I’d like for you to consider EMS Online course or EMS Weekend.




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Empathy! Game Changer

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


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.


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......


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.


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.


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 ~


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.