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

Coping with Infidelity: The 2 Stages of Pain

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A Personal Example:

I went to an end-of-the-year bash with a bunch of friends during my junior year in high school. We had a great time grilling burgers and listening to music, but two of my friends wanted a bit more excitement and decided to put a cup of ice down my pants. I, on the other hand, wasn't interested in this type of fun and the chase began.

I was faster but lazy, and I didn't want to expend too much energy. Therefore, I made the brilliant decision to climb a tree as a way of escape. I miscalculated the speed with which I could get beyond their reach and they caught my leg. Needless to say, it was only a matter of time until they (along with the help of gravity) pulled me down, pinned me, and dumped ice down my pants.

Now that was really cold, and I wanted to get it out ASAP. But this was a church party, and it didn't seem appropriate to drop my pants in front of everyone, so I made a mad dash for the house. As I said, I run fast (I was on the track team), and when I hit that sliding glass door, it exploded.

I was so clueless about what was happening that when I heard the sound of breaking glass, I thought someone had dropped a glass in the kitchen. A moment later, when I found myself on the floor sitting in a pile of glass, I began to connect the dots. I had severe cuts on both arms and was rushed to the hospital. There I discovered that I had severed the tendons to my fingers on both hands, requiring surgery for the repair work.

As you might imagine, it was pretty bad having both arms and hands immobilized in casts. I couldn't dress, bathe, or feed myself, but that wasn't the worst part. Initially, I had no choice; all I could do was let others do things for me. The hard part came when the casts were removed and I was sent to physical therapy. Now I did have a choice, and I didn't want to participate.

I could either do the painful exercises necessary to regain a range of motion for my hands and fingers or I could avoid the pain by not moving my fingers which left me with the same quality of life I endured while wearing the casts. The only path available to regain the use of my hands was to go through the pain. Some would say the pain did, in fact, have a purpose. Recovering from infidelity can be a similar journey.

2 Stages of Pain

Stage one of pain is involuntary. It comes as the result of something that happens to us, but the initial pain fades in time.

Stage two is where personal choice is exercised. How we respond reveals a great deal about us in that moment.

We can:

  • Try to avoid the pain
  • Try to numb the pain
  • Try to transmit the pain to someone else
  • Ignore the pain
  • Work through the pain
  • Let the pain control us
  • Accept the pain

Our problem isn't the pain; the problem lies in our heart's attitude toward the pain and the heart we personally bring to the pain.

Stage One

Whether we like it or not, life is filled with pain-generating circumstances and at times we have to decide how to respond. If I believe pain is bad and something to be avoided, then I'll have problems facing life.

If I accept pain as a natural part of life and don't live in fear of pain, then I'll be free to face my situation and choose what will bring life.

Obviously, the pain created by infidelity is one of life's worst. As we say here at Affair Recovery, "infidelity is a pain like no other”. In the initial stage the pain is just there, and there's little you can do to mitigate it. It overwhelms you. It overtakes you in ways that feel out of control.

As you're coping with infidelity and the pain it brings, you may try to numb it through alcohol or drugs, you may try to transmit it to the person who hurt you (that one doesn't work very well), you may try to ignore it and pretend it's not there. But it is there and if you suppress it, it tends to come out about five years later with an even greater intensity. You may try to simply avoid it, but if you've already been hurt, there's no way to avoid what's already happened.

When recovering from infidelity or any other pain of this magnitude, there is an alternate choice:

Walk through the pain by accepting it, grieving it, and allowing it to be transformed and to be a vehicle of transformation for yourself and all parties involved.

Personally, I think the final choice is the best by far, but that’s just the first step.

Stage Two

The second stage is where our choice becomes a part of the equation. Once the initial pain begins to subside, we have to decide how to proceed. (This is where my physical therapy began).

In recovering from infidelity, you have to choose to take the relational risk to re-engage. You have to be willing to take the risk of hurting again. You need to be willing to let yourself have a life. If you don't, your life will be forever trapped and controlled by the betrayal, and, at some level, you've made the choice to allow it to be so. There is a better, more loving, more fulfilling way for you to heal and not remain incapacitated by the pain you've experienced.

I'm not suggesting you place yourself at risk by re-engaging with someone who's not safe. If the other person's heart isn't soft and if they're not doing what's necessary to heal the relationship, or if they're not taking responsibility for what they've done, then they may not be safe. But, if you've got someone who is trying to love and does "get it” or is trying to "get it” and is trying to be safe, there comes a point when you've got to decide whether you want to live again or keep your heart cold and in a coma, trying to avoid the pain.

As C.S. Lewis wrote:

"Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love, is hell."

Don't let your circumstances condemn you to a hellish, joyless life. There is a way of escape. You have to grieve the pain or betrayal to get there, but in the long run, it's more than worth it. You'll trade darkness for light and ugliness for beauty. Give your soul a chance to be stirred by beauty and love and find hope once again.

If you and your mate want to get unstuck and gain the perspective you need to move forward, try our EMS Online Course and learn how to address the infidelity and reconnect as a couple.

The easiest–and cheapest–way to start on this journey is to take our free First Steps Bootcamp. It's an online guide with 100+ pages of content and a full-length video of a mentor couple who was in as big of a mess as it can get. You'll take a big sigh of relief when you have a clear plan and learn that you're neither crazy nor alone in this journey, whichever side of the infidelity you find yourself on.



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RE: Pain from the spouse that committed adultery

My spouse filed for divorce after his years of emotional and physical infidelity.  Unfortunately, he is now angry at me for losing his job.  He is a healthcare provider and had sex with a patient.  As a result, he was investigated by a medical review panel, lied to his employer and the investigators about the affair, and now is angry for losing his job. 

His anger is misdirected and even now, he fails to take responsibility for his own choices and actions.  His blaming and projection has been a life long problem in our marriage.

What do you do with that sort of soon to be ex-spouse?

Read up on Narcissism, it

Read up on Narcissism, it might help you to understand the behaviours.

Cheating Spouse

my now ex-wife is a healthcare professional - I put her thru many, many years of school and she now practices anesthesia. She cheated on me w/a co-worker & we are now divorce. It's hard to say how yours may turn out, but cheating is a VERY SELFISH thing to do. It's was NOT your fault! Nothing YOU did caused his irresponsible, narcissistic behavior. Nor did "the marriage" cause this. Your shock & pain are probably terrible, but let me recommend a few things: The help right here @ Affair Recovery is some of the best you will ever find. Also, may I recommend a couple books that have helped me greatly? Surviving An Affair x Dr. Harley Divorce Busters x Weiner Davis Those are WONDERFUL resources to help you cope right now and they will give you insight into how your husband "got there" and some of the possible scenarios how it may play out. Take care of yourself & you WILL get through this AND be Happy again!! You probably can't imagine that, but it's true - you're STRONGER than you think...


This is right where i am at.... I have used food, alcohol, working way to many hors to try and numb the pain... Soe days i dont want or even feel like i want to move forward in this relationship... For the most part i stay for family, frends and life as it is remains unchanged... Trying to run to thelight and hope you talk about... Most of the time i deal with the pain alone

Infidelity and mental illlness

Rick let me start out by saying that your articles have helped me more than you can know. My husband had an emotional affair with a co worker about six years ago. He had hundreds  of pictures of her, that over the years I have found and destroyed. He also has a pornography issue. He never could say why, he just didn't know. I found a picture of her on his computer recently, and long story short, he/we are in counseling now. Turns out my husband is bipolar and has OCD. He has said he will do what it takes to make this up to me, but I feel left out. His illness has taken a front to our relationship. His bipolar is mild and no one would ever think he has issues. The therapist just tells him he needs to make this up to me, but nothing changes. He is on medication and we are working on the right dosage. I am in constant flux. The medication has helped with his illness, but again it is all about him. Our evenings and weekends consist of small talk and silence. My initial pain has moved to resentment. I don't feel like I should have to romance him. He says he loves me, but he really hasn't shown me he does. Do you have any advice for me?

It's been over 5 years since

It's been over 5 years since my husband returned home after a 1 1/2 year affair that culminated with him living with her for the last 3 months. We've both changed so much in these past 5 years and still haven't re-engaged in a "marriage". I was a stay at home mom for 25 years and since his return home, I've gone back to school and have a full time job (with the last two of four children in high school). While I still don't understand why he chose to destroy/change the life we had and on some days don't get why I wasn't good enough, I forgive him. I understand that I can't get my life back because the life we had obviously had things wrong with it that brought us to this place or maybe it was him and had nothing to do with me at all? At this point, I just want a life. I'm a good person and I want someone to love me and think I'm amazing! I love your weekly articles and look forward to them. My entire family is stuck. Please clarify some statements.... 1) heart isn't soft 2) not doing what's necessary 3) not taking responsibility for what they've done 4) trying to love (how do you know?) 5) what are the signs of someone who "gets it" or is trying to "get it"?'' Thanks


In trying to heal, how can you believe what could be empty promises of the serial cheater? promises never to do it again


I will never understand the heart of one who freely inflicts so much pain on another.

I can never feal safe with someone who was so careless and narcissistic.

18 months on from discovery

Your wise words have helped and supported me for over a year. My unfaithful spouse has been honest and open about the circumstances of the four and a half year affair with someone I also knew and had helped and befriended. We have had good times and become closer and kinder to one another and he takes full responsibility for engaging with this piranha. He has had no contact of any kind with her but two weeks ago she turned up at an event which we have always gone to and the physical effect it had on me was unexpected and completely overwhelming. My heart was racing and I lost the ability to breath for a while. She gazed at me with such malice and confidence that it is hard to imagine what on earth she thought she would gain by this confrontation. I still long to berate her for her contempt and predigious and blatant sexual overtness but have this unhelpful ability to see it from her point of view. Although I know she came onto him he did not refuse. He says that is what attracted him in the first place to her .... her brazenness. He never stayed the night with her although she asked him to,didn’t take her out but made excuses to see her on her birthday two years in a row, whilst looking me in the eye and telling me that he was going diving. He says ‘it was a nice thing to do for her on her birthday’. What on earth do I make of that? I try so so hard not to go pain shopping,not to imagine their sex together, but her face appears with horrible regularity in the small hours of the night and I am once more a victim to the facts I have gleaned from interrogating him. What to do? It’s the worst thing that has ever happened so far in my life,losing both parents a child,having a permanent ileostomy at 32(I am now 67) we were married for 41 years before this catastrophe and I begin to doubt that this is ever going to mend/end? Sorry for rambling. Some days and nights are better than others but I never told my grown up daughters that their father is not the saint they believe him to be and so I feel that they are being duped too. Probably gone on too long already and I know there are worse scenarios. But this is my life and it sometimes seems very shocking that he could pull the wool over my eyes for so long and think that it wouldn’t affect our relationship- then and of course now. Like others he says he didn’t think I would ever find out.

Compassionate With You

I never ever even had a remote slight thought I would be here hearing betrayal after betrayal trying to figure out and understand th worst trauma of my life. I too am 69 years old . Discovered my husbands secret, hidden affair with a younger woman he supervised at work. She came on to him I’m sure, although he says it’s his fault. I don’t believe him bc of one of her social media page viewed hundreds pictures of men , titled “ Men , Men , Men , I love men! “ provocative photos. Also , her “9 ways of getting him addicted to you.” For almost two years he clams up on any info for me except we were just friends. Maybe we said things to each other we should not have said. She was also married.. Length of affair about 4 years. Maybe longer. Along the way I found cards, gifts that were inappropriate. Confronting him left me not trusting my intuition due to his angered defensiveness. Finally, he left his phone out of his 24/7 pocket. It signaled, being near it taking it to him read the text message from her , confirmed more than just friendship. For almost two years now he has, denied, made it my problem to get over , if I were another wife I would be over it now. I’ve heard every lie, confronted with truth. He has revealed very little still defends her, although he has stopped acting out with her. He lay his position and eventually terminated from his job. He wants reconciliation of marriage by “ free passage”. Meaning I do all the work. I get over it. He even told me I will wait threat of my life for more information because there is no more to tell. To me , means too prideful to take part in recovery. We have a sort of pleasant , superficial, get through tis day without bring up his affair. My heart continues to bleed and yearn for the intimacy we could rebuild on. I don’t know if he’s so steeped in shame or he is the king of avoidance. This whole ordeal has swept me away from reality at times. The only way I cope is to soak myself in Gods Truth, Beauty and Love . Seek g meaning in all of his issues I’ve had to turn over to God. Day by day finding meaning of life, happiness and goodness other than him. Praying he will come out of the darkness of denial, pride and pretending it didn’t happen. We will be better for this, I do know. Thank you for sharing your age , I felt I was the only one . It’s so hard sometimes with energy to stay strong.

With someone whose heart isn't soft

I think you said it best at the end: "If the other person's heart isn't soft and if they're not doing what's necessary to heal the relationship".

My wife, who had the two-year emotional affair, has spent the past 3 years since D-Day not even trying to reconnect with me. My No. 1 Love Language is Physical Touch and when we sit on the couch, she is as far away from me as she can be. I will extend out my arm within a couple inches of her and she stays away like I have the plague. She never hugs, never kisses, never holds hands, never snuggles and it just kills my heart daily. I pray for God to give her some kind of softness in her heart toward me, but there is nothing but coldness.

I am so angry, bitter and resentful that she "claims" to want to restore the marriage and make it new again, but as we approach our 24th anniversary, I see no improvement. She puts our kids, her friends, her family, her co-workers, her job and her schooling ahead of our relationship and she hasn't told me she loves me in years (before the affair).

My heart hurts so much as I do my best to be kind to her, tell her I love her. You would almost think I was the one who betrayed her instead of her betraying me. Just no peace and no progress in our healing. I made a commitment to God in our marriage covenant, but I just don't know what to do. Should I just cut bait and leave? I know in my heart that I have done EVERYTHING I can to make this marriage work, but dancing by myself is a lonely, lonely dance and I know so many other women out there who would just love what I could bring them as a husband.

I am so very sorry, “Wanting

I am so very sorry, “Wanting Victory”, for the immense pain, suffering and loss that you’re experiencing due to your wife’s betrayal and further victimization from her lack of effort in the restoration and reconciliation of your marriage. Even though God hates divorce and He always wants reconciliation, biblically, He does allow for divorce due to adultery and thank God for His grace for this. It appears that you’ve done as much as you can and I would strongly recommend EMS weekend as a potential catalyst for you and your wife and see if that will be a turning point in your own recovery and possibly a turning point in her recovery in order for you both to have any hope in repairing and restoring your marriage. After that, if you don’t see any meaningful progress, and yet, you have already shown love and compassion when you have not been receiving it, respect despite being disrespected by your wife and honor despite being dishonored by her, then I think that you may consider a “healing separation” which is a counselor-guided, purposeful and intentional separation to allow you and your wife to STILL work on the marriage (i.e. daily phone calls, date nights, etc.) but living separately and not be constantly victimized by her. This may be a “wake up” call for her....right now, your wife is still getting the full benefit of having your daily help, support, respect and affection without having to earn them. Praying hard for you both!!!

A change of scenery in a new state ahead

So I am prayerfully hopeful that a move across the country will be the ticket to jumpstart our relationship. My wife got a transfer to a new job that will take us from Idaho to Florida. She has wanted to move since her 2-year affair was discovered because she has hated living in our community knowing she might run into a former church member at any time. Praying this might help us rediscover our marriage and praying I can get a job that will help earn her respect for me back. Lots of ifs, but it's got to be better than what is happening now.

A change of scenery

My husband has had at least 2 emotional affairs since our 1000 mile move 2-years ago. Location did not change behaviors.

Best of Luck

I wish you luck WV! Maybe a fresh restart together is just what you need :) I can relate with desperately wanting to stay together and honor your vows. But, like you, I question if it is worth it in the long wrong. I don't want to be hurt again and I don't see him doing the work either. My thoughts are with you!

How to grieve?

Thank you, Rick. All of your articles are so helpful and ALWAYS inspire me or give me thoughts to chew on. We are
at about 6 weeks since D-Day. We've done the bootcamp, and we're waiting for the next EMS online sign up. My husband had a 10 month physical affair with MY best friend and the wife of HIS best friend. Alcohol was the catalyst and how it began, but it wasn't always involved. The affair was also emotional, but he says he never meant the "I love yous" or the "I want to hold yous"...he says he was just saying those things to keep her on the hook for more sex. He hasn't gotten to his 'why' yet, and maybe that will help me when he does...but my question is HOW do I grieve, accept the pain and move through it? Specifically how? He's fully committed to the marriage and me, his heart is soft, he's fully transparent, and the AP and her husband (who are now divorcing) are gone from our lives since D-Day. I feel like he's doing so much right, I just get stuck in the pain like my heart is in a meat grinder. Thank you so much for this program! I know that it is ONLY with God and Affair Recovery that we can possibly get through this!!

How to grieve

Stacy, I'm just wondering if you were ever able to get through the feeling of your heart being in a meat grinder. I am stuck there as well. 2 months since D-Day #2 and 18 years since D-Day #1. It was so much easier to forgive him 18 years ago. I looked forward to the rest of our lives together, only to be crushed again...I'm not sure I'll be able to get beyond the pain of the betrayal this time.

Oh, I have such empathy for

Oh, I have such empathy for you, "How to grieve." I'm in a very similar boat. D-day #1 was 14 years ago (emotional affair). D-day #2 was 2.5 years ago (UH claims only kissing). I feel stuck. Like my mind says it's the right thing to do to stay, for the kids, future grandkids, etc. But my heart says NO WAY, NO MORE. I am concerned that I will never like him or love him again. We are in counseling (2nd round) and I've been in IC for 2+ years. He won't do IC. I think part of the problem is that he doesn't show compassion about what he did. I feel like he keeps focusing on how HE'S feeling, rather than what his choices did to me. I have completely locked myself up from him--physically, emotionally. I'm trying to open up and take a risk but it's so so hard. I feel like after D-day #1, although we never dealt with it (I just stuffed my pain down and moved on), it was easier than after D-day #2. Now, I'm feeling like I'm stupid for staying with him. I really don't like him yet either. No respect. No trust. :( It's sooo hard when kids are involved. Anyway, all that to say, I'm so sorry for you. It's so hard...

Thank you!


Thank you for sharing this video. My situation is very tough, as my spouse has left me for another woman and is barely speaking to me. I only learned about the affair two months ago. I am grieving and processing, and the work you and other people from Affair Recovery are doing is incredibly helpful for me and several others. I needed this word of truth and encouragement today. Thank you.

Stuck on Stage 2

I’ve moved past the initial pain, but trusting again isn’t easy. He has moved on and is healing himself, but I feel stuck in a loop.I feel like I’m perpetuating the pain now.


I have been stuck in the pain of betrayal for 8 years.I forgave my husband again and again showing him a way forward together but I always discovered the affair was still ongoing. I'm trying to soften my heart towards him to save my own life. He wants us to be friends.We are still married.We have 2 wonderful sons. I said I'm more than willing to be friends but the betrayal has to stop first to which he blows up,says he will commit suicide and that I'm being immature not being friends whilst he keeps this woman.Please give me your opinion.Am I wrong.Am I an evil witch that he says I am? I am a Christian woman, I married for life ,I give love to so many.I am now in my 60s and she is 20 years my junior.

Dear Lynn

You are not an “evil witch.” You are a woman in pain who is still being hurt by your husband’s ongoing betrayal. You do not deserve this treatment. He says he wants to be friends with you, but he is not behaving like a friend. You’re a Christian, and I understand that marriage is intended for life and that people make mistakes, but he continues to break the vow of faithfulness to you, and thus he has already broken your marriage covenant. If you stay with him, please find a way to guard your heart and build up your own life as much as possible. Please make sure you have some financial reserves in case he decides he’s done with your marriage to be with his 40something affair partner. Please seek out emotional support from friends, family, your pastor, a therapist. You do not deserve this. You are a beloved daughter of God, and God cherishes you and wants only good for you.

4 weeks from D-Day

It’s been a month since learning of my wife’s affair. I am struggling so much with this pain. She is remorseful, she broke the affair off, and she sought out an infidelity coach to help her through the process. She has a desire to reconcile and reconnect, but emotionally is still so distant from me. I feel like we can make it if we/I can look at the pain in this perspective. I have the desire to stay and work things out, but with all the pain comes fear and anxiety! We have a long road ahead, but I know couples make it through this! If there is any advice from couples who have made it please share!! I have moments of hope and deep moments of disparity and discouragement! We have had a handful of good days since I learned of everything a month ago, but most days have just been rough and some days have been absolutely horrible. She is working to reconcile, but her heart toward me is still not there. I am thinking that will come with time and her putting in the work. I am asking for nothing negative, so if you’ve made it through this and can help please offer up, but if you haven’t or if you’re in the same spot as me then please move on past this post!

I can relate

I don't know much, but that disconnection they have early on is very familiar to me too. It's only been 4 months since my D-day. It was a process for me, since he first brought her home as this poor little waif whose father just died in October. My family stayed a few weeks over Canadian Thanksgiving and they could see what was so obvious. There were red flags right away, and lots of them, as she loved playing little seduction games right in front of me, while pretending to be my friend too. I mean flagrant, like changing w/ the door open, pulling out her panties from her jeans to "show me" how comfortable they were. He was always nearby. She was never embarrassed and I was an idiot, being played for a fool by them both. It never ended in sex, not yet anyway. So the first few months after confronted her, kicked her out for good and told him the bare minimum was that he stop seeing and talking to her immediately, turned into weeks of him resisting that. Then a few months of he picked me, not really though, he was just living here, while he snuck around w/ her some more. Even though I knew of their friendship, he was always sneaking more time than I ever kinew and the time he spent was considerable that I knew of. So I couldn't understand that coldness and diconnection. We had a few tender and connected moments, but getting more distant and robotic, as I didn't realize how he woudln't give her up. I got serious gaslighting to my face as I'd keep finding calls, finding how he "just bumped into her again at the shop they met at", but he never left, wouldn't change his schedule or where he went.

Anyhoo, it wasn't until his precious was out of his life, maybe up to 2 months ago, that he could show real feelings and attraction for me. I got a lot of anger in trying to talk things out. I guess that was the shame/guilt phase, before he'd allow real remorse and looking for a better way to happen. There was lots of distancing behaviour by him w/ porn for years, then closet drinking, the sneaking of all that added to the thrill. They have to blame and dehumanize your in order to ignore their moral compass. It's not until they are willing to turn away from that fully that the feelings and warmth come back. Depending on the person, they can take months to thaw out. His love and attraction is back for me, but liking me, seeing me as a whole person is still missing. He doesn't get that yet, but the markers are all there. He'll watch a few videos, can be dragged into talks now, but it has to be that initiates everything.

You may be doing well that your lady launched herself straight into counselling. I hope things are better now, but your post date would put you about the 4 month mark I'm at too. Not a great place. Very uncertain. Tried to pitch him out a few months ago,and told him flat out to go live w/ her, he'd obviously picked her over me. I was relentless for over a month about it. He has a window now, but only because I have some health issues to deal w/. We'll see.


I had an emotional affair for three years and I kept it from my husband. He found out about it and i initially lied out of fear, I came clean. He knows everything and now he says he doesn’t know if he wants to be with me. I’ve apologized over and over, I’ve done everything in my power to show him that I want our marriage. I’ve taken all of his verbal insults, and it’s been almost 4 months of extreme name calling and texts. He’s now talking to multiple women, he says what he’s doing is ok because I talked to one person, only texting on social media is what I did. I’m not ok’ing my behavior, but it’s not the same. If we go somewhere he’s always on his phone, he doesn’t engage with me. He doesn’t look at me, I tried to touch him in public and he damn near ran from me. It’s like he’ll tell me I’m still here so there’s a chance but I’m not sure. He’s physically here but I feel mentally he’s taking his time to pull away and then one day he’ll just leave me. I’m extremely lonely, lost and confused. We’ve been married for 17 years and together ror 22 years. What do I do?

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