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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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.