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

Coping with Infidelity: The 2 Stages of Pain

2 Stages of Pain

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 for sure faster, but being lazy, 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. Only 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.

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

Enter stage two of pain. 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, "infidelity is a pain like no other”. In the initial stage the pain is just there and there's little you can do. 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 5 years later, yet with a greater intensity you can't imagine. You may try and 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 or a vehicle of transformation for yourself and all parties involved.

Personally, I think the final choice is by far the best, 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're an unfaithful spouse and want to get unstuck and gain the necessary perspective you need to move forward, try our Hope for Healing Online Course to find the momentum you need. You can learn more in our Programs and Courses section.

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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...

Ouch...

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

trust

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

Pain

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.

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.

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!!

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