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

Denial and Recovery

after an affair denial and recovery

Ever been afraid to look at something? Like when you’ve rear-ended someone's car and you're afraid to get out and look at the damage? Why is it hard for us to look, to acknowledge responsibility?

Why Is Owning It So Hard?

Years ago, I had the privilege of working with a program called "The Deniers' Project". A certain percentage of people convicted of crimes, who are guilty, never admit they did it. You can imagine how difficult it is to provide treatment for someone who never admits they have a problem, or that anything even happened. The goal of the program was to try to get these individuals to own what they had done. (They had already been convicted, so there was no danger of them getting into any more trouble.)

One particular exercise stuck with me. On week six we'd have them watch footage from the British Broadcasting Company of the Allied Forces entering a Nazi death camp. By far, that is the most disturbing film I've ever seen. Just the sight of what these soldiers encountered made the men in the group physically ill. Then, at the end of the film, I'd give them their homework. They were to go home and write an essay explaining what they would do if they were forced to watch that video daily for eight hours. Inevitably the answers were surprisingly similar. They said they would begin to think of it as a horror film, something like "Friday the Thirteenth." When asked why, they would explain how it would be far too disturbing to live in that reality on a daily basis. When I'd point out how that was denial, they'd say maybe so, but the alternative was just too awful.

At that point, I'd explain how denial is one of God's greatest gifts. Without denial it would be difficult indeed to maintain our sanity. Some realities of life are too horrible for us to handle. Denial temporarily provides protection from the realities we're not ready, or equipped, to face.

Love without truth is sentimentality;
it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.

-Tim Keller


Not all At Once

As you're probably aware, this isn't just a problem for convicted criminals. This is something that many of us do on a daily basis. As the unfaithful spouse, if I were able to fully comprehend the devastation caused by my actions, it would be more than I could handle. If we had the ability to be totally honest with ourselves, who and what we are, as well as what we have or haven't done, it would be a huge jolt to the system. God graciously allows us to not experience the full weight of realities all at once.

That being said, the only pathway to healing is one of honesty. There was a reason that program was established. We knew that if they were never able to face the reality of what they'd done and what they were capable of, then it was almost 100% guaranteed that they would do it again. I'm sure none of them wanted to continue hurting people, but denial was also the mechanism that would allow them back into the pattern of destruction and offense.

Denial is a dangerous drug.

If we're not willing to take the steps necessary to honestly explore who we are, and to find the courage to accept what our actions have cost others, we'll never find the solution. Instead, we will spend the rest of our lives stuck in denial, trying to prove that we're not what we actually are. When couples attend our EMS Weekend, my first question is NOT, “Do you want to save your marriage?” What I want to know is “Do you want a better, more extraordinary and meaningful life?” If so, we must summon all our strength to get honest with ourselves first, then with our spouse.

Breaking Free From “Pretend Normal”

"Pretend Normal" is a term we use at Affair Recovery. It's not as much about how we present ourselves to others as it is about our refusal to see ourselves as we truly are and to admit what we've actually done. We don't want to accept the realities of our limitations or our defects of character. We prefer to live in denial and pretend that we're "normal." We then set out to prove that reality, even to those we’ve betrayed and violated.

Pretend normal sounds like this…..

  • I'd much rather prove I'm something than accept that I'm powerless and incapable.
  • Who wants to be honest and admit what they've done or how they've acted?
  • What would people think if they really knew?
  • What would we think if we were really honest with ourselves about our actions, our selfishness, or our lack of character?
  • How will we ever deal with my spouse’s issues, if I let on that what I’ve done trumps all their weaknesses and flaws?

It's much more entertaining and comforting to focus on the actions and defects of others than it is to swim through our own inner cesspool.

Recovery Is…. Recovery is NOT….

W.H. Auden says, "We would rather be ruined than change," and "we would rather die than climb up on the cross of the moment and have our illusions die." That certainly holds true for my life. The last thing I want to do is look past my denial and honestly face my reality. But if I truly want healing, and if I truly want change, I must be willing to face the consequences of my choices.

Recovery is possible, but only by grace and a willingness to be honest. 

Recovery is:

  • about accepting our weakness not proving we're strong.
  • about honesty with self and others not pretending we're normal.
  • about humility and brokenness not pride or self-loathing. *(note: when we self-loathe, or remain under condemnation for our actions, the problem is we are still thinking about ourselves and making our own self, the center of our universe.) 

I write this because I don't want those of us associated with Affair Recovery to live in denial. Recovery is possible, but only by  grace and a willingness to be honest. Recovery is about accepting our weakness, not proving we're strong. It's about honesty with self and others, not pretending we're normal. It's about humility and brokenness, not pride or self-loathing. When we self-loathe, or remain under condemnation for our actions, the problem is we are still thinking about ourselves and making our own self the center of our universe.  

Don't be afraid to be honest. You'll find it beats the heck out that illusion you once tried to hold onto.

Honesty creates opportunities to get healthy. First for yourself, then for your family or spouse. If you’d like to start the process of diffusing the denial and initiating an infidelity-specific protocol for your recovery I’d like to invite you to start our Free 7-Day Bootcamp Program




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Living with spouse’s denial and lies

Thank you Rick for well written and truth in denial article. It validates my feelings for 2 1/2 years. Denial by spouse has kept me stuck, us stuck. Cant do it any longer. Will copy and give to spouse right away. He is doing some “right” things but after years of betrayal and lies, it is hard to trust him even now. God bless you Rick. I pray for you, your entire team. EMS is God working thru all of you.

After years of betrayal

That phrase captured me. After years of betrayal. My husband has betrayed me for 25 years or more. With multiple women. But I'm still here with him. I know a Cheater always cheats. I can't understand why I haven't left yet.


Very insightful. The main question is how to get her past it

Deep in the denial trench

I wish my runaway husband could find the courage and the honesty to overcome his denial. Reading this would be a start but I am too afraid to even send it to him in case he ignores the content as he has before and it feels like rejection all over again. I'm not even sure I want to save my marriage anymore, but I would like him to face up to the reality of the pain he has brought upon the whole family, especially our wonderful children.
I certainly identified with the idea of the pretend normal. He pretends it is normal that he just packed his bags and left because he wants to "be happy". He pretends it is normal to forget his son's birthday, normal to visit home from abroad where he now lives with his affair partner and not attempt see his children, normal that he should have no further responsibilities towards his family because his life was "stressing him out". If for no other reason than our children's well-being I so wish he would take the first step away from denial and towards healing himself and his relationships with them. Meanwhile in my non pretend normal world, the cold hard reality is that he has abandoned me, our children and the life we built together and I can't deny or avoid the day-to-day responsibilities that come with his choices. Frustration and sadness go along with a determination to build a new life for myself and my family. Thank you for all your resources, even though it appears reconciliation is not on my husband's bucket list!


My soon to be ex husband , even when caught red-handed with text, pictures, emails, and even condoms, continued to deny it all... It was almost comical - except for the fact that it cost him the love and RESPECT of his daughters! They told him they could have eventually forgiven him the betrayal, but to watch him out and out LIE over and over to all of us just insulted everyone's intelligence and made them mistrust, and even PITY him. As they said, he preached honesty to them for YEARS, and disciplined THEM when they had the slightest "white lie" occur.
Then, when the rubber met the road, he was a total lying asshat. They have not spoken to him in two years, and the oldest is getting married in a week and he is disincluded from the event. Period. Of course his whore partner in crime ran back to her drug lord and now ex is totally alone. Sorry. NOT sorry. Things would have been WAY different with a sincere mea culpa.


Rick, How can one be so smart as you are? I know, because God has revealed Himself to you that only you and He would understand. It's been 5 1/2 years since my husband of 26 years began an affair and I held on for 2 years hoping he would be brave enough to admit to something...anything. An apology would've even been something. Nothing still to this day. Denial. I will not cast stones as somewhere inside of me, I am denying something that I don't even know what it is merely because I'm human. The battle is the Lords, not mine. Therefore, I am accountable to God for myself and I will keep moving my feet until the scenery changes. Please pray for me and my 3 daughters who long to heal inside. Thank you Rick for teaching me and so many others who need your work.

how do i know for sure it is denial

I am absolutely alone in my situation. No one to discuss. Therapy is not common here , in India. So I wish what i deduce from my situation could be validated somehow. My husband had / is having an emotional affair ( but I have reasons to believe that it could be physical too ) since 21/2 years with his student 25 years younger to him. Since then and more so now, he just blames everything on me. Once our daughter left for college after summer break, only me and my 11 year old son are here. So no one else to correct him once he behaves unreasonable. He is rude, gets angry all the time, comments on house being too cluttered, dirty ( i am not a home maker and it is not my responsibility entirely ) - says he will shout ' if the need arises' and ' i will throw things ( of my son ) if they are in the way as he has reached his limits of tolerance ' etc. I feel it is abuse. I am not seperating because I hate to have my children in a house without a father. But my husband threatens me with ' i will leave soon ' very often. I just dont know how to deal with this. He behaves ' normally' according to him the next moment as if he was never rude. He is in complete state of denial. He asks me not to preach to him. Says he will do what he does otherwise he will leave.I think this is just unacceptable, immature and inappropriate behaviour towards me and our children. What does it seem to you ?


I have lived with denial from my wife for 5+ years after discovering her affair with an old HS boyfriend reunited through fakebook. Three years of trickle truth and I'm certain there is more never disclosed. The other day during a serious discussion over a disagreement, she turned contemptuous, often the case, and stated seriously "I never wronged you in our marriage". Unbelievable. Is that level of denial possible? Any wonder we're still struggling with recovery.

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