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

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?

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.

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.

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 life?” If so, we must summon all our strength to get honest with ourselves first, then our spouse.

"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.

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.

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.

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. 



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My husband and mother both

My husband and mother both committed adultery many years ago (not together) and neither have ever come to grips with the pain they have caused me. The only way to get along with either of them is to play normal". They become very angry/stubborn if I do anything else but that.

11 months plus and no honesty

My husband is still in denial though I have tons of proof. Two of our 3 daughters will not speak with him and he still holds on to his pride. He says he wants no divorce, loves me, and wants to grow old with me yet nothing resolved--he wants to brush it under the rug. He prefers to stay in the basement rather than being honest and putting our family back together. My mother-in-law says I need to forgive and move on because she did. He has a passive aggressive personality I have discovered. This is a nightmare. Holding on to the promises of God is the only way I can live from day to day. I have ask him to move out so we both can get a break. So far nothing. The only emotion he shows is anger and he still just wants to hurt me for not taking him back as is. Thank you for the article. Any tips would be appreciated. How long does it take for these stubborn and prideful people to recognize the need to take responsibility and accountability for what they have done. I am sure you have had experience with these characters. Help Help


As the guilty party in the affair, I am finding it difficult to live with what I've done. Not a one time thing, but a lifetime of brokenness resulting in deceit, poor choices and resulting addiction. By God's grace, I'm walking out of this with my wife along side me, but not before I've wounded her more deeply than I imagined possible. I've told her that it is hard to live with myself, but I'm stuck with me. I likely haven't faced all of my sin and brokenness, but as the article says, by facing what I know, it's allowing me (and her) to heal. Thanks for the encouraging words, Rick.


You need to resure tell her you love her every chance you get .

Thank you, Rick! In my

Thank you, Rick! In my humble opinion, denial is not applicable only to the unfaithful, but also to those of us who remained faithful to our spouses. For me denial has been buried deep within my sole for far too long in the form of childhood trauma. While the indiscretions of my spouse are not excused by my denial of facts, I do accept full responsibility for my own “denial.” I FINALLY have the courage to speak of these atrocious acts inflicted upon my inner child without fear and with the hope of healing. If it had not been for an affair and subsequently a trip to Affair Recovery, I would still be imprisoned by this secretly submerged inner pain of childhood suffering. I still remember the first words you spoke at the weekend, “we are here to save lives not marriages,” to which I initially thought what a waste of good money. Well I had no idea what God had in store for me, but if it had not been for A.R. my path would be entirely different from the one now laid before me.

Thank you

Funny, this hit me to as the faithful spouse as well. I have lived in my own denial of how my spouse's actions, even before the affair, made me feel. I realize I probably checked out emotionally long before, due to other circumstances that are no relevant here. I also realize I am in denial now of what I want, but my spouse sees it everyday. He tells me I do not care, and I try to for my daughter. As my father was unfaithful, multiple times I must say, and my mother stayed until I was grown I feel some sense of duty to my daughter. I have also been in denial that I am holding my spouse too an "it will happen again" feeling that probably would not be fair, but based on how he is with women, I just can't shake the feeling. I have to accept how I feel, as if I continue to deny it, we can't move forward.

See the Reality!

Thank you for your article. They have been a big help for me and my marriage. I always come back after a few days to read the comments at the end of the articles. They are usually a great help to me because they put a personal touch to the discussion. Late last year my spouse had an emotional affair that was short but intense. In fact, it was overwhelming and surprised her as it happened. The affair ended when it was discovered by the AP’s spouse. The AP immediately ended the affair and all contact. My spouse was unprepared for the emotions and the loss, as was I. We have been able to put most of our relationship back together. Some days are better, many are emotionally horrible. The thing that holds us back is her refusal to honestly face what has happened. I do not fault her for the affair, something like this has happened to many people and we can overcome this. Quiet honestly it could have happened to me, I am as weak as she is. My feeling is that it has happened, we can survive, let’s deal with it, and make our marriage better. Currently we are surviving and seem to be making the marriage better. I do not feel that we have openly dealt with what has happened though. We will not be able to move forward until there is acceptance into what has happened. The AP was able to end it and put all of his energy into repairing his marriage. My spouse has not been able to face that she was capable of an affair. This denial has allowed the AP to remain in her heart. I am not sure if she does not want to let go or if she does not want to face what has happened. Either way, this has hindered us from moving forward and putting this behind us. As you mentioned in your article, you are guaranteed to repeat the action unless you can face what has happened. My spouse keeps tabs on the activities of her AP and his family. She has also developed a relationship with another man but has not acted on it as far as I am aware. The denial of the affair has left the door open for a repeat affair. She feels that she is not meeting with them so it is ok. The quote from W.H. Auden explains where we are in our marriage. If we are not careful, our marriage will fail because we are unable to face the denial and see the reality. The fear of facing what is in our hearts is more valuable than saving a fifteen year marriage. She will never be honest with me when she can not be honest with herself. I need her to focus on our relationship, face what has happened, and put it behind us completely. Until, in her heart, she is willing to put the affair behind her we will not move forward and it could possibly end our fifteen year marriage. I pray that we see the reality.

Its still there

9 months and counting.....he still won't discuss the second EA with his married coworker, what little he HAS told me rings untrue. I have saved all communications from texts to emails to phone calls on my computer and can now see that I have given him dozens of chances to come clean and try to work on our marriage within those months. I feel that there will be no honesty from him. All those times I begged him to tell me, sobbing my heart out, all the times I threatened to leave, all the times I told him if he couldn't be honest, then I could never trust, respect, or believe him again. And he still chooses to stonewall. I am physically ill from the stress of it all, the lack of sleep, the weight loss, and the utter humiliation and loss of self esteem that this has brought. I forgave him the first time, even when he didn't come clean, because of my kids. This time all of my questions have led to verbal abuse, physical intimidation, and outright fear of him. A month ago, I felt that I could no longer take it, and I chose to move out and be separated. His denial and lace of honesty and taking responsibility for his actions-- for this long-- makes it hard for me to ever believe that this marriage can be saved. How can I ever believe anything he says again, ever trust him again, ever respect him, or believe in him? This is the second time with the same woman! I read about how important it is to save your marriage, recover together, and rebuild, but those people have CS's that are remorseful and are willing to do the hard work to make their marriage work. Mine won't. What am I supposed to do when that happens? I am now just trying to take care of me. That's all I can do. Maybe I'M in denial that he even truly wants the marriage to work. Maybe he just wants out and wants me to be the bad guy by filing for divorce first and is hoping that if he stonewalls long enough, I will give up and file. I just don't know......

Thank you Rick. I love to

Thank you Rick. I love to read your articles. This one article hits home. My husband had both an emotional and physical affair with a prositute. He kept telling himself and me that she was a "professional massuse". In fact he became very angry to the point that he looked like he wanted to hit me when I called her a prositute, since she made hotel calls all hours of the night. He would visit her at work constantly. He made 9 visits in 14 days with two visits being overnight stays in his room. He discribed her as, "sweet, kind, soft spoken, smart, awesome body that even Mrs. America could never beat, and the most hurtful- a lady" In return he said I was the total opposite, "Dumb, outspoken, fat and laughed when he said I would never be a lady. Those words hurt. Since I have always been thin and petite, and I had only ever been with him. I had been a registered nurse and he admitted that he had no pride in my work or efforts. Today through months of crying, talking and even fighting he admits that he loved her for 7 years after he returned from his tour. I hate that I waited for his calls and emails only to find out he never replied because he was with her. He still hesitates when I bring up her name. I sometimes believe that he will never be able to break that bond. I have to trust in the Lord, & that man's evil doing can not prevail against God's sovereign plan. God has walked and carried me through all these years and I hold on to the One who will bring peace back to my life. Thank you again for addressing this subject.

withered, dry, and dead

Four years ago I discovered, again, that my husband engaged in another round of adultery. In past years, I had not held him accountable when I learned of his affairs. I had the twisted idea each time that he would change, that the deceit would end, and his character flaws would be transformed. I finally breached the barricade of my own denial that a husband could purposely and willfully do the terrible damage he did. During these four years, he has maintained that he has been faithful and true to his marriage vows; all a lie. The evidence to the contrary is extensive, even including a court deposition about another matter but that contains testimony of his adultery. I slowly righted my world and untangled my thinking, and as healing truth was unchained, I finally recognized what was the truth. I will no longer deny my right to personal dignity. My husband has embraced the denial of his serial adultery so completely that I think he halfway believes it himself, or he "doesn't remember." But inconvenient truths expose more than surface dirt when they are unleashed. The more my husband denied his serial adultery, the more our marriage relationship withered; trust, essential in a marriage, was slowly strangled The marriage became dry and brittle, and is now on its death bed. Divorce is on the horizon because I no longer care about my lifeless marriage. My anger, pain, and devastation are nearly all gone; swept away by truth that at first was so hard to see and accept. It may be a bumpy road, but truth does set you free; denial enslaves. So, thank you Rick. You voiced what has long been in my thoughts. I am sad for all the things that are lost, but truth is a sweet, bonny companion.

Sixteen Months And Still Struggling

It's been over a year since I found out my husband had multiple affairs. The last one was the longest, and he also told this one he loved her. Of course, he tells me he didn't. He said it was just a "game", and they were just words. But I KNOW he felt something for her! Wouldn't he have to? I would think it'd be some sort of feelings to risk his job (she was a co-worker-they all were) to risk his family (we have 4 children) to risk his marriage? That's a lot of risk for what, nothing?? I find that hard to believe! Well I feel like I'm getting just words now. After this I agreed to try and work through it and stay married. I told him any lie is going yo ruin any trust we rebuild and even the smallest lie will crush me. Well just two weeks ago he lies again! Over something so stupid and small too! I called, he didn't answer, told me his phone was dead, I told him I knew it wasn't because it didn't go straight to voicemail. After that, he says he is just so sick to his stomach, and he just can't believe he lied, and then proceeded to tell me how his phone wasn't dead, he just didn't answer right then...because he didn't feel like it. Why lie?? And to tell me he's just sick about it? Yea ok. He only tells the truth when he feels like he's backed into a corner. And then it's this big production, with all this acting involved. I can only assume he doesn't care. The only time I have ever seen him cry, or even seem truly hurt and upset, is when I've said I was leaving. So you admitting to multiple affairs and seeing me break down doesn't hurt quite as bad as me leaving? Why? Because then he's losing this game/marriage? Because he might look bad when others find out? Why wouldn't admitting to ruining our marriage hurt? And I think he is in denial! Or else just doesn't care what he has put me through. But, how do you help someone to be honest with themselves? Because I'm lost in how to help him. I don't even know if he wants to see the truth. I think it's easier for him to forget it, hope I don't bring it up, and move on. He's actually, pretty much said that's what he'd prefer, but I can't! But anytime I bring anything up that bothers me, it turns into an argument. No matter how I word it, how calm I am, how soft spoken, how unaccusing I try to come across, he gets angry. Almost every single time. He would let me talk about it, and even talk himself the first week or two. After that it seemed like he thought it should be over with. Well I'm sorry, but after years of infidelities I can't just "move on" in a few weeks! I've started just shutting up, but I'll just explode one day this way. I need to talk, he hates talking. Really though, I think he hates talking about something he was wrong in. He hates being wrong. Sometimes he'll even fund something I did wrong to bring up, just to try and make me look bad because he thinks that's what I'm trying to do. I just want honesty, and remorse. And I want actions, that match the words coming out of his mouth. But can you help someone be honest with themselves? I think I already know the answer, and you can't. I just wish he knew how serious this was. It's like we are hanging on by a thread, and that thread is about to break. Only he isn't even looking at the thread, and won't know it's in danger of breaking until its already broke. And by then it will be too late. Well I'm glad I got to vent, sheesh didn't think I'd write all this! I'm so thankful for the e-mails I get from you. And it helps reading others comments also. To know that others are going through this and there are people who can relate and not just think I'm crazy is unfortunate, but comforting.

Denial is so comfortable

My spouse stayed in denial for literally years. I was dying inside from having so many doubts and being told it was all in my mind and I was making things up or being ridiculously jealous. Denial allows your partner to keep their self image intact. It took incontrovertible proof before denial was no longer an option. But at this point, our marriage was in a shambles. My trust was in ruins. And I was numb from the pain of it. During the EMS retreat weekend I finally started getting closure. After years of denial, my worst fears were realized. And the pain was awful. But now at least recovery is possible. While your partner stays in denial, you remain in torment that just gets worse and worse. Now it's 6 months after the weekend retreat and I am starting to have to deal with my partner's relapses. And the first thing that happens is denial. This was a timely article for me, Rick. Thanks for writing it. This time, I am going to give my mate encouragement to be in a more intimate marriage, one with more love and trust and understanding. Denial is no longer an option. Nor is glossing over or spinning or the 'you have faults, too' distraction. Denial is just like an affair partner. There is no room in a healthy, loving marriage for it. And I will no longer stay in a marriage where my partner values denial more than me.


I enjoy all your articles and couples comments....I have been dealing with denial my spouse who left to be with then women who he had the affair with....everyday I struggle to get pass this ...it is the saddest part of my life...I cry everyday and yet I try to move forward everyday...like walking in muddy water....I deal with rejection ,fear , anger , i do go for counseling and wish one day I could wake up and say I am happy ....we had a loving home family and a great life...everyone is shocked by this nightmare....but as I explore I see this is common everyday ....I do feel moral compass are missing in everyday choices ....I am sad but I won't play the victim ...it has made me face reality....which I wish I didn't have to face ....I guess it is a journey of truths ...and I want to come to my truth of happiness....thank you for your articles they are truly inspiring and I am happy to see couples do the work ...I am only sad that my husband felt he was more important and not the shattered life's of his family ....thank you and god bless .....


Yes the term "pretend normal" perfectly describes that state of my marriage after discovery of husbands affair/s that he basically denied never happened. I have been living this lie for 9 months and after reading your article have realized that it's nothing but smoke and mirrors to keep me under his control. We are the poster family for pretend normal dysfunction. After discovering suggestive texts messages on his phone, we have (I thought) worked to improve our marriage. Initially we had very little discussion about it because all he did was deny or downplay events. He still claims that he never met with her in person-ever over a period of at least 10 years-I don't buy it but I have been unable to gather concrete evidence. However JUST TOO MUCH circumstantial evidence and knowing what I now know I can see the red flags every where in our past. I wonder if there have been others? how many? Maybe this has gone on the entire marriage I just don't know. I have forgiven him for the past (the one I know of) indiscretion, admitted my part in the break down of our marriage, worked hard to improve all that I had neglected in our marriage and basically we never are to speak of it. He continues simply to deny, lie and gaslight me further.
Reading your article has helped me to see why I can't move further especially in the area of working- I want to work always enjoyed it. Here I thought that we were going to survive this affair, since we are still together, but knowing that his actions really don't match his words and the lack of responsibility, remorse, empathy, respect, transparency have left me worn and broken. He takes no ownership and simply cannot see how his actions/inactions have the walls getting ready to crumble around us. I had hoped that once we got to a better place together, I acknowledged that I had areas that needed work, that he might slowly see the light. But i'm beginning to wonder if that can ever really happen (prefers the façade of a "pretend normal" for everyone to see ). Funny thing is after years of not loving him, I have fallen in love with him again and don't want to give up 20 years together. It could of been so good because where I was weak he was strong and vice a versa, but he would never "let me in". I thought we could make this better -with all of this out in the open (well not really because basically no one knows of affair) that we could of worked together finally but I have my doubts. I wonder if he ever truly loved us. Thank you Rick for your article I plan to read every word you've written. I can't believe I haven't found you before as I have been glued to my computer, reading and writing since D-day. I pray for us all!


This article is the first I have found on this important subject, and I have read a ton.
I am mid divorce with a man I have been married to for 22 years. In the last three, I have discovered circumstantial evidence of an affair with his married secretary, for who knows how long. It is absolutely crystal clear, without proof mind you, that he has been physical with her. The problem is, he vehemently denies it. However, as I started to uncover clues early on, his reaction was classic: told me I was delusional, crazy, insecure, blah blah blah. I don't want to get into the details, but the affair continued and when I uncovered something, he became physically intimidating. If that isn't a red flag, I don't know what is.
So after the marriage spiraling downward, his flat refusal to admit to ANY wrongdoing, and my realization that this was causing me to self district, I filed for divorce. You know how he responded??
With shock and disbelief. Actually claimed I never tried to talk to him about my problems (I cried and begged) and I never agreed to marriage counseling (he ademately refused). After I filed he jumped on the MC wagon, set it up, I attended, relayed all the events leading up to my filing for divorce, and he skirted the true issues. But let me know how out of line I was to bring up "that" (aka intimidation when called out).

So now I sit in a home with two kids still living here, mid divorce, with an entitled husband who blames me fully for blowing apart our family. The term "pretend normal" fits like a glove. That is what he wants, but I refuse to live my life that way and refuse to reinforce this bull to my kids any longer.

Fantastic article. I am not sure how many other spouses have had to deal with this, but the topic needs to be headlined. For all of you working toward getting him to admit and change, I say save yourself and your family and stand up for what is right! Even if these cheaters finally admit whatever, what makes you think it isn't motivated simply to save face? I am divorcing, even if I never know the real truth, because I refuse to waste another minute splitting hairs. It's either now or never to show what you are made of and stand up for your worth. Hopefully it will be remembered in our own children's relationships.

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