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

The Infidelity Divorce Syndrome: Divorce Recovery After Infidelity

divorce recovery infidelity

How does infidelity impact those who get divorced (i.e. divorce recovery) and what are their unique challenges? This week I’d like to  focus on the specific barriers the betrayed spouse faces and the baggage they may actually carry into future relationships.

Moving on after divorce, especially when infidelity is involved, is just not easy nor without new hurt.

After 26 years of marriage and three beautiful children, Martha discovered her husband was cheating on her with girls closer to her children’s ages than her own. Her first response was to kick him out. There was little or no remorse on his part. He felt she should just get over it. Eventually she invited him back, prematurely she now admits, for the sake of the kids. She wasn’t even sure what she needed to forgive given his lack of disclosure. Change was not something that interested him, in fact the only change he felt necessary was on her part; she needed to get over it, lighten up and be more fun. Eventually her husband’s unwillingness to commit to a monogamous relationship led to divorce.

“How do you move forward when the best of who you were has been shredded and rejected?” she asked. That harsh reality is now 11 years past, but healing didn’t begin until recently. Charged with charting a course for her family, she ignored her own need for restoration. In her mind, financial survival and raising children were the top priorities and as she put it, “I didn’t even feel I had the right to have needs.” “It was all so scary,” she added. “I didn’t just lose my husband, I lost my whole life. I lost the majority of things that made me who I am: my home, many of our friends, my identity as his wife, my confidence, my security and my future.”

Life after divorce and betrayal creates unique challenges for the injured spouse. While divorce may be the best next step for some, those who divorce have a difficult journey ahead of them. They will have to overcome issues with…

1. Mistrust:

Infidelity shatters the reality of the injured spouse so thoroughly that they often have trouble trusting their realty, their judgment, others and even themselves. Moving on after divorce, how can you know you aren’t making the same mistake again? How do you release your heart to the care of another? Even finding Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful doesn’t necessarily solve the dilemma. It takes a great deal of individual work before enough healing occurs for self-confidence to return and hope for the future is recovered. Until that healing comes, releasing one’s soul to the care of another is a challenge at best.

 2. Triggers:

Betrayal is frequently a traumatic experience for the injured spouse. Divorce in no way remedies the problems of emotional flooding. Reminders of what happened can create strong emotional reactions for years to come. While an unfaithful spouse may understand the root cause of that reaction, others who weren’t involved at the point of crisis may find their reactivity confusing. Failure to take the time to process the trauma of the betrayal on top of divorce recovery can leave them susceptible to emotional flooding for years to come.

 3. Jealousy:

Life after divorce and betrayal can leave the injured spouse with an unfounded fear regarding the faithfulness of future partners. It’s understandable, but the need for safety can be higher for these individuals. Choosing not to mistrust is frequently a daily struggle and key to divorce recovery. It’s no wonder that hypervigilance becomes a natural part of their being. The old saying “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” rings truer than ever before. The last thing they want is to be hurt again and in their mind “better safe than sorry” can become a limiting factor for future relationships.

4. Risk aversion:

For those who divorce, infidelity often creates a problem with intimacy avoidance. One approach to avoid future pain is to always hold a part of self back in future relationships. Being “all in” can present a serious challenge if you choose to avoid the risk of future pain. While there’s a part of us that longs to be connected to a special person, taking that risk may seem next to impossible if betrayed in a previous relationship. You may find, while moving on after divorce and into future relationships, that you feel as if you have hit a wall when the relationship progresses to a deeper level of intimacy. 

5. Negative lens:

Betrayal may create an aversion for anyone of the opposite sex. To create safety, a person may choose to believe that all men cheat, or that all women lie, etc. Divorce does nothing to correct the stereo-typing of an entire people group. As a matter of fact, life after divorce potentially creates more bitterness and mistrust of the opposite sex. The inability to find a place of forgiveness and reconciliation can create a jaded perspective of life, which prevents them from ever reconnecting again.

Eleven years later, Martha is still single. Until last year she longed for a new relationship, but still struggled with issues of trust. She went through “Divorce Recovery” and even led divorce recovery classes, but was still limited in her ability to move forward. Last year she entered Harboring Hope. “I never thought anything could go deep enough for my healing,” she explained. “The other women in my group refused to let me avoid looking at my pain.  I finally recognized that I had legitimate needs that had to be addressed and Harboring Hope systematically led me through the necessary steps for healing.” On the importance of community for specifically healing infidelity, she adds, “The girls in my group are still serving as a healthy support for one another months later.”

At Affair Recovery we know the wounds of betrayal can be healed. Regardless of whether your spouse has left you or not- don’t lose hope. You have legitimate wounds as a result of the betrayal and you owe it to yourself to do the necessary work to heal. At the very least go to Free Resources or join our Recovery Library for expert insight and support for your own personal journey.

 

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those 5 points

Those 5 points can also apply to a betrayed spouse who decides to stay in their marriage.  Even with the new strengths that come from rebuilding our relationship, I still have much doubt about her.  All of these points seem to apply to how I now feel about my life and my spouse.

* I don't trust her or my perception of her - Before the affair there were issues, but everything appeared normal and yet she slept with this person.  Today she does many things just the same and looks exactly the same as she did then.  She was faking it then, is she faking it now?

* Triggers are constantly coming to light - Whether it is our house, something she says, a song, or even during sex she might touch me in a way that makes me wonder if she did the same with her AP.

* Jealousy was never an issue. I trusted and believed in her blindly. Now, I don't trust when she's alone.  I recently figured out a past scenario where she snuck off to see her AP (before the affair came to light)  under the guise of going shopping. Now I panic every time she leaves the house.

* Risk is not something that I will ever take again, not even with my wife. I trusted her openly and even tried to warn her.  I had faith.  She failed me.  I won't let that happen again.

* I see everything with a negative lens.  If she makes a comment "I'm all yours", I privately snip that it isn't true since she gave herself to another man.  She acts shy or coy and I think "You weren't that innocent when you were taking those pictures or wrote those words". I see women who have much more difficult lives and think about how my wife isn't nearly as worthy as these women who chose to remain faithful and work through their issues.

Honestly - I love this woman, but this not a way that any man wants to envision his wife (as a cliche).  I am so disappointed in her decisions and ashamed of what she did. Right now, it feels that I may never be able to forgive her.

Biggest Challenge

My biggest challenge, after 21 years, was realizing I was enough.  I was SO co-dependent.  I was his wife, my kids mom, but never myself.  But I found an amazing christian counselor that helped me onto the road to recovery.

It hasn't been easy.  Nothing about infidelity and divorce is easy, but it is DOABLE.  It IS survivable.  Finding the strength and courage to move on was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to endure.  But it was important to me to do it right and to be able to be a good role model for my 2 girls.

I still have my moments, it's called being human.  But I have tools that help me overcome.  I'm looking forward to the day when the triggers are less and less and I can embrace the Hope of tomorrow. 

Blessings to all of you going through this.  Rely on your faith and trust God's plan.  Trust that you will be happy again.  Blessings also to this ministry.  It has gotten me through many a dark moment.

Carrie

Me too....

My situation is ending in divorce. I so want to be where you are and to be able to identify myself as just ME... Not just his wife or mother to his kids. I want my husband back and it kills me. But I am ready to let go of the pain and the triggers that are literally driving me crazy. Thank you for your comment that there is hope for the future.

I feel your pain!

I, too, am a betrayed wife, and my situation is also ending in divorce. While I feel that my identity is intact & has grown over our 23 yrs of marriage, my husband was my best friend, confidant, and life-long partner in faith & love - I never dreamed he would betray me. I wanted reconciliation, but he could not/would not give up the affair partner. He's moving to another state to marry her & start a new life - has pretty much walked away from our 3 kids (ages 19, 20, 22). In spite of all of that, I am looking forward to my future, and it's encouraging to read the words of others who have been through this & have come out WELL on the other side. I am participating in a divorce recovery group, as well as seeing a Christian counselor, and it is helping immensely. We will make it, and we will be well, whole, and healthy, beth1017!

Divorce and biggest challenge

My biggest challenge has been having my ex and affair partner clode by and her continued flaunting of their relationship thru publically posting Facebook albums of their times together before and during and after our divorce. I feel like I am finally able to open up again with other potential partners, but the triggers still traumatize me, cell phones being a big one! I feel I am coming back to life slowly but surely and praying God restores my youth which he miraculously has in terms of my innocence being restored and my physically and emotionally well-being. All my stress related health issues are finally gone!!!

All Challenges are equal

There seems to be no bigger challenge than another. Besides the 5 points you mentioned above I found myself facing the challenge of being an empty nester, so loneliness is a huge challenge add factors #1,2and 4 while looking through that negative lens and I'm pretty sure i'm one day away for becoming a cat lady. Some days are an hourly struggle because somehow I have become very isolated and have or trust absolutely no one other than my spouse (yes the one who betrayed me) with my most inner thoughts and fears so it is a sicking circle of no progress one step forward one step back. But there are good days the sun shines and I am slowly finding the person I am to become on the other side of this mess.

I just had enough

Realizing that my husband of over 20 years was having an affair with a co worker, was devastating to me. But I am much stronger now. I went no contact, hired the best attorney I could find and gained strength and peace. I realize that it had nothing to do with the other younger woman. She is nothing special, she was just available.
He disrespected me and his son in any way possible, and he has lost us for ever. You just don’t leave your family for some new , exciting sex with the young co worker. That's plain evil. Glad I got rid of him. Who wants that?

How are you ?

Hello. I was just reading through these posts and found yours. How are you now ten months later? Your story is exactly like mine. It all crashed a month ago. How did you find the strength to go no contact?

I will complete the first goal in the first steps boot camp by t

It's is good to have a "by when" goal

Was talking about this yesterday

My wife of 14 years moved out this June. Discovered her affairs 3.5 years ago. They had been going on for about 6 months prior to that. I've spent those years doing everything imaginable to restore our marriage, lead her back, and find a place of reconciliation. Her consistent response has been "I'm changing." She has zero interest in a monogamous relationship. She isn't unhappy or unsatisfied, but still wants her freedom to have sex with whomever she wants. I've been through every option, and it came down to two: live in an unsafe marriage until my bitterness and anger explode; or start the process of separation & divorce.

We decided in February to start the process of disentangling our finances and once the kids were out of school, she moved out. We're co-parenting our two daughters, and thankfully have a wonderful support system of family who are local to us. We're still very friendly to each other. We never had a toxic relationship - she doesn't want monogamy, and I do. That makes us incompatible in marriage.

I have experienced all of the doubts discussed in this article. Will I ever be able to trust anyone again? Will my fears of betrayal keep me from that sold-out commitment to a future girlfriend/wife? Have the events of the past few years warped the way I perceive sex?

I'm a very introspective person who's constantly seeking out ways to improve myself. For the first time in my life, I don't think I can do this without 3rd party assistance. Finding serious resources for "help: my wife wants us to both have sex with other people, but I prefer monogamy" is rather difficult. It's not really something you can discuss with your parents. Even your friends are more likely to say "what are you complaining about" than they are to show sympathy. I've been thrilled to find Affair Recovery. Thank you for the resources, and helping me understand that I'm not alone in this.

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