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

Grieving Betrayal

The following was written by an Affair Recovery Survivor:

The Wounding

If someone asked me to describe how I felt when I discovered my husband’s infidelity four years ago I would reply with words like ‘indescribable pain’ or ‘complete shock’. But the truth is, these words wouldn’t come close to describing how I truly felt as I watched my whole world crash in around me.

After a summer of sensing that something was not right in our marriage, I finally broke into my husband’s email while I was at work one night. My thought had been that I would find evidence of an emotional affair, but what I found was way more than I had bargained for. None of it felt real. As I shut the computer down the room began to spin and go black. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. All I could think was that I didn’t want anyone to walk in and find me in my shame. When I tried to stand up to close the door I found I had to hold onto the walls to keep from falling.

Over the course of the next few weeks I got the rest of the story. I learned that my husband had been introduced to sex way too young, and in all the wrong ways. I also learned that he had been unfaithful to me all through our dating, engagement, and married years. I felt lied to, betrayed, and used.

About two weeks after my initial discovery of the infidelity, my husband came clean with a full disclosure during a counseling session with Rick Reynolds. After listening to his detailed report, Rick turned to me and asked how I felt. I remember honestly answering that I felt nothing. My heart was numb with shock, so I truly felt absolutely nothing. Perhaps this was a coping mechanism of some kind. Somehow feeling nothing seemed like a pleasant alternative to feeling the intense pain of what I had just heard. But Rick warned me that this was not a healthy alternative. I remember him telling me that I had to let myself feel this, or I would go sideways later. I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘sideways,’ but it didn’t sound good, so I went home that day determined to feel this thing.

Choosing to Grieve

Deciding I needed to let myself feel the pain that I had somehow locked away was one thing, but actually doing it was another. I remember fearing that if I opened the door even a crack the pain would come rushing in like water through the windows of a sunken car. I was afraid I would drown under the weight of so much pain.

Fear of being overwhelmed by my pain was only part of my problem. While I hadn’t realized it before, I really didn’t know how to feel such overwhelming negative emotion. Having grown up in a relatively happy home, I was very accustomed to positive emotion, but negative emotion was somehow the unspoken enemy, so I had become very good at ignoring it, often times without being aware that I was doing so. While this had been a useful tool for minor irritations, it had become a stumbling block in my quest to find healing for my wounded heart. So I had to change my mind about what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotion. Once I finally understood that emotions such as pain and sadness and anger were simply negative emotions, rather than ‘bad’ ones, I felt free to feel them.

As hard as it was to allow myself to feel the pain, I jumped in with both feet because I had been warned that the only way to truly heal from this kind of heart wound was to embrace the pain and grieve the hurt. I remembered what it was like to wake up in the morning with a heart that was happy to greet the day. I also remembered how it felt when my heart had been whole and healthy, so I was determined above all else that I would not give up until my heart had been completely healed of this pain of betrayal.

Grieving

Just as the care of a critically ill patient becomes a 24/7 endeavor, the care for my heart very much became a constant thing for me. But life did not stop and allow me time to solely focus on healing, so I found that setting up specific grieving times in my day and week was very helpful.

At the very beginning of my grieving period I set aside every evening as my grief time. The evenings were particularly painful for me because that’s when my husband and I had typically spent the most time together, so his absence was acutely felt after I sent my boys to bed. After the bedtime routine with the boys was done I would immediately go into the bathroom. After filling the tub with hot water I would light some candles and hit play on my favorite worship music. Sometimes I would sing a little, sometimes I would quietly listen. Often I would just sit in the tub and cry out my pain to the only One who felt stable enough to hang onto. I asked God why this had happened. I told Him how much it hurt. When I had no words to express the depths of my feelings I would simply cry without saying anything. I remember sensing His presence all around me as he listened to my broken heart. Depending on what had bubbled up that day or what memory or pain had been triggered that evening I would stay in the bathroom anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. At some point I would feel that we had worked through whatever I needed to work through that night, and as a sense of comfort fell on me I would go to bed.

After a few weeks the nightly deep grieving sessions were no longer needed, but I still had a lot to grieve, so I found a weekly grief day worked well. Tuesday from 9 - 2 became my grief day. For about a year I guarded that day like my life depended on it. Very often this day started out in my closet. I would play some worship music and fall face down on the floor. I have  to tell you, this is where the healing began to take shape. It was in those quiet moments, alone in the closet that I learned how to allow my heart to be assessed for hidden hurts.  I felt like God began to show me how to name what I was feeling (i.e. ‘I am feeling very insecure right now because’…). Then I cried over  every fresh moment of pain as it was triggered in my heart for as long as I needed to. Then, when I was ready, I felt like I could leave my pain in the closet with God and take another step forward in my own personal recovery and healing.  

Grieving with Others

As important as grieving in the quiet of my bathroom or closet was, processing my grief with others was also very necessary as well. Unfortunately when the wound was still fresh I shared my pain indiscriminately with whoever happened to be within listening distance. Not only did this give all of my acquaintances the unnecessary gory details, but it also gave every one of them the opportunity to give me their own personal advice. Being in the wounded state that I was, I was very ill prepared for the task of weeding through everyone’s idea of what I should do.

While it may have taken me awhile to learn who was safe, when I finally did I had a wonderful support system. One of my friends knew about my grief day, so every Tuesday she would give me a call. I also met with a group of friends every Wednesday night. These women loved me and my husband through the darkest part of my grief. Their acceptance of my pain and fears along with their prayers of love and encouragement breathed much needed life back into my heart.

Finishing Strong and Your Own Grieving Timeline

Please understand this was a long process. For about a year I found myself grieving the same pain or fear over and over again. After that initial year I found that I no longer needed to spend an entire day each week in my ‘grief closet’. But the pattern was firmly established, so if something triggered a fresh or remembered hurt in me after that I would go straight back for a good cry. During the second year following discovery, I only found myself needing to grieve the pain of betrayal a handful of times.

You have probably heard the saying, ‘time heals all wounds.’ While it is true that healing takes time, it is not time in itself that heals. How we choose to use that time -however long it is- is what matters. Your grieving timeline may be similar to mine, or it may be quite a bit longer. However long your grief may take, please see it through to the end. Don’t give up by trying to stuff down your emotions just because it hurts or because you feel like you should be over it already. Finish strong! Let yourself feel this out to the very end, because there is an end. If you will allow yourself to grieve your pain until it is completely healed, one day you will wake up and find that you haven’t felt it in a while. Your heart is your sacred treasure. It is worth every moment of hard grief work to restore its health.

 

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grieving

Thank you for sharing your story about grieving. I just started going through mine and not sure how to handle it especially wth my busy family schedule. I want to grieve but I cannot allow everyday things to fall by the wayside. Right now, what I really feel is I want out but husband says he doesn't want to give up. Do I believe what could be empty promises?

Are you still with your

Are you still with your husband? If so, what has he done to help you heal?

We have been married 31 yrs.I

We have been married 31 yrs.I discovered the affair 1 yr ago today.Our Marriage is no better,if anything it is worse. I feel I have lack of trust of God as well. I am still with my husband praying for his eyes to open, praying he will value me and our marriage.He says he wants to stay together and yet he does NOTHING to help me heal.Nothing to make me happy and secure. He is the most selfish person I have ever known.I know I need to separate at the very least but I cannot bring myself to part.He has never told me any details and refuses to discuss anything.The other woman told me everything. Now I am suspicious that he has always cheated.

we focus on God not the man

Very painful being betrayed and the betrayer shows no remorse. Since you would like to hold on to your marriage, focus all your pain and emotional needs on God. Save yourself the experience of hitting your head against the wall. Become less needy for hubby's faithfulness but more of God. God alone is consistent in faithfulness and in time after your husband has had his "wilderness journey", God will bring him back to you. Sorry love, its tough but a rewarding exercise. Mine has not disclosed much and refuses to talk and has refused to affirm an end to porn, or open his devices to me. For my own healing, i turned entirely to God to supply me the love and compassion i needed and turned that love and compassion back to my husband. I loved God unconditionally and He in turn would lift up my dragging soul to a place of joy. My happiness does not depend on my husband, he can only add to it by being truly a devoted husband but he can not reduce it. I add to my joy by bringing smiles to the face of others and truly being of service to God. Friends who have known me for 20 years or more say they have never seen me look this radiant and i should continue whatever is working this well for me.

He wasn't who he was

How do you reconcile with the feeling of emptiness as if someone has ripped you apart and left you bleeding?. When even the happy memories give you pain, how do you forget all that you thought , believed and hoped for if they meant nothing to the person you shared them with? It's as if you're grieving your own imagination. The realization that while he was talking to me and telling me he loved me he was lying and cheating. While telling me that I was beautiful and that he felt so lucky to be with me, he was also sharing his body, mind and heart with a woman with no moral standards. How do I forgive all the broken promises ,the shattered dreams he caused when he walked away as if I meant nothing to him for 16 years. Acting as a stranger, like what we had was only a dream? I don't know how. His father did the same thing with him mom and abandoned him and his brother as if they weren't important enough and forming a new family with another his high school sweetheart and her children. How sad!!! He is doing the same with me even if we don't have children. How can I smile again? This was my second marriage and I my chance at happiness. I cry but the tear wont stop...at times I can't find a place of comfort. the pain is so deep it keeps coming up....It doesn't look like it will ever end. I think one of the worst emotions is the pain of betrayal...I've been through a lot in my life but this one beats all.

Thank you!

Your story is very similar to mine. It was surreal to read your experience as I could have written it... I am hurting from betrayal, but I would love to see my husband healed and whole. There have been so many lies and deception that I don't know whether to believe him any more... He has had repeated affairs, a lot of them started in a virtual setting...and he had told me before he wanted to be better for us, but never followed up his promises. This time he is saying he wants to get counselling to get better, but I am very apprehensive and don't want to fall victim of even more deception - he could be living a double life now. I find it scary to see that he is capable to trick people with such ease. We have separated, but not divorced. The distance gives me a chance to grieve and I do have an amazing network of support. God has been faithful to me and my little girl and I truly experience that people may let you down, but God never will! Praise the Lord! I do pray for my husband. I do want him to be healed, but it is hard to know whether I am supposed to just let him go and start shutting down emotionally, or as difficult as it is just patiently wait and fight for his soul and our marriage.

Grieving betrayal

Oh wow, my husband cheated me while we were dating, our very short engagement and throughout our marriage. We have been going to counseling for 6 months now and I am still grieving. I do do it while no one is around so my little ones do not see their mommy sad. It is very difficult to get through a cheating spouse but he seems to be very remorseful and has been doing everything he can to make me happy. I do not know if it would have been worse for him to leave me or for him to have cheated so long. He stated it was a huge mistake and then could not get out of it because he was a coward and could not come forward with the truth. The mistress was the one who told me but he then admitted to it being true. He states it would have ended a long time ago but he was afraid of losing me. Could this be true? She would stalk him he states and she has even admitted to this but why could he not just come out and tell me to end the nightmare, so he says? I do not understand. This is still very difficult to get through but with God's help, I am managing.

So true

It's true, the only way to release the pain is to truly experience the ugliness if it. , and move through it. I have felt this and it works, even though it isn't pleasant. However, this process is complicated and feels impossible when new details or new betrayals come forth since the lies and hiding is so strong and second nature of the cheating spouse. I have realized I cannot spend my life grieving when my spouse keeps lying and deceiving me. even over stupid stuff. It's hard to let go when reality is still with you today, and the new hurts keep piling on.

how do move forward?

This is where I am, also. I can't seem to move forward due to the fact that there are so many lies and they haven't stopped even though he has moved out. I don't understand why I "need" to know the truth, but I do. I don't want to spend my life grieving either. I deserve to be happy and allowed to move on. But, the pain is so raw, just when i think I am doing good and being strong, a trigger hits me or memory and the emotional breakdown happens. I'm not sure how someone could schedule a grieving day. It just hits me and takes over. After I found out, I tried everything to make our 20 yrs marriage work, but I was the only one trying for the past 9 months. He was still working on his other relationship.... and still lying and being emotionally abusive to me. I suppressed all emotion to keep life as we know it together for our two boys and for the 20 yr marriage vows. Now, the grieving is doubled and the anger only hurts me. I want to grieve that way it doesn't creep up years from now, but how do I know when is enough?

Grieving with my Wife

This is so wonderful to read. It gives me hope that my wife and I can get through the grieve and strain that i have caused her and our marriage.
i was unfaithful to her off and on from the beginning. I know she never deserved any of it and i am truely sorrowful. It started as it does for most on the internet. Talking to woman, than becoming friendly, than flirting, than cybering. I cant tell you how many individual people there were but it was more than it should've been. I married my wife because i love her and she needs to be the only one. I want her to be the only one. Than after a time it seemed like i was healed than it would go months without incident than happen again each time lasting longer than the last. As much as i wanted to heal and make our marriage sacred, i felt as if i couldnt. I had become addicted. Than just last year after our son was born my wife was in the hospital. This time i started online than got a phone to text them. Than i started going to the club. Though nothing happened, The very fact i put myself so close to temptation now feels like such betrayal. It never got to the point of physical sex though once i went to a strip club. That was the worse thing i ever did the thought that i could do such things to my beautiful wife and our wonderful marriage hurt immeasurably. It isnt too long ago this happen so the wounds are still fresh in our marriage. But we have worked on a more open communication. I also have decided that i will no longer hide anything from my wife and gave her the access to all my devices so that she can see that i am trying my hardest to make a safety zone for our marriage.
I know as a betrayer that i have cause so much pain to my dear wife and i have decided that no time is better than right now to start healing. We both go to therapy and we read up on sites like this as much as we can. Though things are still rocky are marriage is healing and we both feel that in the long run our marriage can only get stronger from this. God has played such a huge part in this too. Because I am man enough to admit that I cant change on my own. I was addicted and hooked. Only through God and the constant vigilance of my dear wife have I changed this far.
Thanks again for your wonderful article. It is so inspiring

How do I know how much to grieve?

So I found out about my wife's emotional affair of 2 years last July 2015. While we are still together and she is going through individual counseling and we are doing weekly marital counseling, she is still very disconnected from me. She has her emotional walls up and she does not want to pray together because spiritual intimacy is too close for her right now.

All the good memories I have had of our 22-plus years together just feel so tainted and tarnished now. I feel so discouraged on a daily basis that it is hard sometimes to think straight. I feel over the first 6 months after I exposed this affair, all my crying has pretty much been soaked out of my body. I still tear up when triggered by songs we shared or memories of the past and especially when she is loving on my kids when we are sitting on opposite couches on the other side of the room (she doesn't let me hold her hand, kiss her, cuddle with her or hug her).

So as I press daily into Christ, my heart still longs for reconciliation and connection again with the woman I still love and cherish who admits she is not "in love" with me, does not respect me and definitely doesn't cherish me. She is pressing into God on her own side of things and says she is staying in the marriage only out of obedience and prays that God will soften her heart to really connect with me again.

It is so hard because it seems like she is the one that has come out the other side smelling like roses. She still has her friends from church (even though we had to leave the church because the other man and his family still attend there) and she still has her friends from work that she is close to. She hasn't lost the affection and admiration of any of our three kids (two are in college) or her family (her brother -- who is not a believer -- told her to leave me if she isn't happy). I haven't told my family and I only have a handful of guy friends who have stuck by my side throughout this. I feel like I have lost so much of who I am as a man and husband because of the pain she has caused, yet I feel like I am the one who has taken the brunt of the crap from her sinful choices and that she still holds all the power as she keeps her distance and remains disconnected in so many ways.

Please help me with any advice as I try to be faithful to Christ and to my marriage covenant. As weird as it seems, I still want to be married to this woman for the rest of my life. I still love her and cherish her even though she does not reciprocate the same feelings. How long do I wait before just washing my hands of all this? I am trying my best to by patient and understanding because I know I am working on things in my life that she has had issues with.

Thank you for any reply! Praying that God can make beauty from these ashes and redeem my precious martial covenant!!!!

i think i need to grieve

I think I need to begin grieving soon. I feel numbed out. I found out at 1:30p on a Sunday after church on April 17. I have never participated in an online support group so this is all new for me. I am a professional mental health therapist by day so I have to watch my counter-transference when a client presents with similar issues. More later. Patient just arrived.

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