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

Grieving Betrayal

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The Wound

If someone asked me to describe how I felt four years ago when I discovered my husband's infidelity, 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.

Letting Myself 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.

I had to change my mind about what was "good" and "bad" emotion.

Once I finally understood that emotions such as pain, 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 the pain of betrayal.

My Own 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. 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. 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 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. After I had worked through whatever I needed to work through that night, a sense of comfort would fall on me, and I would go to bed.

After a few weeks, the nightly grieving sessions were no longer needed. Although it wasn't a daily thing, I knew I still had a lot to grieve, so I settled on a weekly grief day. Tuesday from 9 - 2 became my grief day. For about a year, I guarded that day like my life depended on it. Many times, this day started out in my closet. I would play some 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 truly learned how to expose my heart to be assessed for hidden hurts. I felt like God began to show me how to name what I was feeling (e.g., 'I am feeling very insecure right now because'…). I cried over every fresh moment of pain that 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 earshot. 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 that 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 that, if something triggered a fresh or remembered hurt in me, 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 and of itself that heals. How we choose to use that time—however long it is—is what matters.

It's not time that heals the wounds; it's how you spend the time.

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 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.

We’d like to say thanks to this Affair Recovery Alum for sharing her story and encouragement!

Ready to finish strong? Register for Harboring Hope, our course for betrayed spouses, today at 12:00 PM CST. This life-giving course provides a step by step playbook for healing.

Harboring Hope Registration Opens TODAY at Noon CT!

"I just completed the Harboring Hope program. My husband was unfaithful to me emotionally, physically and sexually with a co-worker. What I wished I would’ve known is that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. People who refuse to forgive can never live their own lives, they are too busy obsessing about the life of the one who hurt them. They are stuck. They are unable to enjoy friends, family or even their children. They imprison themselves in a bondage of their own making. I definitely recommend the Harboring Hope program as a support for healing. To be in a safe community with other women who know what you’re going through and how you’re feeling is comforting. Whether you’re able to reconcile or not, there is hope." — M., Michigan | HH Participant, April 2021.

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