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

Healing After An Affair: Emotional Flooding & Reminders

Back in the mid-eighties I had a business fail. I guess that’s not unusual in the world of business, but it was new to me. I lost just about everything as I desperately tried to save the business. I spent our savings, our retirement, and plenty of borrowed money all in an attempt to hold out until the market turned. The only problem was, the market never turned so we ran smack dab into financial ruin. It was so bad, that as a family of five, we actually qualified for food stamps. You might be able to go lower than we did, but that’s about as low as I ever want to go. Thankfully, God was faithful and met our needs and took us in a new direction. As usual he was able to take the worst thing that ever happened and make it the best.

Now you may be wondering why I’m sharing this story, or what this has to do with healing after an affair. After almost 30 years of helping couples and individuals professionally, I have discovered that crises affect us far more than we are usually aware. The impact of the crisis, whatever it may be, must be dealt with if we ever want to find hope.

The impact of this particular financial crisis continued to build, and in many ways helped me see our recovery process in a new light. I began to notice some interesting responses that helped me identify with what Steph was struggling with in recovering from my affair. Every time I encountered a reminder of my business, I experienced an emotional firestorm. Each time I drove by a location where I had worked I would emotionally flood. If I ran into someone with whom I had previously worked, I became overwhelmed with feelings. There seemed to be reminders everywhere and I continually had to battle my emotions.

The trauma experienced by a couple upon the revelation of a betrayal is no small matter, and it creates an emotional firestorm that has to be dealt with by both parties. To be sure, the initial stage of healing after an affair is about grieving. For the betrayed spouse the pain of the losses is overwhelming. There is the loss of self-confidence, the loss of the life they thought they had, the loss of their dreams, the loss of security, the loss of their belief in who their mate was, and the list goes on. Loss has to be grieved, and the stages of grief cannot be avoided. There will be anger, bargaining, and depression, but ultimately there comes a point of finding meaning and acceptance in what has occurred. The act of grieving does not, however, resolve the issue of reminders. After an appropriate amount of time, how does one move beyond the trauma and back into relationship?

Long after affairs have ceased and the betrayer has achieved sobriety, the battle of the thought life and the impact of trauma begins to take center stage. In many ways, it is this struggle that will determine how quickly (if at all) a couple will be able to recover from a betrayal. Each party has to make a conscious decision to either live in a past hurtful event or to recommit to the marriage and to focus on what can be. This is paramount in healing after an affair and requires a reasonable timeframe. That decision is even more difficult than it sounds because it’s not just a matter of a choice, but rather it is a battle that has to be fought by the will, often for a period of months (usually about 18 to 24 months), and it takes a great deal of motivation to be willing to engage in this daily battle.

For each partner there can be multiple daily reminders of the catastrophic events. For the betrayed it can be a name, the arrival of a cell phone or credit card bill, ads for a topless club, or a betrayal being portrayed in a movie. Even a sighting of a couple having a good time can be enough to send the betrayed spouse down memory lane, which can easily lead to a painful remembrance. For the unfaithful spouse, life is also filled with these reminders. Each time their mate says they want to talk, coming home at night wondering what type of mood their mate may be in, computers, recovery groups, counseling, and many other things can all serve as reminders.

It is at this point that the battle in the theater of the mind begins. The greatest distance known to mankind is the 18 inches between the head and the heart. In fact, it takes up to seven years for truth to move from our head to our heart, but for some strange reason it only takes a lie about three seconds to travel the same distance. Maybe that’s because we seem to fall at 32 feet per second (the speed of gravity), but it takes a great deal of energy and resolve to move uphill. At some point in the recovery process, each party has to come to the point where they choose to focus on something other than the betrayal, and to decide that it is not the event that will define or control the rest of their life. There has to be a conscious choice to move ahead.

If you are the unfaithful spouse, you might find this exercise useful. Make an honest attempt this week to list out 40 separate reminders that your mate could have on any given day, which could possibly send them down the path to their personal house of horrors. The reason for this is not shame or condemnation. Rather, it is an honest attempt at conveying your true comprehension of their struggle each and every day. It also is a sincere attempt to convey how you are coming to a greater awareness of their struggle- this can be huge in healing after an affair.

If you are the betrayed spouse and you believe your mate is becoming a safe person and has moved into recovery, then choosing to no longer be a victim of painful reminders would by a good step toward health. Healing after an affair requires a willingness to fight the battle by attempting to focus on what is good and pure and noble rather than focusing on the failure, or the perpetual reminders of the failure.

If you are constantly flooding emotionally, I’d highly encourage you to look into both Harboring Hope (hurt spouses) and Hope for Healing (for unfaithful spouses), both of which target this common problem. Our goal is to see you move into an incredible life of meaning and purpose, and though it may seem far-fetched now, there is hope.

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Comments

Here's another one

For three years...Every time we have sex, I have a flash of what she did with him, the photos I found, little things she said about what they did, or the lies about what they "didn't do". I have very visual images in my head..every time.

How do I extinguish those?

I am a real person who has

I am a real person who has been hurt by lies and unfaithfulness.

How to heal after the marriage has ended

I am the betrayed spouse. After finding out about my wife's affair of over 2 years, I made the decision to try to save the marriage and spent all of last year with her in therapy, making personal changes, taking trips, etc. In the end, she had fallen in love and so we decided to divorce and she is now living with him (out of state). They are planning to marry in the next couple of months. This has had a devastating effect on both me and our children. Her mother and sister who both still live in my area, were supportive of me at first, but blood is thicker than water and they have chosen my ex. So I have decided to cut off contact with them. I have a flood of emotions every day and sometimes it is difficult to function. Any ideas on how to deal with this situation?

Great article, Rick. I agree

Great article, Rick. I agree with you 100% on fighting the good fight and battling through it if both spouses are committed to the marriage. Took me 12-14 months to really accept that a different or better past was not an option after my wife's second affair. What I did realize at this stage, and it was transformative, was that God had allowed something in to my life that I could not manage or control and therefore I was forced to finally submit to His will and let go. I had to accept and humble myself that I was powerless and that by only turning over complete control, could I then get through this and possibly save my family. I came to understand that God allows this suffering in to our lives to further us along our journey and relationship with Him. I can honestly say, looking back on it now 15 months post DDay, that I don't for a second wish it had never happened. Had I not had to go through this nightmare, I know I wouldn't be as close to God and truth as I am today. Thanks Rick, your emails have been a blessing!

I can't do the last paragraph

How do I know he's safe? He lied to me too many times. Shouldn't the betrayer agree to make amends? I've asked to move away from here and we would, but reluctantly.

I do not know why people

I do not know why people become so dependent on the behavior of another in order for them to heal. Work on healing yourself first if you mate is willing to help great, but if not for what ever reason do not get bogged down. Take a look at what you could have done better before and focuse on making yourself a better mate, and at the same time keep reminding yourself that you are working on the only one you can tonight make oyourself the best you can because why they failed was their weakness and sin and only God can change them. So once you have healed you can then based on their behavior decide if there is enough there to save. If you are unable to feel good enough about yourself that you are not dependent on staying married then you are healed enough to try to heal the marriage. If you think you can not live with out the other you have things you still have too work on. Love is something we decide to share with another and when it is returned it is great but love is not a ball and change holding us in something against out best interest when the other has left. We can not make someone truly love us. We can get someone hooked on us if we wish to do that but true love comes when we are being ourselves we know each others flaws and we are ok with that. Get to know who the real you is, when you can start to feel right about yourself you are on your way to healing. What they did was wrong do not let it control you! This is why true forgiveness it really the first step. If you can forgive you can heal if you can not you will not heal and their sin is controlling you. I healed in about 5 months with little or no help from my wife but a lot of help from Christ which is were you can find true love and hope for your life.

Choices

I had the misfortune of having been exposed to an alcoholic and have also been betrayed by my husband. Both experiences have shaped many of the choices I have made. Rick mentions on his post that there is a point where one has to make a choice to focus on something other than the betrayal. Boy did I have plenty of opportunities to make those choices! God must have really wanted me to learn this lesson. I have. I think if I had not had the experience with an alcoholic prior to my husband's betrayal I would have had a harder time understanding the "addiction to the affair," how finding a hidden bottle is like a trigger, that it is a waste of my time/effort to try to monitor someone 24/7 (if they want to stray they will find a way). I choose to: Be present and live in the present, to stop looking "for hidden bottles, or hidden evidence," be responsible for my choices and behavior, improve myself, and strive to fulfill my dreams. My advice to the betrayed: Choose to live a happy life.

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