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

Healing After an Affair: Emotional Flooding and Reminders

After almost seventeen years of helping couples and individuals professionally, I have discovered that crises affect us far more than we are aware. The impact of a crisis, whatever it may be, must be dealt with if we ever want to find healing and hope for a better future.

Grieving to Acceptance

The trauma experienced by a couple upon the revelation of a betrayal is no small matter, and it creates a raw, emotional upheaval that must be dealt with by both parties. Yes, both parties. To be sure, the initial stage of healing after an affair is about grieving. For the betrayed spouse, the pain of the loss 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, and the loss of their belief in who they thought their spouse was. They also must grieve the loss of what seemed normal, while at the same time trying to find their balance and footing in a strange new world. The list goes on and on. Losses have to be grieved, and the stages of grief cannot be rushed or avoided. There will be denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, and, ultimately, there will come a point of finding meaning and acceptance in what has occurred. The act of full acceptance will never totally mitigate the issue of reminders, yet peace and a fulfilling life is possible! So, after an appropriate amount of time, how does one move beyond the trauma and back into relationship?

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Long after affairs have ceased and the betrayer has achieved a sense of humility, compassion, and in some cases, “sobriety,” the battle of the thought life and the impact of trauma begin 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 the betrayal. Each party has to make a conscious decision to either live in a past, hurtful season or event, or recommit to the relationship and focus on what it can be going forward. This is the most important factor 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 a battle that must be fought by will, intention, and a clearly defined vision, often for a period of months or years. It takes a great deal of fortitude and tenacity to be willing to engage in this daily, ongoing battle.

For each partner, there can be multiple, daily reminders of the catastrophic event. For the betrayed, it could be a name, a song, a scent, the arrival of a cell phone or credit card bill, ads for a topless club, or infidelity glorified in a movie. Even a sighting of a married couple having a good time can be enough to send the betrayed spouse down memory lane and into a dark place. For the unfaithful spouse, life is also filled with these reminders. From their mate saying they want to “talk” to using computers, attending recovery groups, or coming home at night to a spouse who wants to ask them questions about where they've been, this can be a very unsettling and triggering time for the unfaithful spouse as well.

It is at this point that the battle in the theater of the mind begins. The greatest distance known to mankind is the eighteen inches between the head and the heart. In fact, did you know it can take years for truth to move from your head to your heart, but only seconds for a lie to travel the same distance? At some point in the recovery process, each party must come to the point where they choose to focus on something other than the betrayal and the reminders of that betrayal, and decide instead that the betrayal event will not define or control the rest of their life.

There must be a conscious choice to move ahead.

A Helpful Exercise

If you are the unfaithful spouse, you might find this exercise useful: Make an honest attempt this week to list forty separate reminders of the betrayal your mate might experience on any given day—reminders that could possibly send them down the path to their personal house of horrors. The reason for this is not to shame or condemn you, but rather to help you gain (and express) true comprehension of your partner's struggle each and every day. This can be hugely impactful in the healing process for both of you!

If you are the betrayed spouse and believe your mate is becoming a safe person who is focused on their recovery, then choosing to no longer focus on your status as a victim would be a good step toward health. Healing after an affair requires a willingness to fight the battle in a little bit different way. You see, focusing on what is good and right and working on the failure (or the perpetual reminders of the failure) is going to be most effective for your future healing and overall relationship health.

Recovering from infidelity takes time and perseverance, but it is possible to forgive and build a new life — either as a couple or as an individual — that you'll cherish. And you don't have to do it alone. Become a part of our healing community today.

Harboring Hope registration opens soon. Subscribe to be notified.

Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe to Registration Notifications!



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Thank you. I needed this today

God sent this to me at a perfect time. Ty.

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