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

How to Prevent Relapse: Healing After an Affair

A couple of years ago, Steph and I went canoeing with friends on the Guadalupe River. It was a picture-perfect spring day. Wildflowers streaked the banks in a kaleidoscope of colors and spring showers had the river running high. We stopped for lunch on a grassy bank and soaked in the beauty. All agreed it didn't get any better than this. It was the perfect day…or so we thought.

We Never Saw It Coming

The next day my skin began to break out. Not just a little ... A LOT. I've known for years that I'm deathly allergic to poison ivy, which is why I normally spot the stuff at 100 yards. But on that day I missed it. I had it all over me, and that's no exaggeration. I never knew a man could itch so much. While I realized scratching off the top layer of my skin was the worst thing I could do, there wasn't enough willpower in the world to keep me from scratching and spreading the stuff. Eventually, I ended up in the hospital with anaphylactic shock. I'm incredibly grateful for steroids.

Now before you start feeling sorry for me, I need to confess that my allergy to poison ivy has been one of my greatest blessings. While that may sound absurd, it's not and here's why: I get to witness far more of God's creation than most. This condition causes me to be highly observant and present when I'm in nature. I see more; I enjoy more; I'm aware of more. Without the gift of my poison ivy allergy I would have never experienced as much beauty, because I would have never been as present and aware.

At times, I may envy someone like my son who doesn't have to be aware of certain plants when he's romping in nature, but I guarantee he only sees a small fraction of what I get to witness as I walk through the woods. Looking back, my poison ivy allergy has become a gift - not a curse.

Will Power

Likewise, relapse prevention and healing after an affair are very similar. It may sound like the typical "the glass is half full" analogy, but it's not. I don't mean to oversimplify the effects and pain of infidelity or relapse. But there are similarities to the poison ivy analogy that are worth mentioning.

Last week I was reminded of my misery when a woman shared about her husband's anger two years after ground zero. He just couldn't understand why, when she knew it was wrong and claimed she didn't want to do it, she still carried on with her affair.

He's not alone. I can't tell you how many unfaithful partners have asked the same question. They genuinely didn't want to do it, and yet they still ended up doing something they didn't want to do. Not only that, they felt there was no way this could ever happen again, because they had no hint of a desire to do it again.

Let me say without hesitation that all affairs are not the same. This article does not apply to all people, but it does apply to those who continue to do what they don't want to do. Life after an affair can be fruitful, but it's important to understand the "why" behind the urge to relapse on some level.

The Addict

For those without addictive natures, it's difficult to understand the insanity associated with their mate's behavior. In their world, if they don't want to do something, they simply choose not to do it. It's that simple and clear cut. For the addict, however, it's not that simple. Addictions are far more like "Poison Ivy." It's more like an itch that has to be scratched, which makes healing after an affair even more difficult. Not everyone has this insane reaction to circumstances or substances like the addict. The difference is in the intensity of the urge.

Imagine you, like me, have an intense rash brought about by an allergic reaction; maybe you can understand how difficult it is not to scratch when that urge is intensely persistent. Now before I go any further, I want to be clear that just because someone has that intense urge, they absolutely do not have an excuse to act out. Alcoholics say that one drink is too many and twenty isn't enough. It's the same for those surviving infidelity who have sexual or relationship addictions. The point of choice is whether or not you pick up the first drink. Once the response is set into motion there's a reaction that makes things difficult indeed, if not practically unstoppable.

"I'll Never Ever Do It Again"

Relapse prevention isn't a matter of deciding "I'll never do it again." Instead, it's far more like staying out of the "Poison Ivy." Rarely do I meet a person who intended to cheat on the day they got married. For most, they never imagined they could be unfaithful to their mate and for even more, they never had a plan to resist the urge as they couldn't fathom they would ever fall out of love with their spouse. They had no idea that if they were exposed to certain situations they'd develop an itch that demanded to be scratched.

If you've already committed to be faithful but wound up being unfaithful, then the simple commitment to not do it again will never be sufficient and is quite frankly naïve at best.

If you've ever done something you don't want to do, you need to accept that you're more than capable of doing it again; true healing after an affair depends on it. If one's will power was not strong enough to prevent the affair from happening in the first place, why would that same will power now be able to prevent it from happening again?

Living In Light of Addiction

I know that I'm deathly allergic to poison ivy. Having accepted that fact, I make sure I avoid all contact with that plant. I live in a way that keeps me safe. I know for certain if I spend time in an environment where that plant exists, eventually I'll break out in a rash. Once I break out in a rash, I no longer control what's going to happen. All I can do at that point is try to treat the symptoms. My son, on the other hand, could spend the night rolling in poison ivy and have no ill effects. His immunity allows him freedoms I simply can't afford to have.

My only point of control is making sure I don't have contact in the first place.

Here's the rub: acceptance of my allergy, as well as my addiction, provides me a way to protect myself. I'm not normal, but I am blessed, because it's also brought me disciplines that allow me to live an even fuller life, aware of my weakness and what my consequences will be should I act out. Accepting this fact makes life after infidelity not only more bearable, but also gives way to real change and personal growth.

It's the same for those who have fallen after beginning to heal from an affair. It's not only the hurt spouse that has trouble accepting the reality that their mate can't just stop. Even more dangerous is the unfaithful mate who once again believes they would never do anything like that again. Both need to come to accept the condition and to learn to see the blessing and safe guard that condition brings. For me, my addictions have forced me to be far more consciously aware of God, others, and life. It's the very thing that's taught me about love, relationships, and grace.

The only way to assure safety in healing after an affair is acceptance. If those who have been unfaithful can swallow their pride, release their shame, and accept how they are and how they naturally respond, then they can protect those they love by doing whatever is necessary to avoid future trouble of any kind. At the same time, they will experience far more of what life has to offer.

If you or your spouse are looking for comprehensive relapse prevention, I'd urge you to consider Hope for Healing for the wayward spouse. Click here https://www.affairrecovery.com/product/hope-for-healing for more information and insight into how we care for individuals looking to prevent relapse.



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If she were to relapse..

I have a simple response to this discussion.

If my wife were to relapse, at all and in any way, after all that has happened, the damage, the pain and all that we are going through in our attempt to recover...then there would be no more chances.

plain and simple, it would be over.

Relapse Prevention

I have to look at how it started and protect myself at all costs. I.E. no facebook, no twitter, I only am friends with women. I rareley go anywhere without someone  with me. If I feel a vibe from a man I exit immediately. Check my motives constantley and allow my husband to check my phone records texts and e-mails. Like addiction first rule NO CONTACT even if that contact is to be mean to my AP. Let's face it "The whole thing was a lie" and no good can come from it. I am constantly aware of the tremendous pain my husband is in and do not wish that to be rekindled by something stupid. I have a urge to straighten people out and have to remembr they are afforded the same grace I recieved. Besides that my AP has moved on to flavor of the month 3-4 times in 4 monthes that dude does'nt even remember my name. So why give him free rent in my mind over a fantasy and a LIE. Lesson well learned. I thank God every day that my husband is still willing to work things out and did not kick me to the curb as he should have.



I will not tolerate this ever again. I've worked extremely hard in this recovery process. We've been going to counseling for over a year and half. I've endured pain like I have never felt in my entire life. The grief is indescribable! I'm with the person who posted before if my husband ever relapses there will be absolutely no more second chances. I couldn't go through this again. I just started crying to day out of the blue over this affair not out of anger just grief. This is his second chance and if he relapses he will relapse without his wife this time. He can find another support system.

I have come to be fully aware

I have come to be fully aware of my triggers, addictions, and what would make me fall. Knowing these and having several accountability partners has helped tremendously! My husband and I help each other by checking in with each others lives ... thoughts, words, actions. We "call" each other on things we know will not uplift or encourage our marriage. It IS difficult, but needed. One must have a plan in order to move forward and stay on the path.

It may be naive, but though

It may be naive, but though I'm aware of the possibility of my husband's relapse, I'm pretty comfortable in my choice to believe he will not fall so easily again.  It seems he's known he's prone to addiction all his life.  Because his father had a drinking problem (and his mom's 2nd husband, also) he's never had a drink... ever- not even a taste.  His affair was with a coworker -who no longer worked at the same place when the affair began- and it was heavily facilitated by texting. (btw- any chance of a newsletter addressing technology enabling affairs so effortlessly?) He had never texted much before.  Within 2 months he went from maybe 1/2 a dozen texts/ month to over 9000!  (not a typo)  During one heated exchange I pointed out to him that he was addicted to the 'newness' of the relationship... no baggage, etc. that clearly he had an addictive personality and cited the number of texts. Now his phone is in the drawer when we're home and rarely turned on when we're out.  He absolutely recognises the tendency.  That recognition is powerful knowledge.

sexual addictions/affair

My husband cheated on me almost 3 yrs. ago. We are still seeing a counselor (3rd one). He has yet to admit that he is addicted to porn and masturbation. Says he is not looking at porn anymore but still masturbates. This has went on through-out are marraige, then finally an affair. It hurts to know I'm not enough. However, I am good enough for me. My husband, is very selfish in almost all things. I've been to Preist, counselors, reading everything I can get my hands on and even did the "love dare" DVD and Book. I do love him and he has told me he loves me quote "the only way he knows how". I'm at the end of my rope. Trying to keep the faith, but tired. I believe we are not moving forward, because he won't admit to the addiction and there is nothing I can do about it. We have spent all of our savings on counselors. That's the one thing that he is still doing. My heart has been broken and I've healed some of it. But when the excuses keep coming, my heart starts breaking into pieces again. I've had to distance myself emotionally again. I believe its time for a seperation. Don't belive in devorse. Anyone who has been thru something similar with this addiction.....any advice?

Thank you for this article

Thank you for this article.  I am the unfaithful one, having gone out on my beautiful wife, and even worse things through the years; and I am slowly realizing that simple will power does not work.  I have an addictive nature to certain things.  I am in a recovery program, but I still have had relapses, even though I swear to myself it will never happen again. 

My wonderful and grace filled wife keeps asking me questions that I still don't have answers for.  I pray that I will be able to help her heal from my horrible behavior, and that those answers will come quickly.  This article helps me to understand a little better my past behaviors, and my past and present relapse issues.  I now am realizing that Satan is behind the complete addictive process, and that only God can keep us safe. 


First how do you fix any relationship if they can't even admit they've done something wrong?


I agree. If there is no accepting and acknowledging that they have a problem....how can even a start to fixing it come?

That is exactly the same

That is exactly the same issue I am struggling with. My husband refuses to even admit that he has done anything wrong. I am struggling to find a way to get back on track other than just ignoring this again and pretending it didn’t happen again. We have been through this cycle many times and I am exhausted from pretending and never having answers and never being able to fix the real problem.

Coping With Relapse Prevention

My husband is a sexual addict.  After my discovery of his affair and porn addiction, I insisted that we get professional help from a counselor.  In addition, I wanted to encourage him to attend meetings where he could discuss his addiction with others suffering from the same problem.  God provided this in the form of Journey to Wholeness, Celebrate Recovery, and Samson Society.  The healing has taken time---he didn't get this way overnight.  In addition to the weekly meetings he has accountability partners who can keep him on track and understand him much better than I.  By being open with those who can identity with my husband's problems has helped him be more open with me.

How to not relapse

This part gives me hope:

"For me, my addictions have forced me to be far more consciously aware of God, others, and life. It's the very thing that's taught me about love, relationships, and grace.

The only way to assure safety in healing after an affair is acceptance. If those who have been unfaithful can swallow their pride, release their shame, and accept how they are and how they naturally respond, then they can protect those they love by doing whatever is necessary to avoid trouble of any kind. At the same time, they will experience far more of what life has to offer."

I hear what this article is

I hear what this article is saying but there is only so much a person can take when their spouse continues to disrespect and make fools out of them. At this very moment, my wife is planning a rendevzous with a guy she knew from the past who is 14 years older than she is (she's 41, he's 55). She's in fitness competition, just had a tummy tuck, and is now getting more attention on social media than ever. This is after she had a year-long affair with her high school sweetheart five years ago. Even she admitted that she suddenly now has a 'fidelity problem' and told me that I should file and find a new place to stay to prevent from getting hurt even further. Easy to say but to execute with two small kids to deal with, student loans, a car note with five years left on it, and a mediocre income, not so much. Not too many can afford to live after paying rent, child support, utilities, food, student loans, lawyer fees, and other debt created from the marriage that you're on the hook for. She knows this and therefore has no incentive whatsoever to change her behavior. And to dig the knife even further, she even suggested that I find someone at least 5-10 years older than I am (42) the next go-round.

After dealing with this for so long, there is only so much a person can tolerate. You get tired of the lies, her keeping her cellphone next to her while she bathes and sleeps, only to wake up early in the morning to go back and forth texting him while thinking I'm asleep, To anyone dealing with similar situations, I say this; you can't spend the rest of your life going to sleep with one eye always open. You cannot live a decent life always wondering if your spouse is 'relapsing'. You cannot live in continual worry about what he/she is doing while you're away from them and having to always keep them happy to keep them from finding someone else (which isn't hard to do in the era of social media). At some point, you throw in the towel and tap out of the marriage. You do what I've began to do, which is save up whatever loose change you can find for a divorce attorney and a deposit for an apartment. Some may call it rushing into a decision but she made hers years ago when she choose someone else over her spouse. And no husband can compete with a man who previously slept with his wife without having to live with her...

Dejay you will find healing

I read through your post and hope you follow through. I faced this same decision almost six years ago and choose to file for divorce. We tried to reconcile and spent a year in misery. I found myself sinking into depression as he continued to lie and hide his ongoing affair. It wasn't easy but it was worth it once I made a plan to focus on what I could do for me. I still hurt and cried but somewhere in the process I found healing, inner peace, joy, and strength. My life has been forever changed and I am stronger than I have ever been. That first step was hard to take. But from the first call when I told him I had filed, I began to rise and felt more in control than I had in three years. Take your life back!! Praying for your journey.

Self Acceptance

I need to accept I have allergic reactions and recognise the allergen! This makes so much sense.

For me, my allergen has been someone in particular. We were colleagues with a huge age gap (me being the older and supposedly wiser one). I do well for weeks and then another exposure takes me right back to the emotional affair that I had with him. I think it was one sided, so, I lay no blame at his door. Just keeping myself away as much as possible. I need to accept I react badly to this particular allergen.

Wish I can carry this understanding everyday. The image I got from your post makes a lot of sense to me.

Other similar relationships seek to spring up, due to the type of work I do...I just nip them in the bud. Too many times, the dynamics show up early and I know I cant go down that lane with any other person again. Just this existing one that I need to keep tackling and not think I have conquered it!!!

Thank you.

I have an allergy

I really connected with this article as well! Thinking of infidelity as an allergen, one that causes a truly deadly reaction in me, changes my response to it from just shrugging it off as "uncomfortable" or "unfortunate" to actively avoiding it. Accepting this part of me will truly change how I live, just like someone with a severe food or environmental allergy. This is a much more positive and practical way of looking at healing for the unfaithful! Forming a plan to "stay out of the poison ivy" instead of some vague, often half-hearted promise to myself to simply "quit" gives me so much more hope and focus. Eventually this avoidance will heal the deeper parts of me that make avoiding hard. It will become second nature, a pleasure even, to live free of the "allergen", aka addiction.

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