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

Healing After an Affair: How do I Address Unmanageability?

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Recently, I was talking with a client about the concept of powerlessness. Something I find to be an excellent antidote to powerlessness and a crucial part of healing after an affair is acceptance:

  • acceptance of my circumstances
  • acceptance that my best efforts have brought me to this place
  • acceptance of my inability to affect change in myself as well as others, and
  • acceptance of who and what I really am.

Acceptance is often the beginning of hope. Until I can accept that I am powerless, I will be destined to continue in my strivings to change that which I have never successfully managed to change. Rather than accept my powerlessness and move on to a new approach, I will continue to live in the problem as I try to improve the situation, which is what I've tried unsuccessfully to do so many times before. I cannot emphasize this enough: our powerlessness is not an excuse. It's a reality, and it's the denial of that reality which keeps me in a cycle of perpetual failure.

After we come to a place of accepting our powerlessness, it's not uncommon for those in difficult circumstances, or dealing with seemingly unstoppable behaviors, to cry out to God for help. We want to be delivered from our personal hell-on-earth that we have created by our own choices. For the hurt spouse, a sense of hopelessness can set in. They may ask, "If it's not about me, and if I can't affect change in my mate, then how can I ever be safe, and how can I ever trust again?" For the unfaithful mate, despair also reigns supreme. They may tell themselves, "If I can't stop, and if I'm truly powerless in the face of my behavior, then it's only a matter of time until life as I know it comes to a screaming halt." What do you do? Is healing after an affair impossible?

If you find that your best efforts at stopping hurtful or self-destructive behaviors (even, perhaps, after a significant amount of therapy or self-help) have resulted in a continued pattern of more of the same, then I'd invite you to consider the possibility that maybe your life is unmanageable. Unmanageability is not a concept about a single pattern of self-defeating behavior; rather, it is a concept that addresses every aspect of one's life. As human beings, our primary problem is pride. We believe that we can do it, or, at least, that we ought to be able to get it right and our mate certainly ought to be able to get it right. My pride makes me believe that there has to be something that I'm good at and something I can overcome when, in reality, I'm just living in a world of denial, believing that my mate and I have all we need within ourselves to overcome life's obstacles.

The antidote to unmanageability has always been and will always be unconditional surrender—not more passionate self-effort, more therapy, or more insight. If I am unable to see and acknowledge the unmanageability of my circumstance then I will never be willing to consider the possibility that there really is a "higher power" that may be bigger than me. If I really accept my powerlessness over my behavior and circumstances and my own inability to manage my life or my mate's life, then there had better be a God who is bigger than me or I'm up the proverbial creek without a paddle. If I'm left to my own ability and I've never gotten it right, what makes me think that I'm going to improve sometime in the future? There had better be a God who can do better than I can or we're all going down, and it's only going to get worse. I'm only fooling myself if I think I can change on my own or that my mate can change on their own. Healing after an affair is much more tangible once I realize this, as it creates space for me to reach out and get the help I need from qualified professionals with personal experience in this journey, those who know the ins and outs of my trauma.

The source of continued relapse always comes down to an inability to surrender. I will never be willing to do whatever it takes to recover if I believe that my latest course of self-effort or a fresh understanding of my motives will somehow propel me to a new way of acting and relating. It may, for a short season, result in temporary change, but even that change only reinforces the lies that I can change, that I can do it, and that I don't have to fully surrender to a Power that is greater than I am. I believe that if you honestly review the course of your life, you will notice a perpetual pattern of failing to get it right. The crazy thing is, we address healing after an affair very similarly. You will always be able to find an excuse as to why the latest attempt to get it right failed. Sadly, that excuse will usually fall at the feet of a family member or a loved one, but, in the long run, the only common denominator is you. But it doesn't have to remain that way. The inability to accept the unmanageability of my life only postpones what I need most, which is absolute surrender to a loving God who can do that which I have never, or will never, be able to do.

Healing after an affair is possible. Our research shows that 85% of couples who have attended the EMS Weekend Retreat or the EMS Online Course report saving their marriage at the one year time point after participation. We can at least show you the way to help put your life back together, maybe even in a way you never thought possible. If you are the betrayed spouse, I recommend taking the Harboring Hope Course. It's a 13-week course filled with expert guidance and a supportive community.

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. 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!

"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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Unfortunately, although this article relates a vital truth, my unfaithful husband continues to use his dependence on God as an excuse to not face his ongoing denial of need for help. We continue to have communication issues. He calls me angry but fails to change what I am angry about (his failure to maintain regular counseling, and a host of ignoring important matters in our household, and horrible name-calling when HE is angry)! Leaning on God is a vital step... But it is not the last or single one. Action towards reconciliation - as if the life of your children depended on it is.

Seeing people reconcile and

Seeing people reconcile and have better marriages AFTER an affair, how can you not believe in God? Not only God, but a God of Grace and Forgiveness. I am only making it through this pain because of my relationship with Christ. I don't see how people get through this without a personal relationship with Christ.


I had to read the video because I watched it twice and was lost. I agree with the turning everything over to God for healing.

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