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

Hope For Healing Excerpt: How Does The Unfaithful Make Amends?

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How do you communicate to someone that you're sorry when you've done something that has forever altered his or her life? The following is an excerpt from our Hope for Healing course for unfaithful spouses.

In my own recovery, one of the most frustrating aspects of communication with my wife was her unwillingness to accept my apologies. Time and time again I would express remorse over what I'd done. But each time I'd tell her I was sorry, she'd usually respond in one of four ways:

  1. "You're sorry alright."
  2. "You're just sorry you got caught."
  3. "You're just sorry that I'm mad."
  4. "You're just sorry about what this is going to cost you."

I felt insulted.

Couldn't she see my heart?

Didn't she know how sincere I was?

One thing is for certain, I'm a slow learner. It took me years to figure out that saying I was sorry, as a way of making amends (which, by the way, had never worked in the past) was never going to work.

How do you communicate your sincere remorse over the pain you have caused and help pave the way for healing?

The root of this issue is found in our desire for connection.

Medical science describes this "need for connection" through what is known as Attachment Theory.

Detachment Dilutes Empathy

From the perspective of this theory, we are hard wired for connection. It seeks to explain why an 18-month-old goes into primal panic when their parent leaves the room or why adults begin to flood emotionally when their mate uses "that tone of voice." Oneness is another word for being connected, attached, or as we put it, married. This need for attachment is woven into the very fabric of our DNA. It is as important to us as air and water, which would explain why solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments given to humans.

Without attachment, we eventually go insane and die. It is the intensity of this need that drives our desire for meaningful relationships. It is the essence of romance and much of what we all love. The loss of that connection leaves us gasping for relational air. This theory plays out every time a toddler begins to panic when their parents walk out of the room. Psychologists have labeled this reaction as attachment distress.

We adults are no different. We long to know that we matter to our mate and that they are there for us. Something as simple as a tone of voice, or the rolling of their eyes, can trigger that same flood of emotion experienced by the toddler. It's as if disconnection from those most important to us knocks the relational air right out of us. At that moment, we all experience that need for connection, but rarely does it feel safe to reengage with the one who knocked the wind out of us.

A Protocol For Reconnection & Remorse

I remember an incident in high school where my little brother slugged me in the solar plexus, effectively knocking what seemed to be every molecule of air out of my lungs. As I lay on the floor straining to get my first breath, I remember him laughing in triumph because he had finally laid out his big brother. His laughter stopped, however, as I coaxed air back in my lungs.

He began running for his life, locking himself in the bedroom. I'm not proud of my response, but in a rage I put my fist right through the door. I do wish that I could have seen the look on his face as he saw my fist come through the door, but I guess that is his portion of the story to tell.

While that incident may sound extreme, it is nothing compared to what I've witnessed couples doing when one of them has felt disregarded, discarded, or disrespected by their mate. The impact of infidelity is particularly brutal. Similar to the incident with my brother, the person who's betrayed frequently finds themselves stunned, gasping for air but certainly unwilling to trust the person who just devastated their life. At that moment of detachment, it's as if we can no longer feel our existence in our mate's mind. It takes a significant amount of assurance before most people will feel safe enough to once again let their mate in. To regain a sense that they matter requires you to reconnect with her through feelings.

To feel safe enough to reengage, your betrayed spouse must feel a synchronization of emotions between the two of you, as well as a sense of grief from you for the pain you inflicted. Your spouse needs to know you understand the nature of that pain and they need to know that you are committed to making sure it never happens again. Betrayed spouses may in fact retaliate in kind so you can feel what they're feeling.

They may get desperate, begging you not to leave them. Or they could get so depressed that they can no longer function. Maybe they go in to savior mode trying to guard their family. Regardless of their response, they all need the same thing. They need to know that they matter to you, that you are grieved over what you've done to them, and that you care and are committed to making sure this never happens again.

The following is a simple tool for reconnection with your mate. If you're willing to place yourself in your mate's shoes, this simple process can truly help facilitate a new sense of connection between you and your mate.

The following is an example of how to use the H.U.R.T technique.

Hurt

Tell the other person what you did to hurt them. (Don't explain why you did it or what your intention was. This isn't about you.) On Dec.18th – Jan 15th, 2009 I was unfaithful to you. I had an affair with another woman. I shared intimate details about myself with this other woman. I also shared my emotions, body and time with her. I chose to share these things, me with her for this time, instead of sharing with you. I abandoned you, your love, and my commitment to you. I spoke only anger towards you when I chose to talk to you. I did not tell you I loved you. I made plans to leave you without your knowing. I blamed you for the way I was feeling. On Jan 6th I deceived you by lying and having my affair partner lie to you. I chose to live the secret of my affair instead of ending it. In the end of Jan the truth started coming out, but it took me 3 months to do it. I controlled the flow of information because I was ashamed. I did not want to admit these things to you because I did not want to hurt you. I lied again and again to make myself look better, how ridiculous! You believed me and I shattered your trust. I betrayed you and I shattered your heart.

Understanding

Tell them how you think it made them feel and then legitimize their feelings. You must be feeling disgusted, worthless, unimportant, unloved, distraught, ruined, embarrassed, humiliated, inadequate, scared, confused, angry, devastated, worried, ashamed, alone, dismissed, undesired, uncertain, unappreciated, foolish, insecure, numb, betrayed, miserable, untrusting, disrespected, destroyed, dirty, unwanted, hurt. You have every right to feel this way and more. I know I would; I would be worse.

Remorse

Express remorse for your actions and how it makes you feel about yourself. There are not enough words to describe the remorse, sadness and emptiness I feel for treating you in such a cruel, undeserving manner. I was wrong to do the things I did. Regardless of what I've said, you've done nothing to deserve this. I feel ashamed, dirty, unworthy, hurt, untrustworthy, disgusted, angry, disappointed, sickened, empty, and lifeless for treating you and our love like it was nothing, meaningless.

Telling your mate how you feel about yourself as a result of your actions is the step that provides significance to your words. Simply saying I was sorry in no way reflected grief over what I had done to my wife. However if my actions and words reveal that I'm not only taking responsibility for my hurtful actions, but that I'm also upset with myself for having wounded her, then she can sense that I feel as strongly about what has happened to her as she does and her need to get me to understand is eliminated.

Time

Tell them you know this may take time and they can take the time they need to heal. Also you can request that they give you time to address your issues so you can avoid doing this again. I will be patient for as long as it takes you to heal. I will be here to do anything I can to help you regain ground towards a great future. I will also be working and changing me so I can grow and be aware of my vulnerabilities and myself. I pray that one day you will be able to forgive me for committing this wrong. People respond more to how we feel about them than to what we do. If you want to heal the breech created by your failure then let you mate know you care. I'd suggest you use this list of feelings as you describe how you made them feel: Lonely, dismissed, unimportant, frustrated, helpless, on guard, uncomfortable, scared, hurt, hopeless, helpless, intimidated, threatened, panicked, rejected, like I don't matter, ignored, inadequate, shut out, alone, confused, lost, embarrassed, ashamed, blank, afraid, shocked, sad, forlorn, disappointed, isolated, let down, numb, humiliated, overwhelmed, small, insignificant, unwanted, vulnerable, worried.

Hope for Healing is a safe place to heal for the unfaithful. Without shaming techniques or condemnation, Hope for Healing provides insight on how to find and display empathy and humility, while gaining a deeper understanding of how you've found yourself in this place as an unfaithful spouse.

Hope for Healing registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.
This online course for unfaithful spouses fills up quickly, so don't wait! Discover how a supportive non-judgmental environment paired with expert content can provide life-changing hope, clarity, and healing.

Subscribe Now!

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Response to the list of feelings to describe how the unfaithful

My wife was the unfaithful she has said many of the things on the list are the things i did to cause her to have the affairs how should i respond

What type of affair was it?

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