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

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

how unfaithful make amendsRepairing the Breach - Making Amends

How do you convince someone that you’re sorry when you’ve done something that has forever altered his or her life?

As Elton John sings:

What do I got to do
To make you want me
What do I got to do to be heard
What do I say when it's all over
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
 

But is “SORRY” ever sufficient to soothe pain?

In my own recovery, one of the most frustrating aspects of the communication with my wife Stephanie 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 respond with “You’re sorry alright” or “You’re just sorry you got caught,” or “You’re just sorry that I’m mad” or “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 sincerity 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. What is the origin of that desire? Medical science describes this “need for connection” through what is known as “Attachment Theory.” 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.”

The author of Genesis explained that desire for connection results from our being created in the image of God. In fact, the creation story itself culminates with this concept of oneness. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one. The man and the woman were both naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2) 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.

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 your mate  through feelings. To feel safe enough to reengage, your betrayed wife for example, must feel a synchronization of emotions between the two of you, as well as a sense of grief from you for the pain you’ve inflicted. Your wife needs to know you understand the nature of that pain and she needs 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. Remember, this isn’t about you, but their healing and recovery instead.)

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 give serious thoughts to the words you, the unfaithful, use to describe how you made them feel. It can be difficult to find the right words, so give some thought to these words:

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 registration is open and 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. Our EMS Weekend’s continue to fill up fast. If you’re interested in more information you can click here or call 512-879-6326. 

Sections: 

RL_Category: 

RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:

Comments

As the betryaed

It is very hard to read articles about what the spouse who committed the infidelity should do for the betrayed -- or how they should act.

My wife said she became disappointed with me and started to disconnect from our 21 years of marriage about 5 years or so ago. Then, when she was at her lowest and so was I (due to employment and financial circumstances that overwhelmed me during a 4-year stretch), she started going deeper with God. Unfortunately, as a assistant leader in our church's middle/high school youth program, she sought her spiritual guidance from our youth pastor, which led to a nearly 2-year emotional affair that she admitted was her only source of pleasure during our storms of life.

So when I finally exposed this to our head pastor, I thought that my wife would try to make amends. And while she has said she is sorry and has stayed with our marriage as we go to counseling both individually and together, I still have a very tough time with her being understanding and empathetic and truly trying to reconnect.

She has told me from the onset that she is "trying" to fall in love with me again. I understand I was a horrible and angry person during the years of financial and employment trials and that we were having a tough time communicating, but I was not the one who disconnected and strayed from the relationship and chose not to be in love anymore. I remained faithful and committed to my marriage while she made the choice to no longer love me, respect me or cherish me in our marriage covenant.

So now it is incredibly hard to want her to make that choice to love me again. She doesn't want to hold hands, she doesn't want to sit next to me on the couch, she doesn't want me to hug her (she has been willing to be sexually intimate) and she doesn't even want to pray together. She fears that I will resort into my old self that was angry at God (it has taken the last 2-plus years in counseling to get past my fears and to make God my No. 1 in life and not my wife -- which she said smothered her to the point where she felt she had to get away from me during my times of trial).

So now the ball is all in her court even though she is the one who betrayed me. It is very difficult to move on at times and press into the pain of knowing she made the choice to emotionally and spiritually disengage from our marriage. I have forgiven her, but I just hope and pray that one day (it has been 7 1/2 months since disclosure) and she still keeps her distance from me for the most part. And, on top of everything, we have sold our house of 10-plus years and are in the process of trying to move out of state to get away from everything since we both feel uncomfortable staying in the area and since we left our church of 9 years -- that we were so heavily involved in with our 3 children -- since the youth pastor (who has been fired) still attends with his wife and children. So now we are trying to relocate across the country to a place we know absolutely no one -- leaving our family and friends behind -- so we can try and start anew with a fresh slate and prayerfully can heal our marriage and start over.

Praying that some day God can reconcile and redeem this pain and heartache and transform it into something new with Him as the foundation for both of us and that we can some day be a testimony for other struggling couples! That some day my wife will love, respect and cherish me again! That is my prayer!

I am sorry to hear that.

As the unfaithful what you have written helps me to understand the impact of my actions much better. I too did so many things wrong and now almost 2&1/2 years later I'm starting to see the errors of my ways. I really couldn't see my selfishness at the time, I couldn't understand the true impact of my actions, I was mean, defensive, and just down right ugly! It's so hard because now my spouse has pretty much given up. Instead of being completely honest from the beginning, I trickled out truths over 2 years and quite frankly this wore him out. Why couldn't I just be courages and be honest? I know why. Because I was a coward. I only cared about myself and my well-being and I should have been caring about him! Boy did I have it all wrong! I do hope that your spouse sees the light some day! My spouse says it's too late for us but I will spend the rest of my days making amends. I will not give up hope, I will not stop trying, and pray that some day by some miracle things will change. I too hope that the same happens for you! The betrayed are VERY patient people. My husband has shown me nothing but grace and what love really is! He is a person that I can look up to and hope that our children become.

Words are nice but actions matter

Actions count. I did not care much what my wife said to me. When I learned she cheated on me I filed for divorce. She begged me to take her back but I was not impressed until her behavior backed those statements up. That was 7 months ago. We are doing great. But had she not demonstrated her commitment to me and her remorse I would have ended it. We never stopped loving each other. That helped too.

I want to fix what I have done

My situation is much different as my girlfriend and I were not married. We were in a long distance relationship for three years when I betrayed her with another woman. The affair went on for six months before the one that I betrayed her with disclosed our affair to my girlfriend. The affair was on the outs when the disclosure was made so ending that affair was a non-issue. I have since made a full disclosure to my now ex-girlfriend. I am hopeful for a full recovery but the issues are very complicated. My ex has a love interest that she is unsure how she feels about him. Distance is a issue as we are still 1800 miles away from each other. I am doing my best to make amends and we have both been doing a great deal of reading from various articles that are on this site. We have been to couples counseling twice but the distance makes it hard. I have offered to make the move so that we can be closer but I am in a wait and see as it relates to that. I do love this woman and would like to spend the rest of my life with her. How do I make amends with the distance being a large obstacle?

It's Hard

As an unfaithful, I know that my actions has caused my wife to not only believe my apologies, but to say things to me that hurt as well. I do believe that actions speak louder than words. But it's hard at times. I know the damage I've caused and the hurt I have put my wife through. But I keep telling myself that her anger is from the extreme hurt and disappointment that I have caused. And as long as it takes I will apologize, but most importantly I will show her by my actions. This is a great article, and thank you for writing it. It has helped me.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer