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

The Importance of Wisdom Following Infidelity

"Now I get it," an angry spouse shouted at their mate.

I doubt it, I thought to myself. I was speaking with a couple that, after infidelity, had been working for five months to understand the "why" of the affair.

While trying to explain the dynamics of the relationship and the frequency of contact with the affair partner, the betrayed spouse concluded, "You obviously never loved me. I never did anything to hurt you."

The wayward spouses rebutted, "Are you serious? You were so controlling. I had no voice in our relationship; everything had to be done your way!"

"Well, at least I was always honest with you ... " the betrayed spouse's words lingered in silence. They were at an impasse again.

I was confident that the truth fell somewhere between their two subjective realities. Unfortunately, the trauma and pain created by the infidelity had left them both blind to reality. Neither could see a solution because of their own self-deception.

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What Self-Deception Looks Like

In the midst of the crisis caused by the infidelity, one or both partners often revert to the same thought and behavior patterns they were doing before. They are blind to the larger reality of how they got there as they attempt to try to solve their dilemma using the same thought process that brought them to their point of crisis.

The following passage from "Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box"* by the Arbinger Institute reveals a sad reality for many after infidelity:

"An infant is learning how to crawl. She begins by pushing herself backward around the house. Backing herself around, she gets lodged beneath the furniture. There, she thrashes about, crying and banging her little head against the sides and undersides of the pieces. She is stuck and hates it. So, she does the only thing she can think of to get herself out: She pushes even harder, which only worsens her problem; she becomes more stuck than ever.

If this infant could talk, she would blame the furniture for her troubles. After all, she is doing everything she can think of to break free. To her, the problem couldn't possibly be hers. But, of course, the problem is hers, even though she doesn't see it that way. While it's true that she's doing everything she can think of, the problem is precisely that she can't see how she's the problem ... nothing she can think of will be a solution."

This is what self-deception looks like. As they explain, "It blinds us to the true causes of problems; and once we're blind, all the ‘solutions' we can think of will actually make matters worse."

Self-deception can not only keep us stuck, but it can also:

  • Distort our reality about ourselves and what happened with our marriage.
  • Influence our views and opinions of others for the worse.
  • Hinder our ability to make healthy, helpful, and informed choices.
  • Negatively affect our overall sense of happiness and the happiness of those around us.

As Albert Einstein said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Doing more of the same thing that helped create the problem won't solve the problem. It sounds so simple, but essentially, we're limited in what we know.

I once heard wisdom defined as three simple words: "I don't know," and humility defined as two simple words: "I can't. The person capable of uttering these two phrases is at least open to new possibilities!

How to Combat Self-Deception

The greatest contributors to self-deception are pride and shame.When someone won't listen, it's almost always pride. Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who's really proud? Usually, it's impossible to make your point because they already know what needs to be done and why your idea won't work. While their way may be a good way, is it the only way?

Proud people are often incapable of seeing another way of doing things.

When working with someone who believes they know every solution, I normally start my points by inviting them to "consider the possibility that ..." To phrase my suggestions any other way results in defensiveness. Good people can fall into an unhealthy state of arrogance. It's really important to recognize it before it does damage to you and everyone around you!

We know that when we aren't aware of our own self-deception or have blind spots created by pride and shame, it can keep us stuck in self-defeating patterns.

The solution to self-deception is simple enough: compassion and concern. Failure to view others through these two lenses leaves us blind to our contribution to the problem as well as our role in the solution. It's not healthy to get what what we need from others and then view them as the problem. Instead, we need to consider how our behavior contributes to the situation. The solution to pride is wisdom and humility. Being willing to consider "maybe I don't know" or "maybe I need more than me to get out of this" allows me to think of others and consider other possibilities.

How to Find and Maintain Freedom

Some of you might be asking what this has to do with infidelity, but please hear me — it's terribly important. Pride and self-deception can strike either partner. When we betray another or someone betrays us, we typically think we know what needs to be done. We think we know what's needed to feel better. The problem is the strength of our reaction to the pain or shame is the very thing that can blind us to what we need to work on or change.

Whether you're the wayward spouse or the betrayed spouse, I encourage you to keep an attitude of compassion and concern for your mate. This will help you maintain some balance in how you view them.

After infidelity, take time to remind yourself that you might not know what's best, and that you might not have all the answers or the ability to do it all yourself. This mindset can open up a world of new pathways for finding a new life after an affair.

If you don't know where to turn, I hope you'll join our community at Affair Recovery. If nothing else, at least consider joining our Recovery Library. If you're looking for freedom from not only self-deception but pride as well, I hope you'll consider the possibility that you might need a new, expert-driven approach. Our EMS Weekend is a safe place for you and your spouse to start a new beginning with guides who've gone through this before, a supportive community of other couples currently walking similar paths, and a robust, research-based curriculum.

Hope for Healing registration opens soon.

Designed specifically for wayward spouses, Hope for Healing is a supportive, nonjudgmental environment for you to heal and develop empathy. Over the years, this 17-week, small group course has helped thousands of people find hope, set healthy boundaries and move toward extraordinary lives.

"I just finished Hope for Healing and am proud of the changes that I already feel in myself and my marriage. I found Affair Recovery when I was at the darkest point in my life, and this course has helped me to get myself on a true path to recovery." - S., Alabama | November 2020 Hope for Healing participant.

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I know both of us are, guilty

I know both of us are, guilty of this but I do not know how to stop it.

It takes 2 very brave people

It takes 2 very brave people to be able to discuss what needs to be discussed in affir recovery. A counselor who is willing to work with each of you to navigate the necessary discussions would be effective. Effective and careful communication of important issues can do much to restore intimacy...ironically... Trusting each other to be mindful and respectful in the discussions, proactively addressing what might be a concern, understanding triggers are unexpected and very painful, understanding and being patient with withdrawals, moodiness, etc... Understand you are building a different relationship - not the one you had when you first fell in love romantically. I've been told by other survivors that it is deeper and worth it. But - It takes 2 trustworthy, committed people!


Hindsight is 20/20 for both parties. Looking back, I would have better supported my wife and helped her to feel more secure in our love and my need for her. She would certainly have communicated her fears, avoided low people and never let herself be with another man. It does take wisdom to move forward from the affair, but I'm struggling to move beyond it. Nearly two years and though the pain of it has lessened due to time, forgiveness is still not forthcoming. Is it just possible that someone cannot get over the betrayal, the deceit and the physical affair of a spouse? Like others, I'm tired of the fight in my heart and mind. I'm weary and want to give in, but my mind fights it off....but I'm tired of living with this. Maybe I'm just not strong enough to get over this.

It has been 7 years since I

It has been 7 years since I discovered my husbands affair,after 21years of marriage. The pain has lessened and I have tried to forgive,but to no avail. Yes I do believe that it is possible that someone cannot ever get over the betrayal, the deceit and the physical affair of a spouse. I met my husband when I was fourteen and we dated for seven years before we were married. At the time of my marriage I truly believed this was my soul mate. In the 21 years we were married, before the affair, I never once doubted my husbands faithfulness or trustworthiness to me. Well, wasn't I the fool to be had. In one moment everything the marriage was built on came crashing down. We have tried to build it up again, but I cannot even start with the foundation in fear of it falling down again. We did seek counselling from several counsellors and that did help, but only short term. I no longer discuss or even mention the affair since there is no more to be said and yes I am still married , now 28 years.

I am over 7 years out from

I am over 7 years out from Revelation. Up to that point in my marriage, I would tell people that my husband was the nicest and most honest person there was. All that was destroyed. I believe that I forgave him but it is reconciliation that has not yet taken place in our marriage. Isn't reconciliation a large part of his responsiblility? He just wants it to go away. Always a job change for him or some other kind of chaos in our lives (created by him) to force the focus off of the healing and growth. What do you do when you're stuck and the unfaithful spouse isn't interested in doing the necessary work to move forward?

This saddens and scares me. I

This saddens and scares me. I just found out after 24 years of marriage my wife was unfaithful right before our wedding. Similarly to you, we have been together since age 15. We have 6 children. I too held her I high regard despite difficulties with her anger throughout our marriage. I am struggling to find forgiveness and peace 2 months out.

Sounds just like my story

We were married for 29 years. He had a “love” affair for a year without me knowing a thing. He acted distant towards me but I never in a million bazillion years ever thought he’d cheat on me physically and emotionally. We are close to celebrating our 34th anniversary. It has been 4 1/2 years since I found all the loving texts & emails how he couldn’t wait to get out of his painful situation and be with her. He said such romantic things to her that I never heard. He swears he doesn’t know why, midlife crises maybe. He never meant anything he said to her. It wasn’t real, just fantasy. He has been the perfect husband since then. Very attentive, transparent. But not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. My heart is still broken. I trusted him with all of my heart and he stomped on it. I hate that I can’t forgive and forget, but I can’t. Affairs are all over tv in every book I pick up. I hope you can get thru your hurt. Ii feel like I am one betrayed spouse that will never get over it. We also saw several counselors and like you, it helped for awhile, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

I know how you feel

I have the exact same mental struggle and wonder if i can ever forgive and be happy with my unfaithful husband. I don't know the answer yet but pray God will give me the wisdom to one-day know. I too am tired, mentally, physically and emotionally. You are not alone

I am in the same boat as you

I too cannot seem to get past the deep pain and unhappiness my fiancees betrayal left within me. We’ve both attended counselling together and Individually but I still cannot seem to find the happiness I need. I dont want to give up on my 9 year relationship but I also don’t want to live like this any longer, life is too short !
I believe both parties need to do their work and have honest, vulnerable communicate, at all costs, to truly build safety and allow the the relationship to repair. If the betrayed spouse is putting in more effort to mend the relationship and work through the hurt then something isn’t right! Trust is something that is earned! And when it’s broken a little more effort is needed than in a relationship that didn’t experience betrayal. Personally, because my spouse does not put in effort to initiate tough conversations that will help repair our relationship, it leaves me feeling the relationship is not worth it to him and I need to move on. I understand it’s challenging to initiate difficult conversations but after so much pain, counselling and time something has got to give. Trust is the one thing that takes a lifetime to build and a second to destroy. And now we have holes in our heart because of it. They can be mended but everyone’s path is different. Follow your instincts ( not anxiety or fear) and let your heart guide you to the happiness you deserve. You are not in this boat alone # betrayal sucks

Marriage Support

These recent articles address many of issues that my husband and I are experiencing. (pimping tenderness, 5 simple steps that will protect your marriage, How Wise are You? Lack of Safety in the Relationship.....just a few. We are 20 years out from counseling with you. It appears as if most of the articles focus on the importance of the first months/years. I don't know if there are common issues/lapses that other couples tend to experience after many successful years. :) We began experiencing issues about 8 years ago. He began drifting away from the boundaries that he placed up. I spoke with him about this many times and each time he said he would put the boundary back up. The boundaries continued to slip away. ex. meeting with women at work alone to keep up on office gossip behind closed doors and many times taping paper up to cover the windows. Several of these women give me that deer in the headlights look and avoid me. Red Flags for me. He said they are 'just friends'. And when these women needed a listening ear who did they come get? Phone calls, emails, private meetings in rooms alone over and over again. I asked him what he would do if one of them made an advance? Oh, he'd handle it when that happened. Isn't this like playing with fire? It makes me wonder if he has forgotten what we went through. Most days after the discovery I would of preferred to have died than feel the pain. When the boundary lines loosened it triggered off overwhelming feelings as if I am reliving the past all over again night and day. Sweats, sleepless nights, shaking, high blood pressure, loss of appetite... The continuance of these issues has taken its toll on the marriage. He is mostly closed to articles that even mention affair recovery....".that was in the past".... "you should've been over it along time ago"..... If we discuss that part of our past he most often goes into a suicidal depression and talks about leaving. Little desire to share details of what/who is going on in his life...."he doesn't feel like rehashing it"....."don't ask" .."if something changes I'll tell you." I recently asked for his email accounts and passwords ..he did give them to me .. but he looked at me like...really?? that's why we are here....looking for hope and help. God Be in our Marriage......

Boundary Violations

Wow. I feel SO badly for you! 20 years and back to struggling with the basics again. I wonder how many other people are that far out from betrayal, yet still finding their marriage relapsing? As you said, most articles here deal with the earlier years, which obviously aren't the end of the story.

Only 3 years along here, and no substantial healing or true reconciliation yet because (as I put it to him) not enough of the "right things" have been done to bring about much healing, and deeper issues raise their ugly heads every week but aren't resolved. But one of those right things, earlier on, had been my unfaithful's agreement to put some boundaries in place. But now, some that he instituted himself, he is trying to undo, as if some arbitrary time period of his own vague choosing had expired and I should be "fine" with their stoppage, and as if he's "proven" himself worthy. He's spoken as if he's forgotten HE was the one who initially suggested them, and as if *I* was the one who forced them onto him, when I simply welcomed them. (clear blame-shifting) Meanwhile, he still throws in my face that "we both know" he's NOT trustworthy. So why on earth would I ever agree to lifting boundaries that help me feel a wee bit more secure? It's hypocritical insanity! Some other agreed-upon boundaries/rules he broke right after making them, and still argues against following them...I believe because they are the more "public" rules, which someone might question him on. So, there is still that unspoken attitude that implies I "should be past this by now" because "I haven't done anything wrong" (of late), despite me having cautioned him early on to NEVER try to rush me into healing.

So yes, I get your triggers and how they toss you right back into "yesterday." Our bodies' cells don't forget, either, unless we're TRULY healed from all the trauma. And yes, it IS playing with fire to lightly dismiss these concerns or protocols. People like this do not introspect or face themselves, when really, they should not be trusting *themselves* to do the right things and therefore SHOULD be following tested protocols like clockwork.

I also receive the threats of leaving me flat (and sneakily starting to walk out the door within minutes), and often over the slightest of arguments, so I definitely do NOT feel at all safe yet. And like you, I often have to press for daily or weekly info or sharing, making me feel I'm not even a part of his waking life. I can't trust that if anything does happen that involves any of my biggest fears, that I'll ever hear about it, though we had talked about those kinds of scenarios and what I wanted from him then, early on. I'm quite sure any slips would become yet more secrets I'm not allowed to know about.

Every article or video I've shared is all 'forgotten' in an instant, or maybe never even heard in the first place? So how is healing ever supposed to begin, much less last, with people who are that self-absorbed? How depressing that perhaps I can take 'comfort' from the fact that in another 17 years I might be dead and rid of all this pain, or have just walked away from what seems like a hopeless battle.

You stepped on my toes

Thank you for this insightful call to truth.

I can understand the dynamics

As far as my situation is concerned it falls on deft ears expecially lyaing on the fact that he won't read or listen to this acticle after 19 mo of no progress or healing. I understand he is hurting and that he feels hopless enough to say he is moving out like today. I stumbled on this article as i was walking myself through this site as if i was brand new. Rereading article once read early on. It brought on a whole new meaning to most of what i favored and now i can completely relate to what message is being sent. How can i get him to do the same. I found it informational for myself yet i think he can gain some insight in why and whats occured between is. He might even have some insight on his own behaviors yet that is not why i wish for him to re visit this. I'm going to email it and print it out in hopes he may give it the time of day to re read. Once what we found interesting enough to favorite. Great article. I wish i revisited this alittle sooner. I'm afraid it may be too late.

Knowing How Dumb I Am Doesn't Make Me Wise

I don't know that I'm wise, but I know and understand how dumb I was with the porn and the emotional/online affairs.

Wow and not a good wow

Well having read the comments trail I am actually feeling less crazy! I thought it was just me who hadn’t ‘got passed it’, worked it all out. I’ve felt that I am somehow deficient because I have become a mute in my relationship.

I have asked him to work on himself to identify what he wants to change, apparently nothing - he left her and that’s that! (A 4.5 year double life). He flies into a rage when I ‘call him out on searching her profile online etc. Then I get days of silence until he wears me down because I can’t live in a house with someone who doesn’t communicate.

He has lied consistently - not only throughout cheating but about everything that happened in his affair. It gave me no safety point to start building from. He believes that because he says he can’t remember major things like holidays they went on (which he can but won’t), I should just move on. So now I don’t mention it. I have become the mute stepping on eggshells so as not to cause his anger. I’m not scared of him - he isn’t violent towards me physically. Just feels so sorry for himself that he should have to deal with this irritation of healing that has gone on for almost 3 years.

I believe today will be it. Reading these comments I can’t bear to think of more years wasting time trying to get someone who broke me help find the glue to fix us. So I am going to get it over with. Stop the waiting for him to heal and move my life to a place where I can heal alone.

Sad because there are so many things we did right together. But those things have died or are dying mostly due to his behaviour since dday rather than actually because of the affair itself. I now see that he enjoys manipulating me.

I can’t continue being this shell of myself. Surely alone is better than a facade of ‘being together’

(Edited by admin on 2/24/22)

Wisdom is a gift we give ourselves

We have been married for 32 years and have raised 4 children. Our marriage always seemed happy, to us and others, so it came as a shock when my husband admitted to having an affair for several years. After many hours spent talking (and yes... some marathon discussions) it finally became clear to me: my husband and I don't think alike. That may seem obvious, but for me it was a revelation. His life experiences and his perceptions were brand new to me at the point of discovery. But with that new revelation came the realization that I couldn't have all the answers myself - and neither could he - because we had never seen life through one another's eyes. It has taken many months of discussion, plenty of tears and patience, individual counselling, couples counselling, reading and learning to try to understand what happened. I was finally able to forgive my unfaithful husband, though he is still unable to forgive himself. When it comes to wisdom, I assume I don't have all the answers and that maybe the answers are out there somewhere, if I have the tenacity to look for them. Our relationship has been renewed and we are enjoying a completely different and improved marriage. Will I ever forget? No. I have survived and I choose to wear my scars as a reminder that I can never take for granted that my husband and I are two different people who love each other very much but don't think alike.

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