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

Why Couples Fail After an Affair: Part 4 - Not Grieving the Loss

infidelity betrayal grieving loss

Series: Why Couples Fail After an Affair

Part 1: Not Knowing What Happened
Part 2: Not Getting It
Part 3: Denying Your Reality
Part 4: Failure to Grieve

I hate grief work, as anyone in our office will attest. I think it comes from a one year season in my life where I lost my mother, grandmother, father-in-law, uncle, and the 10 year old son of our dear friends. I was devastated by the losses, but each time I tried to move on it felt like another death knocked me down, causing a sense of utter helplessness. My response to these events was pure rage. The circumstances were beyond my ability to comprehend. I couldn't fix it. I couldn't control it. I couldn't even understand it. Sad to say, I didn't know much about grief in those days; I wish I had. The only way I knew to respond was with anger and rage, which I selfishly spewed out on everyone around me.

The pain after an affair can be as crushing as losing a loved one if not more so. It’s a pain like nothing else we experience.

With the deaths of my loved ones, I experienced some kind of finality. However in the case of betrayal, having to live with the ongoing consequences and corresponding fear of a repeated betrayal perpetuates the trauma.

Typical Responses to Pain After Infidelity


Our current culture has a problem with the type of loss associated with infidelity. We’re expected to be able to overcome any obstacle by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We're taught from an early age that our "can-do" attitude will give us the ability to overcome all of life’s obstacles.

We often enter into “modes” in order to deal with our pain and the most common three I see are:

  1. “FIX IT”

    At this point in our lives we’re well trained in the "FIX-IT” mode and frequently utilize this approach to handle our infidelity crisis. We soon discover that much of the wreckage created by infidelity can't simply be “fixed”.

  2. “CONTROL IT”

    At other times we enter into the "CONTROL-IT” mode, but many aspects of infidelity are flat out unmanageable, and the pain keeps going on. It’s impossible to control our spouse and controlling the flow of information causes more damage in the long run that getting everything out.

     
  3. “UNDERSTAND IT”

    We might even try the “UNDERSTAND IT” mode, falsely believing our capability to comprehend what happened will stop the pain. In the case of infidelity, there are rarely enough answers, and even when answers come they fail to lessen the pain. It’s important to point out here that there is tremendous benefit from seeking understanding with regards to building empathy, learning the full story of what happened, and learning how to heal after infidelity.  However, pure cerebral understanding cannot replace the role that grief plays in specifically addressing and transforming pain.

How Grief Can Transform Our Pain


As Americans, we have little training in the healthy practice of “GRIEVING” mode. It’s applicable to situations that are too messed up to fix, too big to control, and too unjust to understand.

Grief is the only way to deal with loss and pain after infidelity.

Grieving is the soul's primary path for transforming pain and trauma into peace and ultimately acceptance. For many of us though, grieving is a foreign path we might even run from and fight to avoid. Rather than allowing our pain to be transformed, we’ll attempt to manage it or even numb it.  The problem is, we cannot selectively numb only certain areas of life. So we end up becoming completely numb, and that all-consuming numbness results in more collateral damage.

"Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted."

- Richard Rohr

I couldn’t agree more with Rohr's quote. To move beyond a betrayal it is imperative to learn the “GRIEVING” mode. I can imagine the resistance some of you are feeling right now. You might be thinking:

  • How can anything good come out of this?
  • I didn't cause this, why should I have to walk through the pain?
  • This is their issue, why should I have to do the work?

I don’t always know the answers to these questions. But I do know that some situations are so big it’s impossible to find all the answers, and at times we have to go on living without knowing. If there are no good answers, what are you going to do with the pain that feels like death in your soul? How do you handle running into something so horrible that it brings you to the end of yourself?

In these situations, we may be powerless, but we’re not helpless.

We still get to choose how to respond.

This is so important to us that two of Affair Recovery’s “We Believe” statements are 1) Severe crisis can lead to radical transformation, and 2) Failure teaches what success cannot. I can honestly say that my year of death was one of the most painful times in my life, but it was also one of the most transformative. I’m certainly not trying to justify the evil that has occurred in anyone’s life or anyone’s addiction, but for me, every major lesson I’ve learned after age 30 hasn’t been the result of success, but rather the result of failure. If we allow ourselves the grace to process it fully, there is a way for our pain to be used as a catalyst for healing, growth and transformation  

This may surprise you, but a major determining factor between those who go forward with new life and those who remain stuck after an affair is their willingness to grieve the loss.

One of the lectures given at EMS Weekend is titled "Barriers to Recovery" and one of the 6 barriers discusses is "A Failure to Grieve". Below is a portion of that lecture:

Grieving Done Well


Those who go into "GRIEVING" mode may spend months sorting through their grief with tears, pain, and true sorrow, but at the end of their journey they feel refreshed and renewed. I remember one of our mentors explaining how each night after she got the kids to bed she’d go to the bathroom and cry out to God while weeping. While that may sound strange to some, at the end of her season of mourning she was renewed. She worked through the grief and was able to emerge without that tangible sadness, that weight in her soul, dragging down even the best days. Since I began my work as a therapist in 1981, I have never known of a single person who has thoroughly grieved and had any regrets or felt a need to blame anyone. They are free and at peace. When people fail to move forward after the affair, it’s often due to the inability to grieve the loss. Instead of healing from the pain, they try to control and manage the pain which only results in further damage and isolation. You can read her compelling story here.

Untransformed pain manifests itself in some unexpected but harmful ways. Frequently, it's seen as bitterness and resentment. Eventually, untransformed pain makes us toxic to everyone around us, and our pain is transmitted through mistrust, rejection and isolation. We continually play the victim and claim self-protection as the defense for making everyone else wrong so we can be right. Another sure fire way for transmitting our pain after the affair is control. Rather than grieving our pain, we try to avoid it by controlling others in our life. As long as they behave as we need for us to be safe, then we can stave off the feelings we fear. The only problem with control is that it comes at the expense of those we love. We rob them of their freedom by dictating their actions and choices under the guise of "doing what's best for them." In reality, we become self-centered in our attempt to protect ourselves from further hurt.

Untransformed pain is also transmitted through anger. This not-so-subtle approach is about overtly transmitting the pain back to those who have wounded us. Vengeance drives our anger as we become consumed with making the other person hurt as badly as we hurt. But it turns out anger has an appetite of its own, and it's impossible to get it all out. Rather than removing the pain, anger begets anger, and it only serves to amplify the pain as the appetite for anger grows.

Samuel recently shared some poignant thoughts in one of his video blogs, where he cautions survivors to not 'anger their way through recovery'.

Whichever process you chose to work through the pain of infidelity, please do not skip grieving. It’s hard and it hurts, but truly grieving the losses created by infidelity is the only way to overcome the pain and discover peace. For more help on how to grieve while being supported by a tight knit group, a life changing experience, consider the Harboring Hope  course for betrayed spouses.

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Comments

grieving

My question is, I'm now going on my third year of being betrayed by the man of love and always will. I find myself grieving yet. Does this mean I have not processed my grief property, or is it normal to have on going grief?

Grieving

Delphine,
I am in my seventh year since being betrayed. Although I feel like I have forgiven my husband, and I consider our marriage stronger than it's ever been, I still wish the affair had never happened. When I first discovered the affair, I went to a dear friend who was about 20 years out from her betrayal who told me not to think it was ever going away, because it never goes away. I thought that was a real downer, but I get it now. The memory never goes away. The pain gets to be less and less, but the knowledge remains, just like when someone you love dies. I think the key is to grieve the loss of our old marriage and then allow ourselves to enjoy and appreciate our new marriage.

Recovery/Moving Forward

My husband of 22 years divorced me and married his affair partner before the ink was even dry on the divorce decree. I'm having a very difficult time dealing with this. Is there anything available to help move on from this?

Harboring Hope

I highly recommend the Harboring Hope "course". It's actually more than a course. It's a support group designed for the hurt spouse to achieve recovery. Regardless if which direction the marriage goes, the materials are designed for YOU in my group each of us were in different circumstances, but we sure bonded. Check it out. It's a gift you give yourself.

On Grieving

Thank you for this. It has confirmed what I have been going through. I am in the process of dealing with seven years of deception and the six affairs my wife had in various circles of our lives. There have been months where I would spend three to six hours a day weeping, and though we are nowhere out of the woods yet, and still am uncertain about what to do, allowing myself to grieve the loss, for a true loss it is (like a death) has given me personal, inner strength to keep going, and to even entertain the idea that hope might exist. As odd as it sounds, my best grieving would be when I would address my inner self and sometimes even utter words telling myself it was okay for me to let go, okay to cry over my loss. Unlike avoidance, which hardens the surface; grieving strengthens the inside. Seven months into it, I'm down to about an hour a day, and so it will go on until I am past it.

Spot On

Thank you for this article. It has validated everything that my husband, the Betrayed, has been feeling and going through since he found out about my infidelity over 3 years ago. The only solution he feels that will help him is to have me move out. It's not what I want or have been praying for but I am 100 percent committed to his overall healing and if he feels that this is best for him, then I will do what he asks.

Betrayal

My husband of 29 years dumped me last year for a woman nearly 20 years younger than him. He will be 70 next year and I think he has a hard time facing old age. Perhaps this is his way of hanging on to youth. I am devastated and having a hard time dealing with all the emotional as well as practical aspects of this betrayal. I am 64 and not in a position to easily get a job. How do you pull yourself together and learn to live alone after being emotionally dependent on someone for 30 years? I have read all the blogs and articles about grieving and keeping busy and exercising (I am doing all those things) but I keep getting knocked back into despair. How long does it take ?

grieving

I am in a very similar position. After being married for nearly 30 yrs, and being a stay at home mom for the last 21 years, I am terrified. I also have health issues and don't even know if I could physically handle a job, IF I could find one after being out of the work force for so long. The only thing I feel qualified to do is answer a phone. I feel like I haven't been denying the grieving process, but maybe I'm still missing something. We are divorcing, his choice not mine. I don't know how to get past the loneliness of living alone. It's impossible to explain how I feel. I cry nearly everyday even though he moved out 18 months ago. I feel "emotionally homeless" and terrified about financial problems that I will have once the divorce is final.

How long

It has been 18 months since Dday. I have grieved since day 1. I am still in the grief mode. How long does the grieving go on? There are days I am all "cried out" but still feel like I have a bag of stones in my heart. Other days I cry almost all day. This seems too long to be stuck in this stage. Shouldn't I be able to get past this by now? I am so tired.......I feel so empty, except for the all-consuming , ever-present sadness..........

How Long?

Someone above mentioned giving up on the idea of being completely healed, of forgetting. I don't think there was a big day that I decided to heal, but a gradual struggle to move beyond my painful memories. Those memories sting terribly, so I choose not to dwell on them as much for myself (& friends & family).

It's been over a year for me and it was a very rough day emotionally. Optimistically tomorrow is another day. Pessimistically tomorrow is another day of pain. Realistically tomorrow is another day of struggles and accomplishments. Overcoming these struggles shapes me as an individual and living through such a traumatic event honestly makes me stronger for future struggles. (It sounds optimistic but the pain puts life into a new perspective when you allow it.)

Seeking Relief

It has been 5 years since my husband had an affair with a woman I considered a good friend. All the while they were being unfaithful, they both were tell me how much they loved me. I would love to be over this pain. There were other factors regarding this woman I feel should have stopped my husband dead in his tracks when it came to her and it didn't. On top of being betrayal, I feel he did care because it could have caused me a death sentence. My husband & I are still together but I can't move forward.

Why should an adulterer be forgiven?

Rick, I have read every article since I signed up shortly after I found out my husband of now 16 years became an adulterer nearly 16 months ago. I have read numerous books, thousands of articles and still can't wrap my head around the act of forgiveness being for the betrayed spouse and not the adulterer. I have read the God demands forgiveness, but it needs to be genuine. I have accepted what has transpired, I have no choice, what is done is done. I will never understand it, it will never be justified in my mind and therefore why would I forgive an act (or multiple acts in his case) that should have never occurs? Admitted he should have never broken his vows or commitments. He deliberately signed up on a website to seek an extra-marital affair, he set out to destroy our marriage deliberately, it was her s choice, regardless of his poor communication skills, low self-esteem, etc. He had a head on his shoulder and knew right from wrong and still choose to do wrong, but yet he should be forgiven by the spouse that stood by his side for the four years of unemployment, issues with infertility and hormone imbalances. I still can't even decide if I like this man anymore. All the "I love you" and "I'm so sorry I messed up" don't excuse the behavior of adultery. His therapy, my therapy and even our couples therapy haven't answered the question, "why forgive a deliberate act?", other than becaise the bible tell us to do so.

multiple affairs

I'm not sure if I'm more devastated by my wife's multiple affairs or her unwillingness to discuss them, take responsibility for them, and acknowledge their impact on me and on our relationship. Today we agreed that a seperation is probably a good idea. However, because the most recent of four affairs in the last 6 years became known to me just three weeks ago....I'm in no place to make any kind of rational decision and I'm not certain how to respond to her. Amazingly, she sees a seperation as something we can and should do as friends. I am still numb from the discovery of her latest affair (an online relationship) and feel stupid, depressed and in shock. Any suggestions around next steps?

Grieving the loss

It has been a little over 3 years since D-day. I am still in pain everyday and can not more forward with accepting all the loss this has caused me. While he wants to work on the marriage to this day he still has not answered all my questions, has been defensive and I have caught him in lies to my face while he thinks he is protecting me it does more harm. I understand grieving mode what I do not get is how anyone gets through the grieving mode when there is continuous loss. D-day is not about grieving just one issue in your marriage but multiple losses surrounding your intimate relationship, beliefs, dreams, the safety and security in your relationship you will never have again. Then when life throws at you more loss from deaths, or other tragic events it becomes cloudy what you are grieving. It is like that is all that there is in your world the loss becomes overwhelming. When his actions have not only created D-day and his actions create more life threatening events resentment is so easy to grow. I feel as if grieving is now the way of life for me as it will take years to get through all of the destruction that has been created. It would be one thing if I had done all this to myself instead of being the trusting wife that allowed her husband to carry on believing every word he ever said. Trust is the furthest thing that will ever be restored and to live life in the grieving mode is not a life at all. How much more can one person take, along with having your unfaithful partner minimize the affair and the breakage of all that you hold dear.

Don't know if I am over grieving the loss

So I am listening to Rick's video and I am still not 100 percent sure if I have grieved properly or enough. It has nearly been one year since the disclosure of my wife's 2-year emotional affair with the youth pastor in our church and, while we have been diligently going to marriage counseling almost weekly for the past 6 months and she has been going to individual counseling, I still feel so much anguish and hurt inside every day. A pain that just won't go away, like a misty fog.

It doesn't help that my wife continues to keep her distance is is still so very disconnected from me. We sleep in the same bed, she has allowed herself to be physically intimate, but there is still very little emotional or spiritual connection. She rather spend time alone than together, she doesn't allow me to hold her hand, to cuddle with her on the couch or in bed, to kiss her, to hug her. I know these are issues of hers with me (she found me to be way to "clingy" and "needy" and very insecure and anxious -- which I have been working to not be these things in my personal walk with God over the past 2 years), but it is hard because she still has her walls up with me.

I pray daily and try to just press into God and give my pain to Him to help transform me into a better man of God so I can become a better husband of God. It is so very tough and my wife just tells me to be patient and not put any timelines in place so she can just naturally fall in love with me again. She does not respect me, she does not cherish me and she is not "in love" with me at this point. All she says is she is still here and she is trying to be obedient to God, lifting it up to Him every day.

My patience feels very thin, my emotions still run high, I do my very best to control my emotional triggers as to avoid arguments (which still erupt about every 2 weeks), so I wonder all the time when the shoe is going to drop and she will just say enough is enough and leave. It makes for a very anxious life even as I do my best to turn my fears and anxiety over to Him knowing that perfect love casts out fear.

My key verse is Joshua 1:9 as I try to be strong and courageous while not being afraid or discouraged knowing that God is with me. And if my wife does wind up leaving, I have to believe in my heart that God will be all that I need and He will lead me to a woman that is faithful and will be loving, respectful and cherish the love that I have to give in return. It is so hard because the wife I have now is the one I truly love and want to spend the rest of my life with, but she holds all the cards and all the power and doles out only what she is willing to give.

All the while, I am still grieving what I thought was a better marriage than most had. I treated her like a queen. I treated her better than she deserved. The seeds that I sewed were of love and respect and what I reaped was a bitter, resentful harvest of hate and disconnect. It makes it very hard to trust the Lord when you plant one way and receive another. When you give generously and you reap a venomous snake or scorpion in return. It makes a person very gunshy going forward in life and hard to trust the goodness of the Lord.

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