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

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

Why Couples Fail After an Affair: A Four Part Series

Part 1: Not Knowing What Happened
Part 2: Not Getting It
Part 3: Denying Your Reality
Part 4: Not Greiving the Loss

Harboring Hope opens today, March 18th at 12:00 PM Central Time USA. Space is limited.
The wait is over at last. This online course for the betrayed spouse is the help you've been looking for. Please note, it typically sells out in 1-2 hours--don't wait!

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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 three most common 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 than getting everything out.
  3. "UNDERSTAND IT"

    We might even try the "UNDERSTAND IT" mode, falsely believing that 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 to understand in regard to building empathy, learning the full story of what happened, and learning how to heal after infidelity. However, purely 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 messy 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 the age of 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 we discuss 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 surefire 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 them to in order 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 shared some poignant thoughts in one of his video blogs, where he cautions survivors to not 'anger their way through recovery'.

Whichever process you choose 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.

Harboring Hope opens today, March 18th at 12:00 PM Central Time USA. Space is limited.
The wait is over at last. This online course for the betrayed spouse is the help you've been looking for. Please note, it typically sells out in 1-2 hours--don't wait!

Register Now!

Hope for Healing registration opens next week on March 25th at 12:00 PM Central Time USA.
Subscribe to be notified.

Hope for Healing is our online course for the unfaithful to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe Now!

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