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

How Does the Betrayed Spouse Grieve Properly?

"It is hard to have patience with people who say, 'There is no death,' or 'Death doesn't matter.' There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible."
- CS Lewis


Below is information taken directly from our Harboring Hope1 coursework.

We hope it provides an example of the type of recovery work betrayed spouses do while pursuing healing.


Our society does not deal well with grief. Grief is the normal reaction to loss, but because our culture does not handle it well, you may have never learned to deal with your own grief or with the grief of others'. You may have unresolved grief from earlier losses that you haven't dealt with. Even if that is not the case, you certainly have your fair share of grief in your current situation. You must start by realizing that it is normal to feel grief after betrayal.

Betrayal is loss.
It is actually a whole list of losses.

Recognizing the losses associated with your spouse's betrayal and letting yourself grieve are critical to your successful recovery. This is true regardless of whether there is reconciliation in the marriage or not. As we said above, the discovery of infidelity results in numerous losses:

  • loss of the person to whom you believed you were married
  • loss of your dreams for the future
  • loss of the idea of your marriage
  • loss of emotional safety in your marriage
  • loss of trust and confidence in your mate
  • the loss of hope for your marriage and/or future together

The experience is much the same for you as for someone who experiences the death of a loved one. However, your loss is much more complicated in many ways because you may have little or no support. Your type of grief falls under the category of "disenfranchised grief," and is therefore more challenging to navigate. Disenfranchised grief is connected to a loss that is unrecognized by society at large. It is the loss of something that people may not know about, or even if they do know about the betrayal, they might view the hurting person judgmentally. You may have shared your loss with a few trusted friends. However, you may have not shared your loss with anyone. You might feel as though people would look down on you and see you as somehow deficient. Not sharing your loss may feel safer, but it is not beneficial for your recovery. Trying to avoid it will only prolong your recovery.

Finding hope many times comes through finding new perspective for our pain and trauma. The cost of grieving infidelity is something the betrayed spouse does not necessarily have a choice about. Still, we believe it is important to consider what the betrayal has cost—not just you and your children but also your spouse.

Remember, grief is the normal reaction to loss.

Please do not try to stay in the marriage and move on without considering your pain and your losses and allowing yourself time to grieve.

What is Normal Grief

The way we grieve is affected by many factors: the family we came from and the way grief was modeled; our own history of loss; our basic personality and gender; our relationship; the magnitude of the loss; our particular culture; and whether we tend to be more thinkers, feelers, or doers. The way we have grieved previous losses affects how we approach the losses associated with betrayal. Trying to avoid it will only prolong your recovery. The way we grieve is affected by many factors. Some come from families in which tears were not acceptable—or worse, they were punished. Others of us may come from traditions where it is okay to be sad, but only for a brief time. Many feelings are normal as we go through grief, but our emotional comfort level with them is connected to the families we come from more than anything. Grieving is an individual experience; there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people grieve by crying openly without embarrassment. Others cry only behind a closed door alone. Some people grieve by "doing." They are not avoiding their feelings but rather expressing them through actions. Many people grieve through anger. Often misunderstandings among family members spring up because people don't grieve the same way.

Grieving is not linear; it does not always happen in a step-by-step manner. Some of the models listed in grief materials have stages. Others have tasks or phases.

It is important to understand that grief is not stepwise.
You don't check off one stage before you move on to the next.

The grieving model we find most useful was devised by a man named J. William Worden. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross also has a five-stage grief model. However, the model you use does not matter as much as your active commitment to allowing yourself the time and space to grieve.

Worden's Model Worden's model uses "tasks", instead of "stages" or "steps", because he believes that grieving must be a proactive process:

The first task:

Accept the reality of the loss. Shock, numbness, and disbelief are usually experienced initially after a loss. Many times others mistakenly look at someone in shock and think they are being strong. The emotions that come after the shock and numbness wear off can feel like a huge wave, hitting the person in the face,—one they never saw coming.

The second task:

Work through the pain of grief. Normal feelings include sadness, anxiety, anger, isolation, loneliness, guilt, relief, and even feelings of craziness, and/or hallucinations. What usually occurs after the pain sets in is a bouncing back and forth between overwhelming feelings of betrayal and moments in which the individual goes back into disbelief and numbness. We believe this is God's grace, keeping one from experiencing the enormity of all these feelings simultaneously. This part of the healing journey can take some time, so we advise you take a few key steps:

  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Enjoy the moments that are not filled with overwhelming pain while recognizing it takes a while for the pain to truly get better.
  • Seek expert care while you're grieving. Knowledge is a form of power for you.
  • Find community. Our courses are an excellent source of support for your unfolding journey

As mentioned before, grieving after the discovery of a betrayal is complicated. It is not a normal sort of grief. It is a stigmatized or disenfranchised grief. Please seek out those who will empathize and not bring judgment. Remember that our culture is not very good at accommodating those who are grieving. We actually make few allowances for pain or feelings anyway. We are a pain-free, death-denying culture, and as a result, an individual grieving even a death may get only a few days off to deal with what has happened. Someone who is grieving a betrayal does not get any time off at all. It can be hard to function. Sadly enough, you may be in a position where you have to educate those who love you as to what you need.


If you'd like to find community, consider our Harboring Hope course. You can also find support and expert help for your recovery by joining our Recovery Library. It's a monthly membership, on a 'go at your own pace recovery' without having to commit to a year or six month sign up package. Simply take it month by month as you find help for grief and direction for your recovery efforts.

  1. Hardie, Leslie, LCSW, and Haney John Mark, PhD, LPC. Harboring Hope. Austin: Hope for Recovery, 2008. Print.

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Comments

Grieving

You wrote this for me. Thank you. 9 weeks into the journey through pain, after 28 years of marriage.
Feeling as though something sacred has been torn from me and I'm bleeding.....
My husband and I are gleaning so much comfort and knowledge through Affair Recovery.
Bless you for your support.

21 years in and this is

21 years in and this is exactly how I feel. It's been 5-months since I first found out something was going on, but only about 2 months since finding out more "truth." He says there is "nothing else," yet I am still skeptical. Somedays I feel I cannot go on in this marriage and other days I know I cannot be without him. I want off this emotional rollercoaster. I will be fine one minute and then hysterically crying the next. I hate this mess.

You are forever changed. This

You are forever changed. This is a fact. But God holds you still in his arms. He has good things for you in your future. But just look at one day at a time and find a good friend that will be there for you when you can't think of how you will finish the day, will give you many hugs and tell you how great you are doing. It is horrible. It is hard, so sorry for you and your loss. ((hugs))

4everchanged

How do you drop the wall and believe there is “nothing else to the story” or they are being truthful with even themselves .... we are in therapy and he is working on himself but a set back of just that where I found out “more” to the story after being repeatedly told there was “nothing else” set me back to day one. Getting hurt repeatedly during this process is the hardest thing ... I just don’t want to get hurt anymore and mentally can’t. That constant feeling that the shoe is going to drop ... does that ever end?

I can totally relate to what

I can totally relate to what you said, and I think it is a very very common experience. "Trickle truth" is a thing, and you are absolutely right---it does set you back to square one. About 7 months after the initial DDay, when my UH was about to start "Hope for Healing", he finally confessed his last confession. It has been about 15 months since that day, and I'm just now starting to feel like there are no more shoes to drop. I know that seems like a long time, but I really think that the mantra that it takes at least 2 years to heal from infidelity is very true.

Some boundaries that I set for myself in the meantime, to help protect myself were: 1. Letting UH know I wasn't going to live with someone who wasn't working on their own healing through either counseling, classes like Hope for Healing, EMSO and the like. I was prepared to ask him to leave if he didn't do that. 2. Asking him to be willing to undertake an infidelity polygraph We had other lesser boundaries, like the 24-hour rule (any incidences of his troubled behaviors needed to be confessed within 24 hours, and use of travel plans etc.

But, the whole process is painful, takes time, and yes, that feeling can end if you both pursue healing.

Thank you for your input.

Thank you for your input. Trusting in God to get us through all of this. It’s the most painful thing to go through without having some kind of faith.

I agree with you; I'm not the same.

Gone are my innocent, romantic notions of love and marriage. When the person you thought was the one you'd grow old with cheats on and lies to you repeatedly, you feel a tremendous sense of loss and mourning for your marriage because that original union is dead. I have decided to stay married for the sake of our children but the trust is not there, and the pain still is. Sadly, I am now a skeptic at weddings because I feel if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. I've become bitter and jaded about love and marriage, and I am so mad at them for taking that from me.

I can relate

I’m brand new to discovery. Friday will be a week. I know the exact emotions you’re feeling. I love him and want this marriage to work but next moment I’m so mad and unsure. Trust is completely lost. To make things worse, I had to rush him to the hospital Monday. Turns out there is a mass in his brain and going for a biopsy. I’m so empathetic to his needs and what he’s going through and can’t confront him more than I did last Friday. So for now, I’m holding all in.

Follow up

I am curious as to how you made out?

It still hurts

I'm 1 year and 2 months into the pain of betrayal. We're working it out and staying together, but there are still days when it will hit me and it hurts like the day I found out. I'm looking forward to the day that I can think on it without feeling so much hurt. I've had good days and I learn to enjoy them, but the bad ones sneak up too.

Hey. How’re you feeling these

Hey. How’re you feeling these days? :)

grieving comment

as always, this article did not disappoint! i'm 18 months into discovery, restoration & transformation of a 25 year marriage. There are still days when i unexpectedly get hit head on with thoughts, reminders or 'sadness,' and thus far, haven't been patient with myself. I guess i have felt that the sooner i "get over this," the better I will be.
I have grieved the loss of my eldest son, he went to Heaven 12 years ago at the age of 22. This grief feels much different & the wound is jagged, ugly & disgusting to me - whereas, grieving for my son was a more natural process which people around me understood (as best they could).
I love the part where you said that the "betrayed can be viewed judgmentally!" this absolutely happened to me! Of the few women i told, i included the women in my church life group & a few of them came at me with criticism of how i was handling the situation! I was shocked at their behavior, since i was the one betrayed & needed support & love. Those relationships will never be the same.
Thank you for your ministry. These articles have given me so much hope, support & education on a subject i never ever ever thought I'd be dealing with.
I am going to be more patient with myself. My Lord has been so loving, gentle & gracious with me - we (my husband and i) have sought our Lord ravenously & I credit where we are now all to HIM! He showed me he wanted me to forgive & walk this path of restoration & our marriage is now better than it ever was - but it has taken much effort & hard work - but all worth it!
Thank you! another great article to glean from.
ps/ i am shocked at how women keep this sin such a secret! No one wants to talk about it. At times i have thought about starting a recovery group for betrayed women.

I can relate to you Janice. I

I can relate to you Janice. I am 2 yrs from and a 24 yr marriage. We are happy to be together and happy that God showed us the way.
Yet, I have not many who know what I have been through, I have suffered through it alone, recovered on my own and still feel that I may have things I have not worked through, all because it is a grief that I carry by myself. A group would be wonderful. We have not been able to afford much councelling or the programs through this site.
Praise God you have had the Lord through this.
Blessing,

Grief compounded

I'm glad to read this article, but have been hit with a double, triple whammy. Last year, I had two miscarriages, and during the second was when my husband started cheating on me with one of his coworkers. At first, when I didn't know about the infidelity, I wasn't grieving my babies because I figured we'd just try again. And then he said he didn't want to try again. And I didn't know why.
Now I know, and it's so hard to grieve not only him but also our little ones. I work in a retail store that sells books on pregnancy and parenting, and the women who come in just remind me doubly of my losses.
I wish I knew what to do.

One year after disclosure

It has been a little more than a year since my wife was caught and exposed by me and finally disclosed her emotional affair of two years with our church's youth pastor she was working with. Those first few months were a whirlwind of emotion -- crying, nightmares, couldn't listen to any songs because they all had a history, couldn't even think straight about the previous 20-plus years of our marriage, wondering if there was in hope for a new relationship because I no longer knew the woman who had disconnected with me for the previous 5 to 6 years during some turbulent circumstances in life that included two bouts of unemployment for me and bankruptcy.

Now a year later and she is still with me, she is doing individual counseling and we are both in marital counseling. It is still very painful and very hard at times. She is still disconnected to a large extent with walls up against me that she rarely lets down. I love her but struggle with her still not connecting with me since she is the one who betrayed me. No hugs, no kisses, no cuddling on the couch or in bed. It is a very hard relationship to process right now.

Still wonder, at times, if our marriage is ever truly going to be new and redeemed. If God will reconcile us together. I know I can only change myself and that only she can press into God herself for a change of heart and -- I pray -- one day will come to love, respect and cherish me. I am crushed in my heart by the betrayal and, even though she has shown improvement in certain trust areas I had with her during the affair, I still am very skeptical about giving her my heart and being that vulnerable again. She has proven she is untrustworthy with the love I have given her for 20-plus years and continues to stay disconnected in the two areas she knows speak love to me -- physical touch and positive affirmation (she never says anything positive or affirming to me -- has always been very critical and it has crushed my spirit throughout our marriage).

Thank you for any prayers!

You also need to have your

You also need to have your wife checked up by a clinical Psychologist, she may be suffering from a mental disorder such as Covet Narcissist. She may be suffering from a pain beginning from a childhood experience and being intimate is too much for her

6 years since d-day, divorced, and still sad sometimes

I think that the sadness may dissipate, but it can come back anytime. It just comes back less and less often. I don’t think it ever truly goes away if you were married for a long time and were surprised by the cheating.

4 1/2 years since DDay

I can relate to these messages and grief is a long windy roller coaster that you wonder when it will stop and you can get off. It does slowly get better but the sadness does come and sometimes when you least expect it. I just honour those moments and cry for who I was then, the losses of family, my best friend, confident, trusted partner and lover. We did not get back together and he is still living with his last affair partner. What is most hurtful is to see them together but that is getter better as well. I have done the work but no one understands that feeling deep in your heart that is so hurtful and at times the question “why”. But I know too well from being here and reading and doing my work that it isn’t about me. Did I contribute, yes but I have apologized for that and forgiven him for the three affairs over 18 years of marriage. I need to heal me so I can move on with grace and dignity for what I honoured in our marriage and how much I loved and gave it my all.

In the middle if it now...

This is my story, only I was married for 29 years, in the process of divorcing now. He filed last August, but is now dragging it out. That certainly hasn't helped my grieving process...ready to move forward.

I am hoping to get to a point where I can smile, trust, and love again. I just want out now so I can start to live (recover) my life...again.

And, you are right, I can live my life with the dignity and integrity I have always had. He has to live with himself and the multiple affairs he has had.

Grief recovery

Are there more stages? I assumed there would be more information as to how to gauge emotional healing.

Where we are.

It has been almost two years since I discovered three years of emails, which depicted in great clarity, the day-to-day affair. My wife fell for a campus police officer in Kansas City and together they destroyed everything in his squad car and his office. He was even proposing marriage, should this ever be found out. Since our May D-Day, we have engaged several counselors. Unfortunately, I have reached this point where I must let go. My health has begun to diminish. It will fracture the lives of my beautiful children, and I will most likely be blamed for the decision. Eventually, a drowning man gets tired. Sink or swim, but no more treading water. Thanks for the post.

Smiling on the outside while being torn apart on the inside

20 years of marriage and I am a year and 8 months in and still feel like I am crazy on the inside. I have never in my life felt like this and I can't figure out how to make the lead weight I carry in my stomach go away and how to truly feel some happiness again. I'm actually starting to wonder if this isn't what breaks me. I was a super happy, laughing, rarely down person before this and now I'm mostly numb with bouts of rage and sadness with this smile on my face to hide it all.

I am you

You described me in your post. I am getting ready to leave. I feel as though feeling numb and detached is a blessing. I need to move on because his addictions have invaded my real husband. He is in denial. I guess you really dont know what things people are dealing with in their lives. Be kind

I am only 7 1/2 months in

I am only 7 1/2 months in after finding out that my husband had on ongoing 3 year affair with a woman less than half his age. I am experiencing the same feelings that you are. :(

Grieve

I am almost 7 years out from the discovery date. I decided to stay in the marriage and work things out. My biggest issue now is trust. I still do not trust him and I can't seem to get beyond the hurt. He never really "came clean" when the affairs (with multiple women, all who worked for him) over a three year period were discovered and for me it was like peeling an onion to get to the bottom of what had actually happened. He would say there wasn't any more.....and then there would be more. I actually had him take a lie detector test which he failed twice and because of an irate husband of one of his affair partners had to file a police report as the irate husband was threatening to rape me and my daughters. Very ugly stuff. Very scary stuff. I still think about it every day and cry in the shower (unbeknownst to him) almost every day. I am a two time cancer survivor as well. We moved and I now work in the office with him.....so I can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't embarrass our family again. He swears he is now completely devoted to me, (and all indications are that that is true) but I can't get over the trust issue and the ongoing sadness. Yes, forgiven.....but also now I understand better the true character of the man I am married to. Been through Affair Recovery and it was VERY helpful, but still would love to know how to get over the trust and sadness issues.

hi KPD, have you read our trust document? it may help

here is the trust document we have that may help move you at the very least, a bit further down the road my friend. I hope it helps you:  https://www.affairrecovery.com/shocking-truth-about-trust

Betrayers Need to Learn to Apologize Correctly

My husband never apologized the way I needed him to. In counseling I would tell him this and the counselor would ask me to tell him what I needed. I said “there is no way I would ever do that.” My husband did try hard enough to figure it out. His famous words “Can’t we move forward?”
Now, after 3 years...I am moving forward..without him.
Betrayers, figure out what your spouse needs. She/He didnt deserve or ask for this pain.

Amen 100 percent

My wife's two-year emotional affair was exposed 3 1/2 years ago and I went through the same exact thing as you. In counseling, my wife would always say it took two of us to make this marriage fall apart. Sure, I admit I was going through some very hard times dealing with losing two jobs in a couple of years and needed her support, but I never ever wanted to escape with an affair as she did.
And just like you said about your husband when it came to counseling, she has never even come close to attempting to apologize correctly. Saying "I"m sorry" does not cut it. And now she says she has made restitution. Like HELL she has. She hasn't even come close to reconnecting as I just grieve what I thought was a pretty good marriage. The audacity to even say something like that just blew my mind.
I can totally relate to your line, "Betrayers, figure out what your spouse needs. We didn't deserve or ask for this pain." I've been too nice of a guy for our entire marriage and if things don't start turning around SOON, I will be joining you, Troe, in moving forward without her.

3 years out

I'm three years out and divorced 8 months. This seems to be a long long haul. I have grieved and grieved and while the pain is not as disorienting now, I find that I am depressed and exhausted as if I have been on a tread mill for years. This divorce and single parenting, and financial ruin as a result of divorce due to infidelity still feels like a crushing weight. The losses to my emotional self are still heavy! The isolation I still experience is huge and of course people think that by this point, I should be moved on. How? It's crazy how lingering the losses are. I'm sorry any of you are in this place and I am thankful to know your stories and pain. One day at a time.....

Anger/hurt

The hurt is unbearable. That ache in your heart when someone you love has passed. But it isn't going away. I've been married for 32 years. It came out 5 months ago that 27 years ago my husband had a short affair with my sister. I thought I knew in my heart that something had happened but it was always denied. Then it came to light and couldn't be denied any longer. They both came to know the Lord and continued to live the lie after the cross. I can't even go to my church any longer because they both sat there every Sunday and served for so long. Even other family members knew about this. The deception by so many family members and others is unbearable. I have no trust for anyone. So many memories have been ruined. We want to make this marriage work but I honestly have lost all respect for him and at my age just want my life to be over.

Grieving

It's been seventeen months since I discovered my husband's infidelity. We had been married 36 years and after months of probing and some publicity in a local paper on the part of one of his affair partners I discovered that he had been having an affair with her for nine years and also had had shorter affairs with two others. She was a major commitment having claimed that three of her children were his. Testing has proven that one of them isn't his. He bought her a house and handed over large sums of money when she made demands, which she did frequently. My first reaction was numbing shock because he was the last person I'd ever have thought would have had an affair at all, let alone one of such magnitude. The numbness helped me survive because at moments I wasn't sure that I could contain the pain and wanted to end my life. Slipping into numbness and a very good therapist helped me overcome this phase. You describe the various feelings of grieving perfectly. They overlap and at times I have found that I move between feelings of pain, sadness, numbness, hopelessness and sadness again for the loss of the marriage I believed in and the man I loved. I don't know how long it will take for these feelings to subside completely and wonder if they ever will. I've read that the shortest recovery time is two years agree but I imagine that the sadness will never go away completely. I feel I am grieving for the death of my innocent belief in love. It's as if I woke up from a dream and fell into a nightmare that was in fact my reality and that the man I thought I knew deeply was a stranger. We're still together because he was desperate not to lose me and has been doing everything I ask of him to help with recovery but I don't think that I'll ever recover fully. I feel that I am no longer the person I was, the undercurrent of sadness is always there and the scar tissue won't go away. I'm no longer trusting and feel the need to protect myself from any further hurt. It's as if he destroyed everything we built together and I'm still sitting amidst the ruins. I realise that we don't love in the same way, that everything I considered to be sacred he trampled on and desecrated. However, the most important thing I have learned is to acknowledge my sadness, to let it be and to recognise that it is a function of having loved deeply and truly. It's essential to take care of oneself and to give oneself the love and support one would give to a close friend. Thank you for sharing your stories, it's a relief to know that one's not alone.

Recovery is hard

My husband of 35 years had a 3 year affair with a coworker younger than our children. He was the last man who would have an affair. We are working it out. He has been amazingly supportive and other than trickle truth initialy, he has taken full responsibility for his actions. I have not been angry, but continually sad, occasions of sad flooding and I just can’t stop the triggers and visions. I thought I had the perfect marriage. I feel like he stole it from me. He has discovered a lot about himself through the process. He wants our life to be perfect. It can’t be. Nothing can be the same. I just want this tremendous pain to stop.

Saving marriage

Hello
This site has been helpful. I wish I could afford the price for classes. It’s been a year since I found out about my wife’s affair of almost 9 months. She was planning on leaving me. We are trying to rebuild. I have never felt so much pain in my life. Is there any websites or message boards that people can communicate there feelings for
People that have been through this. With my career it’s tough to go public in my area to a meeting so looking for some other form of relief I have so much I would love to get off my chest but don’t want to overload this spot.
Thanks

Free Website Help

First, I think affair recovery does sometimes offer a reduced rate if you really need it.

Also there is a free website called surviving infidelity that is populated by other betrayed (and also helpful wayward) spouses. Look up surviving infidelity on duckduckgo.com as it does not retain search info like google.

I recommend duckduckgo because it doesn't keep a record of your searches.

Can I get to a point where I can be free of pain...

My husband left me for another woman (after having had an emotional affair for several months) the night I got home from hospital with our 4th child. He fell apart and I felt like I was too but needed to stay strong to care for our 4 small children, so I moved 5 hrs away to be near my family. He went way off the rails becoming addicted to many things. He has talked about and also tried to make the break many times, once whole heartedly and failed. I'm at the point I need to get off the merry go round of his life and heal my own heart. He would like to happily stay connected to 2 women. My heart deserves better. He has moved up here to be near the kids and I. My concern is that he will bring his new partner to this town. My kids don't know about her and I've prayed they never would. Is there a point that I can heal to that having her around won't make me feel like I can't cope at all emotionally? Could I become so healed as an individual that I could be almost unaffected by his choices? I know God will restore our marriage, but I have to be ok with the fact that it may be years away from that?

What type of affair was it?

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