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

How Does the Betrayed Spouse Grieve Properly?

betrayed 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 Hope online course material. 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 the idea of your marriage
  • loss of your dreams for the future
  • 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.

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.

It is important to understand that grief is not stepwise.

You don’t check off one stage before you move on to the next.

Some of the models listed in grief materials have stages. Others have tasks or phases. 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:

In his model is to 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:

In Worden’s model the goal is to 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.


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



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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))

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.

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.

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!

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