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

Why Couples Fail After an Affair: Part 2 - Not Getting It

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: Failure to Grieve

EMS Online opens today at 12:00 PM CST USA. Space is limited.
Your recovery begins with just one step. Enroll today in this life-changing course for couples.
Please note: it typically sells out in 1-2 hours.

Register Now!

A few years ago, I threw my back out. In my wife Stephanie's defense, this was the first time and both of us were unaware of the seriousness. Stephanie had helped me get into bed, called the doctor, and made a run to the pharmacy to get some muscle relaxants. Apparently, the longer I lay in bed, the worse my back got, and when I finally decided to go to the bathroom, I found it almost impossible to get out of bed. Fortunately, I was able to use the nightstand, the door, and the countertop to hold myself up as I inched along. I was quite proud of myself for successfully making it to the bathroom, only to make a startling discovery: I couldn't get off the toilet. I yelled for help, but Stephanie was in the living room talking to a neighbor and was unable to hear me. Because she didn't get the seriousness of the situation, I ended up on the toilet for almost 2 hours.

You can imagine that when Stephanie finally came in to check on me, I was quick to let her know the seriousness of my condition and informed her that we now had a bigger problem since both of my legs were asleep. Her delay in checking on me was the result of her not understanding the seriousness of my situation. I look back on that day with amusement, but there is nothing funny about an unfaithful spouse failing to understand how their actions have affected their mate.

They Just Don't "Get It"


One of the primary reasons couples fail when dealing with infidelity is the unfaithful spouse not "getting it." Empathy is imperative when it comes to healing the wounds of betrayal. When the connecting bond is broken in a marriage, the betrayed spouse experiences something like a primal panic. It's as if someone had struck them in the chest and knocked all of their breath out. Initially, all they can think about is getting that next breath.

When first dealing with infidelity, the thought of placing themselves back in a situation where that wounding could occur again seems ludicrous. Yet, over time (if the unfaithful spouse shows remorse and is willing to do whatever it takes to one day be safe again) they might consider reconnecting. However, one very important step needs to occur before that can happen: the betrayed spouse needs to know that their mate understands the pain the betrayed is experiencing and that their spouse is grieved over what their actions have cost the betrayed. Anything short of that leaves the betrayed spouse wondering whether or not their mate really cares or even wants to care.

Early on, what we call the ‘want-to variable' is vital. If they want to get it and want to get healthy, it will provide a safe foundation to slowly but surely move forward in hopes of eventual restoration. There are no guarantees in the pursuit of restoration; however, there are markers you hope to see if there is going to be forward momentum in the recovery process.

Why The Betrayed Keeps Bringing It Up

Until the betrayed spouse believes their unfaithful spouse "gets it," they experience an internal pressure to keep talking about it until their mate understands. Many unfaithful spouses interpret this behavior to be a tactic to shame them, torture them, or manipulate them. The betrayed spouse actually has the opposite intent: they continue to ask questions in an attempt to heal their wounds and to actually reconnect again. If the unfaithful spouse will accept responsibility for their self-centeredness and dysfunction early on, their spouse will feel safer earlier and begin to grieve.

Oddly enough, this grief will pave the way to begin the ultimate healing process.

Alternatively though, when the unfaithful spouse remains hardened and self-centered, justifying their choices, the betrayed spouse is stuck and can't even imagine a healthy marriage. It just doesn't feel safe if their mate doesn't care enough to empathize with them and feel their pain. It also doesn't feel safe if the unfaithful spouse continues to refuse to talk about their choices or the impact of those choices on the heart and life of the betrayed spouse. It's human nature to want to know that we exist in our partner's mind, that we matter to them and that they will be there for us. After a betrayal, however, the hurt spouse no longer feels that they are present in their mate's mind. Only the emotional intimacy created through genuine empathy is capable of one day reestablishing that broken bond.

Unwilling To Process What Has Happened

Very often, I come across an unfaithful spouse who tells their mate to just get over it or says, "I don't want to keep talking about this anymore." And, while they may try to take responsibility for what they've done, their unwillingness to process what happened and their unwillingness to consider what their actions have cost their mate leaves their mate feeling paralyzed, unimportant, and unloved. In this type of situation, the unfaithful spouse communicates that their discomfort is more important than the pain their mate experiences as a result of their betrayal. There is hope for healing and reconciliation, but a willingness to try and understand the impact of the betrayal is essential. If you happen to be the unfaithful spouse, I'd encourage you to open your ears and to commit to the long haul of healing. Listen to your mate, and try to understand what your choices have cost your mate. Your willingness to put yourself in their shoes will go a long way in helping them know it's safe to reconnect with you.

While the thought of working through what may be years of hurt, pain and sorrow seems impossible, it doesn't have to be. Our EMS Online course continues to prove itself as a safe alternative to the agony of what recovery looks like without a plan.

I hope you'll consider getting expert help for what you and your spouse are facing right now. After working with couples in crisis for over 30 years, I can assure you, it's not as hopeless as it seems.

EMS Online opens today at 12:00 PM CST USA. Space is limited.
Your recovery begins with just one step. Enroll today in this life-changing course for couples.
Please note: it typically sells out in 1-2 hours.

Register Now!

Harboring Hope registration opens in two weeks on March 18th. Subscribe to be notified.
Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed partners to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe Now!



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


lack of empathy

Once again thank you. Now I get it - why I keep acting the way I do and not feeling safe getting close to my husband or talking to him about much of anything. I realize now that our counselor was trying very hard to get my husband to understand. She expressed how hurting I was, had me write and read an impact letter, that was met with resistance. My husband is continuing some of his solo activity, and I have stopped couples counseling. I am stuck.

Lack of empathy

Wow! Thank you so much for clarity and insight into the situation that I have been dealing with! To say that the unfaithful doesn’t get it is so on point. I have been dealing with this matter for a couple of years and this lack of empathy insight is 100%Accurate! It discusses the thing I have been feeling, and the very things she have been saying. We would basically end up being frustrated and not continuing the conversation or The conversation would get so heated that we had to stop. Usually when I talk to my wife because she was the unfaithful, I feel as though she would divert from the question or pick a issue in the marriage as the focal point. Ultimately not discussing what the real issues are. This article Has enlightened and blessed me to understand the reason why I kept asking question. Because I need the conversation and to heal in this matter so we can build trust and communication again. It’s been three years now and it has gotten better, however there still some unresolved things present. I still be watching over my back and not filling totally safe. I believe it’s because of the non empathy!

Lack of empathy

I'm in the same boat. I discovered my husband's affair over two years ago and haven't been able to move on because I don't feel secure in my marriage. I don't think my husband is continuing any affairs, but he fails to empathize with my hurt and doesn't seem to understand why I am withdrawn at times. His inability to understand how much this has hurt me feels like a slap in the face following a punch in the gut (the affair). My therapist says that if he could convey empathy, try to understand my experience and get individual therapy for his excessive need for attention, then recovery would be easier. I will ask for this once again, but if it doesn't happen, then I feel I've done all I can do and must move on in my own interests.