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

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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 relaxers. 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 two 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. 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 they are 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 Spouse 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 is experiencing 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. EMS Weekend 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.



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Wayne I watched the video on spouses not getting it. We are already 4 years past the confession date and I still hate him so much I cannot open up to any idea of reconciliation. He has told me what happened physically but will not engage in any conversation after that to try and make it better. As he is 85 now I still continue to look after him because he has heart problems but my heart is closed. We were married 59 years when he finally confessed.

Affair recovery

It has been almost 5 years since my husband's affair. I am still trying to recover. I feel so stuck. He lied about the details of the affair, trickled information, got angry when I questioned him, intimidated me and has told me numerous times to "get over it." To this day the only information I have about the affair is information I got from doing my own detective work. I became obsessed because he would tell me one thing and I would find out it was a lie and needed to investigate. This behavior caused me C-PTSD. At this point I feel I will never be able to heal.

Not sure how to move forward

My husband has/had a sex addiction. We’ve been together almost 5 years, married 2.5 years. 2 months after getting married, I stumbled onto pictures, videos, etc. we had a huge blow out. He swore it was nothing…but our priest made him put Ever Accountable on his phone. With that he was forced to stop but it wasn’t till about a year ago that I discovered just how bad it was, including being with other women. He has never been honest, only owned up to things I discovered but continued to lie about other things he did. I’m having a very difficult time believing this time he’s been 100% honest and open. I seem to be stuck. I want to believe he’s not doing anything anymore. Sometimes I feel obsessed with knowing the REAL truth. We’ve tried some of the exercises y’all suggest. Even since then, I found he wasn’t completely honest. He doesn’t want to talk about it. Gets very angry when I need to talk. Not sure what to do. I know he won’t do a program.


I am so glad to have read the comments from you ladies. I am in the same boat! 37 years of marriage, 4 years since d-day and separation, 1 year into divorce proceedings (his wish, not mine).
He never got it. Refused to seek counseling. Blame, denial, hiding, more lies always. Didn't want to repair, no remorse. I too have become co-dependent my therapist says,
as I enabled him by letting him act the way he did. I have also become a detective, finding out much through searching on my own.
He has not spoken to his adult daughter for the entire four years over this (her wish) but has not fought for her nor me.
He has continued his destructive behaviors to include drugs, alcohol, porn, women. He even moved in with his girlfriend, even though we are still married and she practices witchcraft and paganism (verified).
Affair Recovery-Can you please see that women like us (men too) NEED a program for us, the ones that don't get to recover with our spouses.
The ones that the spouse is not willing to work on it. The ones that our marriage is not being saved. We need support too.We are hurting just as much except we are left with no spouse willing to care or fix things. Ladies, I get it, I am sorry, I have lived it too. We don't deserve to be dumped on and then left to feel like we did the damage.

NEED program for betrayed spouses left by the Unfaithful

Thank goodness I read this.
My husband didn’t even try to recover. I was away at school when he betrayed our marriage. I took a leave from school, to say I would forgive him and come home to work and save the marriage; he merely tricked me into believing he wanted to work on our marriage. He came to help me pack and come back home. But he left me the very next day. Blindsided AGAIN.
He feels shame and guilt….so he says. But he started up the affair the day after he left me. And it hasn’t stopped.
He actually had the nerve to tell me “he was afraid of what would come next”….. as if he didn’t want to deal with my pain and anger. So it was my fault, yet again. It was all about him. His shame was more important than my pain. Most of our marriage was that way, looking back. He’d do something, and him “feeling bad” for doing XYZ, was always more important than the pain he caused anyone else.

9 going on 10

Not unlike the other respondents; my wife does not get ‘it’. We’d be poster-kids if anyone would care to see how to not to reconcile. I’m sure I wasn’t easy to be around. But she chose and manipulated her affair to happen. I dug like a badger to uncover it. When faced with my charges her unsuccessful denial began. She still thinks saying sorry and asking for forgiveness is enough. It was/is her nature to compartmentalize; box it up and shelve it. She trickled out info over years just to not open the box. I’d rather have the box explode open rather than drip acid for years. It’s destroyed any trust I’m supposed to have. I love her but don’t trust her. I stayed in the marriage (5%) cause of my fear of contaminating my kids lives. The biggest reason (90%) is this is a 3 way agreement with God. I’m not backing down from my agreement with HIM. No I’m not a martyr. I don’t want to alienate myself from God any worse than I am today. She won’t change... after 5-6 years you get numb to it. There isn’t a day when it doesn’t pop up somewhere. In her life it’s over so move on. But they, the unfaithful, never get it. This is an area where affair recovery needs to improve. Less lectures from the unfaithful who don’t have a clue as to the burden of pain the betrayed go through. Ya all gots some decent tools. But if the spouse denies and clams up you all have zip. God bless you faithful spouses to fight through the pain and broken hearts. Fight for yourself.

agree with 9 going on 10

I am sorry my comment spoke to ladies as I just knew there had to be some men going through the same as we betrayed are.
I do agree with and like your comment that A.R. should get some programs going for those of us that do not have the privilege of
having a spouse that wants to fix things. We seem like the stepchild of the programs. I find so much about repairing the marriage
but little for those that have been dumped or cast aside by the unfaithful, yet we want help to heal ourselves anyway, since we can't heal the marriage.
We still need to heal too. I do appreciate and thank AR for what they are doing, but can you help us stepchildren (betrayed without spouses that want to fix things).

My wife does not understand... and I honestly feel it is over.

On December 31, 2021 I was faced with the solid evidence that my wife of 25 years was having an affair. Over the course of 4 months she left the house and continued to deny everything she even continued to talk and meet with the individual -- thinking I had no solid evidence she told her family I was an insecure individual (including our children) and that I was making everything up. On my 50th birthday she came back into town and into our home. I had personally forgiven her from day one (as I had been unfaithful to her and was able to fully empathize through her personal pain). Now a year into it and she does not understand the pain I'm in... she tells me to "move on" and most recently called me a "cry baby". I think that was really the culmination of what I feel is her personal self-centered thinking (lack of empathy) that will not allow us to come out on the other side. I also see her thinking as "this is what I personally experienced so this is what you're going to get" mentality.
I have come to realize she is no longer the same person I fell in love with (she is filled with hate and I'm sure denial) and have decided that I must move on for my personal (and my children's (19,22) mental health. I've tried to send her literature on my feelings but she tells me she will not read anything. This video highlights everything that is happening to me internally and have come to realize that it was her decision and it can only be her honest desire to want to self heal that can turn the tide. I know that as a young person she had many unresolved parent issues and the video further highlights how they will possibly prevent her from ever facing the magnitude of the pain she has caused in our home.

NOTE: For me the infidelity was a big eye opener to the pain I also caused her (I honestly never thought it was so painful) and will be forever remorseful/ashamed -- I hope that this will help me move forward to a new and better phase in my life.

45 years since betrayal

My situation is very similar to others...except my husband's affair happened 45 years ago. I was 19 and he was 23, married less than 2 years. I stayed with him and we've been married 48 years. After all this time the only info I got was from his AP. She told me everything, embellishing with Polaroid pictures they each had taken of each other posed during oral sex. My husband has unique tattoos that were quite evident even though I didn't always see his complete face in the pictures. She informed me of their affair and it was still going on at that time. I confronted him and he denied everything. But I knew, putting all together the late nights, sometimes not coming home, always him saying I was with my buddies, drinking and smoking pot. It was always on Fridays and she told me she provided the pot and sometimes speed (the nights he never came home until late Saturday mornings) he picked up beer after work. He always smelled of sex, beer and smoke. So he denied, again saying after a week of work he would spend time with his buddies. It was only one buddy, a f**k buddy. We argued and he left to cool off after my "paranoid accusations." He comes back home late, drunk, and with a hickey on his neck. He admits he went to confront his AP why she showed their private pics and telling me what they do together. I guess he wasn't mad at her because of the hickey and he said they just did some kissing and making out pretty heavily but no sex. I told him what he just confessed to is still cheating and reminded him of our marriage vows forsaking all others. He still denied wrongdoing. I cut my wrist that night. He bandaged me up and said he would stop going over to her apartment if I promised to never try suicide again. One of us kept that promise. Two weeks later he doesn't come home on Friday night. Dee calls me telling me to come pick him up that he is there but passed out in her bed and she can't get him up to go home. I was livid to say the least! I told her she can keep him, I don't want him back! The next day he stumbled in, still in his work clothes, jacket has something in the pocket. I pull out a pair of red lacey panties and a Polaroid picture falls out with it. It is Dee wearing the same panties and my husband takes picture of her posing topless with one hand down her panties and the other hand fingers beckoning the photographer, my husband to come to her. I had packed my bags the night before and saying nothing I leave the picture, panties, and a note that I will not be coming back

I went to my grandmother's house, staying 3 days. On the 4th day he begs me to come home and I cave. He promised he called her and told her he won't be coming over anymore. He never really apologized about breaking my heart but wants us to work this out. I had questions I wanted answers to but he would get angry so I waited about a month, and broached the subject again. He tells me he wants to forget and I need to just get over it. My husband had a serious drinking problem back then, though he never hit me he raised his fist and one time he hit the wall, breaking the drywall but hit a stud and broke his hand. I never brought it up again as I was so afraid of physical abuse.
Several years later, when he had a stroke, he stopped drinking and smoking. He was 41 years old and I had to take care of him as if looking after a child, bathing him, feeding him, etc. I have had many triggers over the years but the last couple of months it has become very bad, a constant flood of memories, pictures I can't un-see, and unanswered questions. I knew what they were doing from pictures and Dee's descriptions (which I guess made it more exciting to share with me). But the answers I asked of my husband have never been answered: What made you go to her? Was I not good enough? Did you think about how hurt I would be if I knew? Did you think of me at all, when with me, when with her? Did you stop the affair or just got sneakier? Did you think of her when with me? Did you share secrets about me and our sex life? I know of 2 things she told me that he thought that I was frigid and only wanted conventional sex. She also told me that he told her he likes perky nipples like hers, not like mine. Both of these comments were similar to what my husband had said directly to me many times.
I have never gotten closure, have never been able to move on. Because of his stroke, he says he cannot remember ever cheating on me so he can't answer any of my questions. He thinks because he drank a lot and did drugs that was the reason, or he would not have ever strayed. My response to that was he may have been drinking and using drugs when he came to see her but he went there straight from work and he wasn't drunk or drugged when he knocked on her door. Over the many years since his affair, things he has said to me that he remembers are things that he and I have done sexually that never happened. He has vivid memories of sexual acts and passion of us together in motel rooms that never happened between us. I assume he was with Dee or some other woman but it wasn't me. In 48 years, we have only been in a motel twice, once after his stroke for an out of town evaluation for SSDI and one overnight stay in Flagstaff a 12 years ago going to see the Grand Canyon. There was NO SEX either time. He has remembered other things that never happened with me. I am almost as devastated today as I was all those years ago and I know I will never get answers from him. He has selective memory. He says he doesn't remember what she looks like, but he remembers where she lived, remembers her husband was his friend and in the Navy, but does not remember having an affair with her or anyone else, even though there was proof. He admits kissing and making out with her one time but that's as far as he can remember. He remembers my suicide attempt and me leaving him but says he does not remember the causes. He apologizes "if" he did anything to hurt me but other than that, he says the past is the past. I say quit bringing up things that trigger my PTSD over his affair then. We just don't talk about it. He says maybe he has a mental block about it though he can remember other things before and after. So we don't talk about it but he wonders why I cry so much, I just answer that I am an insecure, emotional person and I feel worthless. He starts to ask why but then stops...he remembers, I know he does but he will not give me peace by admitting to everything and telling me why. I have told him that by telling me things I want to know will not make me leave him, will not make me mad, that there have been so many years since it happened but I just need closure so I can heal. I will never forget but I can forgive him if he wants forgiveness. I actually forgave him when I went back home all those years ago. He wants me to get over it but he is the one that has the key.

I can never feel safe in my

I can never feel safe in my marriage and home with my spouse that lacks empathy. I’m 2.5 years post affair and cannot get over this pain. He’s a narcissist and it’s always about how he’s the victim yet he’s the one that cheated on me with a coworker after 13 years of marriage and 7 kids. My only peace is kicking him out of our home so me and my kids can heal with his toxic abuse around us.

"Getting It"

I cannot thank you enough for this particular episode. I sent it to my spouse. He has sidestepped for years, any kind of work together to help heal both of us because of his long-term affair with an employee of his company. I didn't get full disclosure, and the "drip disclosures" I did get traumatized me over and over and over again to the point where I needed trauma therapy, trauma treatment, and depression medications. I have been separated from him for more than 18 months, because without his cooperation I'm not able to heal and don't want to continue in the marriage. A divorce is likely to happen in the future (I'm going to file).
I know for sure, because I have talked with his many siblings, that my husband was both emotionally neglected and horribly physically abused, He was one of 12 children. No help in the home and mother was very frustrated. Capital punishment with a large stick was frequent, probably most on my husband. I think he will NEVER agree to look back and process his past hurts and anguish. But this is exactly what he needs to do. In the meantime he has never empathetically apologized to me. I got an unemotional "I'm sorry"; I've been told to "just get over it". He doesn't understand that his involvement in my getting through this is the key for the marriage.
So, I continue to work on myself, re-discovering who I am and slowly, after grieving much, finding a new path without him. Thank you for all you do in Affair Recovery.

I have the opposite problem

I cheated on my wife. But my problem is that my wife don't want to talk about it with me. It feels very strange. Is this normal? What should I do?

Be honest even if they’re not

It’s been very close to 5 years for me. It’s still hurts like Hell. He refuses therapy or anything beneficial to save our 30+ year marriage. He too thinks my need to get to the bottom of it is just to hurt him. Same as so many here. We’ve gone from us fighting to him fighting to light and mutual physical fights to my sitting there silently no longer begging yelling or saying even a word, & That took about a year before he caught on! So now we don’t fight. But we don’t talk about it much either. Still get the “I don’t know/! Don’t remember” answers. Still thinks it’s all about hurting him or making it hard for him as retribution. He still don’t get it. Just like so many here. I’ve spoke meanly calmly smartly and stupidly. I’ve begged bartered and pleaded for him to just do this with me. I told him 5 years that’s all you get to do what’s needed or we are done. We are almost there, and I’m panting, anxious and freaked out. Is he? Well, no, NO, he is not. So, I decided (even though I swore to him I wouldn’t do it again!) I sat down and just spoke my honest heart. I no longer worried how he was going to take it or what he would do. Nor did I worry what his reactions would bring about. I was nothing but honest. If the moments and feelings and truths I was dishing meant my tears then he saw them. Yeah many of you get the drift, right? You see he has changed some. He has held so very fast to keeping that part of his life and himself secret. Yeah once again. The same old same old. So I’ve come to this understanding within myself. Even though he says he loves me and says he wants us to work, he only wants it if it all goes his way. He gets to direct how I and we heal. He gets to direct any consequences if any. His way. His way. Where does that leave me within him? His heart his kind his life? Personally I don’t see how that states beside him. Do you? Would anyone? I just done see any way possible to get him to do the work, share in the work. participate in healing us. What does that mean for me? Even if he still can’t be honest, can I? Yeah. I can and I have. It’s almost time to change my direction and my life. I’ve never put up with so much crap from anyone! Yet here I am. With this man that
I have known since I was 4 years old. Waiting for him. Just like I always have. Waiting for him to choose me, to love me. I told him I don’t know if I will make it to the 5 year mark or not. That’s my honesty. His was…
……………… nothing. No words. No actions. Nothing.


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