Rick Reynolds, LCSW

Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

As a young boy, watching my grandmother colorize old black and white photos fascinated me. Hour upon hour she’d sit at her table meticulously applying colors to the monotone images embedded on paper. A colorful imagination along with her keen eye caused decaying images to explode to life. “How did she know what color?” sometimes I wondered, but later realized that the colors were nothing more than the dynamic expression of the emotions being generated by the photograph. While the skin tones or fabric colors may not have been an exact representation they certainly represented what she thought they ought to be. Many times in photos, reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Similarities abound between my grandmother’s colorizations and emotional affairs. Why did 80% of men and 89.3% of women who had been unfaithful identify the emotional rather than the physical aspects of their affairs as being more difficult to overcome? What makes breaking up so very hard to do when it comes to the emotional aspects of an affair? Could it be our colorizations of those relationships? Maybe it’s how we behold the other person? Here are my thoughts on what makes breaking up so hard to do:

But here is the truth: our justifications are answers to the wrong questions. The question isn’t why it is okay, but rather, why isn’t it okay? How is it in the best interest of my mate and my family? Until I can understand my mate’s perspective there’s a strong likelihood I’ll feel wrongly accused and in my mind, refuse to end the relationship on the grounds of, “I’m doing nothing wrong.” I’ll then be defensive, blame shift, rewrite our history as a marriage and do anything I can to justify my actions to myself and others. This will only increase the risk of deceiving myself more and more, ultimately damaging myself and my spouse emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

“Feelings of being understood” may only reveal a lack of a sense of self and a dependence on the approval of others for their esteem. As long as the unfaithful partner’s core sense of self is in need of feeling understood there will be limited hope they will be able to be concerned for others beyond themselves, except as a source for that validation.

However, the high from an emotional affair can last only so long and eventually, when true colors show themselves, reality sets in and the relationship no longer produces the same feelings. Yet, due to the dysfunction of the affair, even when the feelings fade, the cravings remain, if not intensify, for a short moment in time. The new pursuit of regaining that lost high can make letting go difficult as well as open up new doors of self absorption and in some cases even addiction. What’s needed is a plan to help explain and redirect the desire. Without a plan, the likelihood of the unfaithful spouse triumphing over their yearnings is unlikely.

Until the unfaithful spouse is able to work through where their responsibility starts and ends, that misplaced sense of responsibility will make letting go difficult. This can be especially true for those individuals who easily take responsibility for what goes wrong in life. Even if it’s not all their responsibility they take it on and remain a slave to the guilt.

  1. Feeling wrongly accused: No one wants to be seen as an infidel nor do most people just set out to cheat. In fact, if we really saw what we were doing as being “really wrong” then we’d have far more difficulty continuing the behavior. The solution then is viewing relationships in such a way that makes it okay with us. We do this by determining in our mind what constitutes infidelity or an affair. Just about anything you’re not doing can serve the purpose of defending why the relationship is legitimate and healthy. If we’re not talking about leaving our mate, then it’s okay. If we only want to encourage one another then it’s okay. If I’m only trying to help them through a hard time then it’s okay. If it’s not sexual then it’s okay. If we’re not expressing feelings for each other then it’s okay. If it’s not serious then it’s okay. If it’s for business then it’s okay. If we never say “I love you” then it’s okay. There’s no limit to the ways we can rationalize our affairs.
  2. Feeling understood: If you believe that person understands you in ways no one has before, then releasing the affair will prove very difficult. Especially if you perceive them as good and as someone who’s looking for what you want from life. Why would anyone want to let go of who they now believe to be their soul mate and who they believe will meet all of their needs emotionally and/or physically?
  3. Pride and Ego: Letting go can be difficult if pride and ego are involved. At that point rationale has little to do with things. Letting go of an emotional affair is more than possible, but the only currency you can use to buy your freedom is your pride and ego. You have to first admit that you do in fact need to let it go. Furthermore, if you’ve been defending the emotional affair and constantly sharing why the relationship is okay, then at the very least, ending the affair will come at the price of letting go of something you wanted and acting in the best interest of others rather than self. After all, this is a significant component of love: acting in the best interest of another. It’s been said lust benefits self at the expense of another, while love benefits another, at the expense of self.
  4. Feels like dying: The high from an emotional affair can absolutely help cause someone who’s been depressed or in a lifeless relationship to once more feel alive. Not just merely alive, but feel as though their life has meaning again, and that their mundane existence has been transformed by this new found love and understanding. Just the thought of life without the high they’ve come to embrace and expect from that relationship gives the unfaithful spouse reason to resist.
  5. Feeling responsible for the Other Person: If the other person has experienced loss as a result of the emotional affair, such as the loss of a job or the loss of a marriage, the unfaithful spouse may feel a responsibility for the damage done and be conflicted about letting go of the relationship. To assuage their guilt they may try to stay in touch, believing it’s a debt they owe. The more dependent the couple has become on each other for emotional support the more likely this is to happen. It can leave the unfaithful spouse feeling disloyal and like a failure for not upholding their end of the relationship. This sort of thinking is much less likely to happen in a strictly sexual affair since there’s little or no sense of emotional connection.
  6. Changed vision: The fantasy associated with emotional affairs often involves dreaming of a future together with the other person. In doing so they effectively write their mate out of the vision of the future. In fantasies, the unfaithful spouse can play God if you will, deciding how the future will turn out with absolute certainty. When this happens, letting go of the other person is difficult because they no longer see any future vision with their mate appealing or even possible. The only future they see with their mate is misery, as it means they don’t get to follow the dream they now think is the only dream that will make them happy or fulfilled in life.


    Humans however are poor predictors of what will make them happy in the future. How often do we fail to save for the future because we believe we know what will make us happy when we’re older? Instead of saving we spend what we have now to get what we think we’ll want later only to find when we finally get there we’re no longer interested in what our younger self wanted. If someone has written their mate out of their vision of the future then the couple will have to work at creating a new and appealing vision for both reconciliation and a future together. This takes time, strategy and understanding, but is more than possible.

As I said in the beginning, these are just my thoughts. This is not an exhaustive list nor does it apply to all people in emotional affairs, but it might help understand why at times breaking up is so very hard to do. By writing this list I am also not saying anything about the emotional affair is okay. One problem with emotional affairs is the fraud perpetrated against both one’s mate and the other person. It’s illegal to sell something that’s not mine to sell. Others already had first rights to me long before I began giving away what rightfully belonged to another.

If you currently find yourself in an emotional affair or are sifting through the residue of an ended affair, my advice is to first begin by trying to see it for what it is or was. If you can’t accept where you’re at, you’ll never get to where you’re going. You might start by seeking the right question rather than trying to just give answers. If you want help I hope you join our community at AR. EMS Online registration closes on March 14. If you’d like help EMSO is a great place to start. We’d love to be a part of helping you find new life and maybe, a new marriage



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emotional affair

this is great article. i didnt want to accept the fact that my spouse had a physical affair with someone so blindsided was I .... but contemplating my spouse had an emotional affair as well as physcal was almost too hard to take, for some of the reasons you listed. to feel you were discarded in that way for another soul mate is difficult to internalize and to get over. I believe I have gotten to a place of acceptance of the whole package and after nearly 18 months the pain has dulled. I never thought it would get less, but as you constantly reminded me, it has gotten less. I will always think of this time in my life with great sadness... for it has taken nearly 2 yrs out of my life. It is a "forced" acceptance in a sense because one day you reallize there is no changing what happened no matter how much you try to wish it all away, pray it all away, or avoid it hoping it will magically GO away. It won't. It takes a certain amount of courage to bring it to the forefront and face it fully in all its detail and effect to ones life.. After acceptance, what then? Decisions, decisions... Clearer thinking perhaps in the ability to recognize the innate capability we all have to fall prey to deception and great wounding to others when we live a life of self absorption rather than self sacrifice and considering others before ourselves...a remedy perhaps is developing a continual mind set and making concious decisions to set aside self and look not on our own needs but on the needs of others.


Taking it a step further... I agree that putting ones own needs above those of spouse/family is one reason an affair happens. For myself as the unfaithful spouse in the aftermath of an emotional affair, I now recognize that I must seek personal health and wholeness, so that in the future I am not still tempted to fall prey again to my brokenness... The need for another's attention etc as a result of my own insecurities. By becoming a "whole, secure individual" who does not depend on others to support my self esteem, I will then be better equipped to put the well being of my spouse and family ahead of my own selfishness.... By removing many of the root causes I sought an affair in the first place, I can literally become a more giving, "others focused" partner.

This really hit home for me,

This really hit home for me, all of them. Number 4 said "it feels like dying". It is good to understand that the high from the affair would not last anyway. It was mentioned that what is needed is a plan to help explain and redirect the desire. I would like to know how to create this plan and how to redirect this desire. Any suggestions?


Hi Sue,

This, too hit home for me.  I have been very triggered lately and have needed redirection. I do several things:

1. Call a trusted friend and vent.

2. Re-read this article

3. Make a list of why you married your husband.....the GOOD things

4. Walk away from the computer or, if you can't, google articles that show understanding of how you feel (like this one).

5. Write down future goals for yourself. Trips you want to take, etc. (bucket list)

6. Redirect your attention to a work of fiction that doesn't have a romantic component to it.  Mysteries are good.

7. Look at pictures of you and your family. Read old love letters from your husband.

8. Use the mantra, "Affairs are not reality". No such perfect person exists.

9. Ask yourself if you would HONESTLY be with this person if you were single and available.

10. Exercise or find something that makes you smile.

11. Throw out all your old clothes and "junk". Decluttering always helps me.

12. Stay off social media sites like Facebook. Do not google your AP.

13. Most of all, let yourself feel the pain. Cry, Scream, journal, do whatever you need to. Get it out and the pain will ease over time.

Hope this helps!

Why they won't end an emotional affair

Would anyone suggest give the two people involved a copy of this? Or is it only those that have eyes to see and hears to hear would understand it and they would still be in denial? My husband is an associate pastor having an emotional affair with his female senior pastor.

I to have a husband of 19

I to have a husband of 19 years whom was minister of our church and he cheated with a coworker 20 years younger and a child came out of it. Some days I feel lost and question if I want the marriage to work. God has restored him but it does not lessen the pain of seeing the mistress or son every other weekend. I can't find anyone to relate.

give the two a copy?

First of all, I am so sorry you are going through this. It is a terrible grief to manage. Being a pastor means that your husband is likely a very caring person. This can make him especially vulnerable to becoming too involved with someone else. I think you can share this article with him but I would steer clear of the OW. I think you both need a new assignment or time away from ministry while you work through this.

My husband's affair

D-Day for me is going on 11 months--he still blaming everyone and everything but himself-as far as I know he no longer has contact with his A/P but stays in the basement and I live upstairs. 2 of our 3 daughters will no longer talk or be anywhere around him. I knew he thought differently but now after this ordeal, I realize that he has been an emotional abuser for our entire marriage of 27 years. I ask him to come clean, commit to our marriage, and do whatever it takes to put our marriage and family back together He has yet to do this. He hasn't spoken to those 2 daughters now in almost a year. I never thought he would ever do what he did and continue to deny and lie the way he has. He says he loves me but until he starts being truthful I cannot condone his continued emotional abuse. I don't want a divorce but I do not want to live with someone I don't trust. He shows no emotion except anger. He does not want to hurt or admit he has hurt someone else. My counselor suggests to live under separate roofs but I cannot move financially and he will not move out and I cannot do anything legally to make him move. Anyone with any hopeful stories or suggestions, I would appreciate. Thank you

This captured so well the

This captured so well the stages my husband went through--and through which I had to follow him---in order to completely leave the AP emotionally and return to our marriage. Like an earlier poster said, I had, too, to be slow, patient, deliberate as I continued to challenge him about what was going/had gone on and wait for him to reach these conclusions, even though he had broken off the physical affair immediately. We are now 3 years past "Day Zero" as he calls it, and God has been faithful to put our family back together. It takes time and effort--sometimes Herculean effort--but it is possible. Be patient and consistent. Point your spouse to what God's Word says and what God's plan for families is--don't point fingers at the AP, no matter how many legitimate reasons you have for doing so. Let God change your spouse's view of the AP. And constantly ask God to give you the wisdom and strength to be who you should be in all this. Become stronger yourself, so that you can walk with God through whatever is ahead.

reply to comment - this captured so well

Yes....this captured it perfectly....It will be 3 years from the 'phone call' I got from her husband.....telling me of her affair with my husband... Patience..time..and allowing GOD to change their mind...our family is restored! Amen.

Affair Recovery: Why Breaking Up Is Hard To Do | Affair Recovery

Thanks for finally talking about > Affair Recovery: Why Breaking Up Is Hard To Do | Affair Recovery < Liked it!

Is there any research or

Is there any research or literature on how long this break up period takes? I get so frustrated reading over and over that marriages survive only if the unfaithful stops all contact with the AP immediately, since that is absolutely not happening for me. I guess I have two D days--10 months since disclosure of a "special friendship" and 6 months since revealing it was also physical and that he loved her. He can't seem to make up his mind. My goal remains to save our marriage, but his indecision kills me--daily. Reading that one of you took 20 months to recommit is helpful an makes me hopeful that he can still come around. So glad I found this site.

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