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

Life After Divorce: How the Unfaithful Sees It

Should I Get a Divorce? A Two Part Series

Part 1: Am I Being Naive?
Part 2: Life After Divorce: How the Unfaithful Sees It

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I once heard it said,"love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener." As a professional, I've always believed people to be profoundly naïve about marriage. However, that naïveté may be even more pronounced when it comes to life after divorce. After our previous article on infidelity and divorce and the challenges faced by the injured spouse, it seemed only appropriate to address the challenges after divorce for those who have been unfaithful.

Here are their thoughts and portions of their stories.

Life After Divorce for Unfaithful

"Divorce didn't solve our problems—it only delayed the resolution."

Frequently, the bitterness about the betrayal fuels the injured spouse's anger for months and sometimes years after the divorce, making divorce recovery more difficult."Issues such as how to deal with our children weren't solved by our divorce," one man stated,"Rather, the kids became even more trapped between the two of us as a result of my mate's anger about my infidelity and divorce." Even if nothing is said to the children regarding the betrayal, ongoing anger can still cause the children to feel they are being disloyal when visiting the unfaithful mate. Making amends and doing anything possible to help your injured mate heal before and after the divorce is advisable.

"Financial support after my infidelity and divorce got complicated. Due to my guilt, I felt as if I had no choice when my mate would ask for additional financial assistance."

While this could be a problem for any divorce, it's complicated for those who have been unfaithful. If they feel responsible for the divorce as a result of their unfaithfulness they may feel an additional burden to help their mate. If they didn't want the divorce, they may even use finances as a way to manipulate their ex into believing they have changed in hopes of regaining their ex-partner's affection and admiration. This can lead to both parties living beyond their means, turning life after divorce into an even worse financial crisis.

"The relationship with my children was complicated by their knowledge of my infidelity. They blamed me for the infidelity and divorce and didn't want to see me."

Far too often, the children are used as pawns in the struggle that goes on after an affair. The injured spouse will threaten to tell the children about the infidelity to get the unfaithful spouse to conform. If that's the case, then divorce usually ends up with the children knowing what happened. This can cause the children to mirror the injured spouse's hurt for the loss of the family and take on the same feelings of betrayal that the injured spouse exhibits. In these cases, forgiveness becomes as big an issue for the children as it is for the injured spouse.

"Nothing prepared me for the intense loneliness. Many of our friends remained in support of my mate as a result of my infidelity."

It's one thing to split up assets; it's another to split up friends. Many unfaithful spouses find themselves isolated after divorce due to the judgment of friends and family post-divorce. It hurts if the marriage doesn't work out, but far too often the"infidelity factor" results in the unfaithful spouse feeling judged and isolated, losing much of their support after divorce making recovery more difficult.

"Divorce didn't take away my feelings of guilt for the infidelity. I thought being away from my mate would make it disappear, but it didn't."

"To this day, I carry a heaviness in my heart when I think of the pain that I inflicted not only on my former husband, friends, and family, but primarily on my very own children. The children whom I carried within me, gave birth to, nursed, and raised are the very ones whom I have hurt the most. It hurts my soul to this day to see the agony and life-interruption that my selfishness has caused. Nothing in the world is worth the price of one's family. No person is worth the pain inflicted upon the ones that are dearest and most-loved. To have had an affair is the single most selfish thing in the entire world that I have ever done, and I wish with all of my heart and soul that I could go back and change things or wake up to find that it was all a bad dream. Instead, I must own up to my own deception and selfishness, pray for forgiveness, and hope that I somehow am able to deter another from making the worst mistake of his or her life. It is an empty promise and a deception of self to believe otherwise. Life after divorce is heavy... trust me." If one's mate doesn't extend forgiveness, the unfaithful spouse has to find forgiveness elsewhere. At the same time, they may also be trapped by the bitterness created as a result of the divorce. Learning how to receive forgiveness as well as extending forgiveness are major recovery tasks for the unfaithful spouse post-divorce.

"I thought my mate's anger would subside after the divorce, but it didn't."

The opposite of love isn't hate—it's indifference. Love and hate are both passion; all you are doing is changing the balance from positive to negative. When a relationship dies after divorce, both parties let it go and move on. There is a tombstone placed over that relationship that reads, ‘rest in peace.' When infidelity occurs, however, this isn't the case. Not only does the passion not die, it actually escalates to new heights. The attachment wounds created by the infidelity can leave the betrayed spouse struggling with hatred for years to come, again making divorce recovery an uphill climb.

"Fulfillment was slower in coming than I anticipated."

Of those interviewed, many said finding fulfillment after their infidelity and divorce was far more difficult than anticipated. They advised a significant degree of patience when it came to finding fulfillment. It is possible, but it took longer than any of them had anticipated. Research from the Institute for American Values supports this, showing that only 19% of unhappy spouses who divorced or separated were happily married five years later, while 64% of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later*. For the unfaithful spouse, letting go and moving on can be just as difficult as it is for the injured spouse. As one woman put it,"Were I to have known then what I know now about life after divorce and infidelity, I would never have even entertained the thought of being attracted and allured by another man's affection. Were I to have fully experienced and felt the magnitude and depth of pain associated with the betrayal and destruction of my family beforehand, there is absolutely no doubt that I wouldn't have given it a second thought. Ironically, however, I was fully aware of the pain and destruction of divorce because I also was affected by the devastation of my parent's divorce and swore that I would not make the same mistake. Unfortunately, I did." Learning to find peace and forgiveness within one's self is critical to moving on, but infidelity and divorce frequently leave the unfaithful spouse under their own self condemnation and unable to move on.



Divorce is difficult and, at times, unavoidable. Our hope is that each person is restored; unfortunately, that doesn't always mean marriages survive. It's not fair, but recovery requires work on the part of both the betrayed and unfaithful spouse. When that doesn't happen, divorce frequently occurs. I hope that being forewarned will somehow help those on their recovery journey.

Finding new life always requires letting go and finding forgiveness within one's self. For those who are struggling with this problem, I'd highly recommend finding support through a 12 step group, pastor, or therapist, along with an infidelity-specific process for healing, like Harboring Hope for the betrayed, or Hope for Healing for the betrayer. Specialized support is absolutely critical for long-term healing and personal restoration.

If you're ready to start the journey of finding freedom and forgiveness, I hope you'll consider registering for EMS Weekend. This 3 day intensive is a safe place for you both to learn, grow and heal.
Our 3-day weekend intensive for couples to heal after infidelity now offering $1,000 discount for virtual months during the pandemic. Limited availability.

Sign Up Now!

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  1. *Waite, Linda J., Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley. "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages." Institute for American Values (2002). Print.

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Comments

Gender difference?

I noted that the person who expressed regret and sadness about the pain caused to spouse and children and extended family is a woman. I would faint dead away if my children’s dad expressed such poignant remorse. When I filed for divorce, he said he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. I understand why he would feel that way about being rid of me, but I didn’t know at the time that he was shrugging off the weight of loving and pursuing reconciliation with our almost grown daughters. My heart breaks for him and for them. I wonder if an unfaithful divorced man would care to weigh in about regret and sadness. . .

I'd like more on this subject

For me, my x walked out and never looked back. I just can't imagine that he has an ounce of remorse and if he did/does there's no way, I feel, that he'd ever tell me or our son (an adult). Addictions and narcissism, I think, hold him back. I wanted counseling - individually and for our marriage - but not him.

I am just about 2 years post-divorce. He assured me and our son that he would make sure I was taken care of. He only minimally supports me financially (which ends soon) because he got caught spending well into 6 figures and violating standing orders. Does he feel guilty about it - dubious.

I would like to see more about this for both sides. Thank you for sharing.

Inverse response

My spouse had a affair and it was a real eye opener for me. I immediately began therapy in order to understand my role and began to make life changes on the way I communicated and passive agressive behavior that chipped away at our 18 year relationship. My spouse continues to blame me for the affair saying they have no regrets and that my behavior made them feel so vulnerable they had no choice. After two and a half years of showing up every day, owning my contribution to the problems in our relationship and changing my perspective on many levels, I am losing hope that the relationship can ever work. My spouse continues to make lists of all my short comings and mistakes, siting these as the reason for their unhappiness and inability to start fresh. I don’t want to divorce, especially understanding how it will affect our child, however I don’t want to live like tolerant roommates ether. So it seems the tables are turned in our case. I have forgiven the affair, however my spouse doesn’t seem willing to do the work on our relationship to restore connection, trust and intimacy. Wondering if anyone else can relate?

Divorce

I found your resources so helpful at the start of my discovery of my husband’s betrayal and when I thought he wanted to work on restoring the marriage. However 12 months later he said his feelings have changed and despite therapy he no longer wants me. I may not have a choice in a divorce although it was NEVER what I wanted. Perhaps you could include more resources for people like me who have tried everything but cannot force a spouse to work on healing. I feel your resources no longer help me as I feel judged because this marriage is over - even though it breaks my heart to admit it.

Never wanted to be here

I’m in the middle of a divorce and hate that I’m here at all. Never wanted this to happen. I fought tooth & nail to keep our marriage together but in the end he wouldn’t try, didn’t love me, and wouldn’t do the work. He just....gave up and checked out. It’s devastating.
Even in this darkest place God has shown His goodness to me though. I have chronic illnesses that stress makes a LOT worse ... and since separating (9 months so far) my health has slowly improved - I sleep better, my chronic body pain has all but disappeared, and my chronic health conditions are stabilizing. Mentally the depression and anxiety are becoming bearable, whereas before I was so drained from single-handedly attempting to keep our marriage together, that I could barely function for the last six months of our marriage. Now I actually feel human again some days...it’s slow progress, but it’s there and I’m so thankful to God for carrying me through this nightmare. It’s amazing what feeling emotionally safe can do for your health!

There’s a book I would recommend to every divorced/divorcing person - it’s written by a wonderful Christian woman named Gretchen Baskerville, and it’s called The Life-Saving Divorce. This divorce was unwanted on my part, but living in a loveless marriage out of stubbornness was also just...pointless. Sometimes I still dream that he’ll come back around one day. But he hasn’t even tried in any way since I left...he’s surfaced a few times to psychologically manipulate/emotionally abuse me some more....but he won’t even drive 10 mins to where I live now to talk to me. He truly doesn’t want me in his life and accepting that will probably be the hardest thing I ever have to do.
I read stories where the unfaithful spouses feel so sorry and terrified of losing their families that they love, and wonder what that’s like. It’s been mostly apathy from my ex-husband and he’s not willing to take responsibility or commit to recovery. I feel so sad for him, but I can no longer put myself in the path of his destructive choices. It was killing me, and I’m thankful to still be here.

Gretchen’s book is Biblical, and contains very helpful exhortations for the common myths we often believe about divorce. I truly cannot recommend it enough - God has been using it in a profound way to begin to heal my heart and forgive myself for this path, knowing that He knows I gave it everything I had and more.

My heart goes out to every single person who experiences betrayal in marriage - it is a truly devastating experience, and I know that I am forever changed. But I also know that Jesus brings beauty for ashes, and I trust that He will make this beautiful in its time. The future is scary, but I know He remains the same, and some days that is all that keeps me going.
May God comfort you, and courage, dear hearts💙 There is more to all of us, and all of our stories, than this chapter. He will finish the work He has begun in us. 💚

When the adulterous ex-husband is still angry

15 months post-divorce, I find myself and my ex-husband in a very different situation from the self-reflection offered in this video. He had the affair, but post-divorce, is filled with hostility toward me. I am indifferent, but cordial, toward him as I am relieved to no longer be burdened by the chaos of his choices. I am sad for him and my children, because our children want little to do with him, and he rarely tries to see them. I'm sure he blames me for the consequences of his choices. His pride and narcissism will likely prevent him from ever fully engaging in acknowledging his poor decision-making, much less attempting to make amends. He seems to spend his days trying to figure out how to cut financial support for me and my children, but spends on himself and his affair partner endlessly. I am interested in the psychology of such people, but recognize that I may never fully understand. Thank you.

understanding the anger of the adulterous ex-husband

15 months post-divorce, I find myself and my ex-husband in a very different situation from the self-reflection offered in this video. He had the affair, but post-divorce, is filled with hostility toward me. I am indifferent, but cordial, toward him as I am relieved to no longer be burdened by the chaos of his choices. I am sad for him and my children, because our children want little to do with him, and he rarely tries to see them. I'm sure he blames me for the consequences of his choices. His pride and narcissism will likely prevent him from ever fully engaging in acknowledging his poor decision-making, much less attempting to make amends. He seems to spend his days trying to figure out how to cut financial support for me and my children, but spends on himself and his affair partner endlessly. I am interested in the psychology of such people, but recognize that I may never fully understand. Thank you.