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

Handling Disappointment After Infidelity

Pain and loss are inevitable but bitter disappointment is optional after infidelityEver lost something that's really important to you? Not like a phone or a job, I mean something really important like a child or a marriage? I've lost something like that. What's worse, my most passionate and sincere efforts to keep it from happening flopped. I didn't cause it, but I did everything in my power to stop it (at least from my perspective), only to have my efforts result in a big fat zero.

How do you deal with this type of failure or loss, especially when recovering from infidelity?

Odds are if you're reading this, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Anyone who's been betrayed or who has really screwed up their marriage and then discovered how powerless they were to stop the resulting devastation, knows exactly how it feels. Our life and dreams can be radically altered by the decisions of others and by our own misdeeds.

Some of My Own Disappointment

Several years ago as I sat in my car, wallowing in my pain and self-pity, I began to pray. (I know that some of you may not necessarily subscribe to God, faith, religion etc, and I want you to know I completely respect that. You won't receive any judgement or condemnation here. Perhaps, though you may not subscribe to faith, there are some parallels to the pain you're walking through, as you search for real answers and relief.)

I began to question God's plan in that moment..."God what are you doing? Why don't you do something? Why are you letting this happen? What did I do wrong?" Much to my chagrin, he answered. "Life's hard. Suffering, pain and loss are inevitable, but bitter disappointment is optional." That caught me off guard, and I began to ponder the meaning.

Tragedy's Role in Our Lives

In his book Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens views suffering in a similar way: "In every life, no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfills. Thus, happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes. And to add to other people's store of it."1 I fully agree, but does that mean I can't be disappointed? I get it, life's hard and I'm most certainly not in control. But how does that understanding keep me from angry and bitter disappointment?

I no longer have the innocence of childhood. I've lived long enough to know that I truly believe I'm an accomplice in the evil which rocks my world. But that knowledge doesn't lessen the pain and disappointment created by the slings and arrows of this world, especially those thrown by betrayal. What am I to do with the loss and the hurt I feel from the infidelity?

Enticed to Control

After coming home I read a paragraph in "Coming Home to Your True Self" by Albert Haase, OFM. He was telling the story of a 16-year-old girl dying of ALS. He asked her, "Is it hard to die?" "Not really," she replied instantly, "The suffering of the past year has forced me to let go of so many things – my privacy, the ability to go to the bathroom alone, the ability to feed myself and change the television channel. It seems like every day I'm challenged to let go of something else. So I've gotten really good at letting go and surrendering to the present moment. I suspect when death comes it's going to be another moment to let go and surrender. So I don't think it will be hard to die. I suspect it will come quite naturally to me."2

I can't control life's circumstances, but I do control my attitude towards life. I determine how I see it. The level of my "angry and bitter disappointment" is really the measure of my resistance to circumstances which intend to change me and transform me. It's a matter of how I perceive the situation. Let's say I continue to be obsessed with having to control, manage or manipulate life, others and/or even God, to make things turn out according to my plan. With that attitude, when things don't turn out as I deem best, there will always be disappointment, if not anger and even bitterness. If, on the other hand, I let God define the situation ("This could be God.") rather than letting the situation define God, ("How could a loving God let something like this happen?') then I can recognize there's a loving God in control, who has much better vision than me and is working all things out for good. If I humbly surrender to his will, then I can find peace. If I think I know how it should be and spend my time trying to control outcomes, I'll be bitterly disappointed (if things don't turn out like I want). In marriage, I'll find myself incredibly frustrated at my inability to get my spouse to do what I want, when I want or to conduct herself the way I think she should while recovering from infidelity.

What I'm NOT Saying: "Ignore the Pain"

I've got to quit falling for the oldest deception in the book, that somehow I am god and know what's best. The author of Genesis showed this as the root of the problem. In the story of the fall of man from Genesis chapter 3, the devil raised the question of whether or not God was really out for their best interest. He then tells Adam and Eve that they can be in control and decide what is good or bad. The problem here is that I'm not God. I may think I know what's good or bad, how things need to turn out, but do I really? Instead, I need to trust that there is a God and it's not me. My challenge is to let go and surrender to the present moment and accept what is rather than railing against things I can't change.

It's important to note that I am not saying you should just "give it to God" and get over it-not by a long shot. Ignoring the pain will not work when recovering from infidelity. We all have choices to make and we all have a journey to travel. While we understand our powerlessness to change (or control) others, we can make healthy choices that put ourselves in the best possible place for healing and recovery from infidelity. It's about acceptance and our need to loosen our grip on the details as well as the outcome and trust the process and if you are a person of faith, trust God. It's about agreeing to stop trying to force life to work on our terms and surrendering to what is. Trust that God and/or the process you're utilizing, will work this out according to plan and for our good, even if the events surrounding your life right now seem out of control and appear senseless. If you are drowning in disappointment and can’t see how releasing control is essential to gain freedom, consider joining a Harboring Hope course for betrayed spouses. Owning your own recovery and letting go of the things you can't control are the first steps to freedom.

1. Dickens, Charles. Nicholas Nickleby. London: Cassell, 1890. Print.
2. Haase, Albert. Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions. Downer's Grover, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008. eBook.



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Wow Rick!

Wow Rick! Your blog today is just what God has revealed to me as I spent alot of time with Him in my “War Room” yesterday. But today as I found myself about to think as I have for 2 1/2 yrs., I know God stopped me in my tracks. Finally accepting “what is”, not trying to play God, trying to figure out and understand the “why” and how to fix it, or Paul, quit carrying his cross for him. Trust that God REALLY does have this and it will be for His glory and my good. A hard, long awaited realization. Thank you for sharing your insight and further giving my heart and soul some peace! God is using you in a mighty way. Love you.

Great Morning Read

Thank you very much for sharing this. Reading the Suffering Pain & Loss are inevitable but bitter disappointment is optional, was just what I needed to hear. Realizing that I have been going about this all wrong, Trying to control situations and trying to shield myself from further disappointment has stopped me from living the life I can be living. With a man who has repented for his wrong doings and tries to do right by our family every day since the revealing of his doings. Only god knows what will come next in life. I cannot predict the future, all that I can do is make the best of what I am given and live the life set out for me while having faith in all things good. My favorite line of all; "My challenge is to let go and surrender to the present moment and accept what is rather than railing against things I can't change." Thank you

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