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

Handling Disappointment After Infidelity

Ever 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. Tonight as I write this, I'm struggling with bitter disappointment. 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.

Tonight as I sat in my car, wallowing in my pain and self-pity, I began to pray. "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.

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. In fact, life isn't about me; I'm supposed to be about life. But how does that understanding keep me from disappointment?

I no longer have the innocence of childhood. I’ve lived long enough to know that 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?

After coming home I read a paragraph in "Coming Home to Your True Self" by Albert Haase, OFM.2 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.”

Then it dawned on me what this last experience with God was saying to me. 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 "bitter disappointment" is only the measure of my resistance to circumstances which intend to change me and transform me. It's all 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, 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 simply surrender to his will, then I have 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, or to conduct herself the way I think she should while recovering from infidelity.

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 God. It's about agreeing to stop trying to force life to work on our terms and surrendering to what is. Trust that God will work this out according to his 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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Comments

Really good article.

I have noticed the same things, and it was good to be reminded of them. In my recovery and during early defogging period of my spouse I tried to control things and each time either made them worse, looked like a fool, or stole from God some glory he could have gained. We are not called to do nothing, say nothing. But we are also not God and we can't demand or force anything, even God forbids himself to force anyone to do anything. We don't just have free will, we have free attitude.

Hard to let go after infedility

The article has been an eye opener . I now see why it is so hard to let go . I am trying to control the past that has already happened and GONE
I need therefore to accept that I cannot change the past but need to let God be my guide in the present and leave the outcome to Him.

Amen!

Amen!

great article

Wonderfully written. Thank You!

Need some advice

It's been almost 2 years since my pilot husbands one night stand in china. Part of our reconciliation was that he would stop flying internationally & go back to domestic flying. But here lately he keeps hinting how he wants to go back to international flying because it pays more. I will never agree to this again, the whole ordeal nearly killed me. I think deep down the career means more to him than me. He thinks I will change my mind even though I've been very clear that I won't.

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