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

Affair Recovery: The Number One Question and How to Answer It

Do you know the number one question couples ask in recovery?

I'll let you know in a moment, but first I want share with you a story. When my middle daughter was in high school, she decided to be a cheerleader. I was fine with it; what type of trouble could she get into leading cheers, right?

I remember sitting in the stands for the first game, waiting for her début as a cheerleader. What I failed to consider in my risk assessment was her size. Sopping wet, she might have tipped the scale at 90 pounds, which made her the perfect candidate for the team flyer. When they threw my munchkin into the air, Stephanie had to use restraints to keep me from running out to catch her. Now don't get me wrong; it's not the fact that the activity was risky. Since she was a feather weight, I had thrown her high in the air thousands of times, except I was the one catching her…and I trusted me. This time, there were a bunch of girls I didn't even know, waiting to catch my baby. Lucky for them, they made the catch, but I didn't like it. I didn't trust them one bit.

When I finally got to my little girl, I grilled her, asking how this could possibly be safe. She just laughed and said it wasn't, but that she trusted her spotters. "How do you know you can trust them?" I asked.

I wonder if my daughter would have felt the same if they had ever missed?

Are you ready for the number one question asked by couples who are trying to recover from an affair?

"How do I ever trust again?" or "How do we regain the trust we once had?"

Engaging in a marriage after the affair is a bit like my daughter's cheerleading. We desperately need to know that our mate will be there when we need them. We need to know they will catch us when we fall. But as you know, affairs destroy all trust. It's hard to imagine how that precious commodity can be rebuilt after it's been destroyed.

You can always replace trust with lots of honesty. If trust is broken, then honesty is the only commodity that will allow the betrayed mate to feel safe after the affair. Free-flowing honesty serves as the first sign in determining if a mate is committed to the relationship. Safety must be the goal, not trust. Creating safety lays the foundation for rebuilding trust.

Hope for Healing Registration opens today at Noon CT.

Designed specifically for wayward spouses, Hope for Healing is a supportive, nonjudgmental environment for you to heal and develop empathy. Over the years, this 17-week, small group course has helped thousands of people find hope, set healthy boundaries and move toward extraordinary lives.

Click the button below to learn more about Hope for Healing and to claim your spot.

Register For Hope For Healing!

How great would it feel if you could trust your mate again or if your mate would trust you again? It's possible, but it takes time. Before that can happen, you and your mate have to explore what happened and what made your relationship vulnerable, and you need to see your mate taking the necessary steps to move forward. Without willingness from both partners to be safe enough for the marriage, it's impossible for trust to grow. Without the unfaithful spouse first trusting their mate with what happened, it's hard for the betrayed spouse to trust. Without a mutual understanding of the problem, it's impossible to trust your mate. Without a belief that things can and will be better in the future, trust won't be reestablished. Until you believe your mate understands your pain and that they grieve over what they've done to you, it's hard to trust.

Rebuilding trust isn't an easy undertaking. It's normal to wonder if it's even worth it as you decide whether to commit to the relationship long term. It takes patience, respectful communication, and dedication to the process in order to co-create a better relationship than you had before.

Before we look at how to rebuild trust, let's first see if we can define it. Trust is the confident belief that our spouse's intentions and motivations are thoughtful, kind, and compassionate toward us, that they have our best interest at heart; and we are similarly responsive to them and their needs.

We are all born with the ability to trust others but, through our life experiences, many of us become less trusting and tend to protect ourselves by disconnecting in various ways. Think about when you fell in love and were getting married. It was invigorating and intoxicating and scary all at the same time. Most of us had questions about our own or our fiancé's abilities to keep promises, to be dependable, to not betray us, and to not keep secrets. On the other hand, as an engaged or newlywed couple, we might have said that of course we trust each other.

But in reality, trust is built over time as we continue to feel emotionally safe with each other. Marriage expert, John Gottman, says that the work of building trust occurs as we move through life together, where there are misunderstandings and miscommunications we have to repair. It is in the repair work that healing, learning, and integration happen.

In the book he co-authored with Nan Silver, What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal*, they suggest that we create attunement through the "art of intimate conversations," one conversation at a time, spread out over the lifespan of the relationship. Conversation is indeed an art, and intimacy is a fundamental element of trust. Remember, these conversations are hard. They are not always pleasant, and they may not make us feel close in the moment. But they are so important. The authors developed a beautiful acronym to illustrate this work of creating emotional connection:

Awareness – Acknowledge each other's emotions. Consciously look for your spouse's emotional state.
Turning Toward – Address your spouse's emotion. Talk about it.
Tolerance – Accept the reality of your spouse's emotion.
Understanding – Momentarily put your own perspective aside and seek to understand their opinion.
Non-Defensive Listening – Help clarify your spouse's position first.
Empathy – Understanding what your spouse's experience is like.1

Gottman also says that intimate conversations include learning to put our feelings into words as well as asking thought-provoking, open-ended questions, making sure you understand what the other is saying and feeling by responding in your own words with the emotion and words you heard them say. When your partner feels heard and understood, it will open them up to share more with you.

There is no better time than to practice this. If you are reading this article, then you are likely going through the most difficult season in your life. I believe that betrayal trauma presents a unique opportunity to repair and heal and then increase safety and trust for the long haul. I am in no way minimizing the heartbreaking pain caused by infidelity. It creates a pain like no other. It is very difficult to reestablish trust, but believe me whan I say that it is more than possible.

Affair Recovery's internal polling research shows that 85% of couples who have attended the EMS Weekend Retreat or the EMS Online Course report saving their marriage at the one-year time point after participation. But you can't stop there, building a better relationship is a lifetime endeavor. Some of the best and strongest relationships I know are based on the hard work, repair, and healing that came after infidelity.

Infidelity recovery is work and takes time. It's messy; you are both going to make mistakes along the way. In the beginning, the unfaithful spouse needs to lead the way in taking responsibility and reestablishing trust.

If you are the unfaithful spouse and need help with expressing empathy and reestablishing trust, I'd like to invite you to consider enrolling in our Hope for Healing course. It is a 17-week, online course designed to help you in many aspects of your healing journey. It covers healthy communication, how to create safety for you and your spouse, neuroscience, and much more. Check it out at affairrecovery.com under the Programs tab.

Hope for Healing Registration Opens Today at Noon CT! Space Is Limited!

Designed specifically for wayward spouses, Hope for Healing is a supportive, nonjudgmental environment for you to heal and develop empathy. Over the years, this 17-week, small group course has helped thousands of people find hope, set healthy boundaries and move toward extraordinary lives.

"The sooner after D-Day you can become involved in Affair Recovery, the better. I went from not being welcome in my own home to sharing a bed with my wife once again - much sooner than I expected. EMS Online helped us to communicate effectively, and Hope for Healing really helped me understand the issues I have with myself. Meeting strangers that are in the exact same situation as you is so helpful. They become your friends and confidants." - E., Pennsylvania | April 2021 HFH Participant

Spaces fill up quickly for this course. Click the button below to learn more about Hope for Healing and to claim your spot.

Register For Hope For Healing!



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Why Is Trust The Number One Issue In Recovery?

Your one statement really says it all for me, "Until you believe your mate understands your pain and that they grieve over what they’ve done to you it’s hard to trust."  It has been 5 years since discovery and things are good, maybe even in many areas better than ever, but I have never felt that he grieved for what he had done or realized the cost.  The operative word there being "felt" and feelings are not always fact.  However, trust is really slow coming for me because I haven't felt there was much regret.


Forgiveness for my own mental well being. Trust- absolutely not. Remorse was probably because he was caught. Now projects and tries very hard to "catch" me in infidelity which is hard when all I do is sit and work. I have NEVER been unfaithful to him and he knows it. He knows where I am at all times, he "monitors" my phone calls and would probably hook me up to a monitor to read my thoughts if he could. He projects, its scary.

What type of affair was it?

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