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

Relapse Prevention & How to Recover from an Affair

relapse prevention

Last week while speaking to a group of past participants, I casually brought up the topic of relapse. Talk about sucking all the air out of the room. Even I was surprised by the reactivity. Threats flew around the room like bats coming out at sunset. "If you do it again I'm out of here," quipped one betrayed spouse. "Why did you have to go stirring things up?" asked an unfaithful spouse. "We were doing just fine until you brought that up." There was heavy breathing, cursing, and overall displeasure. In an instant, I went from saint to goat. But why does merely bringing up the idea of relapse do such a number on us emotionally?

What really is relapse?

We fall out of love long before we fall out with our mate.

How does that statement make you feel? Do you agree or disagree?

Falling out of love isn’t about losing a feeling for another person; it’s about how I treat another person. When I speak of love I'm not talking about a mere feeling, but rather an attitude, and when I speak of relapse I'm not talking about betraying your mate, but rather, betraying yourself.

Falling out of love isn't about a loss of passion; it's about a loss of compassion.

Self-betrayal is just that, when I betray myself I betray…

  • My beliefs:

Do you really believe it’s okay to be selfish and hurt others? But when we betray ourselves we do just that and somehow deceive ourselves into thinking what we’re doing is okay. Learning how to recover from an affair means knowing what I truly believe and wish to base my life upon until my time here on earth is done.

  • My values:

What are your values? In order to get a better idea of your true values, ask yourself this question: Do you teach your children it’s okay to lie or to call others names? Is disrespect an attribute you want them to value? Normally we try to live in a way that’s consistent with our value system, but once we betray ourselves we fall out of love and begin violating our personal value system. We move away from love to mere self-gratification. Recovering after an affair means really thinking about my values and whether or not I’m living them out.

  • My heart’s desire:

Is it your heart’s desire to inflict pain or make someone’s life miserable? Is that really how you want to treat others? (Even though it may be tempting). Is that how you want to be seen or remembered? It’s my desire to be faithful and kind to others, but once I fall out of love (i.e. away from love), I betray myself and no longer act according to my true heart’s desire. In that moment, self-deception allows me to believe I want something totally different.

  • My commitments:

Are you someone who honors your commitments? If so, then you know you’ve fallen out of love and into self-betrayal when you begin to feel justified in breaking your commitments.

"Falling out of love” is nothing more than

becoming self-centered

When I married Stephanie, I vowed to love her till death do us part, and at that moment I was as serious as a heart attack. I wanted to love and cherish her as I had vowed to do. My heart’s desire was to share my life with her. That’s the path I willingly chose, but over time, I betrayed my heart’s desire. Instead of sharing my life with her, I shut her out and began seeking my own self-gratification at her expense. Love always acts in the best interest of another, and as long as I looked at her through a lens of concern and compassion we did well. When I stopped being concerned for her and become self-consumed, I betrayed my heart’s desires and my values and fell “out of love". “Falling out of love” is nothing more than becoming self-centered. Coming to this realization is a key moment in learning how to recover from an affair. We stop being concerned about others, and instead, see them as objects blocking what we want from life. Now, instead of loving our mate we attempt to manage them to do what we need in order for us to feel happy, secure or fulfilled.

Being self-centered comes naturally to us humans; we're born that way. We come into this world 100% totally self-centered. For an infant, all that’s important is getting fed or having a diaper changed. Caring for others isn't in their repertoire. As we mature, hopefully we learn to love and care for others. We get over “us” and develop a heartfelt concern for the well-being of others. Learning to love is a natural developmental progression for human beings, but it's hard not to relapse, returning to old ways of being and betraying our own nature. We become more concerned with how well our mate's meeting our needs, rather than loving our mate. We stop loving and begin acting out of self-interest rather than the interest of our mate.

We Resort to Managing Our Mate

Once we've fallen “out of love" we begin controlling and managing our mate to get what we want rather than considering their needs and desires. We relapse when we regress to our infancy and deceive ourselves into thinking life is all about us; forgetting that we are supposed to be about life. We become self-seeking with little or no regard for what it’s like to live on the other side of us. And when we wound others instead of taking responsibility we justify our actions by blaming others,

My mate is never my problem, but my mate does reveal the problem(s) in me. I believe marriage is life’s primary people growing machine. It's the place where I learn to love and care for others, but it's also the place where I discover my personal defects of character. When things don't go my way my self-centeredness is revealed. When dealing with infidelity we're apt to define relapse as a repeat of the betrayal, but that’s barely touching the surface. We relapse when we fail to love. When I choose to be concerned for my mate I’m being whom I want. When I betray my mate and become self-seeking, I then relapse into old ways of being that lead to destruction.

Love is by far the best relapse prevention. Caring about others keeps us out of the ditch. Are you a life giver or a life taker; selfless or selfish? I hope you’ll take a moment after reading this to evaluate your own behavior. Do you love well or have you relapsed? If you've been unfaithful I know you would never want a repeat performance. Hope for Healing is a great way to prevent relapse. Do all you can to prevent falling back into old ways of being and consider getting help today.

If you’re having trouble moving beyond your mate’s betrayal, I do hope you’ll take advantage of our Harboring Hope class. It’s a great way to gain new perspective on your own healing and restoration, regardless of what happens to the marriage. 




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Thank you for this! This is

Thank you for this! This is the most helpful thing I have read. As a betrayed spouse, I have tried so hard to understand my husband's motives, intent, and behavior during his affair. Usually, I place all of the blame on myself, and immediately following the discovery of his affair, my husband was happy to let me take it. Fifteen months later my husband is a radically different person, the best husband you could imagine. Loving and kind and taking responsibility for his actions. But I still bare the emotional scars of my husband justifying his affair to himself, to me, and to our friends and family by saying that he was no longer "in love" with me. The fear that it could happen again is paralyzing, because trust has been absolutely shattered. Thank you for helping me to understand what the pathway to relapse looks like. Thank you for helping me to understand what my husband was really saying when he told me that he was no longer "in love" with me.

My husband kept telling me

My husband kept telling me even after he was caught that he never fell out of love with me, but I know he had to have had in order to justify what he was doing. He still continues to lie to himself like that.

Looking back, it is not

Looking back, it is not surprising that my husband had an affair. It fit in quite well with all of his other selfish behavior - acting like the paycheck he brought home was his and ignoring my needs, telling me exactly what to cook and how to cook it to please him without regard to my tastes, making me leave a church that I loved and was very active in order to find a "neutral" church (and thus not offending his family), and acting like I didn't have a family at holiday times. Even though my husband has never really been willing to address his unfaithfulness through counseling, Hope for Healing, or even reading books, he is not the selfish man I married. This gives me some hope.

I believe that this "falling

I believe that this "falling out of love" is what makes the affair happen in the first place not just what can cause a relapse. I think the article can apply to the first betrayal not just subsequent ones. I found this very interesting and enlightening. Thanks.


I, too, knew that my husband had "fallen out of love with me" and was only thinking of himself, though I tried to hold it together... Now looking back he admits that he was acting in very un-loving ways toward me: shutting me out of his life and not sharing his heart with me any more. Instead he would share it with total strangers he met on the internet. So now the only way to restore our marriage is for him to learn to truly love me again and allow me back into his life. We shall see...


Thank you for this very enlightening and useful information. It will help me help my spouse if I see him reverting to self-centerdness. It also helps me not to go that route. To healing with you for His glory.

Falling out of love is nothing more than becoming self-centered

This comment -- "Falling out of love” is nothing more than becoming self-centered -- is so extremely true. My wife had a 2-year emotional affair that I found out about 2-plus years ago. We decided to stay married and went to counseling for the past couple years together and individually. She said she fell out of love with me and it came during a time period of a few years where I was going through my worst period of my life struggling with unemployment and my relationship with God.

Now, 2-plus years later, there is still so much disconnect. She is still so cold to me. No kissing, no holding hands, no cuddling, no hugs. She snuggles with my teen-age son on the couch while we watch TV as I sit lonely on a chair across the room. She said that love is not a choice and she just does not "feel in love" with me anymore. I still end my phone conversations with "I love you" and when I leave the house. She hasn't said "I love you" in years. She says she doesn't want to fake anything.

So what do I do? My heart is still shattered like a trillion pieces of glass all over the floor that are sitting there as she walks all over them. Instead of helping put those pieces of my heart back together again, she keeps the wall up. No emotional or spiritual connection. I am just in a state of sadness all the time trying to remember the good days of when she was warm, smiled at me, desired me, wanted to be with me, called me her best friend. I just hurt so much and don't know when -- if ever -- that pain will go away. I just want to have a marriage that I can enjoy again.

And what scares me even more is the example we are setting for our children who have witnessed the disconnect and how my wife treats me. Will they ever want to be married? I wouldn't know why they would. I know I sure don't want to continue having a relationship like this. It royally sucks. But I am sticking with it out of the vow I made before God and to my wife. It is a covenant relationship and we are one flesh in God's eyes, so I will stick it out through thick or thin no matter how much more thick and thin it can get. And I will never "fall out of love" with my wife even though she is still not loving me.

Falling out of love

I am sorry that you are having to deal with such pain. One thing that resignates from your post is your desire for her to help put your broken heart back together. While it be a tremendous relief for her to show empathy and concern for fixing the issue.....Remember that she had to be "broken" in order to have this emotional affair, so you probably shouldn't wait for her to fix you. She can't. Broke can't fix broke. This is something that I had to come to. I wanted my mate to DO SOMETHING to stop the hurt. After reading several books and articles on this website, I realized that my expectations were not realistic. I am sorry to say...if she has not dealt with herself...she can't focus on you.

I commend your strong faith in god and the marital arrangement. Perhaps counseling could help.

why do you stay?

I may be the contrarian and will most certainly be excoriated for what I'm about to say - but why do you stay? If she's that cold, distant and incapable of loving you why would you continue to torment yourself? People divorce everyday, not to say it's a good thing as I believe too many simply give up rather than put in the hard work it takes to stay married. But, not all marriages are healthy and some are outright abusive - emotional, physical, and/or psychological. Yours certainly seems like it borders on emotional abuse. You did not cause this life - your wife did and she seems to show no remorse or willingness to put in the effort to love you. In fact, it appears from an outsiders perspective she's simply waiting it out until the time is right for HER to leave. What has she demonstrated that tells she's committed to you and the marriage? If she hasn't then it seems you have some hard choices because you can't continue to cling on to a hope that appears tenuous at best and at worst is simply prolonging the inevitable. I'm certainly no expert and struggle with my own faults as the betrayer, but I read so many posts by the betrayed where their spouses show little or no intent on saving the marriage or becoming better people yet the betrayed cling on for dear life. At some point you have to become healthy and happy again and the worst thing you can do, in my humble opinion, is to hold onto hope that does not appear to be there. I am so sorry for your loss and it breaks my heart that you and so many other betrayed are stuck in this horrendous limbo. It's your turn to be self-centered (note I did not say selfish - a very nuanced difference as your wife was both). Please, take care of yourself to heal and find your own happiness whether she wants to be a part of it or not. You deserve more - trust me, as someone who betrayed a beautiful and amazing person, I know I'm not worth it until I become a better person and I'm the ONLY one that can make that happen.

Speaking as a betrayed, I

Speaking as a betrayed, I agree with stevens. My wife had a three year emotional and physical affair, and it continued after she revealed it to me and while I was doing everything I could to improve myself and demonstrate my commitment. In retrospect, I was deeply afraid to face the reality that she did not want the marriage. I remained in denial for 7 months until the pain of her continued affair was too great to continue on my path of hanging on. It’s been a year since her affair was revealed, and I opted for divorce. It’s been incredibly painful, but this is the right path for me. I contributed to the failure of my marriage, but I did everything I could to save it and transform it. The future is scary, but I have hopes, dreams and goals for myself and my children that I focus on.

I know your pain, and I’m sorry for your loss and suffering. I’m reading a book called The Journey From Abandonment To Healing, which describes the process of recovery from this type of loss. It helps me immensely understand the barrage of emotions that hit me daily and cyclically. It provides tools for processing my pain. I’m sure it can help you as well.

I sense a lot of fear in your response, fear for yourself and your kids. It’s totally understandable. It’s hard to see beyond that fear. Please think about the message living in a relationship gripped by fear sends your child. Fear should not be the basis from which we live our relationships in marriage and friendship. In a relationship based on fear, the one who hangs on out of fear of loss and abandonment is powerless and not on an equal footing as the other person. It’s not a relationship based on mutual respect and concern for the other. That is not the message I want my children to learn from me. Our kids learn the most from our actions, not our words. Hanging on to a relationship that is not defined by mutual concern and respect is not a meaningful one. This affair and divorce has been painful for my kids as well, but they are getting to see a healthier side of me. I wish you well on your journey.

reply to 'why do you stay'

Agreed. Perfectly expressed.

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