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

Relapse Prevention & How to Recover from an Affair

To err is human, to forgive divine. Last week while speaking to a group of past participants and others wanting to learn how to recover from an affair, I 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." In an instant, I went from saint to goat. But why? What is relapse? How does it play into healing after an affair?

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 believe.

·  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. Healing 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.

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.

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 in me. I believe marriage is God'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 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 betrayal I do hope you’ll take advantage of our groups at Affair Recovery. It’s a great way to gain new perspective in learning how to love.

If you’d like a personal evaluation of your situation, please call Tony at 512-879-6326.




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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.

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