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

Social Shame: Surviving Infidelity Isn’t Enough

Social Shame: A 4 Part Series

  1. Social Shame: Understanding the Paralysis of it
  2. Social Shame: Have you Been Dishonored?
  3. Social Shame: Surviving Infidelity Isn't Enough
  4. Social Shame: Four Ways to Stay in it

Imagine this: On Super Bowl Sunday, I walk out of my friend’s viewing party and fumble drunkenly behind the wheel of my car. On my way home, I hit and kill a pedestrian on his bicycle. I choose to announce my pending jail sentence in this newsletter because I know the news will soon be picked up by national media.

How would you feel about your association with Affair Recovery?

Would you feel concern and compassion for my plight, worried that something must be wrong for me to do something so heinous? Or would you feel contempt and disgust, declaring me a fraud? Do you see me as shameful? Am I someone you want to call and give support? Would your reaction to that news cause any sort of shift of your opinion of Affair Recovery? Would it make you feel even more fortunate to have found Affair Recovery and joined an honest community of broken people working to become whole again? Would you see our material as even more relevant or would the perceived value of our materials take a nosedive? Does it make you more excited to share Affair Recovery as resource for those struggling with infidelity, or would it make you want to keep your association with Affair Recovery to yourself? Would you want to unsubscribe from our mailing list?

Your reaction to the above scenario is a great example of what we refer to as the honor-shame system (further explained in “Have You Been Dishonored?”). If you’re associated with Affair Recovery and I do something shameful, then you may feel the social shame that is ascribed to all who are a part of our community. Our reputation and sense of worth isn’t just tied to personal achievement; a social rating score that is determined by the people systems we are associated with also determine our positive or negative feeling of self-worth. Your response to the scenario above would also determine what happens to your social rating score. If you separate yourself from AR then you maintain your honor. If you support me then you are likely to be ascribed my shame.

Recovering from an affair is about more than just surviving infidelity; it’s about overcoming the social shame associated with infidelity. It’s having a good reputation and once again feeling you can hold your head high. It’s about being someone that people want to be associated with, rather than someone people seem to avoid.

Our sense of value and worth is based on the sum of two parts: Personal identity derived from beliefs about myself as an individual, and social identity derived from perceived belonging or association with our relevant social groups.

Before we proceed let me once again define these concepts.

Guilt is a cognitive or emotional experience that occurs when a person believes they have violated either their own standard of conduct or a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.1 Guilt is based on the belief that I’ve done something bad; it is not about me being bad.

Shame, on the other hand, is an identity message. It’s about who you are, not what you’ve done. It’s the difference between “I did bad” and “I am bad”. Brene Brown defines shame as:

 The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.2

As explained in “Have You Been Dishonored?”, we are dividing shame into two separate categories. The first is personal shame based on the western concept of individualism, and the second is social shame based on the eastern concept of the honor- shame system. Just as we are unable to see the air we breathe, western culture’s lens of individualism throws a cloak of invisibility over the honor-shame dynamic, making us unaware of the role it plays in our lives.

Personal Shame:

Individualism measures a person’s worth based on personal performance in life. If you are strong, overcome adversity, are successful, and live according to your moral code then you’ll be respected by others and can feel proud. If instead you are weak, fail to overcome adversity, and violate your own moral code, then most likely you’ll have little or no respect and feel shame, believing you are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Social Shame:

This is based on our perceived value according to the people groups we belong to. For instance, if you are a citizen of the United States you are a part of that people group, you are ascribed the honor or shame that comes with belonging to that country. If you are a citizen of Brazil and your team loses the World Cup, the shame of losing is ascribed to all citizens living in Brazil. Much of our reputation and social rating score comes from family, our circle of friends, church, or civic organization(s) we belong to.

For example, several days after the news of my affair, Stephanie went to a bookstore in search of resources to help her understand something about affairs. Just asking where she might find resources on infidelity caused an intense feeling of shame. She knew the woman helping her could see she was married to someone who had cheated on her and as a result was flooded with shame. This shame was not because of something she had done, but was because she was now part of a shameful marriage instead of a respectable one. Social shame isn’t based on personal failure; it is ascribed to us by the people groups we belong to.

This week we’ll give examples of how social shame is ascribed to those who have been betrayed. Two people have graciously written their experiences to help reveal how social shame is communicated. The names and places have been altered to protect their identities.

Case #1: Michael and Cindy

  What happened?

Michael, a therapist, was arrested for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

  Cindy’s Story:

When the news of Michael’s arrest hit the media, life as we knew it ended. In our case there was no hiding the accusation. Just the act of leaving the house was overwhelming. Not only was Michael being judged for what he had done, but the reactions of others caused me to feel the same shame he was experiencing. It was clearly communicated by those close to us that my choosing to stay with him made me an accomplice and caused me to be just as shameful. This was communicated in many ways.

At a high level, the state of Missouri told me I was a poor and unsafe mother because I wasn’t divorcing my husband. For me to be a woman of integrity and character who was safe for her own children I had to leave their father. They labeled me as unfit and even threatened to take my children away. (Note from Rick: Some of you may agree that Cindy is unfit for not leaving her husband, but I can assure you that wasn’t the case. Michael posed absolutely no risk to his kids. Even sadder in my opinion was the fact that no one even wanted to talk about what had happened. Reality was defined by the media, not by the facts.)

Because of what my husband had done and the fact that I stayed with him I lost all of my oldest friends. They no longer felt comfortable with me being a part of the group. The loss of those relationships really hurt, and made me feel I was no longer desirable even to my friends (the affair obviously made me feel this way too, but this was a different kind of wound).

All but three of our circle of friends would have nothing to do with us. They were appalled at the charge and didn’t want to be seen associating with our family. Each time I ran into one of these people I felt both anger and shame. Because I was still with my husband I was treated as if I were a leper.

Our church informed me that I was welcome to attend, but that my husband was not. I think they were worried about how it would reflect on them. Their decision made me feel untrustworthy and foolish for not foreseeing the issue our church elders would have with Michael’s attendance.

I was surprised to find our neighborhood didn't ascribe that social shame. Michael went door-to-door to everyone in our cul-de-sac, looking them in the eye and telling them what happened. He apologized for any difficulty his presence in the neighborhood caused them. Maybe it was because Michael talked with them or the fact that they had not been as closely associated to him as our friends, but they supported us and stood with us. They are one of the few groups that seem to respect me and validate me. I felt my reputation as a good mother and wife increased.

The response of our family was somewhat mixed. Michael's family was amazing. Although it was painful for them to walk through this with us they were there through it all and treated me with honor and respect for my choice to stay with my husband. It made me proud to be a part of his family. My parents were divorced and remarried. My father, the first time he saw Michael, came straight up to Michael and hugged him telling him how much he loved him. Dad was with us every step of the way, giving us encouragement with no sense of judgment. That made me proud of my dad. My mother wanted nothing to do with Michael and made it clear that as long as I was with him we couldn't have a relationship.

The pain of being judged by the community, our dear friends, and my mother crushed me. It seemed I could only live five minutes at a time. But in the midst of my pain I clearly heard God tell me to hang on because He would give me a new circle of friends.

After my husband was released from prison we began attending a new church. The first thing Michael did was go to the pastor and the elders. He shamelessly told his story and asked if they would be comfortable with his attending church. We were amazed by their response. Not only did they welcome us with open arms, but they honored us by supporting us, loving us and placing us in roles of leadership. It was that acceptance and love that began to restore my sense of integrity, dignity, and honor.

Case #2: Matt and Shirley

  What happened?

  Matt was a minister at a church. He is a sex addict struggling with voyeurism.

  Shirley’s Story:

The first time Matt’s sexual addiction came to light, the expectation of our church was for us to stay together - period. I believe to do otherwise would have made me the bad guy. At the same time I felt shame because it seemed people questioned what I had done to make him act out.

When I first found out about my husband’s infidelity, I went through every emotion possible, but felt better believing I wouldn't have to walk this alone, that my friends would support me as they did when he told me he was a sex addict. I had no idea that the personal hell I was walking through was only going to get worse. 

In the initial moments of our friends finding out, I felt nothing but compassion and love. That feeling was so short lived; I quickly noticed how uncomfortable our friends became around us. It left me feeling as though I was falling deeper and deeper into this black pit, and was losing a piece of myself with every passing minute. I suddenly knew what the black sheep felt like. My husband and I were in ministry at the time, when we made the church staff aware of my husband’s infidelity, the response we got confused us even more. There were some who were so loving and willing to walk through this yuck with us, and others who went into self-protect mode. We knew that my husband needed to take some time out of ministry, but I was going to continue with our commitment. I received a call from our pastor informing me that the church had decided that because of my husband’s sins I shouldn't be in ministry either. I sat again in shock, not even a week out of discovery, realizing that I was no longer an individual person. I was now identified by my husband’s infidelity and no longer identified as woman of integrity. I was hurt by my husband’s actions, but it was almost more painful to me when I realized that people we trusted the most were almost scared of us. The church later rectified their actions and realized they made a mistake, but the damage was already done. Not only did I lose my dignity, identity, and self-worth when I discovered my husband’s infidelity, but I lost the respect and honor of others. My friends didn't view me for me anymore, but defined me by the situation - which I didn’t even choose! 

The only friends that stood with us were our friends from another city where we had once lived. We are only eight months out from discovery and I still feel the shame that was heaped on me from what my husband did.

As my husband and I work on our marriage, I’m feeling more pride in our relationship and working on my personal issues is making me feel better about me, but I still feel shame when I’m in public. I don’t know how to regain the respect and honor I felt before his relapse.

These are only two stories, but I believe the majority of those dealing with infidelity have similar stories and suffer from social shame, which is so often looked over and misunderstood. In future articles I hope to give you not only ways to overcome your personal shame, but also ways to restore your sense of dignity and honor in your own circle or community. If you are suffering with shame ascribed to you by the actions of your spouse, consider joining a Harboring Hope class for betrayed women. You’ll walk through recovery step-by-step, and be joined with people who understand exactly where you are and the pain from which you are working to heal.

If you've experienced this, we'd love for you to post comments about your stories when social groups/circles that you belong(ed) to have tried to manage their shame by cutting you out of their lives.

 

  1. “Guilt.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 27 December 2014. Web. 26 January 2015.
  2. Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Peguin, 2012. Print

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shame from my wife's affair

I had two distinct personal reactions to the shame created by my wife's affair.
While I was praised by friends, family and my church leaders for standing by my wife, I personally felt ashamed for doing so. I felt like less of a man and too needy, even too pitiful.
So many people praised me for staying that I now feel shame that I don't want to be married. I know that I have every right to leave, but I feel guilty for wanting to after all this time.
The fact is that I've finally had time to begin to heal (3+ years) and now realize that I should have left when it was easier. I stayed for my children and I stayed for her. I stayed for me, as I wasn't sure what I wanted and love her still. I do love her.
She's a good person who made a mistake, but I've come to realize that it was a fatal one and we will never fully recover from it. Why do I feel so ashamed to want to leave now? I've done everything I can to stay this long..to be a good father and supporting husband.

I feel shamed on so many levels

I can relate to what you shared in the comments about shame in wanting to leave after staying while also still dealing with the shame brought on by the mess that has become my life.

I went through EMSO after discovering my husband of 26 years had been not only having EA and PA for 16 of the 26 years but had also gotten into a legal mess because he took money that wasn't his. I immediately forgave and agree to stay before knowing what all I was forgiving. I was racked with guilt and shame because he was blaming it all on me and my health issues in the beginning. When we got to ground zero (I think) and I learned all of the things that he had done and learned it was not about my health because it started way before. We were starting to really work together to create a new normal and try to heal. I was so ashamed because I felt like I had stayed and offered my unwavering love and support and it was not enough. he went back to saying he wanted out. It wore me down and I began to feel another kind of shame. Here is a man who has destroyed our family, is waiting to see now bad the legal mess is going to be and he has a woman standing there saying she would love and support him and stand by him through it all and none of it was enough. We are now separated in the process of a divorce. We have still kept this whole thing under wraps. We have shared it with our two grown kids and he finally told his parents a couple of weeks ago. I sat and stuck up for him to both our kids and his parents to love him and not condemn him for his mistakes. Yet none of it was enough to make him want to stay and truly give 100 percent to work on his marriage or his relationship. This has brought on a whole other level of shame to me that I gave all of that and I still wasn't good enough? He has said the truth will set him free but he doesn't want to tell anyone and he has had me doing the same thing, keeping his secrets and his shame to protect him. That is not a way to live when the stress of it all affects my health in such a negative way. So as we come up to our 28th wedding anniversary it is in the process of a divorce. I now questions everything we did to work on this marriage....was any of it real? I have gone through the HH online course but I was so focused on trying to save him and us that I have yet to work on healing myself. I am struggling pretty badly because I have no one to be there for me. We have cut ties with everyone we knew which were really all of his family and friends that I would lose anyway. Doesn't seem to matter that he is in the wrong, it is his family that I will lose that has been my family for 30 years. Both of my kids are grown and live out of state. Living in this house that I built into a home for a life that was built on lies is really difficult and I am hoping it sells quickly so that I can move away and start over. I still love my husband and pray for him. With all that he has done and all of the unknown damage of the legal mess he has made and will lose everything before it is all said and done, none of it has made him want to make the real changes necessary to become the man of integrity he portrayed to me, his kids, his family, his employees, himself. I have to let go and let God take care of it and I have to focus on myself. This newest shame of being rejected again after everything I have done to try to save this marriage, this shame is the hardest one.

Response

I feel so sad after reading your story. Remember when Rick said "pain that is not transformed is transmitted"? I don't know your husband, but I wonder if he is feeling shame and transmitting it to you. It's not that you're not good enough. It's that he's not good enough ( in his mind). But if he accepts that he's not good enough, that's shame. So it must be you. People that feel shame ( I'm not good enough ) switch the blame. I have experienced the "it's your fault" so many times. Until I realized what was going on I felt shame. Like you, I felt "not enough". It hurts so badly. I'm working on it in counseling, but it was only when I started to look at the shame my husband was carrying that I began to be more compassionate. Don't feel you are too far along to stop a divorce. I had filed for divorce. I dropped the case, and we are working on our marriage. I am not advising you. I am just trying to share my experience. If it doesn't fit your situation, maybe it will help someone else who reads this. I hope you heal.

Thanks Kathy

I appreciate your words Kathy, I think there is truth in it. He has even mentioned before about not feeling like he is good enough. He has also said he didn't think he could be what I needed and deserved. I know nothing is going to go his way in becoming a better person until he gives it all to God and makes a true change for himself. Not for me or our kids but just for himself. He has no desire to be married anymore, he has no desire to give his life over to God to make true and lasting changes for his soul. I have immense compassion and empathy for this man. I still love him very much and will continue to pray for him to give his life to God. He will continue to struggle through his life in all areas until true commitment to God and a true desire to love God happens to him. Something he has admitted to never feeling like he has had. I can't live with the "it's my fault and I am the blame for his mistakes" anymore. His words and actions don't line up. He has admitted to being a pathological liar and has admitted at one point to his behavior being an addiction but he is now back to it not and having no desire to get help. I have to walk away and work on me. I know my husband has a lot of shame for all the things he has done and the people he has hurt. I have so much compassion and empathy that he took advantage of that and use it to convince me to keep quiet and not talk about it or tell anyone. I had to step back and remove myself from this relationship that was turning toxic and give myself a chance to have a life and heal from all of the hurt. I am not in anyway saying I am perfect and there were and still are areas I need to work in myself. I have been doing that for two years and I have come a long way. At some point though you have to say I can't fight alone anymore. It takes two people willing and committed to working on a relationship. There was only one in ours and I can't save him, only God can.

I do hope your words can help someone else. They were wonderful and very much appreciated. I know that you can stop a divorce and work through things you didn't think were possible because with God ALL things are possible. I know this because I never thought I would be one to forgive and be willing to move forward in the situation I found myself in but I did. I have forgiven him for all the past hurst he did and was willing to stand and support him through the coming issues. In my case, however, there was not two willing partners and I had to give him what he wanted and move forward and see what God has in store for me next.

Feeling shame

We have been very select with the friends we have told mostly because of the shame and the loss if respect that comes from people knowing about this an affair. See before my husband did this I thought any person that cheats on their spouse was just horrible, untrustworthy in every area, and had the morals of an alley cat. I am having an issue over coming these thoughts. My husband is working hard to restore our marriage, but I am having issues with accepting that he was capable of this type of behavior. It has allowed me to see characteristics in him that I find so very undesirable. And then there is the same of it all. Even though many people don't know, several of the ones that do say things like "I don't know how you stay with him I could not do it" or "your a better woman than me". A couple of our friends have pulled away and acted like cheating is catching. A few have been honest enough to ask what caused him to do this. When this happened I realized some of the issue is them. Cause until this happened to me they felt safe. Our circle was safe. Our husbands would never do anything like this!! But now they realize that if it could happen to me it could happen to them. My husband and I served the church. We went in mission trips, he worked in every service, I was a Sunday school teacher and youth leader. And all of these things in everyone's minds made us "better than that". I say it made us larger targets. . Yes I am ashamed. Ashamed of my husbands behavior. Ashamed I was so proud to think that this could never happen to me. Ashamed to admit that for some reason unknown by me that I was not enough to keep my husbands attention. Ashamed that people will judge me as weak or needy and wonder why I stayed.
I know understand the book The Scarlet Letter so much clearer now. Even though I don't wear one on my chest I feel as though I do.

You said "I am having issues

You said "I am having issues with accepting that he was capable of this type of behavior." Perhaps therein lies your difficulty. Not only is your husband capable of that type of behavior, but so are you. Many wonderful people, both men and women, are shocked and horrified to find themselves in an affair. Everyone-I repeat -EVERYONE is vulnerable to an affair. Leave important needs go unmet long enough (albeit unknowingly) and then have circumstances where someone else comes along and starts to meet those needs and you have the perfect storm with the opportunity for a resultant affair. Forgiveness comes from accepting that you could have done the same, in the right (though different) circumstances. You are not morally superior to your husband, (or his AP by the way).

I don't agree

While it is true that everyone is capable of an affair and everyone contributes (usually not equally) to the affair...usually only one partner compromises his/her morals and has the affair. It's a conscious choice to make that leap over the line...despite any excuse..as we know right from wrong. I would say the betrayed spouse is definitely morally superior.

We are all the aame

It really is impossible to report yourself as morally superior. The previous poster is correct. You do not have the same background, life events, and wounds as the unfaithful spouse...you do not have the same needs driving you. As long as you continue to place yourself on a different, "superior" list than those around you, whether they have had an abortion, a DUI, or an affair, while you haven't. ..well, you may have simply had the good fortune of not being tested where you are weak, rather than your sterling morals surviving the test. By this I mean, you may insist you would never do THIS but in fact you would have actually chosen to do THAT in the right though different circumstances, just as the previous poster said.

I dont think you are

I dont think you are completely correct in saying she is not morally superior to her husband or affair partner. Theoretically speaking its true that "anyone" could fall victim if you will to engaging in an affair. I guess the same could go for being a murderer, theif, terrorist etc...given the right circumstances. However, there are those of us that possess more moral integrity. Meaning that we have been neglected, needs have not been met and there were many opportunities to step outside the marriage but because of our moral integrity we did not. When we were behind closed doors and when no one was watching we remained faithful. Our actions and thoughts would indicate that we have stayed true to our morals. It is pefectly acceptable to judge another's actions being right or wrong however we are not capable of judging one's state of their soul. That is only for God to do. Yes its true that the unfaithful could have possessed our same morals at some time but they chose to abandon them. Therefore, my morals being that I am the faithful one, are superior at that moment. I also believe the unfaithful can restore their character and morals with help, God and time. Also, i dont recall reading in Rick's material that one must realize that we are capable of committing the same crimes in order to forgive. I believe it has more to do finding some type of compassion for the trespassers and realizing they are very lost, broken people but are still capable of receiving God's forgiveness. When you have not been unfaithful and when you have remained true to your morals it is extremely difficult to understand how people can inflict such pain and devastation on their loved ones. It is hard to comprehend such selfishness but it is not impossible to seek compassion and an understanding of how those people got there.

Feeling Shame

I feel exactly the way the above poster feels. Second hand guilt or shame by association to my husband because of his addiction. I too, wear an unearned, undeserved crown of thorns. How much more will I lose?
How many of MY HUSBAND'S SIN MUST ME AND MY CHILDREN PAY BEFORE WE ARE FREE?
I need support in the worst way. I understand why he did the things he did, but him being sorry does not remove the shame, nor the feelings of being with someone that I feel uncomfortable with.
I see him as pathetic, and NOW HE WANTS TO GIVE ME HIS WHOLE HEART!!!
I don't even want it. Sometimes, I can't stand him. He's a familiar stranger. Someone I used to know, love, and respect. Now, I pity him. He feels like damaged goods. Second hand, leftovers.
Why should I want him now that he sprinkled himself around like birdseed? Don't I deserve better?

Same

I feel the same, that is all I can say... I feel the same!!!

I'm so sorry for what you're

I'm so sorry for what you're gong through. I think it's amazing that you were willing to forgive and repair your marriage, and it truly is a shame that your husband is not.

I pray that God heals your heart!!!

Don't deny your emotions

Anon2 don't deny your emotions. If you used a therapist in the past contact them. Talk to them. Talk to your wife. Have you been able to truly forgive her? Is it just a pride issue? Are you committed to her or are you committed to the vow of marriage? My grandparents stayed married because they where committed to the vow of marriage, but the last 20-25 years of it was loveless and like roommates. My husbands grandparents have spent 30 years fighting because of an affair. They are bitter and hurt and angry people. But they are committed because they made a vow.

I can totally identify with

I can totally identify with you. People also praised me and I felt the exact same way you described! It has been almost 8 years since my wife did this. If I could give you some encouragement, it does get better. We are still together and it has been the toughest journey of my life! You are totally justified to leave but you can make it through it if she is truly committed to your marriage. I do feel your pain and will be praying for you!

Feeling hopeless.

I am the wife and the guilty party of a similar situation. 4 years have passed and I believe my husband feels the same as you. Is there anything that would make you want to stay?

I'm sorry to say this..but

I'm sorry to say this..but right now there is nothing that will change my mind, except time. The only thing that I hope for is that enough time passes that I forget how hurt I feel and the "tincture of time" does its work to fade the memorise of what happened. I do feel better today than I did a year ago, but unless something major changes for me personally...no, I don't think there will be anything that makes me want to stay.

Leaning into Social Shame

My affair partner and I were both on staff at our church when we disclosed our affair. My husband was also a Pastor on staff. The affair was announced publicly to the 75+ staff members, as well as the 400+ women attending the weekly bible studies. In a meeting as to whether the announcement was necessary, we were told that if they didn't announce it, friends of the other family may feel I "got away with something"

One week post disclosure the leaders suggested my husband take some time off work to focus on our marriage. Two weeks later in a staff meeting, where my husband was not present, my husband's role/responsibility in my choice to have an affair was the topic of discussion. The senior pastor called my husband "guilty" for my sinful choices.

We were asked to not attend church on the main campus on Sunday mornings because it was uncomfortable for the other family and the friends of the other family. Ten weeks post disclosure, after several conversations about whether my husband had "lost his call to ministry", my husband was told there was "no longer a position available". Sadly, he never had the opportunity to meet before the board of Elders. After they had fired him, many of the church elders would not even make eye contact with him.

When they announced my husband's resignation, they glazed over it, wording it as if it were a mutual decision, and they only announced it at one of the small satellite services.

Needless to say, rumors were set in motion by the confusion between what people saw with their own eyes and what they heard from leadership.

My husband and I could hardly concentrate on our marital problems. We were both unemployed and I was consumed with guilt and shame for having publicly destroyed his ministry.

It was late one night when we decided to lean into it. I had been blogging privately about our recovery --sharing it only with a few friends. We decided to make the blog public.

Now, I write about our journey and he reads each article before we publish. We don't blog about our experience with the church leadership. There's no life in that. We talk about marriage, hope, esteem, vows, sin, purity, commitment, fulfillment and promise. Oh, and infidelity.

The result has been phenomenal. We have learned so much from this experience. The affair and the public shame.

Coming up on our one year marker, we are both so THANKFUL for the decision to lean into the shame. It does not have a hold on us. For each person who "unfriended/blocked" us on social media there has been several dozen who have sought us out.

Like

I wish there was a "like" button for what you just said about leaning into the shame and talking about it. I think I could finally begin to heal if I could get my spouse to discuss the shame we both feel about his affairs. I have talked about my shame concerning what I felt that I did to contribute to making the marriage vulnerable to affairs and I have asked his forgiveness. But he won't initiate a talk about it and won't talk about his shame except to say he has it. It's sad.

I can relate

Jackie, I can so relate to your story, but it's sad that it is this way. My wife and I are both in staff at a large church, and when her affair became known to me, the only "words of wisdom" we were given were to keep it private and "don't let it affect the ministry". It's a sad state when the hospital turns away the wounded. But we have healed on our own and are now helping other couples going through the same thing, albeit privately. It's a shame that the betrayed so many times has no one in the church to turn to. People would rather wash their hands of it and have nothing to do with it, than walk through it with the wounded. Keep up the good work!!!

Thank you for your blog :)

I just checked out your blog and wanted to give you a big THANKS! Since finding out about my husband's infidelity I have struggled to find very many voices in the blogosphere that want to maintain positivity in the face of infidelity. The "27 List" post really spoke to my heart. Thank you :)

The shame hurts so badly

At first, I thought that I didn't feel any shame--I mean I am ashamed of what my husband did, but after all, he owns it. So I felt like all the shame belonged to him. When I read this article, I now can identify the shameful feelings that I have been feeling for the past one to two years (we had two dates of disclosure for the same affair). The pain of these feelings is intense and I wonder is the shame of being in a marriage that has such shame attached to it more painful and more difficult than the pain of leaving the shameful marriage and moving on. Who knows?????

The pain of living this mess and the shame I feel when I am involved with people who know the story is not explainable. When I see people who don't know the story and they tell me what a beautiful couple/family we are, I feel shame because I think--if they only knew!!! This whole ordeal has cost us so much, family, friends, dignity, jobs. I have lived through such madness and we aren't close to being healed.

I pray that I can find the strength to forgive, the dignity to live through shame and desire to be in love again. I wish everyone on this journey peace and joy.

Well said!

Thank you for this article. This perfectly describes the feelings I had, and still have, around my husband's infidelity. Even 2 years later, with both of us in committed recovery through the 12 steps, this shame still haunts me.. Though it has lessened as my wounds have healed and personal shame has begun to dissipate, I still struggle with knowing that many people can't help but judge me, wonder how I failed as a wife, or why I stay. And, if I decide to leave, I know I would be judged by some for that. Even the comments that friends who love me make, "I could never do what you are doing" feel like judgment. We have made new friends at a new church, and we are afraid to tell them because of the responses we have gotten when others have found out, especially if they hear the words "sex addict". We don't even know if we can disclose to our new pastor, in case they feel his past mistakes mean he cannot serve in any ministry. It hurts. I am trying to learn not to judge myself, to affirm my own worth that is not diminished by his choices, or even what others think of my choices, but my healing in that area is slow-going. Thank you for touching on this issue so well, and I loved the Brene' Brown quotes; she is a great resource. Even your open discussion of the issue reminds me that I am not alone in this, and that others understand. So appreciated!

Need more articles on this topic

Rick please write more on this. Will the shame get better with time? How can the unfaithful restore their reputation?

Never thought this would be me

My husband and I married for the first time 2 years ago when I was 44. He rarely spoke to me and when I would try to talk to him, he would intentionally ignore me and laugh at me. I met someone much younger than me in an online forum. I told my husband about it at every step and he encouraged me to spend time with him. The other person listened to me and was kind and sweet to me, at least it felt that way at the time. I told my husband I was starting to have feelings for him, expecting him to tell me to not spend any more time with him. Instead he continued to encourage it and told me he had never wanted to touch me and did not feel comfortable around me. He also told me that he had a history of violence and would hurt me if I got closer to him so there was no opportunity for closeness. In my grief, I turned more towards the other person for comfort and companionship. Now both relationships are over. And I don't know how I ever let this happen. Despite our problems, I love my ex-husband. I am filled with grief and shame. I don't know how I can trust myself in another relationship. I don't feel worthy of ever allowing myself to be in another relationship. I am in shock, struggling with depression, disgusted for letting myself do this. I never thought I could be capable of sinking so low. I have asked both of them to forgive me and they did. But I don't know how to forgive myself. My husband and step dad are both telling me I am too hard on myself. But I don't know how I will ever feel happy again.

What type of affair was it?

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