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

Surviving Infidelity Part 2: What Didn’t Work For Unfaithful Spouses

Surviving Infidelity Research: A Two Part Series

Part 1: What Do You Need to Know?
Part 2: Poor Recovery Decisions of Unfaithful Spouses

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In a past survey of Affair Recovery readers, unfaithful spouses identified certain recovery decisions that proved to be unproductive or even harmful.

Here's the question, results and our commentary:

"What was the least productive thing you did after the infidelity came to light?"

What Didn't Work for Unfaithful Spouse

27% Withheld information too long from spouse

25% Maintained contact with my affair partner

19% Wanted my spouse to just get over it

17% Acted defensive

7% Believed / acted on bad advice

5% Refused to get outside help

Survey participants also submitted 'other' courses of action that also proved to be unproductive. Three of these stood out:

  1. "I didn't take the risk of reengaging with my mate and give them a chance for fear of misleading them."
  2. "Focused on trying to be perfect rather than authentic."
  3. "Made it about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery."

Commentary: The Least Productive Actions Reported by Unfaithful Spouses

Withheld information too long from my spouse. (27%)

If there is one thing that delays healing after an affair, it is stringing out the discovery process. It's tempting to try to control your spouse's reaction by controlling the flow of information, but to reestablish trust, the unfaithful spouse has to first trust their mate with the information. The longer the details of the affair are dribbled out, the more difficult it becomes to reestablish trust as well as to move beyond the discovery stage to the tasks of grieving and forgiving. Often when betrayed spouses get a new piece of information, they're taken several steps backward in the recovery process. If the information was intentionally withheld, they may also feel further betrayed by the manipulation behind the decision to not share the information. It's important to note however, that some unfaithful spouses, who are being transparent, sometimes genuinely have forgotten some details and in an attempt to continue to be transparent, share new information if they remember something that they had not shared. To help navigate the discovery and disclosure process we have included step by step instructions that you can follow in the free First Steps Bootcamp for Surviving Infidelity.

If you are currently in the discovery stage with your mate, take a lesson from those who've gone before. Let go of the information so that you can use the time productively and make progress in your recovery.

Maintained contact with the affair partner. (25%)

One-fourth of our respondents identified maintaining contact with the affair partner was the least productive thing they did during recovery. This may seem obvious to the betrayed spouse, but an affair often affects the brain of an unfaithful spouse like an addiction. They are not likely to be rational when breaking off an affair, just like one wouldn't expect an addict to be rational while trying to achieve sobriety. It's been my personal experience that when women have an affair, they're less likely to want to save the marriage. This is because men are often able to compartmentalize their affair and may still want the marriage even while betraying their vows. Women tend to have checked out emotionally long before an affair is possible.

For those who can't seem to escape the ties of your affair partner, or for those who simply aren't sure you want to, I suggest reading our "Ending an Affair" series, and our "31 Reasons to Stop an Affair" series. It may also be helpful to learn about limerence and the difference between limerence and love. If you are in an entangled relationship, believe me when I say that you can't fully disengage from your affair partner on your own. You will need help from others who have been there and can guide you with truth and without judgment.

Wanted my spouse to just get over it. (19%)

As mentioned before, being able to process what occurred during the affair is one of the key success factors to healing after the affair. A possible explanation for the men who wanted their mate to get over it might be a lack of empathy. They failed to see how they wounded their mate. Empathy is crucial in surviving infidelity. Women, on the other hand, tend to have more shame and this might explain their attitude. Regardless of their motivations, it's interesting that this category was third in least productive actions. Giving the hurt spouse space and time to heal is obviously necessary. Additionally it's important for the unfaithful spouse to take responsibility for what they've done and to join their mate on the healing journey.

Acted defensive. (17%)

We found it interesting that a smaller proportion of unfaithful women than men in our survey selected acting defensive as the least productive thing they did. This may be due to the fact that women often tend to have given up on the marriage prior to the affair. While it's common that men haven't made the decision to leave the marriage before having the affair and are more ambiguous about their motives. Defensiveness usually comes from shame or guilt and is typically an attempt to justify (pass the blame for) people's actions.

Acted on bad advice. (7%)

Sadly, everybody has an opinion as to what they would do if they were in your situation, yet people actually walking through recovery seem to always report surprise at how they responded when the infidelity came to light. Most of us believe if we are cheated on, we will be out of there, but other factors come into play and influence our decisions. Hopefully, the people we listen to are those who have successfully navigated the recovery process.

Refused to get outside help. (6%)

We had far more women claim not getting outside help as their least productive action than men. Personally, I believe infidelity tends to be more shameful for women than for men. This shame might account for why the women respondents were less likely to get outside help. It might also be the fact that the men respondents were more likely to want to salvage their marriage and therefore had more motivation to get help from the beginning. Regardless, these women respondents regretted not seeking outside help.

Three Other Unproductive Actions of Unfaithful Spouses:

I didn't take the risk of reengaging with my mate and give them a chance for fear of misleading them.

For those who feel they lost their desire for their mate before their affair, re-engaging in the marriage is difficult. Frequently, there is ambivalence as to whether to continue in the marriage after the affair. Some feel no hope for change in what they considered a miserable marriage. Others doubt whether or not their marriage can be restored. They fear their mate could never forgive them or wonder if they could ever rekindle feelings for their mate.

People who have low desire for the marriage may avoid re-engaging to avoid giving false hope. It's interesting, however, that this approach was identified as one of the least productive actions for unfaithful spouses. Without taking the risk of re-engaging, it's impossible to determine the possibilities for healing and for a meaningful life together. Re-engaging is essential to surviving infidelity.

I focused on trying to be perfect rather than authentic.

People often have affairs because of intimacy avoidance. They are too focused on trying to please their mate rather than being honest with their mate. If an individual's goal in recovery is to save the marriage, then authenticity is not pragmatic. You will tell your mate only what you think they want to hear in order to motivate them to continue in the relationship. However, this leads to a performance-based relationship and we discovered that it's never really enough. The ensuing dissatisfaction can lead to more temptation to have an affair. It also fails to resolve the issues that were present in the relationship prior to the infidelity.

Intimacy in marriage almost always creates short-term instability. When we are authentic with one another, it highlights the differences. The most severe consequence of trying to be perfect rather than authentic is how it robs us of love. I can never be loved unconditionally as long as I only conditionally let my mate know who I am. What convinced me of my wife's love wasn't the fact that I was perfect, but that she chose to love me in spite of my imperfections. Authenticity is crucial to surviving infidelity.

I made it about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery.

I found this comment to be particularly interesting. It's certainly easy to make recovery about our failure with little or no consideration as to how our actions affected another. While it has the appearance of humility, to be focused on our shame is still 100% self-centered. Love is concerned for others, not what others think of us.

If you're in the in midst of recovery and surviving infidelity, I hope you'll learn from those who've gone before. It's not time that will heal you, but it's how you use that time. Are you making decisions that bring new life and health, or are you still stuck in a spiral of destruction? EMS Online is a great way to start down the right path. I hope you'll choose life.

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It seems like shame/guilt/depression could easily be underlying features in all of this. It would be interesting to see an article dealing with shame from the perspective of preventing future infidelities.

Also, most articles I've read have told the hurt partner not to "obsess" over the details of the affair. Where's the fine line (or is there one) of being honest versus obsessing?

Thanks for the article. Again it's hard to read, but I value the difficult insights.

Guilty as charged by numbers one and four

As an unfaitful spouse I wish I had found this site prior to disclosure. I would have been much more prepared to care about my wife's recovery than my own issues. Good article!

Easy Way out

Being the unfaithful Husband. I turned it into not what my wife needs but how we get past this. The truth is I must turn to God and give it up. Cant live by Number one and four. Must be real. Wish I had found this sooner!

Missed only the one about bad advice

Wow my husband could be the poster child for what not to do,I guess, except for the bad advice. He would never ask for any advice as he knows best about everything. He says he tries to be "perfect" but that I am unsatisfiable so he just quit trying. I am not sure what he was trying to be perfect at. Marriage counselors are all idiots and books and other programs are way too touchy feely according to him. We muddle along not talking about anything except his job mostly, I am very sorry to have made such a poor choice in life. Trying to learn how to be kind and "loving" to someone who can't love anyone is a very hard road indeed.

Not alone

Hi Sharron,

Thanks for helping me realise I'm not the only one who went through the same experiences with a narcissist. Unfortunately, it's harder to explain all of this to our toddler.

Good luck in your recovery, I too am focusing on healing my old wounds that allowed this kind of person into my life.

Take care, and know that there are others out there who know (through experience) how you feel.

To recovery

You have got it, we can't change those who hurt us but, we can change ourselves. It is a comfort to know you aren't the only one struggling. It would be nice to have some kind of roadmap to get through and make your life. I am still here trying to move on without understanding or feeling understood.

Needs nothing

My husband is just fine. He doesn’t need any counselor to tell him how to feel. This is his response in asking him to recover from his emotional affair with me. He pretends, and reply’s to disclosure complaining, am I going to live with “ this the rest of my life? “. Patiently waiting for our Good Lord to break through his darkness. It’s difficult and didn’t realize my weakness with him until help from Harboring Hope and prayer to get healthy myself.

Would love to hear how your

Would love to hear how your life turned out 4 years later.

helpful article

this is a very good summary of what not to do. The problem is that as the unfaithful one I am mostly spinning around not sure what to do. I think the point around "Made it about me and my guilt and shame rather than my mate's recovery" is a very good one. I am consumed by my guilt and so it's incredibly difficult to focus on my mate's recovery as everytime I think about anything I feel guilt and remorse. What can we do to break out of the cycle?


sadcheater, I agree with your assessment. If the unfaithful spouse (as I was) feels terrible about this, and begins to feel guilt and shame, it definitely blocks the initial ability to assist with the hurt spouse's recovery. Sorry I don't have a lot of insights yet to share with you (as I'm on the journey to better supporting my wife and my recovery), but I wanted to let you know that you're not alone. I would suggest therapy, the Hope for Healing course, or simply begin scheduling time for your spouse to ask questions in which you listen, then tell the truth. A very wise person told me, telling the truth early on is for both spouses, as it speeds up the process of not always going back to D-Day with every new piece of information that dribbles in slowly.


I can agree with these statements so much, from the perspective of a "wounded spouse" and now an abandoned one, as my husband of nearly 26 years seeks a "new" affair partner and pursues divorce, almost overnight.

From that perspective -- I see that the dribble and holding back of information literally stalled out the recovery process for us, along with never yielding defensiveness, and I didn't see it in this article but "blaming the spouse" for the infidelity (though never directly, always it was "but you were doing.x.y.z" --not adultery, btw). This blame always gave lip service to taking responsibility, but he never let go of blaming, and started a fresh course of blame with the abandonment. Counsel was inadequate, to non-existent, too.

I would warn any couple that is seeking recovery to let the injured spouse have their anger, and for the unfaithful spouse to confess all as quickly and honestly as possible, with much apology, never being defensive, because -- as the poster before me wisely stated: it is for both spouses. And get a good godly counselor, such as David Clarke, even if it means moving. The money would have been well spent, the move worth the effort (and helpful in our case).

The worst advice we got, and took, was to reduce "processing" to twice a week. This slow dribble of release of pain and anger, and discussion, and apology, was slow death to our intimacy, and made restoration impossible.

The second worse advice my unfaithful spouse found and took was to use self-hypnosis to make himself "feel" good about himself, rather than letting godly sorrow and repentance take hold. As a result of that, he decided that I could just be positive and heal from this a whole different way. That perspective that I could heal this way, too, shut down our processing, indeed our whole relationship.

He left after this conversation, that he had been building up to for a couple of weeks, and that was that. Now I am in worse pain than ever, with very little hope of healing.

He also held onto contact with the last affair partner, because it was just a "harmless" emotional affair that lasted for two years, and is probably still a temptation in his mind.

This left him wide open vulnerable to yet another affair, and this one promises to be an "exit" affair unless God Himself intervenes. The one he is seeking sympathy from now is "just a friend" that he can take on dates while we are separated (not divorced). How people get through divorce when they truly have loved their spouse and don't wish for the divorce, I will never know -- but if he follows through with his threat, I have to say that I hope I come to know.

I thought the recovery process was a nightmare, and ours was made impossible by the holding out on his part, but this is like waking up from a bad dream only to find yourself in a nightmare that you cannot awaken from. No hope.

Unfaithful spouses, please, have compassion on your mates! Let them process, and show you care by being 100% honest and sorry. You'll heal faster, and your spouse will heal and love you for bearing the burden. Don't expect it to be instant or easy, and let the injured spouse tell you when to have these talks, and say anything they want to. Take it like a man or woman, or the chances for your marriage to work will end up about nil. As you are kind, and grow in compassion, and remorse, your mate will believe you are sincere, and follow you to a better marriage. This is what I have heard actually works anyway. Every night processing is not too much. Don't let anyone fool you with the very bad advice of processing twice a week. It does NOT work! In any case, let the injured spouse be the one to decide. I would have insisted on doing it this way, from the beginning, when he still cared -- had I only known. Don't make our mistakes.


I wonder if there are so few men (or people in general) who responded who feel lint getting help was the biggest mistake is only so low simply because those refusing to get help are also extremely unlikely to respond to the survey and that’s women who refuse to get help are more likely to eventually give in and get help when faced with the consequences than men who refuse help are.

Information vs landmines

We are 8 weeks out from d-day. I asked questions as I thought I could handle the answers. Some things I'm ok with, like the emotional aspect of his affair..because none of those were real..they were based in fantasy and not a real relationship..even though he thought do at the time. The problem lies in the FACT that he had srx outside of us. I know the area of the hotel where one duch act took place, but I am obcessing over which one. I know he went shopping with her, took her to a restaurant while I was out of town. Now I feel like I am going to vomit when I pass the store and restaurant, because I have a tangible landmine knowing her was there with her. I obsess over sexual details. Really x rated ones..positions etc, conversations before and after..funny thing is, he says sex was always better with me. I enjoy hearing him tell me how I am better, what she wouldn't do with him, etc.
So, my question is this...do I ask what hotel and have that tangible landmine? Do I find out how many times? To hom, once he had sex with her and was unfaithful, what's the difference how many times it happened. To me...I wish he would have stopped...everytime he met her at a hotel is a new betrayal to me.
So, how do we disclose what I feel I need to know, and not create tangible landmines?? He is torn and so am I. I am driving us both crazy.

What type of affair was it?

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