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

Surviving Infidelity: 6 Things I Wish I'd Known

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This week’s article explores the question: “After the affair came to light, what didn’t you know that you needed to know?”

A lot of wayward spouses can tell you what they wish they'd known in this scenario, and all of their responses would carry some merit. Today, however, I’d like to turn the lens on myself — an unfaithful spouse — to share six things I wish I’d known as well as what I’ve observed over my 30-plus years of marriage.

Not knowing there was hope left me skeptical and hesitant to give my marriage a chance.

1. It’s Not About Me

Yes, I perpetrated the infidelity, but the devastation and loss belonged to my wife. Helping her heal from the wound I created needed to be my focus — not my guilt and shame. It was far too easy to make it about me and my reasons, rather than listen to her pain and take responsibility. I must admit that early on, this is one of the toughest things for the wayward spouse to accomplish in recovery.

2. Surviving Infidelity Isn’t a Short Process

I had no idea how long my wife would be haunted and tortured by my infidelity and actions. For months, she was tormented by intrusive thoughts that caused her to reexperience the same painful emotions she felt at the discovery of my infidelity. Forgiveness couldn’t even stop her nightmares.

It took months for her to feel safe enough to reconcile with me, but that didn’t stop the consequences she continued experiencing. I mistakenly believed that we would soon put this behind us and move on, but there was no way for me to protect her from the consequences of what I’d done. If I had understood the true timeline of surviving infidelity, I probably wouldn’t have been so impatient and frustrated with the process.

3. Telling the Whole Truth Is Imperative

Because I foolishly thought about myself and wanted to avoid further consequences, I failed to give my mate what she needed. I tried to control the situation through the flow of information, robbing her of her chance to learn what she wanted — and needed — to know. Not only that, but offering up more information didn’t make sense to me at the time. I assumed it was wrong but, frankly, I wasn’t sure of much after my infidelity and failures.

My self-centeredness prohibited my acting in my mate’s best interest and fueled my own self-protection at her expense — as if I hadn’t already cost her enough. I refused to accept that we couldn’t move forward until she could at least understand what happened. Coming clean at the beginning of the process would’ve saved my mate months of suffering and shortened our time of rehabilitation after my betrayal.

4. My Actions Cost My Family Dearly

When I betrayed my wife, I was so shortsighted that I never considered what it might cost her as well as my family. My only thought was, “I’ll never get caught.” I wish I had known what my self-centeredness and carelessness would cost those most important to me. Had I allowed myself to be aware of this cost, I believe it would’ve served as an inhibitor.

5. Surviving Infidelity Is Possible

Not knowing that there was hope left me skeptical and hesitant to give my marriage a chance. If I had known surviving infidelity was possible, I would’ve more quickly sought help, and I certainly would’ve had a better attitude. It wasn’t until we met others who had succeeded in saving their marriages — and were better off for it — that I began to realize there was hope for us, too.

6. Love Isn’t a Simple, Fleeting Feeling

I craved feelings I labeled as love, feelings that came from having someone I valued value me in return. It made me feel like I was “all that.” In fact, the more I esteemed the other person, the stronger the effect. But what I really loved was how they made me feel about myself. The reflection of my image in their eyes made me feel amazing. But love isn’t that feeling; it’s the grace my wife extends not when I deserve it but, rather, when I least deserve it.

Say we were playing ball and broke a store window, then we confessed what we’d done to the shop’s owner. If they charged us $20 for the damage, it would be justice. If they said the cost was $20 but, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it,” that would be mercy because we didn’t have to pay for what we had done. If they said the cost was $20, that they’d take care of it and then invited us out for ice cream, that would be grace because we got something nice even though we broke their window. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

My wife gave me “ice cream” for “breaking the window.” She continued to love me after I broke her heart. The difference between the two loves is amazing:

  • The first type of love made me feel good about myself.
  • The second type of love left me feeling cared for, not because of who I was but, rather, in spite of who I was. This love transformed me.

If only I’d known the meaning of true love — the second type of love — perhaps I wouldn’t have been so self-centered. Maybe, just maybe, I could've cared for others instead of just thinking about myself.

I’d now like to turn the lens on you, the reader: “After the affair came to light, what did you not know that you needed to know?” Whether you’re the wayward spouse or the betrayed spouse, I’d love to hear the lessons you’ve learned during your healing journey. I hope you'll take a moment to leave a comment so we can all continue to learn, grow and heal together. And, perhaps, the lessons we’ve learned can save others from similar heartbreaks and mistakes.

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What I Wish I Had Known

As the betrayed in this whole 'sick equation', I wish I had known that my husband was a sex addict and that they are the last people on earth to believe, as a result;

Disclosure is NEVER going to be complete
Confession in NOT the same as remorse
Saying they've changed is a lie.

I wish I had known back at the beginning that this process would be a lifetime one, so that I could have made a more appropriate decision about my future before it became an impossible thing to solve.

K

I also wish I had known that

I also wish I had known that my sex addicted UH would never be willing to provide a complete disclosure.

My pain was not enough

I wish I had known that my pain wouldn’t be enough of a deterrent to prevent a 2nd DDay (nearly a year after DDay 1). I wish that I hadn’t become so worn out from trauma and over-diligence that I stopped monitoring so closely after a few months. I wish I had known to push harder for my intuition that I didn’t have full disclosure during EMS weekend. I wish I had sought resources sooner that would help my husband understand the dangers and falseness of limerence. I wish I had been more open and told more people after DDay 1 instead of keeping things private to protect my husband and myself (it ended up isolating me further while he continued to keep secrets and have his cake/eat it too).

I wish I knew how to restore faith in myself and my spouse after so many months of gaslighting.

Yep - I hear ya!

Yep - I hear ya!

I wish I’d known my pain wouldn’t be enough to stop him repeat offending too.

I wish I had payed closer attention...

As the betrayed wife, I wish I had insisted that my UH leave our house as soon as I found out about his 4 years of a secret life. My gut feeling was that he needed to leave. But I was easily manipulated with promises and more lies. I wish I hadn’t been so eager to stop my pain that I bought his story that “ he wanted our marriage and me”. He’d been lying to me on a 24/7 basis for 4 years yet I thought THIS time he was telling the truth. If he’d agreed to leave there would have been some possibility we could have worked out some healing with the marriage. Instead he insisted on staying with me and the children and literally put us through hell on steroids. He also had continued to have a relationship with his AP while he was doing EMSO and other recovery work. The end result is that his relationship with his children is broken beyond repair and they want nothing to do with him.

I relate to your wish ... I

I relate to your wish ... I wish I’d told him to leave four years ago... instead he stayed, he lied, he has caused me this “pain too far” for me to believe.

what I didn't know

I always said if my husband cheated on me, our marriage would be over. When faced with infidelity, I was paralyzed in a way I never expected. It was like being hit by a truck. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to run, I wanted to stay, I wanted to hate him, I wanted to love him. Recovery from an affair is the most exhaustingly painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. The hurt, sadness and anger are almost unbearable. And now, he seems free from the pain and I am carrying it all by myself.

My UH also seems free from

My UH also seems free from the pain. He is better while my pain has been devastating. I want to turn to him for comfort and reassurance, and isn’t that ironic that the one who caused this enormous pain is the one who could be a major help in healing! But I have finally realized that my UH is not going to be there for me in my pain. I also feel like,and am resigned to, carrying my pain without his help. I’ve realized that expressing my deep pain is a major trigger for him. I am many times resentful that I try to extend understanding to him which is not reciprocated. But, in the end, I need to take care of my own feelings. Mourn, grieve and realize that he is participating in recovery.

You Will Figure Things Out

I wish I had known that my mate could see my pain; could tell me he loved me with tears in his eyes; could sincerely think he meant it; and could still continue his affair. I had no comprehension such incompatible things were possible.

I also wish I’d known that while my ability to think, reason, and function were severely limited due to months-long flood of stress hormones, if I took my time I could eventually find the next step to take that felt right for me. And then later, the step after that. It seemed I was in an impossible situation, and I was. But eventually a sliver of a path would present itself, and I would know what to do next. And by being patient with myself through that process, it would be possible to do hard things, and I would feel at peace about my actions - if not in the moment, then at least afterwards, when I had to live with the consequences.

Lots i wish u knew then...

I wish i had known the right questions to ask in the beginning...I'm still waiting for full disclosure 4 years later.
I wish i had known not all counselors are trained to handle infidelity well, in the future i will interview my counselor first. Asking them questions like " have you successfully helped other married couples work through infidelity ( without blaming bad marriage or betrayed spouse ) " are you married with kids?" " are you aware of the trauma and ptsd that infidelity can cause, and therapies to help" .
I wish i would have gone away alone, for a couple weeks to think and pray, instead of going to a crisis marriage retreat i was not ready for. Be gentle on yourself, don't try and make all the decisions in the first year. Pray for guidance from the right couple, therapist, or pastor, don't assume everyone can handle this situation. Hold on, lean into God, and forgiveness of the facts is much easier and quicker a process, than forgives of the impact( Lysa TerKeurst). I am very thankful for this outlet of hope at AR. It gives us a lifeline we wouldn't have in many cases..continue self care and prayer, not worrying about all the what ifs.. it is very hard to care lovingly for littles, when exhausted..ask for help from others who you trust in the first weeks, months...

I wish I had known how much

I wish I had known how much dysfunction in family of origin can affect people who seem otherwise healthy and well-adjusted. My husband's family is an absolute mess and disaster. Arrests, fraud, prison time, identity theft, multiple affairs, not to mention the more "mundane" things like inability to communicate and not knowing how to express and deal with difficult emotions in a productive way. I (and everyone else) always thought that my husband was somehow, miraculously, the only well-adjusted member of his entire family of origin. Turns out, things like entitlement, selfishness and dealing with difficult emotions in extremely unhealthy and unproductive ways were there all along, we just didn't recognize it until the bomb went off in our marriage.

In retrospect, I wish I could tell myself years ago (and anyone else who had a seemingly well-adjusted spouse who came from a terribly dysfunctional family) to get counseling to address issues and potential pitfalls surrounding family of origin BEFORE they explode, not after.

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