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

The Betrayed's Reaction: An Excerpt from Harboring Hope

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Today, I'd like to share an excerpt from our Harboring Hope course.

As you may or may not know, all of our authors, contributors, therapists and vloggers have been through infidelity personally. When we say "we get it," we really do. We understand your pain and frustration and desperate need for clarity and direction. We've felt your struggle personally and have lived to tell about it and are here to help guide you through it.

Reading the material below will prove extremely beneficial for the unfaithful spouse in terms of gaining a better understanding of the betrayed's road ahead. While it's not an easy journey, it is a possible one and with the right help, we can minimize unnecessary collateral damage for all parties involved.

The Reaction Task

betrayeds reaction

The goal of the reaction task is to allow yourself (betrayed spouse) the time and space to experience the pain of the loss. Infidelity involves many losses, and it may take a while before you realize just how many you've undergone. The challenge of this task is to experience the feelings that accompany the losses. As tempting as it may be to circumvent your emotions, it is important to let yourself fully feel them.

Countless feelings are experienced as the initial shock and numbness wear off including anger, sadness, fear, guilt, loneliness, shame, embarrassment, confusion, and isolation. It is challenging to accept the reality of the loss, and the pain can be overwhelming. You will probably be on an emotional roller coaster for quite some time. That is normal and to be expected. Your feelings and thoughts will move up and down, back and forth, and all over the place for a while as you try to accept all your losses and the hurt that accompanies them. For instance, you may be having a day that seems better and then, boom, seemingly out of nowhere you are hit full force with the feelings all over again.

Be patient with yourself, remind yourself that this journey is not linear or stepwise and can last a long while. Recovery is very much an individual journey deeply affected by the circumstances of the betrayal: the length of time, the type, who was involved, and the history of betrayal in the relationship. Your personal recovery is also influenced by other variables—your own personality, your history of loss, the culture/family in which you were raised, the support you receive, your religious beliefs, and any past trauma. Recovery feels more like a roller coaster than a journey, a roller coaster that eventually advances, but not before looping backward, maybe many times, causing you to lose your orientation.

Important components of the reaction task that you need to remember are:

  1. Achieve full disclosure.
  2. Recognize the multitude of losses.
  3. Commit to working through your feelings.
  4. Allow yourself the time and space to experience your feelings.
  5. Do not set aside your own recovery until your spouse is safe and committed.
  6. Realize you are in a vulnerable position.

In the reaction task, as you think of questions or request details, we recommend a twenty-four hour waiting period before asking.

Achieve Full Disclosure

Individuals typically react in many different ways after finding out their spouse has been unfaithful. Some people tend to be ostriches and ignore what is happening. Others become volcanoes. Most fall somewhere in between. We believe it is important to know how long the infidelity occurred, what it included, and with whom it took place. While you should seek all this information, how much of each piece of information you need may vary.

In the reaction task, as you think of questions or request details, we recommend a twenty-four hour waiting period before asking. We call it the "24-hour rule." It can be helpful to jot your question down in a safe place and then pray about it for twenty-four hours. Another safeguard is to not ask a question until you are ready for the answer - whatever it is. Before asking a question it is also good to consider your motivation in asking, and what benefit you will receive from the answer.

Quite often a woman or man in your position unintentionally finds out too much too quickly and may be flooded with details and pictures. However, it is important that your mate answer any question you ask (if you both are considering or working toward reconciliation). The burden of protecting you from too much information is yours. Most of us do not need too much detail, but you, as the betrayed individual, must first decide how much detail you really need, and then know that your spouse is committed to honesty.

Cover more ground faster with the life-changing experience of EMS Weekend for couples.

Click here to see Rick and Wayne's videos at the bottom as they share more about this virtual experience.

This is not your average light and fluffy program that only scratches the surface. Up front, it's important to know that we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. This 3 day intensive is a safe place for both of you to heal.
Now offering $1,000 discount for virtual months during the pandemic. Limited availability.

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Click here to read testimonials of others who have experienced this transformative weekend first hand.

Recognize Your Losses

A betrayal is not one loss; it is a whole group of losses you must work through. You must meet the challenge of adjusting to how the betrayal affects your sense of yourself, your sense of the world, your sense of your mate, your feelings about your past, your vision of your future, and even your beliefs about God. Your spouse has known the truth for much longer than you have. It will take some time for you to experience your emotions and thoughts regarding all of your losses.

Work Through Your Feelings

We should point out a few things about one emotion in particular - anger. Despite its potentially negative power, anger is a secondary emotion. Hurt, fear, and inferiority are often the feelings behind anger. It is easy to let them build up until we explode at someone. On the other hand, anger turned inward can become depression. Journaling can be helpful. After you emotionally spew on the paper, go back and look for the hurt, fear, and other feelings. Begin to learn to express those feelings without the destructive energy of your anger.

Please do not misunderstand our intent. We are not encouraging anyone to ignore his or her anger. It is important to experience and express it, but not to destroy another - or yourself - with it. Please do not push aside your feelings and tell your spouse that everything is okay because you believe you must act perfectly to keep from losing them. They need to hear that you are hurt and afraid and that you may feel demeaned by their actions, lies, and infidelity.

It also may be useful for you to rant to a friend when your anger is building or raging. This person needs to be a "safe friend," not just anybody. If you desire reconciliation for your marriage, choose a friend who will listen to you without judgment, one who will turn you back to peace. It is important to cling to the right help, not what you or your friend may have heard on television or read in a book. Experience your feelings but do not make decisions based on them.

Do not push aside your feelings and tell your spouse that everything is okay because you believe you must act to perfectly keep from losing them. Take the Time.

You absolutely must carve out and protect the time and space to grieve. Everyone grieves differently, but feelings cannot be avoided. If you try to circumvent your emotions, they will only resurface later, perhaps at a time when your spouse has more difficulty expressing empathy. Taking time for yourself is not selfish. It may feel so because you have grown unaccustomed to it. Yet it is imperative to allow yourself time to be alone with your thoughts and your feelings, even if it is only for thirty minutes a day.

Understand Your Separate Paths of Recovery

You and your spouse have separate paths of recovery, and it is quite normal for you both to come to a place down the road where the unfaithful party may be puzzled because the hurt spouse is not doing better. As we mentioned previously, the betrayer likely will begin to feel much relief relatively soon after disclosure and wonder why you do not. They may try to tell you how well they are doing and be confused by your inability to see and believe that they are doing well and being truthful.

Several factors can influence the time frame of the extreme difference in feelings of marital satisfaction. One factor that can affect the length of recovery is the type of betrayal, whether it is a long-term, emotionally-entangled affair or a behavior connected to a sexual addiction. It is not uncommon for individuals involved in sexually addictive–type behavior to begin to feel better quite soon after disclosure, after they are no longer terrified that they will be found out and then lose their marriage and family. The unfaithful spouse's recovery after an emotionally-entangled affair, however, may take longer. It is necessary for them to disengage from the relationship, grieve the loss of the relationship (as hard as that may be for you to acknowledge), and reengage with you.

Recognize Your Vulnerabilities

As we mentioned before, you are vulnerable right now, whether you realize it or not. You are hurt and have perhaps felt ignored and maybe even misused. Your anger and resentment are understandable, but I want you to realize that you are extremely susceptible to slipping into a friendship with someone with whom you could potentially become emotionally or sexually intimate.

You are also vulnerable to proving to yourself that others still find you attractive and appealing. Please do not re-victimize yourself. We believe putting yourself in vulnerable positions, flirting with others, or engaging in similar high-risk behaviors will only lead to re-victimizing yourself. You are putting yourself in a position to attract attention from someone about whom you know nothing. You are also complicating your life. It is difficult enough to work through the pain of betrayal without adding more confusion to the situation. Seeking and finding attention from others is only a temporary solution to a long-term issue. It is also potentially dangerous. Please honor and respect yourself enough to not engage in any activity you would want to lie about to your children or spouse down the road. Though the temptation for revenge is palatable, it will only damage yourself and add to the already excruciating pain.

One last warning about vulnerabilities: please know that you are at risk of withdrawing. The tendency is understandable, but it is important to seek others and seek expert help. When you are alone, it is easy to feel guilt or shame that does not belong to you. Trying to walk this journey alone is not good. Yet, as we said before, you need to choose those you share with carefully and prayerfully.

If you're a betrayed spouse, I hope you'll consider enrolling in the next Harboring Hope course.

While your own personal journey may seem and feel impossible, it doesn't have to be, and you're not alone in your struggles. You can find help and healing and others who can walk with you through this unfolding saga, on the road to personal restoration.

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.
Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe Now!

Hope for Healing registration opens next week, December 16th. Subscribe to be notified.
This online course for unfaithful spouses fills up quickly, so don't wait! Discover how a supportive non-judgmental environment paired with expert content can provide life-changing hope, clarity, and healing.

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EMS Weekend is VIRTUAL!

Cover more ground faster with the life-changing experience of EMS Weekend for couples. See the videos at the bottom for more information.

This is not your average light and fluffy program that only scratches the surface. Up front, it's important to know that we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. This 3 day intensive is a safe place for both of you to heal.
Now offering $1,000 discount for virtual months during the pandemic. Limited availability.

Sign Up Now!

Rick and Wayne Share Their Experiences

After our very first Virtual EMS Weekend in April, Rick and Wayne shared their experiences in the videos below. Over 200 couples have now participated in our Virtual Weekend Experience and it's only getting better.





Don't just take our word for it.

Click here to read testimonials of others who have experienced this transformative weekend first hand.

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  1. Hardie, Leslie, LCSW, and Haney John Mark, PhD, LPC. Harboring Hope. Austin: Hope for Recovery, 2008. Print.

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Comments

Grieve the loss?

I am so tired of hearing about how they *need* to do this. That is completely abusive to ask a betrayed spouse to be okay to watch their spouse grieve the loss of a Proverbs 7 person who just intentionally destroyed their marriage. That is not normal or appropriate to ask an already hurting spouse to do. Please stop doing this and making it seem normal.

If a spouse has to detox from the poisonous person and begin to see the harm they have done and has to “grieve” I’d leave. That is abuse on top of abuse. I take offense that AR makes this seem like a betrayed should be okay with it and just “take” it. That is not healthy at all.

It’s interesting to look back

It’s interesting to look back at this with different eyes now that we’re in a good place of healing. It’s been a long 11 months of working through everything in this article. The pain of multiple disclosures (the details of which took weeks to fully acknowledge), the bewilderment and pain of the losses as each one was realized, the search for help, the long nights of weeping and questioning are all behind us now. We’ve reached a phase not mentioned here, and that’s the phase where we are joined together as one to fight a common enemy - and that enemy is infidelity. Neither of us wants to go back to the place where this became possible in our marriage. We were limping along, distant from each other, each wanting a better marriage and true intimacy, but clueless as how to achieve it. I chose isolation, he chose affairs. We’ve learned so much about the depth of our love and commitment through all of this. This past year we fought for our marriage and we fought for each other. It took this stunning blow to our relationship to jolt us into reality and thrust us into marriage battle mode. Our recovery became possible because we fought side by side. We now know each other better, we accept each other more; we looked into the abyss and God pulled us away from the edge and set our feet on the heights.
Psalm 31:7-8 captures this well:
“I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.”

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