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

The Betrayed's Reaction: An Excerpt from Harboring Hope

betrayeds reaction

You may have noticed our EMS Online registration is now open, but only till Friday. If you and your spouse are looking for a process oriented recovery plan that’s specific to infidelity, I’d highly encourage you to give the course a chance.

Today I’d like to share an excerpt from our Harboring Hope protocol. As you may or may not know, all of our authors, contributors, therapists and vloggers have been through infidelity personally. We understand your pain and frustration. We understand the need for clarity and direction. We have felt your struggle. Reading the material below will also prove extremely beneficial for the unfaithful spouse in terms of gaining a better understanding of the betrayed spouse’s road ahead. While it’s not an easy journey, it is a possible one. We hope you’ll find encouragement and hope today for your road to recovery.  

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 - 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, out of seemingly 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 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 to 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.

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 potential 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 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 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 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 is 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 or flirting with others or 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.

 

Our EMS Online course for couples is open now for registration until Friday, or until we run out of spots. For the betrayed spouse our Harboring Hope course opens for registration today at 12:00 Noon Central time and be open until March 9th or until it is sold out. I’d like to encourage you today that it does in fact, get easier. While your situation is completely different than another’s, it’s not impossible to heal, there is hope to move forward in healing. Consider a membership to  the Recovery Library for only $29.95 a month and you’ll find over 1,500 resources including our Expert Q and A video sessions with myself, testimonials, articles and more.

 

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

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He thinks everything is fine.

'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'
This is exactly what I did. It's been two years and I feel I have no value, if I share a feeling it's ignored, if I trigger I am ignored or worse -told I am just trying to make him feel bad. I have no voice in the relationship and I am scared all the time he will do something to hurt me again.
I dont know what to do to go back and fix it so that he can realize how bad what he did was, which isn't my goal, I just want to be valued.

Undervalued

Dear Joyce,
I think he has to see your pain. I know how it feels to be used and manipulated and not valued at all. It's not as if my husband doesn't know what he has done is wrong but right now he doesn't care , he has no compassion or empathy for me because he does not value me. How do you make them value you without leaving them . In spite of everything sadly I still love him and cannot think of a life without him . Am I a sucker then ?

So sorry that you can relate.

So sorry that you can relate. I do believe in loving them and praying for change. If you have hope than I don't think you are a sucker.
I have a friend who is really holding me to stand up for myself and hold some boundaries (not dismissing what I say mostly). I have just started this process, so we'll see how it goes. But that only helps for the future things not back for him to see what pain I have been in and why I trigger.
I hope you can find a way to value yourself and stand up for fair treatment.

He thinks everything is fine

I completely understand how you are feeling. It has been almost three years and I am constantly reminded that I am the one who wants to continue with problems and "not let it go." I feel as though I am invisible and he doesn't care what I am feeling. It was HIS mistake but yet he makes me feel like I am the one to cause a problem because I have a question about his cheating behavior. I disclosed to him early in our relationship my fears of instability and ability to fully trust. His actions have caused me to feel unwilling to trust him or someone else. I feel as though my thoughts, feelings and hurt are just an irritation to him. Why can't he see ME? I am not him. I do not process things the same as him. I am someone who analytically looks at situations and he HATES that! He hates the fact that I ask questions and am not over it. I just want you to know that there is someone else who understands and is experiencing the same pain.

Reaction

It has been 3 1/2 years and I still fluctuate in and out of even staying with my cheating husband. Now unfortunately I am the one hiding feelings. After 30 years of marriage, my understanding of who he really is has been drastically changed. I still have nightmares about it all, but he is recommitted and doesn't even want to know or hear that I am not OK. If I try to talk to him he gets very mad at me and just tells me to move on that it is all over and everything is OK. So glad everything is OK for him. His unfaithfulness spanned three years with multiple women. I am now acting like everything is OK, but it is not. I am being "perfect" to keep the peace, but it haunts me every day. First thing I think about in the morning and still revisit multiple times throughout the day due to flashbacks and triggers. Living a "perfect" lie.

Triggers and the Lie

I am praying for you
I just finished Harboring hope
and am the betrayed also
I thought after two years since D day I would be in s much better place
Not so
I still hate what my husband did , and who he has been
I feel also that 32 years of marriage was a lie
I have to keep leaning hard on God
Divorce still sounds like a good option

KPD, oh I so relate to you!

KPD, oh I so relate to you! Yes, it does feel like now we are the ones not being transparent. If they only knew how hard it was and how we choose each day to smile and be ok. My only hope is in trusting God that he has said it will be ok. But yes, I would have thought that 2 years later would be a triumph! But it is still hard daily, much more so because I feel more distance from him than I ever have.
I cope through the day talking to my real friends and scripture. I hope you find peace.

I so relate to you two !

It has been sense Oct.24,2013 that I found out my husband had a 2 + years affair. Time line is still in question and so is a lot of other important dates that are shoved under the carpet. It appears that if its not something he cares to figure out it will not happen. Why is this when he says that he is willing to do what ever it takes, well to me he is not willing by his actions in finding out the answers for me... I have had 4 disclosures all had so many lies that made it had to figure out what really was going on. It makes me think he does not want me to know the real truth. I wonder how all this fits with being honest, transparent and wanting your marriage. What this means to me is my husband still wants to carry on the way he has for the last 35 years of marriage, have his cake and eat it too. I know today I have a choice in what happens in my life, most days I feel strong against the evil all this has caused me and my family. I have witnessed what this has done to my husbands relationship with his kids and they are adults with values and integrity and all I can say is I would of never wanted this to happen to them. They tell me he changed there reality to what they thought their childhood was to what is hard for them to believe now. They will never have the respect they once had for the person they loved and adored a man they called DAD he changed that nobody else and now he lives with that. Really was all this sex, lies, secrets, different women worth what he has lost and continues to loose by his dishonesty and lack of empathy towards the family. Sometimes you have to let go and let god take care of him because I know today I cant control any part of decisions and I'm thankful for this. I pray for all of us and our families to walk in peace and know that we can hold our heads up in the darkest of times... Cherie

infedility over and over again

My husband had a on going affair that lasted 2 years.I had found clues ongoing only to get lied to by both parties.Only to be set up by both parties.I had kicked him out 3 times over 2 years and had seperated each time for 2 to 3 months.Only for him to return each time and say it was over but continue.

What type of affair was it?

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