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

The True Definition of Love and Its Role In Surviving An Affair

In our culture, love is most frequently portrayed as an overwhelming feeling of attraction and desire for another. In the “Land of Disney” it is a magical force propelling us into “happily ever after”. Our souls resonate with this theme and we long for our chance to experience “true love” and a seemingly never ending passion which we all long for. This desire reveals our desperate need to be loved and to feel wanted.

Love Changes

Only problem is, the “Disney” theme of love exists only in movies and in the initial stages of a budding relationship. Those fledgling feelings are never sustained over a lifetime of marriage. You never see Disney films portraying this type of love in couples struggling with rebellious teenagers, when infatuation has disappeared and real life has arrived on-scene like a freight train. In fact, the exact opposite is far more likely to be depicted. Individuals wrestling with the question of whether to stay are standard fare for stories of those who are married, wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere.

Even less likely to appear in the Magic Kingdom is a couple suffering from a spouse’s deep addiction to pornography and illicit one-night stands. It’s certainly not warm and fuzzy and doesn’t attract the masses. Like many of you, I’ve come to learn and understand with great clarity that love is truly a choice, and if I make right choices, overwhelming feelings of love and romance will then ensue, even in the aftermath of surviving an affair. It’s just a mature truth that we hopefully arrive at before becoming too much of a human wrecking ball. I know from experience, however, that many times we become that wrecking ball and create incredible amounts of destruction before we realize how deceived and dangerous we are.

Our confusion is certainly understandable though. If I had a hundred dollar bill in one hand and a counterfeit in the other and offered them to you, which would you take? I hope it would be the real bill. But, if you were raised believing the counterfeit was real and the real was counterfeit, which would you take? That’s the problem with our understanding of marriage, love and long term relationships: We’re all amazingly disoriented believing the counterfeit is real and the real is counterfeit. I’d invite you to consider that maybe you don’t know what true love is. This self-awareness is also monumental when trying to learn how to recover from an affair.

Love Hurts

Buddha said that “life equals suffering,” but I’d like to suggest that perhaps there is also a bigger truth which is that  “love equals suffering.” Arguably, the greatest act of love represented in human history is Jesus walking the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering). Where there is betrayal, if there is to be reconciliation, then the one who’s been betrayed ultimately pays the cost for the betrayal. Jesus exemplified this reality. He taught love rather than justice and even chose to pay the price for the crimes committed against him. He actually cared enough about and for others that he was willing to die so they could have a chance for life. Jesus taught that people change more by contrast than by conflict. When betrayed he responded with love, not justice or vengeance. His sacrificial love had such a powerful impact on those around him that they became willing to die for the sake of that same cause.

In order for a husband to be reconciled to his wife who has betrayed him, he has to walk through the hurt inflicted by her betrayal and ultimately forgive her failure to love, if they are to ever have a meaningful relationship. There is no way she can ultimately bear the pain for her own failure and its effects upon her spouse. She can be remorseful for what she’s done and she can make efforts to ensure it doesn’t repeat, but he is the one carrying the pain. She may come to a sense of sobriety and awareness for how her pain has affected him, but to think she will be the one who carries the true weight of impact by her choices is simply not true.

It is possible for the husband, out of a sense of vengeance or control, to fail to love and attempt to hurt her in return. This is the beginning of a new, separate offense which will only exasperate the entire nightmare. If that occurs she’ll have to walk through the hurt inflicted by his failure to love and ultimately forgive his failure to maintain his vows of love, hence a new cycle of hurt and pain arises. Surviving an affair then, becomes that much harder for everyone. 

Love Heals

Love is a willingness to lay your life down for the sake of another. That love isn’t about trying to get the offending party to pay. It’s about a willingness to cover a debt, quite frankly, that they could never in fact, pay. (That’s not to say the injuring party shouldn’t do everything within their power to help the injured mate heal. There’s just no amount of penance the injuring spouse can pay for their failure to love.) They can however, display brokenness, contrition and humility in their approach to recovery and possibly moving forward. They can also take charge of their own recovery and mental health, which speaks volumes of empathy to the betrayed spouse. Without such action, a wayward spouse will be hard pressed to make a case that they are truly sorry for their choices and impact upon their lives.

Please don’t think I’m saying that love recklessly reconciles with someone who is unsafe or hard-hearted. Remember, love, true love, always acts in the best interest of another. But if the one committing the offense is hardhearted, unwilling to accept responsibility, and chooses not to commit and honor the relationship, then it wouldn’t be in their best interest to reconcile and allow them to continue acting in a destructive manner. IIt’s tragic when, after injuring others, we fail to comprehend the impact of our actions on those around us. Unless we understand and care about the costs our actions inflict on others, then we’ll never perceive the gift we receive from those who choose to love us rather than leave us. Understanding the cost of our actions is also crucial in learning how to recover from an affair. When I injure my wife through carelessness or selfishness, the person bearing the pain for my actions is my wife. Her choice to love and forgive comes at great personal expense to her. She chooses to give me the gift of love rather than the rejection. I witness her love each time she chooses to put up with the pain my actions inflict, in order to be with me.

There is no greater example of this truth than in couples where there is reconciliation following a betrayal. No one will ever convince me that there are no modern day miracles. Every time I see a couple come back together, I witness a shadow of God’s greatest miracle: the miracle of reconciliation.  If I could share with you the miracles my staff and I witnessed this past weekend at our EMS Weekend, it would not only melt your heart but give you even more encouragement for your journey ahead.  You can read real life testimonies of others who found hope right here.

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It is in the job description

As the betrayed...if I truly love my wife, then it is my job to give her all my love and forgive her of her actions, lies, betrayal and the affair. It is a hard pill to swallow, as bitter as it is. But I only want to see us restored and feeling joyous again. I am trying so hard to release this anger, but the pain still flashes and I am so hurt by what happened. I know it's my job to bear this pain, and I will do my best. I love you.

The gift of forgiveness

This article helped me reason through something that has bothered me since the day of discovery. I have often been bitter that I did nothing wrong, and yet I am the one suffering the most and having to "suck it up" and offer forgiveness. However, when I stop to think about the ultimate example that Jesus offers us, I am humbled and know it is the right choice to make. My spouse is sorry, ashamed, and working extremely hard to be the person God desires. I can only do the same and put my trust in the Lord, even if I can't yet fully trust my spouse. Thanks for the simple and yet profound illustration of true love!

failure to break off a relationship ?

Question? My husband has yet to break free from his relationship w/ another married woman. They also work together. Its been almost 7 months that I've known about it. Yes, we are in counseling. I am beyond hurt that she is still 'a choice' of his decision making as to 'what he wants to do"?!?!?! He doesn't want to hurt her !! We no longer live together because of his indecision, as well as his initial lying that 'it was over' until I found another cell phone. What do spouses do when this happens?? I never imagined this would happen!

Love articles..

It makes perfect sence... I like reading all of your articles. Thanks

True Love

This was a great article and a question I have been asking myself and my husband for the last couple of months.  He hasn't answered.  But I now know that this is the answer God gave me the day I expirenced my on miracle.  You see my husband has cheated on me four different times.  The first three were all bundled together, so kind of were on event.  I never gave him the gift of true love, respect, and forgiveness after the first discovery.  I spent years being angry, spietful, discrespectful, and far far from loveling.  This only made our marriage horrible and allowing his weak character to continue to search to fill the hole.  Eventually leading him to the last and most painful affair for ALL.  However, God was not done with me, my marriage, or my husband's character flaw.  7 days after I threw in the towel and nearly 4 years since the first transgression God transended on my heart and provided me the same message that you wrote above.  The pain of being betrayed is a great pain, but it is the victims pain to bare; since it is the victims pain to bare it is the victims choice how he or she shall deal with that pain.  If you chose the path of reconcilliation and forgiveness...you must be all in!  And you must be ready and willing to deal with the pain as well as do the work necessary to fix the issues in the marriage at the same time.  This is a very challenging thing to do.  To face the issues in the marriage, some that are caused by the victim; while at the same time baring the burden of betrayal, can feel overwhelming and scary.  I often have to pray really hard for God to keep me on track, because sometimes I just don't understand why I have to do all this work.  I didn't get to spend 3 years and 8 months running around feeling like a king, cause woman were telling how great I was and how horrible my wife was; yet now I have to do all these things to be a better wife as God would want me to.  Tough place to be, but the reward is worth it; I am doing what God wants me to do and feeling the rewards of that every day.

Wow, I can't express the

Wow, I can't express the timeliness and perfectness of your article. I've been struggling for weeks now with the concept of how I needed to figure out and come to terms with what I had done to allow my marriage to reach such a condition that my husband had an affair. So much of the affair recovery material out there says this is a necessary step and I was so stuck because as much as my husband and I tried to figure out what I had done wrong both of us came up empty. He says there was probably nothing that would have stopped him from eventually getting in touch with his old girlfriend from high school. She was a malingering wonder that just wouldn't go away. Fortunately for us when he did see her he instantly realized that she wasn't where he wanted to be and that he'd made a huge mistake, but the damage was done, an online affair had been going on for 2 years. Anyway, from this article I can see that I don't have to have any blame or fault for my husbands affair, just as Jesus was blameless as he made that walk, I too am blameless in this mess of an affair and my walk of recovery in this marriage. I can simply accept what was, what is and get on with loving my husband and rebuilding our marriage. I feel like such a weight has been lifted from me. Thank you, Thank you for writing this article and pointing out Jesus' perfect love.

I dont have the strength

Your article was amazing and so very true.  My question is how does the betrayed get the strength to fight and work for the relationship when they feel that their lives were ripped out from underneath of them? I had no idea my husband was unhappy and having an affair.  We had been together for 22 years, going through all the ups and downs of life, he allowed me to believe we had a life and a love yet he was going out on me and by his own choice.  He made plans to do this, no not the first time but once it happened he chose to continue it.  He set himself up to befriend someone of the opposite sex and keep it to himself.  Yes, now he is remorseful, sorry and better than he has ever been, he handles everything, takes care of everything,  but I loved him before and now I have to carry the pain and accept what he has done and work hard and I just dont know if I can.  Not because I dont love him but because he handed me a situation that made me love him less, made me not feel for him what I felt all the years before, made me feel like I dont have the strength to fight for something I believed was there because  evidently it wasnt there for him or he wouldnt have done what he did. So confused, so hurt, so sad!!

"I don't have the strength"

Just curious if things have changed. I am feeling the same way.

Dont have the strength

Jlouisa7
Have you found your strength? Really find it does go up and down when in the beginnings of healing.

I dont have the strength.

Your story is very much like mine. Right now I'm trying to hang in there. But everyday that goes by is another day wondering (is it worth it). I know she loves me. But I knew she loved me when it happened. So that fact alone makes me think that I'll never be able to trust her ever again. I realize that if I do come to the decision to leave, it won't be easy. But it will be right for me. Love or not.

Truly loving and safety

Rick, you and AR have been the guiding stars on our journey forward. We took your 13-class almost three years ago now, and it laid the foundation for much of our work since, opening our eyes to the concept of truly loving as opposed to Disney's version of "true love."

We often encounter resistance to that idea with too many saying, "ah, but you are encouraging the betrayed to stay for the sake of "love," even when it is not safe." We know that is not at all what you are saying, it is not we are saying, but somehow it still gets misconstrued. We just wrote about this, but I thought I would share it here as well because the distinction is important and too often not understood and I hope that your readers will find it useful in helping understand that distinction.

"Before we had children, while living overseas, we took in an abused dog. She was beautiful, so loving to us and instinctively protective. She had it in her genes to be a guard dog, although all we wanted was her to be a member of our family and a running companion. She could only hang out with people who themselves had dogs. She LOVED other dogs and was therefore loving and friendly to their people. For those without dogs, she did not like them AT ALL.

When we had our first child, I was nervous. But, she was very loving and gentle near the baby. When our oldest was a toddler he ran up to our girl, falling into a big hug with her. She snapped at him and barely broke the skin, but did break the skin. We tried to find her a new home, but couldn’t. We called animal rescue organizations back in the US, telling them we would fly her to them, if they would take her. They wouldn’t. Finally, we decided to take her to the vet to put her down. We loved her so very much, but we thought she wasn’t safe for our child at that point.

Do you see where this is going? Just because you love someone doesn’t mean they are safe for you and that you can keep them in your life. So, while the definition of love is very important to our reconciliation, so is the idea of safety. Love is one thing. Safety is another.

Now, just so you know the end of the dog story. . .

We got our girl to the vet and he found she was infested with something similar to yet-to-be hatched from her skin botflies. No wonder the girl was cranky at being hugged. We got her all fixed-up and she came home to us to live a long and happy life with our growing family, never to snap at our family again. She died a few months before d-day. We still miss her."

Really interesting story

Really interesting story Tigerlily. I like the viewpoint you share about safety and love...

The dog story

Momof2 Thank you! My husband, who goes by MindlessCraft in our online recovery world, also talks about our dog in terms of fear and courage. He, like our dog, lacked courage in his life. As a result of this lack of courage, he failed himself and our family terribly, and sought solace and validity of his masculinity in some very dark ways. He is learning about courage, why not hiding and slinking away from it is so important.

I think our experience with AR really did set the groundwork for so much of the work he has done, I have done, we have done.

Some recent thoughts on courage for whatever it is worth:

Courage isn’t protecting yourself from consequences, courage is facing the consequences, even when painful and/or scary. Courage isn’t arrogance, courage is knowing when you need help and asking for it. Courage isn’t telling others what they want to hear and then doing what you want anyway, courage is matching your actions to your words. Courage isn’t going along with what others want because it is easier, courage is voicing your opinion and then working together to find solutions. Courage isn’t agreeing to do things because you are afraid of people thinking poorly of you, courage is being able to say “no” when you need to do so.

Great point but..

It sure is a rough journey while marching towards this enlightenment. Requires almost a superhuman strength to get through the trauma of infidelity. It's been almost four years and the experience still crosses my mind in some form every day. Sure the sharpest cuts are fading but I sure do live each day with the relization that my partner lied to my face while having a secret life. I bet every betrayed spouse wishes their partner had directed the passion, pursuit and dedication that they spent on the affair towards them. I was starving for the attention and desire and made that known so imagine the pain when the man who could barely remember our anniversary was pouring out love poems to his new soul mate that would make Shakespeare jealous. Yes I am still a work in progress for forgiveness and some days that work really sucks.

Exactly

This is exactly what God enabled me to do in the face of my husband's betrayal and brutal words to me about his love for his affair partner. Ironically, a year earlier I asked God to give men His heart for my husband,and he did "inspires," revealing to me the depth of the childhood injury and pain he had been carrying for 60 years. Sadly, he has a completely hardened heart, and despite going to counseling together, he continued to pursue other women, ultimately rejecting my unconditional love and divorcing me. I cannot let my heart, the heart Jesus paid for with his blood, to live in bitterness. God is still good, and I want to give Him glory and a victory out of this human tragedy.

Here is my issue.

My husband has stopped his affair. Did so pretty much after discovery. However he continues to be very Ambivalent about any recovery work. We did EMSO and are in married for life. We see a councilor but that is it. The article says "They can however, display brokenness, contrition and humility in their approach to recovery and possibly moving forward. They can also take charge of their own recovery and mental health, which speaks volumes of empathy to the betrayed spouse. Without such action, a wayward spouse will be hard pressed to make a case that they are truly sorry for their choices and impact upon their lives."

I feel like he does not care about my pain because he is so wishy washy on his recovery. He is not willing to do the painful
Work of looking at himself and discovering what allowed him to act in such a way. His actions make it very difficult for me to trust this won't happen again and that he is actually sorry for the pain I have endured.

This is Exactly What My Husband Did for US

Your description of the betrayed carrying the pain is the exact description of what my husband did for us. An excruciating betrayal on my part with his best friend. My husband worked through the bitterness and chose to forgive me, offering a true and unconditional love that I could have never have experienced from the affair partner. The miracle part was the shock of the affair woke my husband up. He sees new things in our relationship that he never could have seen before. He is truly becoming the man of my dreams. He is-- for the first time in our 30+ year marriage-- now completely "in." He has stepped up to be our family's spiritual leader, becoming both stronger and more humble every day. We are four years out from D-day. We had a lot of ups and downs and ambivalence for the first 3.5 years, but now are starting to actually fall in love with each other again.

Thanks for the Long View

Thanks, StillHis, for sharing your experience of recovery. It's encouraging. The new shame is to stay with the person who has cheated on you. I often wonder if I'm just a sucker for feeling empathy for my husband who betrayed me and is now deeply ashamed of his actions.

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