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

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

True definition of love

Love is a funny thing.

To the couple in crisis due to infidelity or addiction, it can also be a very confusing thing.

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.

Choosing to Love Anyway

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 or go 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: some of us can be amazingly disoriented believing the counterfeit is real and the real is counterfeit. I'd invite you to consider the possibility that many of us don't know what true love is.

True Love Involves Hurt

Buddha said that "life equals suffering," but I'd like to suggest that perhaps there is also another truth which is that "love equals suffering." Arguably, one of the greatest acts 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 life changing hurt inflicted by her betrayal and ultimately forgive her failure to love. That is, if they are to ever have a meaningful relationship again.

There is no way she can ultimately bear the total awareness of her pain for her own moral 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 courageously carrying the pain.

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.

A Love That 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, though it would be understandable to want that.

It's about a willingness to cover a debt, quite frankly, that they could never in fact, pay back. (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.

The unfaithful spouse 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, hard-hearted or refuses to own what they've done.

Remember, love, true love, always acts in the best interest of another.

A Love That Has Boundaries

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. It'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, 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.

Not all marriages survive infidelity. That's just a fact.

Not all unfaithful spouses are willing to own their failure and not all betrayed spouses are able to overcome the devastation they experience due to their mate's choices. Yet, I can personally testify to the fact that the amount of couples who find healing and restoration is absolutely staggering, despite the fact that you don't always hear about them.

Today, I'd like to invite you, the betrayed spouses, a chance to heal from the devastation of your spouse's infidelity. Our Harboring Hope course specifically for betrayed spouses, is a safe place for those who have had to walk their own road to forgiveness despite unthinkable pain, hurt and betrayal. I hope you'll give the course and it's expert-driven curriculum, a chance to provide you with new hope, new life and new courage.



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What if he says he will do

What if he says he will do whatever it takes to help me heal but doesn't do the work? So tired of telling him what I need or want and he does nothing to help. Lip service is getting old.

re: Denise

Same here. I’ve told him this makes him unsafe to me. He’s broken no contact twice yet I’m supposed to believe his white knuckling it is going to prevent it happening again?! He refuses to do what he promised and then wonders why we’re broken. I continue to try to heal myself, though we can’t afford a therapist. I read AR articles and others, watch AR videos and just tty to recover on my own. It’s been 2+ years. He’s spends more time and money on hunting down craft beer and sharing music with his friends than with me or for us. I’ve told him how this makes me feel - 3rd fiddle, they’re more important than us or me.

My health has suffered these last 2 years, I’ve gained weight, and since June last year, when he flat out refused to anything for recovery, my depression has deepened. I canmt leave because Inhave nomjob or money and have nonone to stay with until Incould back on my feet, and we have a young teen son. I figure if we can remain at least friendly, I can stick it out until out son is getting his life going on his own. My husband keeps talking about what he hopes WE will be doing in the future. It just makes me sad. How can I can I plan for a future of US when he has refused any healing and recovery work?!

Still in recovery

This is a great article.
My d.day was September 2013 when I found out,3 weeks before going on a holiday of a life time to Europe with my sister for 5 weeks.2014 found out again still seeing AP,we separated for 11 weeks.
Again had him back after convincing me again it's over between him and his AP who worked with him.
And her ringing me to say it's over and that she resigned.
2015 still with AP lots his job after 25years service due to the affair actually taking place at work previously.
2016 found out again still with AP this is due to him slipping up with information and dates I had documented.
And again kick him out.
All along I find out she also was in a relationship from 2013.
I thought I will let her partner know which I did by text.Unfortunately she was pretending to be him texting back which I knew and let her know.
To cover up so she doesnt get caught she rang the police on me for harrassment.
This actually devasted my husband of 34 years and he rang her and ended it with her.
Shortly after she got married to the same partner she was with while with my husband.
My husband has changed and is so remorseful for what he has done.
We read every article and watch all the videos and talk about them.
Thankyou for what you provide and it has helped both of us moving forward constantly.

Surviving the affairs

After suffering through a 30 year marriage of countless affairs, one night stands and numerous attempts to work through them with counseling only to find myself again back at square one I have decided to separate from my husband. It’s decision grieves me but over the years I have lost myself, fallen into depression and feel hopeless. I just don’t know what else to do!


I so admire your courage to start over. I think that is what most of us would do if we were not so entangled emotionally and financially. We muddle along and make it work because of family and money pressures. A few will fall in love with their spouse again but most of us just settle.

Most of us just settle.

Most of us just settle.
There is a LOT of feeling packed in that sentence alone. It resonates.

This site and the resources

This site and the resources here will help. I’m sorry for your pain.