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

Revenge: Responding to an Affair

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The Painful Side of Love

When responding to an affair, two wrongs never make a right. It's tempting, but those who have been betrayed will be wounding themselves by their own actions.

As C.S. Lewis says:

"Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one... It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is hell."

To love is to risk. It's a reality all of us have experienced in one form or another. The pain is especially intense if we're betrayed by the one who has vowed to be there for us in sickness and in health and in richer or poorer. As human beings, we need attachment in the same way we need air or water. Without these commodities, survival is impossible. If we're deprived of human contact long enough, we will eventually go insane and die. We long for that special one who truly cares for us, the one who will be there for us and come when we call.

But at times, in moments of selfishness, we can make terrible mistakes and betray those we promised to protect. For the betrayed partner the pain can be unbearable. It's a pain like no other because it hits at a fundamental core of our identity.

So How Should You Respond?

As a therapist, I hear about the good, bad, ugly and everything else in between.

This particular week has been painful as I've watched good people react to their pain in ways that are extremely destructive. Here are just a few examples of the situations that I've been working with:

  1. One person violated their own values by having a revenge affair in hopes of making their mate feel their pain.
  2. Another person used their children as a bargaining chip to get their mate to acquiesce to their demands.
  3. Another person told everyone about their mate's affair in an attempt to embarrass their mate.
  4. Another person told their children what a rotten human their mom was because of how she cheated on them and that if she really loved them, she wouldn't have had an affair.

And the list goes on.

There is no doubt that betrayal creates a pain like no other, and it's predictable that we would react out of that wretched pain, but two wrongs never make a right. Vengeance will never bring healing; it only further damages the relational bond. It can never change the past and it can only cloud the future.

Some believe the lie that making the other person pay will make it better, help them feel vindicated, that it's fair, or that hole in their heart will be filled. But it inevitably leaves them with nothing but feelings of self-contempt, more pain, and anger as they deal with the surfacing of their own dark side.

Finding Authentic Peace

If your partner isn't safe, then move on. It's not worth the pain you'll inflict on yourself and others to extract justice. If your partner wants to move on, let them go. You don't want to be with someone who doesn't have the good taste to be with you.

Ultimately, peace will only be found in forgiving them for their betrayal.

Remember, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. The last thing you want to do is walk around angry all the time, despising both your existences. The last thing you want is to spend the rest of your life focused on making someone else pay for what they've done to you. Our most precious commodity on this earth is time, and I can think of much better ways to use my time than holding onto a grudge.

Now, I'm sure some of you are wondering if I'm saying to just move on or to forgive and stay regardless of what the other party has done. I don’t know your situation, and I'm not advocating for either of those positions. I'm just saying that two wrongs don't make a right. If your mate is a jerk, then don't go down to their level and act in the same way. If it's awful for them to act that way, it's going to be equally awful if you act in the same manner.

If reconciliation is your goal, I can promise that treating your mate with an undeserved respect has far more impact than doling out pain in equal measure. If someone hurts you, and you respond in love, at the very least, it causes the other party to examine their own failure, leaving you one up in the power structure of the relationship. Remember, two wrongs never make a right.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is find a group of supportive individuals who are walking the same road and are working toward the same goal: healing. You can find that in Harboring Hope, our online course for betrayed spouses, and Hope for Healing, our online course for unfaithful spouses. Our programs draw their greatest power from the strength of small group support, because those who are currently in the same circumstances truly understand. By providing support, as well as receiving it, couples and individuals get new insight, perspective, and wisdom.

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

This isn't another light-and-fluffy program that only scratches the surface of your pain. The EMS Weekend Experience is a safe space for you and your partner to start putting the pieces of your life back together, transform your trauma and begin healing from infidelity. Skeptical about the effectiveness of this experience? Don't be! Backed by a slew of previous participant testimonials, EMS Weekend delivers results month after month for countless couples.

During EMS Weekend, we won't shame the unfaithful spouse nor blame the betrayed spouse. What we will do is pair you with a small community of other couples and an expert therapist - all of whom have experienced infidelity firsthand - as well as provide comprehensive resources to help you kick-start your healing journey.

Sign Up Now!



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this is going on too long

My anger and vengence has been going on too long. It is coming up on a year now since I found out about my husband's second emotional affair (and possibly physical) with his coworker. I still know very little about what happened. We just attended the last EMS weekend on Nov. 8 and I went to it hoping to get some answers. I was hoping that he would "get it". But I do not feel that he did. Even with the "40 costs" exercise that was done by the betrayers, he thought the costs were about his losses, not mine, and that is what he wrote about. Since it has been so long and I have not gotten any clear answers because he evades questions, my anger over his second affair has not dissipated in the least. I feel that even if he does tell me the truth now, I won't be able to believe him because it has been so long and because his words do not match his actions. The counselor who saw us alone for the short lunch time on Saturday at EMS told me that she felt he was telling the truth, but I felt that she really only heard his side of the details and did not have the whole story. I have no intention of lowering myself to have a revenge affair, but I cannot get over the anger I feel at him for not being honest with me in the first place and for not respecting me and my feelings enough to treat me better. He became so abusive, both verbally, emotionally, and physically, when I kept asking questions that were necessary for my healing that I had to move out of our house. I still have very little information and am still very very angry. Rick, I cannot forgive as hard as I have tried. I have carried around this anger for almost a year. My therapist suggests things for me to do, but they just don't work. I cannot live with dishonesty or abuse and if he doesn't respect me enough to tell me the truth, I am afraid our 35 year marriage is over, as much as it will hurt to end it. I am afraid to go back home for fear of relapse of the affair and the abuse has not been addressed. I know that the abuse will lhappen again because it always does, even after promises are made to control himself. I don't know what to do and I don't know how to forgive. I just can't seem to do it, even after months of prayer. Please help.

Excellent Article!

This is probably one of the best articles I’ve read as a betrayed spouse; and AR has a lot of good articles. I’ll highlight this to read over & over again when bad thoughts enter my mind. I’m so very thankful to whomever wrote this. Thank you so much! (And thank God there’ll be no “marrying or giving of marriage” in heaven...just avoid all those unnecessary complications we experience on earth). Thank you AR!

Hate begets hate

I'm a BH... IMHO there's not much of a difference between the selfishness of an UW/UH having an affair, and that of a BS who seeks to cause their UW/H hurt/pain/embarrassment. ESPECIALLY if the BS intentionally harms others in their attempt to do so, and/or if they "blackmail" or coerce their U spouse with threats.
Misery loves company, but that's only true for those who lose their dignity and enough grace to allow themselves to find comfort, or enjoyment in the suffering and discomfort of others.

What do all the acronyms

What do all the acronyms stand for?

I agree with everything said.

I agree with everything said. Best article ever read so far, and paints a picture of the path of forgiveness but moving I had to follow.
Just to clarify:
UH - unfaithful husband
UW - unfaithful wife
BH - betrayed husband
BS - betrayed spouse
IMHO - in my honest opinion

BH= betrayed husband

BH= betrayed husband
IMHO=in my humble opinion
UW/UH=unfaithful wife/unfaithful husband
BS=Betrayed spouse


You lost me right there. Affairs aren't mistakes. They are many choices to not do the right thing.
I also have no problem outing a ws to family or friends. Support is important to both sides and popping the affair bubble by exposing it is fine by me.
I have no desire for a revenge affair. I would never play my kids against my ws. Two wrongs don't make a right.
Don't insult me with an affair being a mistake. It reeks of minimizing and I don't think that is the intent of this post.

Reply to mistakes

I’m so in agreement with you. There is that saying starts Everybody makes mistakes blah blah blah. Mistakes are unconscious errors. Then there are lapses in judgement. Also without intent but still an error. Now we get to the betrayal of the spouse or significant other. It’s called INTENTIONAL MiSDIRECTION.Conscious, intentional, free will, wanted choices made with plan thought deception secrets desires, and most importantly forethought and malice. By NO means a mistake at all when it comes to an affair, Especially a physical one of any kind in my opinion. I get so tired of hearing I made a mistake. Totally diminishes and minimizing the whole betrayal.

I completely agree with

I completely agree with Itstoomuch. An affair is a choice. Did I have a revenge affair? Yes. I do understand that it didn't equate the same emotional damage for my UF, it only happened once in my case, and that it didn't better the situation. Do I feel guilt, disgust, regret? Nope. It eases my mind a little when I experience images of them, that I can replace those with my own experience. It understand this may seem morbid, I do not think conventionally due to my mental illness, but I don't find that one view can conceptualize everyone's feelings on the subject.


Itstoomuch, I mean no disrespect by this question, I’m just trying to understand. My husband says it makes him so angry and like I am downplaying what I did when I call my affair a mistake. What would be a better way to call it? To me yes it was a choice however it was the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life.

As a betrayed, I recommend

As a betrayed, I recommend the term “my poor choices” or any adjective you choose such as “hurtful choices” or the like, instead of my mistakes. That’s why I also don’t like the use of the word “strayed” because it implies a simple wandering off of the right path.

MISTAKE is a hot button

I get that sentiment. My UH's affair was systematically plotted in incredibly intentional, NOT a mistake,like picking the wrong lottery numbers or turning left instead of right at an intersection. ..It started with texts and phone calls for 4 months to someone who lived 200 miles away. He found out he had to be in a city 60 min drive from her and told her he would be there. She said she would meet him there, where she got a room in the same hotel. He met her there, seeing her for the first time in 16 months where they had met up at a conference and she flirted with him in a bar. (He knew her for 6 years ) She texted him her room number. He went in with a plan to kiss her (as he told her in a text 3 month earlier). He said to her "I don"t think we should sleep together" She agreed. THIS WAS NOT A "MISTAKE". This was a planned affair. He was DEDICATED to acting it out and had every chance in the world to walk away. He had a 5 hour drive to be with her. He could have stopped and texted her.."I can't do this while I'm married" (he had told her we would divorce me when our kids graduated some 3 years later). She ENDED things with him.. telling him she couldn't wait 3 years for him to be single. He said he wouldn't leave any sooner. She stopped talking to him for 6 weeks, than began called him again. 3 months after that they were at a conference together when she texted him her room number and asked if he would come up to her room. They began kissing again and she asked if he'd like to move to the bed. He did, and they had sex. They both knew they had entered into an affair that would go on for at the very least 2 and a half years until our son graduated. That week she made him promis to stop having sex with me, which he did, for 2 and a half years. This was not a mistake..this was a plan..a very intentional plan.
A month later, My UH happened to be in her city for an event of my son's. While he was off with classmates, my UH went to her house and had sex with her. Met back up with my son, like nothing had happened. She also had a son and had to pass him off to her parents for the house to be available..this was intentional too. They didn't see each other again for 6 months. SIX MONTHS ..to get out of this realize what he was doing was immoral and despicable and stop, and take it to his grave. He let her know I was going to be out of town for a funeral..and she drove some 4 hours to have sex with him while my kids were at school..at least that was at a hotel and not my house. I have to see that hotel upon occasion and I want to throw up. The same thing happened the next month when I had to go clean out the residence of the person that died. It was plotted and planned. She had another 4 hour drive to stop this. He had weeks of planning to see her. He called her everyday on the way to work..and when he traveled for work. He sent her flowers, love letters, assured her he wasn't having sex with me and continued to promise her he would divorce me as soon as he could. 2 years, many conferences together and a trip to her house later..my son went off to college. He did tell me he was going to divorce me. He was so checked out by then, I wasn't surprised. He moved into the guest room. I left the house the next day so he would be alone. I of course had no idea he was telling someone else that he loved them and wasn't really alone. The following morning he called her as usual..and her response was "well, its about time" and 'I can't beleive you are still in that house, you've had 3 years to plan this"..which brought him to his emotional knees. He texted me form work that he'd like to talk when he got home. I asked if he was interested in trying marriage counselling where he STILL replied "No, Im not interested in that". He began to talk..started crying and saying he never felt good enough for anyone...not at work, not in the volunteer groups he was involved in etc etc. I held him as he cried. We shared our bed that night. He called her AGAIN the next morning and told her how angry he was at her, where she replied "well I'm sorry if that was so hard for you to do the thing you told me you wanted to do for 3 years...do you want the gig or don;t you?" and hung up on him. He came home for work that night and confessed his 3 year affair with her. Telling me how he hated her and she wasn't at all what he thought she was. He STILL had not ended his relationship with her at that point. I asked to listen to that call where he ended things with her..on speaker phone. I regret that he TOLD he she was on speaker and that I was there too. He asked me not to say anything and I didn't. I regret that too. I would have liked to have told her that that's what she gets for every getting involved with someone who was never really available to her..emotionally, physically, mentally. My world fell apart that day. That was 14 months ago. I have done HH and been in individual therapy and couples counseling for 14 and 8 months respectively. I cry everyday about this. I am having trouble forgiving. He is regretful, also says it was the worst mistake of his life...where is the mistake? calling her? texting her? planning and plotting? Not telling me he was unhappy in our 25 year marriage (30 yr relationship), pretending to still be "married" to me? Torturing me with rejection for 2 and a half years of constant sexual rejection to my advances? what was the MISTAKE part...it all sounds very planned out to me.

No mistake

I agree. Mistake is not the right word. Neither is wayward. I even have trouble with affair. If you say “the wayward spouse made a mistake and had an affair,” it sounds like they were out taking a walk, took a wrong turn, and ended up at a party.

Oh brother.

Revenge and living with a liar

I have been begging my husband for 10 months or more about his little whore he had an affair with about 7 months. Then when it was over he still kept her numbers and her mommy and daddy’s. I can always tell when he lies. Looks the other way, no contact with eyes and always keeps saying he doesn’t remember. All a lie! Guess what? On my birthday recently in October he decided to tell me she was attractive, he like her, he wanted to be with her, and he love having sex with her. He says that wasn’t on purpose telling me on my birthday. That’s a lie. He knew way before and refused to tell me. Saved it up for my birthday. I’m sure that was the tip of the iceberg. He says he didn’t love her, yea right! He refused to have lunch with me but would always have lunch with the whore. Finally after she was fired he actually went 90 miles to go see her but would drive 17 to see me.
That visit resulted in her threatened him to tell me if she didn’t get gifts because all married men give her gifts. Then how obnoxious he was to say he ended it. He did not! I know he’s still lying and I really can’t take anymore. After my birthday and what he did to me it’s not worth saving anymore. I tried for years, and he just lies all the time.

Let her have him and his lies

Let her have him and his lies. They deserve each other. And you deserve better.

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