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, who will be there for us, who will 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. I saw one person violate their own values by having a revenge affair in hopes of making their mate feel their pain.
  2. I've seen another person use their children as a bargaining chip to get their mate to acquiesce to their demands.
  3. I've witnessed another tell everyone they know about their mate's affair in an attempt to embarrass their mate.
  4. I saw another tell 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 painfully, 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 your future.

Some believe the lie that making the other person pay will somehow make it better, but it won't. It only leaves self-contempt as you deal with the knowledge of your 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'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, and it leaves you one up in the power structure of the relationship. Remember the fact that 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 insights, perspectives, and wisdoms.

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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 hones opinion

BH= betrayed husband

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

Mistakes?

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.

Mistakes

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.

What type of affair was it?

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