am·biv·a·lence--the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone

Ambivalence can also be defined as ‘being of two minds.’ Or in a general sense, “I want to, but I don’t want to.”

In recovery, ambivalence can be a very common denominator for the unfaithful. It’s not always there, but when it is it’s altogether excruciating for the betrayed. An unfaithful spouse may not want to talk about their deep-seated ambivalence, for fear of being hammered upon or ‘shamed’ if they were to disclose it. But it’s there. Deep in the inner resources of their heart and mind, it’s there, trying to eat away at their resolve and their hope.

I certainly didn’t want to talk about my ambivalence with Samantha when my affair became public, but it was part of the process.

Here’s a quote from one of Rick’s articles which may shed some light on ambivalence:

“Since you don’t know what you want, you may find that your motivations to leave and to stay fluctuate each day. Typically, when someone doesn’t know whether to stay or go after an affair, it’s because they are ambivalent about the marriage itself. Half of you wants to stay and half of you wants to leave. Since both desires are so strong, they cancel each other out, and you don’t know what to do. You may discover that if your mate is pushing you to stay, then you want to leave and if they are pushing you to leave, then you want to stay. In that sense, you might tend to be reactive to your mate’s desires rather than actively pursuing your own future.”

Since I’m writing to both an unfaithful and betrayed audience, in many ways ambivalence can be a cancer which eats away at both sides of the marriage. It’s been said the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, or in this case ambivalence.

I’m not a therapist or counselor, but someone who has been through it themselves and I can only speak from personal experience. Ambivalence from the unfaithful will ultimately torture your spouse. It gives them little hope of a future together, even seems to control them, never allowing them to be too happy that you’re possibly wanting to work on the marriage, or too sad that you are in fact leaving. It’s ultimately manipulation in its purest form as we get to have it our way and we’re calling the shots. I’ve seen it many times do its work and it’s tortuous to the other party.

Rick goes on to say these words to the unfaithful:

“To use your infidelity (or in this case, ambivalence) as an excuse to exit a marriage – especially since you were the one who was unfaithful – seems to display a lack of integrity. Your spouse at least deserves a chance to hear what you have been unhappy about, and a chance to work on the marriage. You should be totally open with your mate regarding what has happened so that your mate will be free to make their own decisions. Be careful not to try to control or manipulate them by the control of information.”

When we’re ambivalent about saving our marriage, there’s always a reason. It may be complicated, and it may be very deep within our hearts, but it’s there. Sometimes it’s the fact that we are detoxing from our affair partner, and we’re wallowing in pity, guilt and self-absorption. Often times, we’re torn: wondering if we’ll be missing out on the life we so desperately want and dreamed about, if we stay with our spouse.

While complicated, it’s not impossible, and there is both hope and help to heal.

If you’re a betrayed spouse, I highly recommend an article Rick wrote called “How To Get Your Mate To Cooperate.”

If you’re an unfaithful spouse, I’d like to invite you to consider that you are most likely torturing your spouse by remaining ambivalent. To continue to waver between two living, breathing people who deserve fidelity, is selfish, self-seeking, and dysfunctional. I was there. I know that hurts, but it’s the truth. Now is the time to take action, and at the very least, start the process of getting expert care to arrive at a decision. Now is the time to get the help you so desperately need to discover how you got here, and begin to take steps toward a decision in an agreed upon timeframe. To not give your spouse and yourself that chance is to act contrary to love. Whenever we are not walking in love, we fail miserably. Except this time, it’s not a failed business or a lost opportunity; it’s failing people we care about deeply.

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It doesn't just apply to the unfaithful

I feel like it's arrogant to assume or at least not to address that ambivalence often runs on both sides of infidelity. I have just as much right to want to sit on the fence of my marriage as my unfaithful spouse.

I think he was saying the

I think he was saying the unfaithful doesn't have a right to sit on the fence and keep their loved ones in limbo. I think ambivalence will tend to play a role for both parties involved for some period of time but an unfaithful spouse remaining ambivalent for an indefinite amount of time is both torturous and manipulative.


I agree, I have stayed for almost 3 years but have been in indecision the entire time. My husband cheated and ended the affair and is totally remorseful but I still waiver back and forth , I've left 4 times . I need wisdom , still not sure what to do ?

Thank you for your dedication to helping others

Thank you again Samuel for sharing with all of us all the insights you have learned throughout your long journey to healing. As the betrayed spouse I find it so helpful to hear the inner thoughts of the unfaithful. Sometimes when my husband and I seem to lose some ground, we both kind of laugh and say "lets go see what Samuel has to say!" your writings have continued to inspire us and sometimes give us that direction we need. Thanks again and God bless you and your family.

your kind words

janna you are so encouraging. thank you for that. i try. i smiled when i read that as though I'm not striving to be some authoritative source, i am trying to be a source that people who are in crisis and pain can relate to and get perspective and comfort from. you encouraging me means a ton and gives me hope to keep writing, hoping and seeing it's helping others in this mess. i hope i write a 1000 articles that help you in some way, which gives purpose to the pain i've created. thank YOU so much for taking time to write and encourage me. it means more than you know friend. grace to you and your own healing.

on the fence

Almost 9 months out from DDay, with no real remorse, apology, or change shown by my husband, I feel like I am on the fence just waiting to see which side I will fall on. The rage is gone, replaced by just sadness, and then on most days, just feelings for or against my marriage or husband....just a void. HIs promises to "give him time to prove " that he wants and loves me seem empty as well. He's had almost 9 months. I feel like I've just given up. Since I moved out of our home, I have felt more peaceful within myself and maybe this as contributed to those feelings of ambivalence. Last Sunday, he invited me to our home for a family dinner with our son and his family, he cooked and cleaned (I helped clean up after), then went out to water the shrubs. My son and family left, and it was just the two of us. I hung around for a few minutes, hoping he would want to talk and maybe begin to "prove" that he wanted me by discussing the affair (one of the things I told him I NEEDED to do to begin to "get over it" like he told me to do), but after about 10 minutes of saying nothing, I said I needed to do lesson plans and left. I thanked him for dinner, told me how much I appreciated it and the clean house, and started for my car. He thanked me for coming. That was all. Like I was just an aquaintance. Obviously, he did not want to discuss his affair or anything else to do with our marriage. My hopes for some healing were dashed again. So here I am on the fence, lawyer is ready, and I am not sure just how much more time I should give him to "prove" anything. Samuel, you are's like a cancer is eating away at our marriage....but he has the chemo to stop it and just won't use it.

on the fence

K, I'm so sorry friend. I found myself frustrated with you and for you from what you shared. i think in many ways, it may be time for some tough love. I believe it was james dobson who wrote tough love and Rick recommends it quite often for sure. samantha read it for sure and has become quite good at it. :) but seriously, i'd suggest some tough love for him and I'd begin to maybe think the writing is on the wall. the latest newsletter due out soon is on denial i think and it may help bring some perspective to you and your situation. but i'd probably suggest telling him, as that is a step in getting help TELLING HIM, that you are done and that you are moving on. if the threat of losing you doesn't get him to take action, then unfortunately it's pretty obvious he is not willing to face the music and get help. sure he's dysfunctional, and sure he's in denial and sure he's in pain and man it's sad. the condemnation is probably through the roof. but if he's unwilling to get help and take some sort of action, you chasing him pursuing him or following him, won't help in my experience anyway. i'd begin to breakaway and get help for you and heal. harboring hope on the site is a fantastic program which helped my wife immensely and she met some wonderful women in the program too.

11 Months Plus D Day

I know exactly how you feel. My husband stays in our basement for over 11 months now with no disclosure an and no empathy whatsoever. Two of our 3 daughters will not even talk with him. He says" I am here for them if they need me" How sad! He tells me he loves me and wants to grow old with me. I ask him again for disclosure, honesty, commitment, love, and to restore our family back for our anniversary. Did not even mention it and when I ask him why he ignored my requests he said "everything he said is wrong anyway" I ask him to try the truth. The last 5 months I have discovered he has a passive aggressive personality in which he takes no blame, denies, lies, and wants control. I have so much proof but he still denies. I ask him to leave to give us both a break and so far he is still down in the basement. I cannot afford to move out at this time. He just wants me to overlook the infidelity and brush it under the rug. No way am I going to condone his behavior and take more of his denying and lying. I don't want a divorce but I will not live this way forever. He wants to remain in control no matter what the costs. He started going to church every Sunday, reads the Bible,---but what does that mean if you don't apply it. It is like I can't move on either with him downstairs an gives a little but just takes all the time. I hate living like this. It is not living.

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