The Inconvenient Truth About Love and Loss

Happiness only comes when you open the door to pain. You simply can't have one without the other. As a betrayed spouse, I know this all too well.

I've learned to live with what happened to me. It's become a part of my history, something profound that I went through. This brokenness has become a part of me, one that's interwoven with the fabric of my life story. This revelation is what I think they call "acceptance."

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It hasn't come without truckloads of pain: messy, dark, catastrophic and heart-shattering pain. I opened the door to this pain because I know, deep down to my toes, it's the only way through the devastation of intimate betrayal.

Acceptance. It's the final stage of grief in the five-part model developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; however, her co-author and colleague, David Kessler, got permission from her estate to publish a book outlining a sixth stage of grief: finding meaning.

Loss and Intention Aren't Intertwined

"Your loss is not a test, a lesson, something to handle, a gift or a blessing. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen," Kessler says in his book, "Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief."

Finding meaning in our loss is an uncharted, unwelcome task. Loss happens to us no matter what we do or fail to do. It's truly not about us. Sometimes it's caused by the behavior of others or a natural disaster. Other times, it's the loss of personal health, something that's internal to our body and not our intention.

Once the unilateral choice is made by a partner to break the marriage contract, that relationship is fractured. In that moment, it matters not whether the faithful partner is aware of the breach because eventually they'll feel its effects. It's a loss created then and there. It's something that can happen to any of us — and not because of our intention. That's just one of life's inconvenient truths.

Healing Is Your Own Responsibility

The ancillary consequence of loss is a mandate to heal. That healing is within our control. We have agency over how — and even whether — we grieve the loss. In the case of marital betrayal, it's wholly our responsibility to heal our wounded hearts. That healing won't happen without an investment in regaining our health.

As Kessler says in his book:

"Each person's grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn't mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining."

An essential part of healing is being heard. As much as we crave attachment, we likewise need to be listened to, upheld and validated. We need to know our pain and our loss matters; that our loss is real. We do not heal in isolation. We stew. We build stories in our mind that, more likely than not, skew far from the truth. We begin to tell ourselves untruths, such as:

  • "I could've stopped this from happening."
  • "If I was more ______, this wouldn't have occurred."
  • "I'll never heal because I'm permanently wounded."
  • "My life will never regain its meaning."

Although this kind of internal battling is normal, it's not helpful or, in many cases, based in reality. We need each other. We need other human beings to hear our struggles and, in their presence, reassure us that we're not crazy or fatally flawed. After infidelity, we need to hear that we're not forever broken but, rather, just humans in a great deal of temporary pain.

The Pain of Infidelity Won't Last Forever

Serenity comes when we trade our expectations for healing with acceptance of its actual process. Expectations might reflect our wishes, but they don't dictate reality. They're just a setup for disappointment and resentment. That's why we can only regain serenity through grieving our losses and turning toward real life.

Whether you're building a new life with or without your wayward partner, you'll still need to regain your own equilibrium and balance. Start by wiping the grime of betrayal from your perspective so you can begin to see reality as it actually is: flawed, painful and, yet, beautiful and rich. Truth is, there's so much wonder and magnificence in the world and in life. It's our job as individuals to regain our zest for life and heal our wounds with self-care and love.

"You don't have to experience grief, but you can only avoid it by avoiding love. Love and grief are inextricably intertwined," Kessler explains in his book.

Experiencing Love Means Experiencing Loss

Some have gone as far as to say that grief is the cost of love. I've heard many dog owners vow to never own another pup after the painful loss of a beloved canine companion. Loss is devastating, but the absence of unconditional canine love is also devastating. To love a dog — or anything or anyone — is accepting that you'll eventually lose them. Nothing in life is permanent, but being happy in this life means understanding that and taking the risk to love anyways.

As C.S. Lewis put it:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one — not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."

To move through your healing journey entails viewing life with clear lenses, seeing that experiencing love also means experiencing the risk and inevitability of loss. But the biggest inconvenient truth of them all is this: Love is the root of joy. To love is to risk loss and its subsequent pain. And the choice of whether to risk getting hurt again is entirely up to you.

Continue Your Healing with Harboring Hope for Betrayed Partners

Affair Recovery’s Harboring Hope is a course for betrayed mates designed by betrayed mates. Over 13 weeks, you’ll gain the tools and support you need to forgive, grieve and begin to thrive once again.

"After completing Harboring Hope, I wasn’t sure that I was in a place to be able to encourage others. But, I want to tell you, if it weren’t for Affair Recovery, I literally do not know where I would be. I was, and still am, determined to not let what my husband has done to me make me into a bitter person. I would strongly encourage everyone that has had the misfortune of experiencing this most gut-wrenching pain to join Harboring Hope."— K. MO, February 2021 Harboring Hope participant

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