Make Way For Healing

to heal you must make way for the new to grow

My friend recently had a terrible burn accident while frying bacon. A stumble and the hot grease splashed across the palm and side of her hand. As an EMT, she knew she must douse the injury in cold water and clean it. And not just clean but rid the area of the skin that was peeled away. The pain was exquisite. A trip to emergency room quickly followed.

"Give me two minutes," the ER doctor pleaded. "You did a good job and the right thing in cleaning your burn, but I have to get the rest of the dead skin and debris so it won't get infected."

My friend knew he was right.

"You've been through childbirth?" He smiled wryly.

He was understating the pain of those two minutes. It seemed more like two years.

What is the metaphor here?

Healing from the worst trauma a person may ever experience–the betrayal of the one person they relied upon to protect them—is painful. It is no more welcome than having a burn deeply cleansed after a horrible accident.

Neither the betrayed nor the unfaithful likely had any notion of the severity of this deep attachment wound. Even the path to healing--the actual experience of dredging up all the ugly details, metabolizing the long-ranging effects on self, relationship and family and then talking it through ad nauseam for months, dealing with the neurologically-based trauma responses, the sleep disturbances–all of it is nothing short of painful. Sometimes very painful. Probably the worst emotional pain most will ever experience.

And it is vital.

To heal, you must make way for the new to grow. Tender, sensitive, unfamiliar new 'skin' will take the place of the damaged. The old marriage is dead, just as sure as those layers of injured skin. In an instant, your world has changed. Without warning you are plunged into deep unrelenting pain. And then to realize that you must attend to the wound through a process that will cause more pain? It is so unfair, so unwanted, never imagined nor courted.

Yet here you are in what has been referred to as hell on earth.

"I wouldn't wish this pain on my worst enemy."

The unfaithful are likely gobsmacked by the intensity of their betrayed spouse's pain, by the depth of their own shame and guilt, by it all.

And now, there is no choice.

If you want to heal. If you want your new life to be strong, it is going to take Herculean courage and tenacity. If you want your marriage to be rebirthed into a new, stronger life, it is going to be painful. Like childbirth, like the scraping of a wound to remove the offending, old, and dangerous.

You can heal. Whether or not you build a new marriage or part ways. Both of you can heal as individuals. If you want the marriage to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, you will have to BOTH come together for what will be a long period of hard discussions. The unfaithful must learn to hold the pain of their betrayed without defensiveness or anger. They must learn to validate their wounded partner's pain, to feel it, to empathize with it, and to repair it by becoming a changed, honest, person of integrity. Without these actions, there will not be relational healing. There will be pretending, limping along, ugly scars and more pain.

The betrayed must learn to open to the unfaithful and gain understanding and compassion for their unhealthy path: choosing what seemed like getting their needs met without the messiness of true intimacy. Infidelity is ultimately an intimacy disorder.

The betrayed must be open to seeing and feeling what it must be like to be so wounded, so lacking in intimacy skills, so unhealthy that everything loved in life is put at risk. This is not easy. It is incredibly painful.

Over and over and over again, both partners, if they want a chance to heal, must make room for entering and feeling the world of their partner. They must acknowledge. They must empathize.

Like my friend's hand, the wound will have to be tended for a long time. There will be pain.

The gauze bandages wound around my friend's hand were cumbersome, unfamiliar, burdensome, time-consuming, and a constant reminder of the burning-hot grease. Even when those bandages came off, that new, tender, pink skin was sensitive. The least brush or bump sent shock waves, triggered her pain receptors.

But the pain can be reduced. How? Empathy.

Slowly, ever so slowly—never fast enough—her body, her self-care, the support and care of her husband and family have brought her through. Slowly, slowly, over time, acknowledgement and care, her wound has healed. Her hand has returned to full function. Because she followed the prescriptive path of healing, her skin is smoother than that of her other hand. Stronger. Even better.

Could she have healed alone? Yes. As a strong, tenacious woman who was willing to take good care of herself, she would have healed. Did the love, support and empathy of her family help? Of course. Is she closer, more intimate with her spouse because of his empathy toward her and his supporting patient love? You bet.

The Unfaithful must choose to move past their shame and guilt and turn toward tending the pain of their wounded Betrayed if they want to heal the relationship. They MUST. It is imperative to relational healing. Both partners have a long path toward healing of self. Like a three-legged stool—self, partner and relationship–without each leg becoming strong, the stool will collapse. There will not be relational healing.

Make way for healing. Do the painful work of scraping away the unhealthy and damaged. Be patient. Healing takes enormous energy, care, and time. However, with these ingredients in place, healing will occur. There will be a stronger, wiser, more resilient 'you' down the road. If BOTH partners do their work and the work of repairing the relational wound, there will be a new "Us," a strong stool that will not topple.

To healing.

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Thank you so much for the article! What a helpful way to describe it!


As an unfaithful, I have struggled with shame and guilt from my affair and, frankly, my years of selfishness and lack of emotional connection before the affair. Only recently am I able to accept what I have done and who I have been without hanging my head in self pity. It has made acceptance and healing from my wife slower and more painful as she has had to deal with my own issues while trying to endure all the triggers and pain and disgust resulting from my unloving actions long enough to maybe someday be able to heal herself. She was very, very badly burned by her decisions to choose me those many years ago and putting her own hopes and dreams on hold for me and for our children. Forgiveness and trust is still a long way off but I am fortunate that she is working incredibly hard to give me a chance to change. Forgiveness and trus may never come but these blogs and other readings are an encouragement to both of us as well as a reminder that there is much work to do.....and hope. That there is a chance of a new life together if I put her first and become the person for both of us that I believe I can be. I/We can't change the past and it will always be a painful reminder of what was (or wasn't) but we are hopeful that we can build a future. Thank you for taking the time to help those like us.

Thank you for sharing James.

Thank you for sharing James. It is encouraging that you are learning to help your wife and put her in an esteemed place in your life. I wish you well in this long path toward the light.

Perfectly expressed... Thank you

I wrote my IMPACT letter last night, after sitting through my husband's DISCLOSURE 10 days ago. I was so encouraged by this article because the spirit of this writing and my letter are the same... full of reality, true description of the agony, and yet there is hope for something better. The timing was perfect and really confirmed I am experiencing and embracing exactly what happens to a betrayed.

I am humbled by your comment.

I am humbled by your comment. May you continue to find the strength to bear this long, slow and painful path.

Empathy for the unfaithful

It hasn’t been difficult for me to come to a place of empathy for my UH, I think because his concern and love for me in the past 4 months have been so evident. He is grieving for me and the pain he sees I’m in, hating his past actions and the choices he made, wishing he could go back and have a do over. He knows there is no “do over”, only going forward and healing by God’s miraculous grace, something that we experience daily.
I have an analogy that works well for me when I think of the pain my unfaithful spouse is experiencing.
Imagine that one day you are angry and frustrated, so you decide to leave the house and escape the conflict. You jump in your car, you angrily yank it into reverse, and you back out without checking behind you. You don’t see your sweet little toddler on her trike, you’re blind to everything but your own emotions and pain. You run over her. You are left holding the treasure of your life in your arms, lifeless. You know you did this horrible thing. You know it was your own selfish action that caused it. You want to go back and restart the day and make a different choice, but you can’t. The damage has been done and you have only yourself to blame.
This is what I think of when I watch my husband process through his guilt and shame.
My husband says it feels like he took a bulldozer to his home and is gazing at the wreckage wondering what happened to cause him to destroy the thing he loved the most.
We WILL heal and get through this pain. Moment by moment.

Thanks for your comment and

Thanks for your comment and the encouragement. You are (both) fortunate that your husband has taken responsibility and is repairing. His humility is the key that gives you the ability to feel safe and forgive..and for him to become a man of integrity. You are blessed. You relationship can heal. As you say---moment by moment.

Empathy and Care in Healing...

Thank you Christine, this was so beautifully written and so true. Thank you.... I can only hope my UH will read this but as you well know, we can't make them. To your continued healing and mine....

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