Painting By Number: The Recovery Process


"You have to trust the process."

I've heard this mantra of sorts from many research-based and well-respected betrayal recovery sources. It is the very backbone and lifeblood of expert help such as what is offered through Affair Recovery's Programs and Courses. It is so hard to do when your heart is shattered into a million fragmented pieces, and all you want, all you need, is to escape the horrendous pain. A pain like no other.

There are many necessary elements of successful recovery. Just as there are many spaces on the canvas of a paint by number. When you look at them up close, they appear to be oddly-shaped islands in a sea of other strange shapes. Or they could be compared to jigsaw puzzle pieces: when observed apart from the others, they are just weird shapes without congruent meaning.

I have found that the road to recovery is much like trying to make sense out of a million little pieces.

"Why do I have to do all this self-care work, reading, therapy, workshops, blogging, podcast listening, etc., etc., etc.? I'm not the one who caused this chaos."

The refrain of every victim of crime or injustice rings down through the eons. We who have been cheated on are, indeed, victims of injustice. We did not ask and do not deserve to be in this position.

But here we are.

We will never have a better past. That leaves the only realistic choice. To move forward. But how?


Herein lies the wisdom of those who have walked this path before us, those who have dedicated their lives to helping other heal from the same wounds, whose scars remain on their hearts. We who have survived, in this case, intimate betrayal, are the most powerful sources of compassion and empathy. Those who have chosen to make their mess their message and studied the proven process of healing so as to be a guiding light on the pathway forward, are full of supportive hard-earned wisdom and care. Those individuals can help us take each piece of evidence-based wisdom and learn how to fit them into our own situation.

When I am painting by number, I focus on each weirdly-shaped area. I carefully choose the right sized brush as my tool. I follow the directions scrawled on the canvas. I check and recheck to be sure I have the correct color to apply to the correct 'piece'. I carefully apply the paint in patience. I work the canvas like a puzzle. Even when I sit back and look at my progress it can appear distorted. I can get discouraged, especially if I look at the whole too often. It can seem overwhelming, like a weird concoction of colored blobs that will never make sense, let alone create something of beauty.

It has been my experience that if I follow the path—the directions—with patience and persistence, if I suspend judgement, if I am tenacious, careful and committed, I will eventually have a beautiful, painted picture. It has happened every time. Even when the painting still looks odd when viewed up close. Even if the colors were not what I would have chosen or expected. When they come together in the chorus of the finished product, they are surprisingly, rewardingly beautiful. Every time.

So too is this path toward healing from betrayal trauma. If I grow impatient, or cannot see how this mess will ever come together into a semblance of a new beautiful life, I remind myself of my painting. I remind myself of all the thousands of couples who have walked through the valley of the death of their marriage from infidelity. (For, no matter if you remain together or split up, that pre-disclosure marriage is dead. No way to put the genie of innocence back in that bottle. You wouldn't want the disfunction of that marriage anyway. It is gone, done, passed.)

It is up to each of us–unfaithful and betrayed–to commit to the process, work with diligent intention and consummate patience toward that day when we can stand back and look at our new life and smile. We can make something new, something never seen by us before, something we could not have ever imagined—a good, new life. Contentment. Serenity.

Together or apart, we can heal and become whole.

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Perfect analogy you gave in

Perfect analogy you gave in your article of what it is like to recover from infidelity! I have not painted a picture by numbers since I was a kid, but you verbalized in such a clear way, I could visualize what painting it would look like and then could translate that to, YEP, just like it has been for my healing. Thanks Christine for using your gift of writing to help others.

Three and a half years post d-day, I can look back without resentment or bitterness and say, yes, a great injustice was committed against or to me, and as much as I fought it tooth and nail, I did have to put in the work to get to the place I am in now. No one else could do it for me. Took me a while though!

To healing in spirit, soul and body!


Voly--thank you for the uplifting comment. It sounds like you have done much work and are benefitting. YEs--a 'great injustice' is done to any betrayed partner. You are a great example of the healing that can come with patience and focus. Kind of like painting by numbers! Lol.

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