When The Betrayed Spouse Shuts Down


Unfaithful Spouses,

You have been working really hard. Since discovery, you have received a chance at a new life, and you are determined to change your behavior. You want to see crumbs of hope in your marital relationship, but all you see is pain. What is likely underneath that pain is a violation so deep that you might not even be able to comprehend it for the first year.

Maybe you feel shut out as your betrayed spouse acts in ways you don't think are beneficial. Perhaps you don't understand why your betrayed spouse keeps information from you--even something as innocent as them meeting with a close friend for lunch and not telling you about it. Maybe it is more serious than that, and you see them becoming careless with their own behavior. Maybe they start drinking too much or not telling you when they will be home. Or maybe you even see them falling into the same temptations you have had, and they are seeking out any kind of solace or comfort from another in the form of flirtation or a revenge affair.

While it is easy to only see or judge the behavior, I think it is more important to look for the pain underneath it.

We, after all, are asking for that same grace in light of our own journeys.

Until a betrayed spouse feels some kind of assurance and small guarantee of safety (this will usually happen only after months and months of consistency, no new information, and evidence that we are working diligently to become a new person), they will likely continue to shut down.

The likely motive?

In my own marriage, it was incredibly difficult for me to understand why my husband no longer shared some information with me after disclosure. I was working SO hard. I was taking the Affair Recovery classes; I was going to counseling; I had stopped all contact with the affair partner. In a nutshell, I was desperate, afraid, and doing everything possible to turn our relationship around.

Yet, my husband continued to withdraw from me. It might have been as simple as him having lunch with his brother or a meeting with his boss that he would not talk about. I no longer had access to even the most innocuous parts of his day. During that first year, I would always be so hurt by this. When I took it too personally, I would write stories in my head that told me he was trying to pay me back for what I did to him. (As is the case with so many situations in my life, I have discovered…I was wrong).

Other times were much more serious. My husband is a by-the-book, straight-laced guy who oozes integrity. It was confusing and terrifying to all of the sudden find texts to other women that were so inconsistent with the man I knew him to be. I remember feeling saddened by my husband's behavior, all the while knowing I had done the same kinds of things to him.

Fortunately, this was during the season of my life when I was going to counseling twice a week. With God's grace and the help of my therapist, I was able to speak to my husband with kindness, grace, and a boatload of humility. Because of my own infidelity, I very much knew the distraction from pain that even flirtation can provide. I remember approaching him with so much fear and a heavy heart. I questioned at first whether I had the right to even speak into situations like this in light of what I had done the year before. After all, didn't I deserve this?

Fortunately, I did speak into it. Although I can't remember my exact words, I know I spoke directly and kindly. I was direct in that I called out the behavior, talked about how much it hurt, and asked him to stop. I was kind in that I remember saying I understood how easy it was for him to be in this place, as I had been there many times before. I didn't judge him as much as I begged him not to make the same mistakes I had made. That conversation stands out in my memory as one of the most painful and honest talks of our entire recovery.

Time is a gift that allows the lens in which we view our situations to change. Time is funny like that.

Because of the gift of time, I see the wounded spouse's journey through their pain much differently than I did before.

Now I can see, with a wider lens, the path of my own destruction, and I am much less focused on what my husband did or didn't do.

Please realize that I am not addressing a relationship in which there is physical harm or abuse. If that is the case, or you fear that it is, please seek wisdom. Run, don't walk, to a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor. Get help and outside influence.

If that is not the case and you are simply frustrated, try to continue to see things from another perspective than your own. Try to keep one nostril keenly attuned to our own inner cesspool, as C.S. Lewis so eloquently reminds us.

Chances are, if you are being left out, it is probably more about your spouse trying to protect themselves from further pain than about them trying to hurt you. When a betrayed spouse is hurting, they might do or say things that make it difficult to love. Pain can do that to people-- eliciting a primal response that is not pretty. I know words were said to me that didn't come from my husband's heart but from his pain. It is wise to know the difference.

To healing,

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Thank you

Thank you for sharing this ! I hope that one day I will be able to see my wife as more than a wrecking ball to my heart. Things are getting better. Keeping my eye on the Rick horizon as much as possible. Almost 2 yrs since D-Day #1.

Shut down

I am guilty of shutting down for two years post affair. An affair is worse than the death of a spouse so one cannot expect anything less than the stages of grief.

Dear Elizabeth

I appreciate your point of view and your vulnerability. I withdrew from my husband after I learned of his secret life for many years. Yes, for safety. His primary concern had been himself, not me, our sons, his livelihood, and my husband was not safe.
I am sorry that your husband began having flirtatious texts with other women. I can't speak for all betrayed spouses, but I did not compromise my integrity in response to my husband's infidelity despite temptations of all kinds. I might have been able to justify bad behavior as "retaliation" but that is not the person I want to be.

After D Day, the waterworks flow so freely....

I feel as though I am wandering the earth looking for and picking up the pieces. Who knew the the tiny shards of our worlds - our hearts - would be scattered so far and so wide. Elizabeth, God my have broken you down, if only to save you from you, He's surely smiling upon you now. He has gifted you with a grace and understanding that is hard for me to imagine sometimes. I still struggle with thoughts of total rage against all involved, then I am reminded of my filthy, sin stained soul and the undeserved over abundance of Grace I have been given and I remember that we are ALL His children. Instead, I shall pray for peace over them all.

Thank you

I need to read this every time he shuts down so I don’t make it about me. Your story mirrors mine so much.

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-D, Texas