The Power of "and"

If someone had told me in the beginning I could carry the happy and sad feelings at the same time I would have been horrified thinking it meant the good ones would be forced and fake. I couldn't comprehend how I would everbe able to hold these feelings side-by-side and not feel devastated every moment of the day. But what I'm experiencing now is much more peaceful.

"When you are standing in [a] forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope."
~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Initially, after learning the full truth of my husband's infidelity, everything felt tainted, dark, lifeless, and just meaningless. I saw him as a person who willingly created this situation for me with total disregard for my life, and my capacity to ever experience meaning and peace in it again, as though I just didn't matter at all.

I often asked myself, can anyone really be happy after infidelity? Or are they just "less sad" – working hard to patch up a shipwreck that would never be any good again anyway? In fact, I asked this exact question to a number of "experts" in the field of infidelity as I was looking for hope that there was "real" recovery, and not just a band aid masking these gaping wounds. Every single one told me it was definitely possible to find happiness after betrayal. But still, I didn't believe them. They would often still talk about sadness and triggers, and to me, that negated any talk of happiness.

In recovery, I have struggled with black and white thinking, and I suspect that I am not alone.

Either my husband cared about me, or he was willing to hurt me.
Either my husband loved me, or he wanted to have sex with someone else.
Either he cared about protecting our family, or he wanted to have an affair.
Either our moments together were real, or he was cheating on me.
Either I had value, or I was not worthy of faithfulness.
Either God loved me, or He let this happen and didn't care about me.

It is the ubiquitous struggle of good and evil, true or false, darkness and light. But some things don't fall neatly into those categories.

As I have traveled the path toward healing, what I have found is that where I am tempted to put an "or," there is often an argument for "and."

In the early seasons of recovery, I remember just waiting for the time I could eventually feel happiness, when the sadness was no longer present. As I began to slowly heal, I did experience happiness – genuine happiness. What I did not expect was that the sadness remained alongside. I didn't anticipate that they could coexist, and yet both be real and true. It still doesn't make sense in my head, but that has been my experience.

I do have moments, and even days of genuine happiness, even feelings of joy, and peace. I never thought I would feel any of that again. In fact, I was certain I wouldn't. Absolutely positive. I thought I was destined to fake it forever. And at first, when it first started to trickle back into my life, happiness felt foreign, unnatural, even undeserved. My inner voice would reject it and say, "What are you happy about? Don't you remember? How can you be happy when this is your life?" And then it would tell me I am pathetic, fooling myself, just a loser accepting crumbs. (My inner voices are very unkind and quick to play on my fears. Maybe you have them too.)

For me, at this point, I am happy a good deal of the time. I am also sad often. I am both. At the same time.

When I first started on this journey, I heard people talk about holding pain and joy side by side and I couldn't understand it. It sounded dreadful, so I assumed it meant they were just faking happiness amidst the pain. I couldn't wrap my head around feeling genuine happiness without the pain being GONE.

But now, I see they do coexist, and in a way that now feels natural. The pain is not gone and will probably never be gone. But it definitely doesn't feel like it did in the beginning, what some of you might be experiencing currently. The pain I feel now is very different. Softer. Quieter, like an undercurrent. More rooted in disappointment, than the searing, blinding, pain that shouted over any other feelings I was trying to have. And it doesn't always feel as relevant to my present life as it once did.

That loud kind of pain I felt in the beginning still shows up, but not as often anymore. And when it does, I am comfortable that it is only here for a visit rather than a full blown vacation, so it doesn't scare me anymore. It doesn't overwhelm me like it used to. I deal with it and then it goes back into the box. I don't have to shove it in there like I used to attempt unsuccessfully; it just goes in on its own. And I am content with that - for now. That doesn't mean I am free from triggers and those crushing thoughts and feelings that derail me. Sometimes I lose hope and I don't want to do this anymore. As a matter of fact, I had to pause writing this for a while to navigate some painful stuff. I expect this to get better as time goes on and as I continue to do the very hard work of recovery. This is not a static process. It has required action and energy, and looks different for each of us. We are all unique, so what has worked for me might not work for you, and vice versa.

I have heard the interpretation that pain doesn't get smaller, but the other parts of your life – happiness, purpose, meaning, etc., grow bigger around it. I think that's true. I feel more deeply now, good or bad. I feel more gratitude for the good things in my life than I did in the past. I don't worry or stress about stuff that used to weigh me down pre-infidelity. My priorities are different, and clearer. And I am happy with all of that.

I am a better person now. More present. More real. More whole. More forgiving (in general - not just this stuff). More understanding, insightful, and compassionate. I am sensitive to the pain of others around me in a way I was not before. I am a much deeper person. I have a closer relationship with God and a much closer relationship with my husband. I still have pain, and I still experience triggers and reminders that impact me deeply. But when they come back, I can talk to my husband about them, and it is healing.

This is really hard. There is no way around it.

After discovery, I thought, "I can't believe this is my life." Because to me, now this was my life. My whole life. There wasn't anything else. This thing had eclipsed me entirely, along with everything else that used to matter.

Now, I can look at this thing and think, "This is part of my life." It is still hard, but it is no longer my whole life. There is more. More that I want to do. More that matters, more that I am.

If someone had told me in the beginning I could carry the happy and sad feelings at the same time I would have been horrified, thinking it meant the "good ones" would be forced and fake. I couldn't comprehend how I would ever be able to hold these feelings side-by-side and not feel devastated every moment of the day. But what I'm experiencing now is much more peaceful. Accepting. I'm still disappointed and sad, don't get me wrong. There is no panacea. There is a loss of innocence with happiness now, but also an appreciation and thankfulness for all we have endured and what we almost lost forever. When the darkness fell around me, it seemed as though the light completely disappeared. And for a time, it did. But eventually, I saw glimpses of light and couldn't believe they were real. They were faint and sporadic and I assumed I was imagining them. Until one day I looked around and realized I wasn't lost in the dark anymore. I say this to encourage those of you who aren't here yet, that there are feelings that you probably can't yet understand. Hang in there. The light is coming.

You haven't even met the best version of yourself - not yet.
The most healed
The most fulfilled
The most content
And meeting that "you" is worth fighting for
So keep learning and growing

~Topher Kearby

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holding Happy and Sad together

I think it’s interesting you put the term “experts” in quotes. Those of us on this Journey of Healing from infidelity know that only we ourselves are the experts. All the well-meaning listeners and coaches and counsellors are not feeling at the cellular level what we are privileged to feel every day, all the time. I am not denigrating their input: I have often needed to hear from a third-party that I was not crazy, that there are actually some positive things we can do to help the recovery process. I wish there was such a thing as an “expert” I could just give my life over to and do exactly what they told me to do, and that if I did all that I would be healed. And happy again. As the first year of my dealing with the betrayal has just passed, I tried to not worry about my progress on a temporal scale. I know I have had happy days, I know I have made definite progress. Yes, I still think about her a lot, and I still wonder how/why she did what she did. I look forward to a time when a day will pass and I won’t have thought even briefly about her. I sense that day is coming. In the meantime, most of my friends see that I am happy again, but as you so eloquently put it Jen, there’s a baseline sadness that is always there. I am not faking the happiness: I have come to realize that Life is too precious and too short for me to do anything other than try with my best grace to find joy in even the most mundane places. And it’s always there. The sadness and pain no longer overwhelm me, no longer consume or define me. I had been thinking all these months that it was a zero-sum game: if I could be this much happy then I would be this much less sad. But neither of those emotions are finite like that, and even if I hit the home run of happiness, I will know what sadness feels like, I will know it’s now a part of the fabric that makes me, me.

Hi Raphael

I felt this way too - "if I could be this much happy then I would be this much less sad." I think most of us expect it to work that way. It's been interesting and unexpected to see how it has worked in reality.

Thank you for commenting Raphael. I'm glad you are experiencing genuine happiness again, even amidst the sadness.

The Power of and

What a remarkable article. To have someone put it so clearly and eloquently into words is a gift to those struggling and living through the crushing pain of their life partner making such painful decisions to have an affair. I found this article very relevant and enlightening, a big thank you.

Thank you BrettG

I'm so glad you found this helpful. Thank you for your kind words :)

Thank you

A HUGE thank you for sharing your words of encouragement and your heart. I felt everything you said and more. It touched me deeply and I’m encouraged by your thoughts and words. So thank you Jen!

Thank you bostonterrier3

I'm so glad it touched and encouraged you. :) Thank you for your kind comment.


I don’t have words to describe how amazing it is to read your blog and to feel the hope it offers. I am not there yet, but knowing you made it that far is so encouraging that I will make it someday soon. I still feel “or” is controlling my inner thoughts, but even the thought, the idea of contemplating “and” is actually beginning to feel real. In the past that wasn't possible. I want it to be so. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you Paulette

We have been through a lot together haven't we? I'm so glad this brings you hope. 💕

Thank you! I look forward to

Thank you! I look forward to your articles because they always speak to where I am at the moment.

I often tell my husband that I can’t wrap my brain around being happy yet sad, loving him yet not liking him and the lists go on. I can’t seem to put my thoughts into words as you have so thoughtfully written.

I have always been a black and white thinker but this pain, this life experience that has been thrust upon me, has also made me more compassionate, more interested in loving/praying for people through their painful experiences, whether death, sickness or suffering. I now know this is part of God’s plan for my life… becoming more like His nature and less like my own that was fraught with selfishness. What an awesome God we serve.

In most ways, I am thankful for what I’ve been through yet I would be telling an untruth if I said I was thankful for everything. I pray that I get to the point where I am able to “give thanks in all things!”

Thank you for your support, your willingness to share to help others along this slow clumsy journey of healing. I can only imagine how difficult yet cathartic it must be.

Hi pitter

Thank you for your comment. I have also tended to be a black and white thinker in general, so this has been an uncomfortable area of growth in my life. That being said, this particular change in my capacity to consider "grey" is something for which I am grateful, for all the reasons you mention. I will never be thankful for my husband's choices and actions that devastated me and our marriage, but I am thankful for the opportunity it has created for God to use it, and for the subsequent growth in my husband, in me, and in our marriage.

You are right, writing about this stuff is both difficult and cathartic. Sometimes I become clearer about my own feelings as I write, which can be good or bad, depending on the topic. But if it helps someone else in the process, I am very grateful to have done it. :)


Hi Jen,
This is a great article and one that I resonate with. I'm new to this site and haven't delved into how it works so I'm sure the answer to this is somewhere within the site. I hope I'm not being offensive but how long ago was your D-day? I found out, without a shadow of a doubt, 12 months ago but, like many others, the full truth has taken some time to come out. Mostly deemed from evidence I have found for myself but also viewing the situation in retrospect. I really feel I need someone to talk to and it seems like people on forums kind of come on then drift away (my inner voice is saying probably because they give up on reconciliation and move on with their lives).

To “The Strong One.

Have you been able to join a Harboring Hope group? My group has been talking almost weekly since we started out in a HH group years ago now. Even though I have never seen these ladies in person, we have been a lifeline for each other throughout our years together. We do discuss different topics. We are living with some of us getting divorced, spouses losing their jobs and having to find a different line of employment to support our families. I never imagined that I would even join a betrayed group of women in their struggles, and sharing my own struggles would be so beneficial to me. I don’t work for AR, I have only taken advantage of what they have offered in my own life journey towards healing myself after a lifetime of betrayal and addiction presented to me by my former husband. I get it. It’s not easy to ask for help from strangers. Unfortunately, we are not strangers to this world of hurt anymore. It’s a catch twenty two for me finding gratefulness for AR. I’m grateful that this resource is available to us. I’m also sad that it’s become a reality that many people make it their livelihood to support themselves doing this difficult work. Keep breathing.

Hi Skier

You capture this journey well. It's not easy to ask for help, you're right. My HH group has been together for a long time too, and I'm always happy to hear of other groups that last.

You're so right, it is a mix of feelings that so many great people are here, but at such a personal cost.

The strong one

Hi. I appreciate your comment and I'm sorry you are here. None of us ever wanted to be part of this club, but I'm glad you found Affair Recovery. Your question is not offensive at all. I am about 4 years out from discovery, but I have a long and complicated story that makes it not that cut and dried. I was gaslighted and deceived for 10+ years and endured a lot of trauma during that time as I wrestled internally questioning myself with what to believe.

All that said, I didn't really start getting help for the first 2 years after DDay so I didn't really get started in real recovery for a long time.

Knowing that, I can tell you with certainty that you DO need someone to talk to, as you mentioned. You really can't get through this alone. You can tread water for a long time, but for real healing to occur you need support - whether it is formal (therapy) quasi formal (Harboring Hope, mentors etc.) or informal (friends/family). I wasted a lot of time, and I hope others can learn from my mistakes, so yes, please find support.

On this site, Harboring Hope is a good place to start - they are small private groups for betrayed spouses that meet weekly. There is a curriculum, but there are also conversations and connections formed and support from others who are going through the same things you are. I went through Harboring Hope and those ladies were my lifeline. They still are. Groups are for betrayed men or women (separated by gender).

If you are seeking reconciliation with your spouse, EMS weekend is amazing. I was absolutely terrified to go, but I can assure you it is so helpful and comforting. (and no, I don't work for Affair Recovery - I have just benefitted from their programs and resources)

As for the forums - yes people come and go, for a variety of reasons. Some may give up as you said, but others reconcile and heal, and then don't feel the pull to the forums anymore as they move on with their lives. Others stick around to offer a helping hand when they can.

There are so many people on this site who have been in your shoes and want to offer support and encouragement to help you feel understood and less alone. It's a hard journey, but you are not alone here. I hope you take advantage of the many options you have to find support and comfort here.

I wish you the best in your healing.

seven months on

Hello Jen,
Hard to believe that seven months have passed since your last post. I have been conscious of balancing the Sadness & Happyness since your thoughtful message. And things have gotten much better, much brighter, as the months went by and I ceased worrying about dealing with memories and triggers and sadness. Let 'em come: they dissolve quickly in the everyday joys of living well. My heart has healed: just like you can't describe the depth of pain we felt, you also can't describe the wonder and gratitude and joy of healing, even a little. New love has come to me: I feel blessed. Thank you, and I look forward to your next inspiring post!

Hi Raphael

It's so good to hear from you! I'm so glad you are doing well and finding healing and happiness. I am finding more healing as well, and you are right, it's hard to describe the wonder and gratitude of healing. I hope to talk more about that in the future, as it sounds impossible at the beginning of this journey.

I can't believe it's been 7 months either since the last blog. Life has been busy but I have a new one waiting to be published so hopefully it will be out soon.

I really appreciate your comment and knowing that you are doing so much better!

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