Shame: The Two Sides of the Coin - Side 1: The Unfaithful Spouse

Imagine you walk in the door to your house. You hear a noise coming from upstairs… sounds like chewing and tearing. You go to investigate and discover the source of the sound is your dog eating your brand-new shoes! You give your dog the appropriate scolding and send him on his way while you survey the damage to your kicks. Your dog gives you the saddest puppy eyes as he skulks from the room.

Fast forward a few hours… your dog is cozied up next to you on the couch while you watch your favorite television programs. At bedtime, he takes his prized position at the foot of your bed when you settle in for the night. You give him a loving pat on the head and wish him a good night, as is your routine every evening.

Wait. Didn’t Fido eat your new favorite shoes a mere four hours ago? Those were expensive! He has wronged you! Doesn’t he feel badly about what he did? Doesn’t he realize the inconvenience he’s caused you? Shouldn’t he be pouting in the corner?

One of the massive differences between dogs and humans is that dogs lack the capacity to feel shame. Sure, he may have eaten your shoes, and yes, he certainly got in trouble… but he’s not wallowing in disgrace, laying there thinking of how the other dogs will judge him based on what he did. Okay, we’re not dogs, I get it. But perhaps this is a life lesson we can take from them.

As the unfaithful spouse in an affair, you may be experiencing a great deal of shame around what happened. I’m here to tell you that this shame, however common it may be, is not only not serving you, but it is likely prohibiting you from healing.

Brené Brown is a well-known expert in the field of shame. Brown writes, “shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Shame can become a catalyst for selfish behavior. The unfaithful spouse may focus on how ‘bad’ they are, or the judgment of others, or ruminate on how their actions may be negatively impacting their lives. None of this will help you heal and move forward. This behavior only firmly anchors you in the past surrounded by your own toxic thoughts.

Furthermore, focusing on your own shame takes away from the agony your spouse is likely experiencing. You’ve betrayed them, their world has been turned upside down, and you’re still wrapped up in yourself.

How do I know? I’ve been there.

I would take a ride on the shame spiral every time my husband brought up my affair. I would turn inward, reliving the pain, mentally berating myself, feeling like a horrible person, telling myself I was worthless.

In no way am I making light of the horrific pain you’re experiencing in the aftermath of your affair. However, what I am telling you, without a shadow of a doubt, is that if you want to start to feel better, you must actively work on changing your mindset around shame.

You are not a bad person. You made a bad choice. You have the capacity to change, to make different choices. You have value. You have worth. You are loved.

When shame rears its ugly head, take a few moments to acknowledge your thoughts. Listen to them as they come up and then challenge them. Reframe the self-loathing into a positive thought. When you think to yourself, “I am a horrible person,” STOP, and then ask yourself, “is that actually true?” Of course not. This affair is one facet of your being. Take some time to think of all the ways you demonstrate love daily. Grant yourself the compassion you deserve. Recognize the positive aspects of your being. Talk to a therapist about your feelings and ask them to help you work through it. Remind yourself that your spouse is likely experiencing pain over what happened and ask yourself (honestly) how you can be there for them during this difficult time.

Shame is unhelpful at the best of times and downright toxic at its core. Put your efforts into exiting the shame spiral. It will help BOTH you and your spouse move forward.

To our healing,
Kristen S.

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5 years, in 6 days since the unfaithful, the anniversary of the D day is quite hard at times and does, still to this day, thoughts of how stupid I was and how could, and what would people think if they really know. It's hard, but it truly helps me to talk to my wife about these times, even though it's hurtful to keep picking a scab, but healing does happen. This program and our actions going into the program was I feel the reason we are still together. It's still hard to talk about at times cause I feel that people are forsure judging me, even as I type this I feel it. This tragic event has transformed our relationship into a stronger, more open, better communication, more physical, more in touch with each other, able to read each other, and a better stronger bond and love. We have learned to never say never and to always tell each other everything. I hope everyone's journey gets better and remember it's ok to be ok

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