To Suffer With

While doing some recent reading on the parenting of teenagers, I came across an excellent definition for the word compassion. The word compassion comes from the Latin word ‘compati’ which literally means to suffer with or suffer together.

I wonder if we in recovery can’t take a lesson from this etymology and begin to lean in to the pain and hurt we have caused another? I wonder if we are truly suffering with our spouse in their pain and hurt? I can honestly say early on, I wasn’t ‘suffering with’ Samantha at all. I was self-absorbed with my own pain and what my affair had cost me and what my affair had done to my future, my family name, my position, and my destiny. I was also concerned with what I had done to my affair partner and her family. I was so disconnected with truth that I was sorry I got caught, not necessarily healthy enough to be truly compassionate or empathetic towards Samantha for the pain she was in. Like many I felt far too justified in my affair and self-righteous anger.

Almost every day I find this to be true of so many other unfaithfuls. Like me, they are usually not healthy upon discovery. Whether they are caught and forced to come clean, or have their own epiphany and wakeup call and come clean on their own, they’re usually just not sober enough to connect with the brutal impact of their choices. They usually have been involved in the affair for quite some time and to think they are going to think rationally or have this quick timeline to healing and sobriety is just unrealistic. It will take time. It will take the right kind of help. It will take an expert’s help to lead the unfaithful down a road of clarity and compassion that usually comes in stages with several highs and even more lows.  Many a betrayed spouse is frustrated and even shocked at their unfaithful spouse’s ambivalence and almost sociopathic disconnection with what they have done to their spouse and family. The truth is, it’s part of their coping mechanism to keep going in life, seemingly unfazed at the trail of destruction left behind. While normal, it doesn’t have to be that way if the right help is brought into the equation and both parties are willing to pursue help and safety. 

The University of Berkeley’s Science of a Meaningful life puts words to this concept in a very telling way:

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.

We have to ask ourselves, are we caring for those we’ve wounded? Are we “suffering with” those who are in pain and trauma?

Alternatively, I will be so bold to ask you, the betrayed, are you too suffering with the spouse who is broken and condemned? Though many will say their spouse is not in fact, empathetic or compassionate in the least bit, I know that there are those who truly are in fact, overwhelmed with grief for their choices. I would ask if you are being compassionate with them in their pain and hurt? While it may seem too much to ask, the fact is, if a marriage is going to survive the pain of infidelity and one day enjoy the rich bond of restorative grace and healing, someone will have to dare to be selfless and care for the other. If the unfaithful is unbroken and continuing to display a lack of regard for others, I would highly suggest keeping your distance from them until they are safe. 

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Hi Samuel,
Thanks for another helpful post. As the hurt spouse, how do I know what my unfaithful husband is feeling? He is still dealing with lots of anger and bitterness. AR talks about how anger is often a secondary emotion - but it's been hard to figure out what his root feeling is. He generally is not very in tune with his emotions to think through and try to process them. He is also not totally broken and has a lot of unforgiveness in his heart. He does feel badly for what he's done, but he's not fully repentant yet. I'd love to read a post on what true repentance might look like, I'll search for that in case there already is one in the AR library.

I meant to include: what do

I meant to include: what do you mean by 'distance'?

help for what brokenness/repentance looks like...

momof2, great questions indeed. though there is no line item list, there are some keys. Rick as an audio you can listen to here:
how far into recovery are you? has he attended an emsw, and if so, how far into the after care is he?
for me, it took about 4 months or so, after getting help to really have things sink in. i didn't connect with much till after Rick was involved, but it still took a fuse of about 4 months +/- to really see clearly. for someone to be involved in an affair for any length of time, they will need a considerable amount of time to sober up completely and put two and two together. i mean, honestly, 9 years later, from time to time, i still have moments where i say to myself, 'wow, what an idiot i was. and i can't believe i did that.' clarity comes with time and the right tools. clarity will come for a while for me, as trauma affects us far more than we are aware and a lot of things will be clearer in reverse. doesn't mean you're a slave or a doormat while he takes a journey, but it's not overnight either. there is a process to it and as you press in, and as you have healthy, safe boundaries and expectations, i believe he will in fact get it in a much more clearer way. time alone wont work, but rigorous expectations and guidelines alone won't work. it's the collective process to it. i think as you are dedicated to your own recovery, not your spouse's, it will create space to help you see him change while you also heal. he has to be dedicated to his own recovery and if he shows he's not, then you'll need to be able to come to him and say 'we agreed to x, and you're not doing any of it. so you'll need to do a, b, and c till you're doing what (whatever program you've instituted) said to do.' does this make sense? i hope it helps. i'm open to more dialogue if you like too.

Samuel - this is incredibly

Samuel - this is incredibly helpful, I really appreciate this post. I will also listen to Rick's audio you posted. We are about 8 weeks post d-day. We attended emsw about 3 weeks ago, and he is currently starting a hope for healing class. It's helpful to hear your own timeline of when things started to become more clear to you. During the 1-4 month time period, was your wife dedicated to reconciling the marriage? How did she act and what did she do to cope? (If you don't mind sharing?) I am not sure how I am supposed to be acting or doing during this time of him going through the motions. For example, do I go to dinner with him and pretend normal, while he is still unboken?


momof2...thanks for your comments. so glad you went to the ems weekend. early on, my wife Samantha was on a 'wait and see protocol.' she was waiting to see how i handled things and how i handled myself. as i pressed into God and did all i could to seem safe, she was won over at some level by that. she didn't hold it over my head though. she simply watched and responded at some level. she was trying to find her own normal and find her own point of comfortability and it was hard as heck for her. she would talk to a couple friends and she would read books as much as she could and she would talk to me pretty frequently. she was guarded but as she felt safe and felt like i was kind to her, she would open up and we would seem heal. she'd have reminders and triggers and bad days and on those days she'd do her best to keep to herself or go for walks or what not. id encourage you to be guarded, but then if he's vulnerable and as he's working to find out how to act, i'd be open with him. at some level, many unfaithfuls are struggling to find a new normal. they don't know how to act. they don't want to upset you, and they don't want to do anything that will ruin any momentum you may have. instead of using the words unbroken, id use the words safe/unsafe. unbroken implies he's some adolescent and is not caring at all...when unsafe implies he's wounded you and should be trying to reengage with you and is or isn't doing what it takes to regain your trust and vulnerability? does that make sense? unsafe implies a far more caring and loving state, rather than unbroken which can be taken the wrong way. id encourage him to listen to ricks audio as well. maybe that will help? or have him reach out to me and i'll do what i can? i hope this makes sense to you and feel free to ask more if you like. i'm here to help in any way i can.

What to do while waiting

I can totally relate to the waiting game you are doing right now. It's hard to sit back and wait for your unfaithful spouse to figure out out. We are just finally getting past that point at almost 5 months post d-day. Things that really helped me the past few months were books (Not Just Friends and Shattered Vows) and the Harboring Hope class. I am rereading Not Just Friends and am getting a lot of new information to use now that we are a little farther along. Been praying for you! Keep pressing forward!

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