“Infidelity Recovery Stages.”
That sounds so neat and tidy. The stages of healing after infidelity. I thought to myself, “Is healing even possible after infidelity?” Recovery from the damage and devastation that is caused by this kind of betrayal is never easy. Infidelity is one of the most serious assaults on a marriage there is.
Judith Viorst, is author of one of my favorite children’s books, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I read that book to our four children hundreds of times. It would have been appropriate for how I felt when I found out my husband had a girlfriend.
Judith once wrote about her husband: “When he is late for dinner and I know he must be having an affair or lying dead in the middle of the street, I always hope he’s dead.”
I laughed at that quote…then. But when I re-read it when my husband was actually having an affair, I felt the same way Judith did. At one point, I wrote in my book, Radical Recovery:
“I hate him! I never want to see his face again! I wish he was DEAD! DEAD! DEAD!”
That was when he was late getting home for dinner, and I realized not only had he been with another woman, but he looked me in the face and lied and made me feel like a crazy person for even thinking such a thing. I thought to myself. “how does anyone get any healing after infidelity?”
There are lots of ways to be unfaithful. Abuse. Addiction. Lack of care and closeness. But the infidelity that most often comes to mind is adultery. That promise of faithfulness is a promise to each other that no matter what, “you are safe with me.” Infidelity destroys that promise. An affair doesn’t need to be physical. Emotional affairs can hurt just as much.
Infidelity is a problem in our society. Especially among midlife and older couples, men cheat more than women. When infidelity happens in a marriage, we have to figure out, first of all, if we can save the marriage, and second, if we can rebuild the trust that all good marriages must have to continue and thrive. Often our marriage doesn’t survive because the affair continues.
What’s most difficult about the success of infidelity recovery stages is dealing with his choice to break his promises to you … to sleep with another woman…to lie to your face, mislead your children, disappoint your family and friends, and then have the gall to try to somehow make it your fault.
The grief that come from infidelity, especially if it causes the loss of our marriage, is a pain beyond describing. It’s devastating to our view of who we are and to our sense of worth and trust and joy and even love, itself. There are few affair recovery stages that can fix those losses.
How Long Does It Take
When I was trying to put my life back together after my husband’s continued infidelity and the divorce that followed, the thinking from many psychologists was that you could count on one year of recovery for every five to seven years of marriage. We had been married for 33 years … I thought to myself, “ I might be dead by then!”
Another counselor said the stages of healing after an affair could take one month of recovery for every year you were married. That got me down to about three years to get back to normal. I thought to myself, “I don’t think I can survive even three years of feeling like this.”
Honestly, for me, it did take that long to get back to any semblance of normalcy while I was trying to cope with the infidelity and the divorce. That’s why I have such a passion to do this Midlife Divorce Recovery work. I want to save other women some of the time and anguish I experienced. I want to help them make the trip faster and with more grace than I did. That’s why I created the MasterPlan Program.
I discovered my husband’s affair when I found a card in the driver’s side pocket of our van. It was a card from her with a little boy and a little girl sitting next to each other on a swing in kind of muted soft colors. The girlFIEND (any woman who gets involved with a married man!) had written things like, “I love your voice … it’s like a cello … especially when you sing to me …. and you even like my feet.”
A sense of despair filled my heart, and I confronted him, He said she was just a friend … someone at work who was having trouble in her own marriage. He went and played golf that afternoon as my life was crumbling around me.
As a woman who is faced with lies, denials and deception, I became my own private detective (which by the way is a sure way to more despair!) I discovered more and more inconsistencies in his behavior, in his schedule, in unexplained charges on our credit card.
I became obsessed with finding out everything I could, because I was heartbroken and furious he could look me in the face after 30+ years of marriage and lie to my face … over and over again. Every discovery proved I hadn’t lost my mind, but I had lost my husband.
Grief & Sadness
The extreme sadness and grief after infidelity, especially after a long marriage, is as bad as it feels. People want to somehow minimize what this means in your life. It changes absolutely everything. Everything you thought was solid ground is now a big swamp of quicksand sucking you under.
I had trouble sleeping. I wasn’t eating well. I would start the day exhausted and sick in my heart that this was my new reality. I didn’t know how I could survive knowing that my 33 year marriage was over because my husband wanted another woman.
It took me too long to get to the “Angry Stage” of divorce recovery after Infidelity. I was mostly heartbroken and unbelieving that this could happen to us … to a family like ours.
I stayed in that sad, heartbroken, devastated stage too long because I somehow thought that if I had been different or better or thinner or more organized or whatever, this might not have happened.
But after doing this work for so long, I have finally figured out that his infidelity is much more about him than about you. He makes the choice to betray you and destroy what you have built together. I have met many, many beautiful, smart, funny, accomplished women, and their husband did the same thing.
So, after a while, I got mad. Some of my friends called it my “righteous indignation” stage. They had asked me when I was going to stop being so sad and start being angry at what he had done. The angry stage is beneficial, but you can’t set up camp there either. If you do, It will destroy you.
For me, by the end of the three years, there was some semblance of acceptance. I knew in my head that our 33-year marriage was over. It just took my heart longer to catch up to that reality.
I made mistakes in our marriage. I had times I could have done things better, but so did he. I was a good wife. I was a good mother. I thought I was fun and that our life was amazing … even though there were things we had to work out like every couple.
It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that my husband didn’t think I was worth being faithful to, and that he thought his new girlfriend could provide more of what he wanted or needed.
That’s a hard reality to accept, but at some point after continued infidelity, you have no choice, you have to walk away.
Unless you want to stay in the pit forever, you have to finally accept that someone or something else is more important to your husband than you and your family.
When I am teaching my 10-Week RADiCAL Divorce Recovery classes, I always tell the women in the class just to put the forgiveness piece on the shelf for awhile. There is always a huge collective sigh of relief!
Most women start out saying, “I will NEVER forgive him for this!” But in their heart they know they need to at some point, or they will never have as full a life as they deserve.
Most religions encourage, or even demand, forgiveness. But normally we have a lot of grief and healing work to do before we are ready to tackle forgiveness. There are some people who can jump to forgiveness right off the bat. I couldn’t. It took me a long time to get to that place.
We have to get there eventually, but don’t feel guilty about still feeling more disgust and hurt in your heart than forgiveness, especially after infidelity. I not only felt hate for my ex, but I had hate in my heart for the woman who was his willing and eager mistress.
Forgiveness is a process, and your life will be much better if you get there sooner rather than later. Be patient with yourself and keep moving in that direction.
Reconnecting or Moving On
“Moving on” after a divorce caused by infidelity is also such an easy thing to say. It’s a very difficult thing to do especially in the beginning. For one thing, he is usually much further ahead in the process if he has been fostering this new relationship for some time.
So while I was still in the sobbing, screaming, devastation phase of recovery, he was already out and about showing off his new woman and introducing her to our kids and family and friends.
That was one of the most difficult “stages of healing after an affair:” He moves happily on to his new love after separation or divorce while we are still in the fetal position in our bed trying to get up every day. Him thinking that his life has just taken a bright step forward, brings a grief that is hard to describe and hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it.
Remember, Infidelity Recovery Stages are just that. Stages. Get connected with other women who are healing after their husband’s infidelity. Be patient. We can make that happen in our Recovery Program.
Suzy, thank you for the post. As the husband of a betraying wife and going through divorce, I needed to read this. My world got rocked again today when my STBX told me that she was in a relationship with one of her guys (not AP, know what a Hot Wife is?). The worst part is that we JUST sold the house this week and started coparenting in separate households. The dude is living with her now… In LESS than a WEEK!? So, my feelings got hit hard when I read your situation and how you felt when your ex seemed to just step in the sun lit day with his GF like nothing ever happened. The divorce has been coming for over a year now, I first found out about her affairs and confronted her at the end of ’19, then followed up with a trial period of open marriage this past summer, hence the Hot Wife. In the end, I was tired of being trampled on and being used as a door mat. It was October when I couldn’t do it anymore and said I wanted a divorce. So, I guess I knew this event was coming, I just didn’t expect it to happen so suddenly. The divorce paperwork is about to be submitted to the court and she and I (NOT WE!!) are keeping it amicable so lawyers don’t need to get involved. The hardest part for me is the feeling of social isolation mixed with this pandemic, inadequacy, shredded confidence with women, and having to figure it out as a single dad of little girls. And, bc of how compartmentalized my ADHD/ autistic brain is, I really struggle to convey my welling emotions with anybody I am close to. Even now, I feel that frog in… Read more »