Help for New Betrayed Spouses

On the Infidelity forum I'm on at Daily Strength, I regularly see new hurt spouses, fresh from discovering their spouse's affair, post a sad and heartbreaking story. I find myself wanting to give a full introduction to help them get oriented, but due to time constraints, can only say so much. So I thought it a good idea to put in an article what I would tell a hurt spouse who has just discovered that their spouse has cheated on them.

Newly hurt spouses have lots of questions. Following are some of the more common.

Table of Contents

This pain is unbearable! How long does this last?
My spouse says they are just friends. They talk a lot. Why do I feel so violated? Did he have an affair?
Why do I feel like yesterday's trash? What did I do that pushed my spouse into the arms of another?
Why won't my spouse talk to me about the affairs? He is not telling me everything.
How can I know my unfaithful spouse is maintaining no contact?

This pain is unbearable! How long does this last?

The weeks following the discovery of an affair can be some of the most painful and stressful. For obvious reasons. The hurt spouse's world has been destroyed. What they thought was reality wasn't. The spouse they thought they knew is now a stranger. The one who promised to love you and protect you for better or for worse, betrayed you, lied to you, deceived you. You'd be very unique to not be negatively affected by this. What you are experiencing is quite normal.

Many call it the emotional roller coaster, because your emotions are going up and down with radical mood swings. Fear of what the immediate future holds, to speak nothing of the long term future, means everything is up in the air. You have no sense of security. Life's rug has been pulled out from under you.

My term for this time is the emotional ICU. My symptoms in the first three weeks involved difficulty in focusing on anything other than the affair. I stared at my computer screen doing nothing for several days. I had heart palpitations, shortness of breath. One day I couldn't stop from crying, and had to take a sick day. I detail my whole story in our book, Healing Infidelity.

How long will it last? That depends upon several factors. The main reason you're in the emotional ICU is because your reality has lost its foundation and you're insecure about the future. The person you hitched your wagon to has violated your trust. That ability to trust each other, to have your best interest at heart, to love you in word and deed, has proven unfaithful.

The route to getting out of the emotional ICU is to regain enough security in the relationship that the hurt spouse can move forward in healing. Unfortunately for many hurt spouses, the only one who can rebuild that security, the unfaithful spouse, doesn't step up to the plate for varied reasons. If the hurt spouse is to exit the ICU in good time the following actions must be taken by the unfaithful spouse:

  • Become fully transparent. Aside from ensuring their spouse has free and unfettered access to all their emails, social media sites, cell phones, and other means of communication, they must also be completely honest, keep no secrets, disclose all relevant information on the affair(s) so nothing is hidden.
  • Go fully no contact with the affair partner. This is difficult for the unfaithful spouse, especially if they felt love for their affair partner. But the only way to rebuild enough emotional security for the hurt spouse to leave the ICU is to sense the immediate crisis and threat to the marriage--your contact with the affair partner--has ended. As long as the hurt spouse feels threatened that the affair isn't over, it will take years for them to leave the ICU instead of weeks, and that by ending in divorce. As long as you have any kind of contact with the affair partner, the hurt spouse will not perceive that the affair has ended.
  • Treat the hurt spouse as the most important person to you, and recommit to them +100%. You can say you're sorry, but words will have little meaning at this point. Spend quality time with the hurt spouse. Find out what you can do to treat them better. Live out your repentance.
  • Talk about the affair as much and as long as the hurt spouse needs to. Eventually it should go down, but initially it will be 24/7. Sometimes the unfaithful spouse doesn't want to talk about it, because it is painful to do so. But this is important for the hurt spouse to reconstruct the narrative of what really happened and how to incorporate that into a new narrative. For more information on that, see the article, "Narrative Reconstruction."

Note: once the hurt spouse gets out of the ICU, that doesn't mean they are out of the hospital yet. Healing will take a while. Don't expect it to be "over" in much less than two or three years. Infidelity is a game changer. While time will help heal, it will only do so if the unfaithful spouse is either fully committed to doing everything to rebuild trust and security in the relationship or the unfaithful spouse is no longer in the picture at all.

How long depends upon the unfaithful spouse. The longer they keep contact, the less transparent they are, the less repentance they demonstrate, the more they keep tight lipped about the affair: the longer the hurt spouse will be in the emotional ICU. If they do come out of it without the unfaithful spouse's help, the more likely it will be with divorce papers in hand.


My spouse says they are just friends. They talk a lot. Why do I feel so violated? Did he have an affair?

Before my wife's affair, I thought if someone had an affair, it meant they participated in sexual contact of any kind. A lot of people think this way, and as a result, can easily justify an inappropriate relationship as just being friends. They'll claim to have never did anything more that talk. What's wrong with that?

Depending on the situation, plenty. These are called "emotional affairs." Emotional affairs are not physical, but can eventually turn physical and be layered onto a physical affair. There are two categories of emotional affairs.

The base meaning is that the affair satisfies an emotional need for the unfaithful spouse. This is true of all affairs. Even paying a hooker for a night of sex is satisfying the spouses emotional need for those feelings. This is an important point. Keep this one in mind, as it will be part of a later answer.

The second meaning of an emotional affair is that the unfaithful spouse falls in love with their affair partner. This can happen without ever touching each other. It can happen over the phone or chatting or messaging over the internet.

The broad definition of an emotional affair is when one of the following occurs:

  • A couple privately discusses intimate marital issues that should be reserved for a spouse or therapist.
  • A couple spends more non-business time with each other than they do their spouses.
  • A couple feels the need to communicate daily about non-business matters, often multiple times a day.
  • Each couple hides their discussions and its content from their spouses.

By doing any of the above items, the unfaithful spouse is depositing into the affair partner's "love bank" as Willard F. Harley puts it in his book, His Needs, Her Needs. Likewise, the unfaithful spouse is adding the affair partner's deposits into their love bank. An emotional connection is formed at the expense of the spouse, and it is only a matter of time before the two end up feeling they have fallen in love with each other and then in a physical affair.

For a fuller understanding of how this works, the best book on this topic is Not Just Friends by Shirley Glass.


Why do I feel like yesterday's trash? What did I do that pushed my spouse into the arms of another?

Remember what I said above? An affair satisfies an emotional need for the unfaithful spouse. While sometimes these emotional needs are going unfulfilled in a marriage and can drive an unfaithful spouse to cheat, either consciously or unconsciously, it isn't a question of failing to meet these emotional needs by the spouse, but whether a spouse is willing to betray their love and vows to satisfy them.

All of us have emotional needs that go unfulfilled for whatever reason. There are three general routes to fulfilling them. One, to fulfill them in a manner beneficial to all. Two, to fulfill them in a destructive manner. Three, to become content to not fulfill that emotional need.

One is obviously the best route. Sometimes, due to hardness of heart or selfishness, one spouse doesn't respond when they should. Refuse to cooperate. In that instance, though it isn't the ideal, it is still a legitimate route to separate, divorce, and seek someone who can fulfill important needs. Easier said than done in some cases, but has the beneficial aspect of treating the other spouse with honesty, respect, love, and avoid breaking your vows behind their back.

Three is also not ideal, it has its own issues. Namely, it is initially hard to do, because you often feel like you're giving up on something important to you. It can take a couple of years to let that expectation and desire die. Also, doing so can create a shut window of interaction between a couple. But if the spouse's window remains shut, eventually you can decide to shut yours as well.

Three has the advantage of only being painful to you, and not negatively affecting spouse, family, or others. Once the desire dies off, you will not feel as much pain at its loss, even though you may wish for it from time to time.

Two is the most destructive, however. Cheating not only hurts your spouse, your kids, family, the affair partner, the affair partner's wife and kids if married, job if the affair partner is a coworker, but it will also greatly hurt the unfaithful spouse as well.

Point being, if an unfaithful spouse is claiming "I cheated because you didn't pay enough attention to me," or whatever marital issue inserted there, they had choices in how to address the issue. They chose the most destructive route. That is a decision they made and for which they are responsible.

This doesn't mean the marital issues don't need to be addressed and constructively dealt with, but the hurt spouse isn't likely to be in any condition in the short term to do that. In the hierarchy of marital needs, the hurt spouse needs to feel relatively safe and secure in the relationship to realistically invest in improving it.

Not meeting needs can increase the temptation when opportunity comes knocking, but it can't "drive" a spouse into another person's arms.

The fact is cheating happens in happy marriages and doesn't happen in horrible marriages. In most cases, the unfaithful spouse uses these short comings in the marriage to justify their addictive desire for an experience they are craving. They know it is wrong, but if they can point to some deficiency in the marriage, they'll justify to themselves committing this violation against their spouse.

Cheating happens in a person because of low self-esteem. They seek out experiences that will bolster a higher self-esteem, believing that will make them feel better, when the real problem--as I point out in my two articles on this topic: "Self-Esteem: Infidelity's Biggest Trigger" and "The Path to Self-Esteem"--is the focus on self in one's esteem.

It is natural in the immediate aftermath of discovering an affair to feel like you're inadequate, that your spouse no longer loves you, has rejected you for another. Up to that point, you may have believed and said yourself, "what is wrong with that woman that her husband felt a need to cheat?"

Hinging your esteem to the opinion of another leaves you open to this rejection. The truth is in most cases, it is not about the hurt spouse, but about the unfaithful spouse. You could have been the perfect spouse and they still would have cheated on you.

For a fuller discussion on this, read "How Could He Have Done This to Me?"


Why won't my spouse talk to me about the affairs? He is not telling me everything.

This is more common than it should be, especially among men. There can be many reasons why the unfaithful spouse refuses to talk about the affair. Some of the more common are:

  1. They are feeling a lot of guilt and pain, and talking about it makes it worse.
  2. Their natural reaction to stress like this is to run away, run away, run away!
  3. They don't like seeing you in pain, so hate facing that.
  4. They feel you should get over it quickly, and when you don't, interpret that as you not letting go.
  5. They are struggling with their feelings for the affair partner and are ambivalent about committing to the marriage.
  6. They haven't told you everything, so talking about it risk revealing the rest.
  7. They are still justifying the affair, and talking about it violates their justifications.
  8. They are still in contact with their affair partner, so have motivation not to talk about it.

Numbers 1-4 are solved by helping the unfaithful partner to see the hurt spouse's need to discuss the affairs. I discuss that issue in the article "Narrative Reconstruction". If they truly want to save the marriage, they'll commit themselves to face the pain of discussing this until you've worked through the issues to find a way forward.

Number 5 is a matter of the unfaithful spouse making a decision one way or the other. Sometimes this doesn't happen until they believe you are on your way out of the marriage and relationship. Other times, it is a matter of waiting for the affair "fog" thinking to fade away. If they are maintaining no contact, that should happen around three to six months on average. If their ambivalence goes on longer than that, then something else may be afoot, including continued contact with the affair partner behind your back, and possibly a continuation of the affair.

Number 6 is responsible for hurt spouses experiencing the trickle truth. Either through the unfaithful spouse's embarrassment and shame, thinking if you know the whole story you'll divorce, or a misguided belief they are saving you pain, they only tell you as much as they have to. So in a few weeks or months, more of the truth comes out. Then later on, even more until the hurt spouse will never feel assured they have the real, full story of what happened.

Unfortunately, if an unfaithful spouse does this, they are doing irreparable damage to their marriage and sabotaging any rebuilding of trust. Each new revelation sets the hurt spouse back to step 1 in rebuilding the narrative and makes it doubly hard to rebuild any trust. The only way to rebuild trust is to always be found truthful and honest. The only way to avoid destroying any progress is to hold no secrets, tell everything relevant about the affair to their spouse. Get rid of the rebuilding land mines.

Numbers 7 and 8 are linked. Continuing to justify an affair is to say the unfaithful spouse was correct to do it, and will do it again. Number  7 leads to number 8, doing it again, either with the former affair partner or a new one. Obviously these provide no security for rebuilding a healthy marriage for the hurt spouse. Likewise, getting such a spouse to help you heal by discussing the affair is not likely. They'll ignore such discussions as something to endure, because seriously interacting with you goes counter to where they're mind is at emotionally.  They'd rather distance themselves from any hint that they are doing something wrong or hurting anyone.


How can I know my unfaithful spouse is maintaining no contact?

The short answer is you can't know for certain. Once they've been outed, either by confessing or getting caught, the pull of missing the affair partner is often strong. Going no contact is sort of like when you broke up with your first boy or girlfriend. In many cases, even worse because unlike a breakup initiated by one of them, often neither of them are ready to end it. More like if your parents told you to stop seeing your boy or girlfriend.

Knowing how you discovered the affair, if they continue contact, they are likely to be more careful and sneaky. In the end, you can't stop them if they want to continue contact with the affair partner. You can't force them to do the right thing, but you can decide how you will react.

While you often can't know for certain, there are a number of factors in your favor, both in how to find out and signs that no contact is or isn't being maintained.

Your main goal is to regularly catch him not making contact.

This is accomplished by the unfaithful spouse being transparent. You should be free to check his email, cell phone, cell phone billing records, social sites, computer, iPod, tablets and any other means of communication they might have. You should have all passwords to these items and be able to spot check at will.

Of course, they can bypass this. Unfaithful spouses can have hidden cell phones, email accounts, etc. But you are looking for two things.

One, evidence the affair partner isn't making attempts to contact the unfaithful spouse, and that the unfaithful spouse isn't hiding the fact they attempted it by deleting text, emails, etc.

Two, evidence of being honest. That is, they not only don't attempt to hide contact, but whether or not they readily confess to any contact. If they confess to contact you'd had no way of knowing happened, it is a sign they are being honest with you and doubtful they are still in contact.

Transparency is not only allowing you access to all his communication venues, but also whether he is open and honest in his dealings with you. Whether he lets you into his life or not. Hiding anything can become evidence no contact has been broken.

Rebuilding trust takes catching them doing the right thing regularly. If they are still in contact with one another, they'll slip up at some point. By this point you no longer need hard, cold proof no contact has been broken. Breaking transparency is the equivalent of breaking no contact. The moment they have something to hide is the moment the affair is still going on.

Trust your gut.

A popular saying among hurt spouses at the forum. Because, as was true for me, many of us didn't pay attention when we sensed something was not right. You may not be able to point to hard evidence, but your mind picks up on subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) warning signs. First affairs, you dismiss them because you find it hard to believe they'd do that to you. But your gut says something is not right.

When Lenita was having her emotional sex-texting affair with the first man I called Clyde in the book, my gut was saying something was wrong. That she was too emotionally attached to this guy, even though all I knew to that point is that they had flirted some. Just the way she acted, her personality changes since the flirting started, made me uneasy. So much so, that when she announced that Clyde would be moving away later that week, I did something I'd never felt a need to do in our 28.5 years of marriage. I warned her, under no circumstances was she to meet up with him that week. If you've read our book, Healing Infidelity, you know the rest of the story from there.

My gut was warning me loud enough to make that statement. Unfortunately, I didn't allow it to make me suspicious and start checking her cell phone records and bills. If I had, I'd learned about the affair way earlier and possibly prevented the rest from happening.

After discovery day, however, trusting your gut gets a little more difficult. Now you are sensitive to anything that triggers thoughts of the affair, and returns you to the fear they are still together. For example, if he had an affair with a co-worker, and "worked late" regularly to hide his affair activity, you may have a deal worked out that any can't-get-out-of-it late work, he calls and maybe puts the boss on to confirm it. One night he forgets. By the time he gets home, you're on the phone with a lawyer.

At that point, it is probably not your gut, but just fear. It is a natural reaction. Like when you've been in a car accident because someone ran a red light. Any car speeding up to the intersection is going to pump adrenaline through your system. You know most people will stop, but having been hit once, you're fearful of anything that hints of a repeat performance.

How do you tell the difference? You have one advantage. Post-discovery day, your something's-wrong radar is on heightened alert. You'll consciously pick up on the clues that trigger that reaction in your gut. If you can identify behaviors and attitudes of the unfaithful spouse that are giving you pause, that is from your gut. If not, it is probably just your fear.

For example, going back to our late-working husband forgetting to call. If that happens once, maybe even twice, you could validly check it off as a mistake on his part, and ensure he knows how that affects you so he can avoid it. But if he started doing that on a regular basis, then it would be a gut warning.

Generally, if your gut is saying something is wrong, identify, verify, and decide how to respond based on what you find out.

Watch for signs that indicates no contact has been established.

There can be several clues that no contact is being maintained. Any of the following it is a good sign:

  1. The unfaithful spouse freely tells you of any contact attempts from the affair partner and information you'd never known otherwise.
  2. The affair partner is frantically trying to make contact. Indicates he's not getting it.
  3. The affair partner stalks or otherwise hunts for opportunities to bump into the unfaithful spouse. If they were in contact, he'd not be doing that.
  4. The unfaithful spouse freely gets rid of all physical reminders of the affair partner. This might take a few months.
  5. The unfaithful spouse, over the course of three to six months, reverses any personality changes brought on by the affair, or otherwise appears to be coming out of the affair-fog thinking.
  6. The unfaithful spouse goes beyond the call of duty to be transparent.
  7. The unfaithful spouse does not refuse to discuss and answer your affair related questions.
  8. The unfaithful spouse does not complain or hesitate to read any book or attend marriage counseling as needed.

We could list more, but you get the drift. These are indications that no contact is being maintained. Not a guarantee it is, but greatly increases the probability it is the more of these traits you see. Likewise, the more of these that don't happen, the greater the likelihood you have something to worry about.

It is possible your spouse meets the above criteria and is still in contact because he and the affair partner are that good of actors. Even then, with the heightened affair-senses of post-discovery day, it won't take much of a slip up or reacting to a question defensively, for you to know something is not right and start investigating. If they are in contact, you'll likely find out eventually.

So once past the initial roller coaster ride of the first few weeks after discovery day, keep a watchful eye on the above indicators but don't obsess over whether contact is being made or not. If it is, you'll discover it in due time. If it isn't, you'll worry for nothing and hinder your own healing.

Determine there's nothing you can do but put the ball into the unfaithful spouse's hands and see what he does. Then determine to pay attention to your gut, but otherwise assume he's keeping no contact until if and when he gives signs he's not. Then deal with it, but not before.


What questions would you ask?


  1. This is great info, the Why the CS wont talk about the affair is very helpful

  2. Rick, If you still get updates on this. Thank you for writing this. You have articulated much I need my partner to know in a way I am not capable of in my current state. I feel like you are transcribing my thoughts and feelings.

  3. Thanks, James. Glad you've found it helpful. I still have articles I want to write, but life has gotten in the way over the past several months. So much to do, so little time!

    Appreciate your input.