Couples, Couples Therapy, marriage

How Finding out About a Spouse’s Affair is Like a Death

finger wife cryingTears.  Lots of them.  “I am just so tired of hurting.  I want the pain to go away.”  As usual, my heart was breaking for the spouse sitting across from me who had recently discovered that her partner had an extramarital affair.  Like many spouses before, she declared, “Of all the things I thought I knew in the world, I was certain that my spouse would never in a million years be unfaithful and now I don’t know which way is up.  I can’t count on anything anymore.  All my safety is just completely washed away.”  “I am so sorry that this is so painful,” I offered, “I wish I could make that better for you—I really do, but the truth is that it is going to hurt for a long time.  Eventually, it won’t hurt as much, but when I say eventually, I mean that a year is short in affair healing time.”  Even though I’ve been doing therapy for a long time, the emotions still impact me.

I hate seeing people in pain.  I feel things deeply and enduringly, which is what drew me to the therapeutic profession.  I wanted to alleviate emotional suffering for people.  However, there are certain types of pain which need to be healed over the course of time, and sometimes tender emotional scars never go away.  Some of the deepest emotional pain I witness occurs in cases of grief and loss in which relationships with people are ended or intensely damaged.  The loss of human relationships through death, divorce or other means just hurts.  A lot.

Infidelity and Intense Grief

In cases of betrayal, sometimes people don’t understand the principles of grief and loss that are at play which complicate recovery.  Here is a typical presentation I’ll encounter maybe three months after the disclosure of an affair:

Betrayed partner:  “He couldn’t understand why I was still crying about the affair, and I tried to explain that it still hurts and he just got mad and asked why I couldn’t see that he was sorry and just focus on our future.  I don’t know why it’s still hurting so bad.  I’m embarrassed that it is still making me cry.  I don’t want to make him mad, but it hurts.”

Oh dear.

People who have betrayed their spouses don’t like to witness the pain they have caused because it makes them feel shame, which is uncomfortable.  They also commonly feel fear that this might be the emotional episode in which the spouse decides to leave.  Frequently, they get defensive and upset with their spouses for not healing fast enough.  Men in particular, as a general rule, have an aversion to tears and emotional pain resulting from something they have done in relationships.  They want to run from it, regardless of the cause or validity of the emotion.  They feel almost panicky and search for ways to “fix,” the emotion, which means make it stop.  I think it’s because they get so socialized out of feeling vulnerable emotion themselves that they literally have no idea what to do with it when their spouses display strong vulnerable emotion, at least in many instances.

How Infidelity is a Loss Issue

In cases like these, I normalize the intensity of emotional pain for both partners, but also try to help them understand the deep grief.  I have explained to many husbands, “This is a loss issue, and loss is always painful.”  “What do you mean loss?  I’m still here.  Why can’t she see that I’m trying to fix it and I’m sorry,” the husbands fire back.  I’ll explain, “She can see you, but first of all, she has no idea who you really are because you’re not who she thought you were, so she needs time and safe experiences with you to be able to even think about trusting you.  Second of all, she is still grieving the marriage she thought she had but doesn’t have and will never get back—the marriage in which her partner stayed faithful to her.  She married you with that expectation and has lost that dream.  She needs time to be sad over losing that marriage.”

When I explain this, partners can be a little more tolerant of the deep expression of emotions.  However, for some reason when it comes to emotional injuries, we want people to be better faster than is reasonable to expect—mostly because we don’t like feeling our own uncomfortable emotions when seeing emotional pain.

Physical Pain as a Metaphor for Emotional Pain

Sometimes if I compare the wound of infidelity to a physical injury, partners understand a little better.  “What if you had run over her with your car and she ended up in a body cast?  Would you be getting upset that she wasn’t walking in a week?  No, you wouldn’t, because you would know that the injury takes time to heal.  If while she was in a body cast she told you her pain was flaring up, would you say, ‘It’s been 6 weeks since I ran over you.  Why do you insist on focusing on the pain instead of looking ahead to the future?’  No, you wouldn’t, because you would realize that sometimes pain flares up.  Emotional injuries are the same.  You don’t get to argue with her about whether she is in pain.  Your job is to move toward her and say, ‘Show me where it hurts,’ as if it were a physical injury.  You can’t fix this for her, but you can just be with her and ask if there is anything you can to do reassure her or help her feel more comfortable or safe.  If there isn’t, you just sit with it.  If you want, you can talk about how uncomfortable and sad it is for you to see the pain you caused, but you can’t argue about whether the pain is valid or demand that she heals right away.”

Relationship loss is searing, no matter the type, and infidelity is a type of relationship loss.  Partners need time to grieve and be sad.  Most importantly, they need to be validated and comforted in their pain.  As long as it takes.

Again, people always want emotional pain from infidelity to heal faster than it does—both the betrayed partner and the offending partner.  My experience is that in affair time, it’s not uncommon to see people have deep emotional triggers regularly for at least two years.

If your partner betrayed you, know that the disorientation, fear and hurt are normal.  Give yourself time to grieve the loss of the marriage you thought you had, just like you would give yourself time to grieve the death of a loved one or a lost relationship.  Eventually, grief diminishes in intensity, but if grief is criticized and shut down by a partner instead of honored and respected, it will last longer.  Clinically, I tell people to write when they are experiencing episodes of grief.  Articulating pain through writing is a way to manage emotional intensity.  Intentional self-care and deep breathing and meditation can also be helpful.

You’re not crazy if you’re in intense pain months after discovering a spouse’s infidelity—you’re just a human with a big attachment injury.  I don’t know if time heals all wounds, because some wounds can persist for decades, but usually time does decrease emotional intensity.

Photo: Copyright: mukhina1 / 123RF Stock Photo

39 thoughts on “How Finding out About a Spouse’s Affair is Like a Death”

  1. While I appreciate what you are saying and agree on many levels, have you lost your spouse or partner because he/she died?
    Once someone is dead there is no ability to heal, deal with it gracefully, re unite with that person….except in your mind.


    1. Thank you for pointing that out–you’re right and that type of grief is a different type and comparatively larger. My point is not that the grief is as intense as losing someone–only that it is a valid loss. When I had miscarriages, it was a grief/loss issue–I couldn’t get those babies back–but it wasn’t as big a loss as a spouse or a fully developed child, in my mind. Many different types of losses are different in intensity. My only point is that part of having to heal from an affair is grieving the marriage one can never get back–the one in which there was complete trust, and while healing does happen, it’s never the same as it was before, so the grief around it should be expected and allowed.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. When my husband cheated I wished he was dead because I think it would of been easier to handle the grief. It has been 10 years and we are still together but I have emotionally detached myself from him which led to infidelity on my part. His cheating changed me forever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sorry I missed some of my comments because I was out with COVID. I am so sorry to hear this–betrayal creates trauma and it is so hard to regain trust. There are some good podcasts out there on betrayal trauma that might help you.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I totally understand your point of view. However, let me put it this way. My wife had an affair for 2 years and due to the circumstances….well it was HORRIBLE for me. I knew way too many details. Of course I dont want her to die, and it would be horrible. However, i will say this, and I mean it. I….ME….I would rather die than to ever go through that again. I cant…I simply cant. It robbed me of everything… robbed me of life…yet I was still alive so I could feel the emptiness.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Oh I’m so sorry–I can completely see why this issue is that painful. Betrayal trauma is real and creates so much pain for everyone.


      2. I know how you feel Zach. My wife had an affair 2 years ago and it is still killing me. We have two children together. I’ve never felt so betrayed.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Over the last five years I have found evidence that my partner has been cheating. He’s very cleaver (or I’m stupid) and has manipulated his way around me. It’s been like a jigsaw bit by bit. I didn’t believe it could be true. I don’t know exactly who it is and that crucifies me and he will never admit to anything – he’s a car dealer. Three years ago I went to Australia and he had some one back at our home, he denied it said no one had been there, my cleaner said there had been some one there. This still haunts me and I am finding it so hard to live with now. I can’t forgive him, but it’s eating me up. I have become a very good but unhappy actress 😢

        Liked by 1 person

  2. While I agree that losing one’s spouse to death is one of the most intense losses one can suffer, when you discover that your life wasn’t what you thought it was, it can definitely feel like a loss. I’ve been there, and it was a long road to recovery, knowing that my significant other was alive and well but just didn’t want me any longer.


    1. Exactly! My husband recently left after 33 years (the week my father in law went into a nursing home and my dad into palliative), said it was a communication problem, but has since moved in with someone from our teen years (the same week my dad died). There are layers of grief, and the grief I feel for the marriage ending is due to the loss of what I thought was my reality isn’t, Watching my kids in pain, my mother and mother in law, our community etc. And, constant new betrayals make the grief “new” or refresh it every few days. And, while the grief I feel for my dad is hard and sad, there is a natural aspect to it – not a forced “choice” to end the life we had and choose to put that effort into someone else, not our relationship, not into his relationship with our kids, not our dog our home but make his life “new and simple”. It’s a horrible rejection, one I can’t explain. I’m blessed that my support system is so amazing, but society expects us to pick up the pieces, its just a divorce…..a common occurrence until it is you that is experiencing it. They are different types of grief, but both hurt nonetheless.


      1. I am so sorry. Are you familiar with Ashlee Birk? Her story might help you feel less alone. She found out about her husband’s affair when he was murdered by his affair partner’s husband, leaving her with five children. She wrote a book about it here and the story was on dateline. If you google her name, you can find videos of her telling her story. She started a foundation to help people find strength after tragedy. I hope you find peace and healing.


  3. Grieving a loss for any reason is painful, it is just different. In death you can’t get that person back but you will always have the memory of the love you shared. In the case of an affair, you may be able to get that person back but it is a different person. You have lost the person you thought you had and you have to deal with the pain of betrayal and rejection from the one person you trusted most and loved more than anyone else. I don’t think which one is worse can be measured. It is not that simple. The amount of grief depends on the depth of your trust and love for that person.


  4. Not sure about a comment a year later, however, i was told of an affair 12 years ago , it hurts like hell , and also just found out, through dna that my child i raised is not mine


    1. I read your comment so you count. I am sorry to hear about your loss. My story goes that my ex was raped at work and did nothing about it. Told me the day we were breaking up and that ripped me apart. To make matters worse she started justifying his act, telling me how he was in trauma afterwards etc. Going through hell since then.


  5. I’ve discovered betrayal for the previous 3 years. I knew something was going on but didn’t “know” (via facts) until about 5 months ago.

    I feel like at first I was devastated but yet I also feel like the adrenaline got me through the first couple of months. Now I feel like it’s REALLY getting to me. My husband is being humbled, seeking forgiveness, doing everything in his power to show me live, consideration, trust… basically anything I’m needing.
    So, why is it hurting more as time goes on and the funks it puts me in are lasting longer. I don’t know what to do, where to go from here or what to expect. I’m so tired of hurting… already and it’s just been the 5 months I mentioned. Help!


    1. It’s been almost 4 years since I found out my husband of 23 years had been having a 2-yr-long affair with one of my best friends. Various triggers make the pain flare up occasionally, but now instead of a gaping wound it feels like a big, slowly fading bruise. Yes, I felt a huge amount of grief and loss — so many things I thought were true were not. But I’m here to tell anyone who needs a lifeline that you will recover. Heal on your own schedule, and don’t let anyone hurry you (even yourself!).

      Liked by 2 people

    2. My common-law spouse who I consider my wife, we have dog together, bought a house together, like my plan and probably always will be to have a future with her. I found out about her infidelity last year Aug, and even after talking it out, and her being super understanding of my process to healing and me completely forgiving her, I still find myself in pain from time to time, my heart races and I find new ways to think about how I was duped.

      I long for the day I am over it, but I always think about how stupid I was. We had just moved to Canada in 2018, and she was going through a bit of a tough time redoing courses to be Canadian qualified to get jobs and she is a makeup artist so getting/building a clientele is a pain process. She got depressed and has suffered with depression in the past. During that time she became very close friends with our realtor who got us our apartment. And they would hang out on occasion, then it became sleep overs because we lived far from her school and the friend was closer and I was concern but trusting, then she would tell me she was talking to him and realize she never really been single and feels like she is losing herself a bit and just wants us to take a break, trial separation so she can get back to a better place and basically encouraged me to talk to people etc… I fully thought it was a bit ridiculous and odd her spending time with this friend way more than me, we live together but she also sleeps over by him because of school, she would post him as her boyfriend in snap stories jokingly and I believe it was all in good fun. We are lesbians ofc nothing is happening.

      She told me he was really there for her during her depression and how he understood things that I couldn’t because I had a steady job (the only one working at the time) and ate it all up I was and still am so in love with her. She took him on a sip and paint date once as a thank you for being there for her and I remember her dressing up really nice and me thinking wow she hasn’t dressed like that for me in a while… All while I’m planning an epic bday party for her. I paid for her to go to LA as a bday trip so she can go to beauty-con, and I even involved him in the party planning and he cooked the food. I mean whenever I look back on the situation how could I not feel stupid. Her best friend couldn’t make it to LA anymore with her, she asked him to come and he was able to as I was not. She got back from LA, her mom comes Canada to visit, he started ghosting her and she was hurting, she lost her friend, I even messaged him to ask what was up and he basically told me nothing was wrong, they still friends he is just busy.

      We crack on with our lives they stop talking completely, I questioned their friendship many times and the events of the LA trip and she only ever admitted to me that she thinks she is poly and that she did get feelings for him because they connected but nothing happened between them. I never really believed so I digged and found 1 picture from LA of them kissing. And others of them just posing like a couple, I was hurt but we talked it out because at the time of the LA trip she was technically single but I was still treating her and considering her my girl so the hurt was real.

      Anyways fast forward two years later I’m on the loo and I have her phone looking for some photos. But my gut tells me to go through her IG DMs (because I have checked her WhatsApp before and found nothing), I was able to find a chat with her and him and I scrolled all the way to the top and started reading months and months of conversation then boom! A message about the sex they had, and now my heart is racing, and as I read countless messages about them having sex, about her being his sex slave, about him picking her up soon to take her back to him place and all he wants to do is have sex. Sending each cute bf/gf memes. I was now realizing the lie I was living two years after it was over, and because I was reading messages it was next level painful. And we were having so many sex issues that it was hard not to fixate on how much sex she wanted to have with him. They even had plans to become members of the mile high club on their trip to LA, the trip I organized. I wanted to vomit, I wanted to die.

      What kept me calm was I want to know more, and I was also taking into consideration the time we shared together after her affair (it lasted 3 months) and how much she was my rock and the love and support she had been showing me, I mean we were stronger than ever but I was now learning of the affair so it was fresh as fk to me. I confronted her because she always denied it and she finally told the truth and we talked and talked and I decided that I still wanted her, and now it’s been almost 3 years since the affair and I still want her!

      She explained to me how the affair with him was her being toxic while trying to deal with her depression and she did to to therapy and was much better after doing therapy but even with knowing she wasn’t that person anymore each week I would get a trigger and feel all the pain and anger again.. I mean I was angry with him too, he was also a friend to me, he told me that he does not think she would ever cheat on me, but was having sex with her right under my nose.

      I love my wife, and I honestly tell you I am still all in with her and have no reason to believe she would do something like this again. But when ever something triggers me and I think about how stupid I was, it’s like finding out over and over again and I shut down, the pain is next level…

      But reading makes me realize nothing is wrong with me, I have only known since Aug 2020 it has been over years since she messed up but hasn’t been over two years since I have known, and now I feel like me still feeling pain is not necessarily a sign of the end. She often is afraid I’ll leave because I keep hurting on and off but now I can just say to her I’m not fully healed and you have to bare with me and give me time and support me while I heal…

      I think I’m most hurt by how stupid I was, ignoring all the signs and just allowing it to happen while I still was so faithful even during the separation period to which she was fully falling for him…sigh, I really hope I do get over it one day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LESR, I am right there with you on the timing of finding out and much of the circumstances of why it happened. August 2, 2020 is a day I’ll never forget now – my life irrevocably changed that day. I was not a friend to my wife’s affair partner, but he was a womanizer with a history of cheating on his own wife. That has made it far worse for my wife. I try to be mindful of that and figure there’s plenty of guilt and shame there.

        Do not fear those feelings! It’s only been almost 7 months here as well and I’m still frequently in complete agony. I’ve dealt with depression, myself, so I know how this goes. I have no idea when this will end but have faith that it will. I would encourage you to specifically search out sites about why wife’s cheat. They have helped my understanding loads. I would offer email or something should you want to further connect for support, but I am unsure how to do that outside this comment. Regardless, I wish you all the best in your recovery! I know how necessary it is. 😦


  6. My husband cheated and comitted suicide 2 months after i found out. He only did the trickle truth. He died mid sept. So this is very painful. Then im told theres a baby involved. We were married 15 years. I have not even made it to mourning him. Im still stuck on the betrayal and deceit


    1. Oh I’m so sorry! That leaves you with so many unanswered questions. Are you familiar with Ashlee Birk? Her story might help you feel less alone. She found out about her husband’s affair when he was murdered by his affair partner’s husband, leaving her with five children. She wrote a book about it here and the story was on dateline. If you google her name, you can find videos of her telling her story. She started a foundation to help people find strength after tragedy. I hope you find peace and healing.


      1. Need help desperately!! My wife had an affair for 2 years. I love her. She apologized. I took my share in the responsibility that pushed her to an affair. We are working very hard because we do love each other. I’m still having nightmares and sometimes I wake up I just want to get my gun and end my life


  7. I found out 4 months ago that my husband had been cheating on me in Thailand for years. We have been married for 37 years and separated for the last 9 years, due to my suspicions. We were in the process of reuniting and I was moving back in when I found the folder with all the pictures, emails, letters and money transfers to his girlfriend in Thailand. I was and am devastated. Even though it happened over 15 years ago, it feels as though it were yesterday. He is indifferent because it happened so long ago for him. He said he was unhappy and that was the reason. I am still in shock even though I had suspicions and had moved out. I cannot stop crying and it simply hurts. I have lost over 10 pounds due to grieving. I am humiliated and embarrassed that I was so naive. The crying just won’t stop.


  8. Hello ….
    I had been married 48 years when my husband admitted having a short affair 34 years ago.
    I was not the first time in our early marriage he was unfaithful to me….but I had thought he told me all.
    This one 1983 came very soon after a big emotional upset with another women. I know now this would have been the final straw ….as I could not have stayed in the marriage. There has been over 30 years of fidelity since. But now I am 72 years old and have always loved my husband vey much. …we have built a good life together . We have grown sons and four wonderful grandchildren.. He is so sorry for the hurt he has caused and can’t do enough to help me heal now……but needed to tell me the truth…..
    It’s a tough life and not for the faint hearted!!,…


    1. We’ve been married almost 45 yrs and I found out 4 months ago today he slept with SEVEN different women in the early years. We were 16 & 17 when we married but the pain is still severe. He swears he only slept with each woman once and he has been faithful almost 40 years but my whole world has been rocked! I don’t know what to believe. There are so many triggers and the ups and downs can be unbearable. Everything we had and who he is has come into question. I know he is truly sorry and accepts full accountability but I am having difficulty accepting it. Everyone always admired our marriage and relationship. We seldom fought and were like best friends. Now I feel my marriage was a fraud and cannot see anything good in it.


      1. Oh dear, this is a complex betrayal and I can see why it’s so painful. There are some excellent podcasts out there on betrayal trauma–if you don’t find some, let me know.


  9. My wife of seven years had an affair with her boss, got pregnant (I had a vasectomy 3 years earlier) and he told her to get rid of it (abortion)….she did then she was then transferred to another division.
    A month later she confessed and left me absolutely devastated.
    I went insane!!!
    I didn’t want to lose her or my 5 year old daughter. I loved her and hated her at the same time.
    I confronted her boss at his home. No denials no information but that it happened.
    My wife offered little information on the why, when and where questions I had!
    Over the course of the last 43 years, yes 43 years, she’s been a perfect wife, but I thought she was the perfect wife the first 7 years. Boy, was I fooled!!
    I think about her affair every day 8 almost all day!! Everyday morning I awaken with heartache. When in my sudden rages I ask questions again she add bits and pieces that add to my grief.
    My M.D. listens but now she recommends therapy.
    Now what? I’m 76 and sad most of the time.
    What can therapy do to help me?
    Thanks for your time,


  10. I was pregnant when my husband got attracted to a female colleague in his office. All the while he lied to me to whom he spoke on calls. I was right beside him when he started dating her. I went to my mum’s place to deliver the child and they started sleeping together in our house. It went on for such a long time. I came back when our son was 4 months old. It was so much visible that within a week I discovered his affair which he was trying to break off as I had come back. A lot of drama and crying happened. When he was sure I was not leaving him, he bared with me for a week or month. After that he expected things to be back normal. If I cry or say anything about that topic he would get very angry and annoyed. This later became like an unsaid deal that he would not bare if I say that topic at all. He never hurt me but he shout loud and say I would commit suicide I am left with nothing in this world, it is all so annoying. I suppressed all feelings inside. I wrote a lot, I browsed so much about her. I wanted to blast her once if that made me feel any better, He did not let me talk to her. It has been more than an year, the pain is still there, its just a little less frequent. But I cant share it with anyone. When the pain comes it is very hard to bare it. I again start digging out about her, I start thinking and thinking about those days.


    1. This is such a painful experience! Betrayal trauma is real and I hope you find a good therapist to help you where you are, because it is very tough to heal.


  11. It’s been 2 years since I found out I lived with a cheater. He has denied everything about his affair, but I know he is lying and will never admit to it. So I am still crying and grieving. I try not to think of it anymore. It is really the death of a marriage and a relationship with a man you no longer know. I have disconnected a great deal from him, and life goes on….


  12. I recently found out that my husband was cheating on me. He says it was nothing serious n that I’m the one he loves. He is sorry bt I’m still broken inside. Anything i watch or think reminds. How do I heal? Help me


  13. I am a cheater. I cheated on the love of my life. I have destroyed a beautiful relationship and even worse i shattered her dream and what she believed about how perfect we were. We have spent over a year trying to make things works. She is utterly amazing nd never stops trying. She is haunted by what I did, everything reminds her of it, she cannot sleep her nightmares are hellish and graphic mainly including being tormented by the woman I cheated on her with. What is worse i considered our relationship to be perfect and unbreakable. She had so mush else to deal with outside of our relationship. Until i have read your article today and also the comments, i was blind to the brutal emotional reality of what I have done to her. I was one of those men, those horrible men who expected her to get over it, to stop talking about it after a while, who didn’t want to talk about what I had done and why. I will not be that man anymore. If i am allowed a chance, and that hangs by a thread, then I shall be so lucky. I believe because of her strength, because of her efforts to fond us again I love her more than ever before. Thank you all of who have helped me se me for what I am.


  14. My dad has been having a affair for more than a decade and my mom and me got to know about this 5 months back. Since then my mom’s devastated. She has no one except me, my sister and my dad. My sister is suffering from depression and anxiety. So my mom made me promise her that I won’t tell anyone regarding the affair. They’re having fights regularly and his attitude isn’t helping at all. She had a heart attack few weeks back. I’m scared that I might lose her one day because of this. She’s uncontrollable. She said no to therapy and she doesn’t even want to let anyone know. It’s suffocating hence I shared it here. I’m sorry.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s