Abandoned & Shattered: these are the two words we hear most from those who’ve learned their spouse has been unfaithful. Vows that were spoken in front of friends and family are now shattered. And the shrapnel, the disorientation is hitting everyone you love.
Where are you in the story?
Are you feeling abandoned? Or Are you the one who did the shattering? We are here for you now.
Join Regeneration Ministries Team Members – Josh, Kit, and Anne – for a wider look at infidelity and how to recover.
The ground beneath you has been cracked open. Learning your marriage isn’t what you thought it was, is catastrophic. But, your marriage isn’t necessarily over. It will take work on both sides to rebuild from the trauma.
We hope this conversation equips and encourages you with two more words as you heal- Empathy and Hope.
there’s a greater recognition that what has happened here literally is a trauma because reality has been shaken
Empathy, as we’ve learned, is almost a game-changer in relationships. Empathy is like a window into somebody’s pain
It’s hard to talk about with other people because it can compound that shame. Are they going to think that about me too?
Use good eye contact, tone, body language – hold your spouse’s pain.
Would you tell me what it was like for you when you found out what I did? I want to hear because I want to understand. I’m sure I can’t understand but I want to hear from you, if you’ll let me when you’re ready.
Don’t run away from the pain. Lean into the pain with God. Experience the pain and grief and hang onto the hope. Grieve what was while looking forward to what’s coming next.
Hope Practice: How is our marriage going to look different?
Click for Full Podcast Transcription
So we at regeneration have the great privilege of walking with people who are recovering from marital infidelity. And we’ve experienced a common theme in a lot of couples that we want to talk about today. Want to dive into today? I want to set it up this way. For a lot of couples who are recovering from infidelity, the spouse, the spouse that’s been unfaithful, the offending spouse, as we’ll call him or her, maybe involved in a recovery community maybe being honest now about things they used to keep secret. Maybe getting some professional help to really uncover How did I get here in the first place and how can I make sure I’m not going to do this anymore. may have accountability really. People that can they can draw on who are safe, and you really support them in doing the right thing. From their perspective, they feel like hey, I’m, I’m really getting better. I haven’t done those things. For so long. Now, maybe it’s been a year or two. And their spouses might see those things too. But the marriage still is wrestling, and it’s still on slippery footing and does not seem to be gaining traction. So as I’ve walked a lot of offending spouses, I found them at different times frustrated, their marriages aren’t healing, even though they’ve done so much work. And we want to talk about why that often is today. So kit and Ann from our team are here. We’ve we’ve walked with different couples in different stages of this journey. And so I want to start kit man with this question for you guys. Because in order to get where we want to go in this conversation, we have to go backwards. So even though I’ve just set it up that you know, this is a person who’s been in recovery and working on this stuff for a year or two, maybe more. They’ve been doing the right things. But in order to get where we want to go, we need to go back backwards. So I want to ask you guys this question in your working with spouses who have been married someone who’s done unfaithful. What is it like for them, when they discover that their husband or their wife has betrayed them has been keeping this secret? What are some of the things that that they experienced with that?
Well, the first word that comes to my mind is, is there’s many but a possibly abandonment like this, this person that I’ve committed my self, my body, my life to deceived me and betrayed me. I didn’t even know it was happening. And now I feel so alone. I, I I feel abandoned by this person, this this safe, secure person that I committed to to take care of me. honor me. Just love me. Then I discovered something and it was very dysregulated. And I felt abandoned and left and alone from this person. So it’s very dysregulated and scary.
That’s a great word abandonment. And I think with that comes when you were describing that and talking, I was just in my mind seeing the faces of many women and their shock. There’s this this you know, because they didn’t know their shock and this and the foundation on which they have depended, you know that this is what’s true. This is what’s real, suddenly goes out from under them. And so they’re left abandoned and in shock, and really just broken heart and beyond what they can even fathom.
Shoot that word picture of like feeling like the ground underneath them with what has been real has been pulled out from under them. That That’s the kind of picture that comes to mind. For me, I think I’ve, I’ve, it seems like this the sense of like, what I thought I could stand firmly on is no longer there. And now, I don’t know what ground is trustworthy under my feet anymore. Another word picture that that my wife and I have used this we’ve talked to couples about this is is that there’s been an explosion and kind of like you’re looking around your home and what used to be this place of that was marked by love and memory. Now there are all these signposts around of destruction. And so I remember talking to one wife who was saying, I’m standing in my living room, I’m looking on the mantel, and there’s a picture of us on vacation in 2006 and 2006, and he was having an affair. I used to like that picture and it was a sign of our love and our family. And now it just sends me back into this this tailspin of, of anger and anguish, and I don’t know what to think or believe anymore. So what else? What are some of the other other descriptors or other experiences, and maybe I could even even kind of dig in a little bit here. Because there’s some I know that there’s some spouses where it’s like, they start to look back, and they’re, and they’re putting pieces together, they say, now that makes sense. Others who look back and go, so I wasn’t crazy after all, and others who look back and say, I knew nothing about, about what what he was really doing. He was always, you know, the good husband, the wonderful father, the faithful Christian, or she was. So they’re in some different categories. But so just speak to some of that a little bit as you’ve as you’ve walked with, with people, what are some of the other other things that they kind of are experiencing or feeling or going through?
Well, just to follow up with what you said, Josh, if you didn’t know anything, right, and you’re, then you find something out. It’s so shocking, right? It’s just Really, you know, you’re it can feel like you’re going crazy like your brain is offline I did not know this and, and then other somebody else might feel like well I I did have a little bit my gut feeling was like something’s not right and then when they found out it could be like, in a odd sense relief like okay I I sent something was going on I felt it It felt distant it felt different and that’s what it was I wasn’t going crazy
I think to go along with what you’re describing Josh and what you’re describing and you know there is this you know, this trauma like you’re standing in a living room and explosions happened or tornadoes happened and everything is not what you thought it was. Even you know, even if you start to put some of the pieces back together, you’re still left in the shambles and like you really don’t even know what if that’s true, then what can I possibly trust? So then there’s fear. I think a lot of the women that we meet with have a lot of fear, you know, like, Well, wait a second, if that can happen, then how can I possibly, you know, depend on anything. And so that’s very disorienting.
I love that word. And I think I think and use this word to we need to come back to is the word trauma. And I think that I know when I first came to regeneration was in a men’s group for men recovering from sexual addiction back in 1996. At that time, what we were learning about, I wasn’t married at the time but but guys who were married, they were they were learning about what was called co addiction. And so he had a sexual addiction and she must have her own addictions because I remember one group leader saying Healthy People don’t marry healthy people. And that’s a whole nother conversation. But in more recent years, that co addiction model has been has been largely replaced with A Trauma Recovery model where there’s there’s a greater recognition that what what has happened here literally is a trauma because reality has been shaken. And I think the other thing we need to identify with this is just, it’s it’s it’s often not just the the, the the wounded spouse who’s experiencing the disruption this the disorientation You can also be kids and also be extended family. You can also be, you know, a church community whoever finds having the ripple effects are profound and so
think about shame. You know, the shame that this that it can bring, and that that a spouse who’s been betrayed can feel, even though you know, we, we really talk that through and help you know, hope that we can release some of that that’s that’s another dimension of this like when you start talking about the church or friends, family finding out you know, those are some Very deep things. say more about that shame about that one. Well, even though, you know, you had nothing to do with that decision, if my husband betrays me, I’m going to take that so personally, even though, you know, it was his decision and his behavior, some of us, not all of us, but some of us may take that, like, deep inside, I wasn’t worth enough. I wasn’t. And even though that’s not true, that can be our experience. And so that can be a very difficult thing to navigate and maneuver. You know, that kind of burgeoning, you might feel.
Yeah, it’s got to be it’s it has to have something to do with me. Yeah, that’s what they feel it has to Yeah, and really, we know what we’ve learned about the research and, you know, everything that it’s right, you didn’t cause it it possibly began. Much. Before you you know, the the the Fair the, you know, the pornography use was started much earlier and the offending spouses life in possibly middle school high school college so but the feeling is some is shame is something’s wrong with me there’s got to be
and even Yeah, I mean I think about some of the men I have walked with who have who have had a wife who was unfaithful. So there’s a sense of, of I’m just do they not feel like I’m man enough? Do they not feel like I’m woman enough? Am I not attractive enough? Right? Is somebody stronger? Is somebody more sexually satisfying for them and I just you know, those are deeply deeply personal questions. So that’s why I really wanted to kind of draw out kit when you said shame because it it’s and so when we think about community or others finding out I think for some spouses who have who have had an unfaithful partner, there can even be some It’s hard to talk about other people because it can compound that chain. Are they going to think that about me too? Yeah. And also just as a, as an aside, a good reason to talk to safe others to find out? No, they’re not going to think that about you, too. It’s not about us and saying, well, we need to go to there’s more we could say about all of that for sure. And we probably will as we go on. But the next question I want to ask before we get into kind of what keeps couples from moving forward, and this will segue us into it? is given that given that a spouse who’s who’s has a husband or wife who’s been unfaithful what do we find? for them? Like do they you know, in some just feel like I’m out of here. I’m I don’t want this marriage anymore. But I I’ve been surprised to find over the years the number of husbands and wives who have been betrayed who actually don’t respond that way. So what have you guys found for first passou who have been cheated on How did they respond? What are some of their hopes or dreams or wants for where that marriage goes?
But what I found from the women because I mean when women say about their marriage is that they, they actually do want it restored. They they want to like have the marriage make it even though they may have thought about leaving but they actually deep down want to restore it. But what they desperately want is the lying and deceit to stop that that is that is something that they are adamant about. They just it’s got to the lying and deceit has got to stop stop and they may feel skeptical, will it will it repair and they are afraid will it repair? But they they actually do want to restore it like what you were mentioning Josh?
Yeah, and I think that a part of that, you know, this desire To Be assured about some of these things, so they’re really looking for a safe place for someone to help to see them to listen to them to understand, because, again, they feel abandoned and alone. And so they’re looking for a place to bring all of this all their fears, all their frustrations, all their hopes, you know, to a safe place because a lot of people might mean well in their friend, community, church community, even you know, but sometimes it’s a hard it’s hard to find a place where you can really be really vulnerable and really honest about all your feeling and have it be okay.
Yeah, and that when what, what situation could warrant the need of that more significantly than finding your your most intimate friend, your most intimate ally, the one you’ve been trusted your body and your heart to the most vulnerable places in your life to when that person is no longer available, not even now. Won’t the longer available but also the the cause of your pain and shame. Reminds me even kid goes back to the word use disorienting. And I think it’s it’s right in there. Well, that’s a that’s a good segue. So we’ve, we said in the beginning we want to talk about why, why then when there’s when there’s a when there’s a person who has been unfaithful, and they’ve, you know, rocked their marriage in a really destructive way. And they’ve got us a spouse who wants the marriage to work and who wants to have this restored? Why then in that situation, if the offending spouse is doing the recovery work and working their tail off and learning and growing and abstaining from the stuff they used to do, and they’re being honest, and the spouse wants it to work, why does it struggle to work? Why does it what’s the missing piece here? And so I’m going to just throw that to you guys and You can springboard us into into what we’re going to talk about the rest of time.
I’d like to jump in and lead with possibly a lack of empathy or an or a maybe a offending spouse just not knowing how to be empathetic and really feel the the pain of their of their spouse they they feel they’ve been working so hard on their sobriety they’ve been working and thankfully have been you maybe possibly a year in of working hard at their sobriety, and yet, are maybe having trouble being as empathetic as the spouse would need and empathy, as we’ve learned is is almost a game changer in relationships. Empathy is like a window and just having a window into somebody’s pain. So Something in your house around
your ANC, your you I mean, you put your finger right on it and that’s and so if you are a husband or wife and you’ve and you have been guilty of being faithful. Listen, please listen empathy is so important, but let me slow you down a little bit. Give us a definition of what is empathy What do we what do you mean?
Feeling somebody’s pain, feeling it, seeing it, hearing it actually knowing it in your possibly in your own body seeing feeling your spouse’s pain, not with you know, self loathing, but with a real heart to I’ve hurt you. I see it. I hear you. I am getting this.
And I think that’s just right. What is the great such a great gift when someone takes time to really see and experience your pain and I think for for a partner who’s been betrayed, they need that so much and they don’t and here’s the other thing the pain their pain could go on for a while and so they can’t be rushed. You know, I think sometimes the betrayed spouse will be like, okay, okay, okay, can we move on and, and that’s going to be difficult because that person might need that empathy and that understanding for a while to really sink in that this person does understand and feel his pain that I’m experiencing.
So good I want to I want to come back because I want to press into this more. Because I think for for husbands or wives in a situation like how to be empathetic what it really looks like, what it sounds like, how you do it. How long I mean, all that stuff. I want to I want to unpack that more, but I can also I can say from from as I walked with so many husbands, and I know this is true for wives, too. So often and I think one of the big challenges here is the so often, the person who has been unfaithful and recovery will help them to uncover this. Part of what’s kept the unfaithful is they do not know how to manage their own emotions, they don’t know how to carry their own emotions to hold them, to honor them, to regulate them. And so part of recovery work for them is to begin getting in touch with what am I really feeling? What do I do with pain? What do I do when I’m insecure? When I What do I do with all these things? And so the idea of empathy, like you know, and that’s a steep learning curve in itself, like just doing that for my, you know, my own day to day, and then you add to that, and now we want you to step into that bomb that just exploded in your spouse’s life, and be with them as they’re falling apart. Now, all of a sudden, holy crap, like, I just got into kindergarten with this stuff. And now you’re asking me to do graduate level work. I don’t know how to do it, right. Can she just talk to a therapist and can we just Got that didn’t sound fun again, like, you know, I do we all do I really need to, you know, I mean, like we’re doing our stuff you clean your side of the street, we’ll come back we’ll have fun again, right? Like, we’ll be back like we work. And what you guys are saying is no, sorry. We get it but you actually do need to learn like and yes, it’s a steep learning curve but you do need to be able to step back into that that house it’s still smoldering, even though it feels like it should be put out by now to do stand next to your, your, your husband or your wife who’s standing on ground and you’re saying no, it is solid, trust me and they’re saying, I can’t do it. I can’t step on this ground because I’m afraid is going to fall out. You’re saying you really need to be with them in that again. So let’s get practical, kind of nitty gritty. Like, you know, what is it? What is it really look like? I mean, like what are what are words? What are actions? What are wrong ways to do it? You know? Yeah, I’ll Stop there, what a wrong way to do it? What a right way to do it. What What kinds of things come to mind for you guys with that?
I think that, you know, again, that idea of wanting to be seen and heard, like, in the midst of this experience for the husband to, you know, when they’re sitting down often the wife’s checking in the husband or the husband’s game with the wife, whoever is the one that’s in recovery for the betrayal. And the other parts really important to how do you check in with the one who’s been betrayed and how does the husband and wife say, how are you doing? I want to check in with you and see if you know you’re okay, how am I responding to you and what’s working what’s not what do you need from me like that kind of look him into the in the eye and ask those questions, I think would be an incredible step and this is a skill to hone really, you know, a habit and a skill to home.
So you’re I’ve I’ve certainly walked enough men who have betrayed have been unfaithful to their wives. And they wrestle through the challenges of how do we check in about how I’m doing, how do I communicate with her? And how often should we do that? And, you know, she checking over my shoulder, is she just wanting to be included? And you’re really advocating? What about the other way around? Where’s the space for the husband to say, Okay, you’ve heard about recovery, but I want to hear about yours. I want to know what you’re going through and, and how you’re feeling. And you’re gonna say something so
well, I I mean, I, I also think it’s no small thing that we’re asking a spouse to, to be empathetic and to stay with their spouses pain. That is no small thing we’re asking, right? We know that. You know, there’s shame that that spouses feel because of, you know, betraying their loved one. So it’s and I and then we’re, you’re saying stay stay with them. And we’re saying yes. And so you want me to be a container for their pain? Yes. And, you know, take good care of yourself so that you can regulate your body there like with holding your pain and their pain and being staying with them. And, you know if you know if you’re going to a support group or have a counselor, and you’re receiving empathy and understanding from your group, right as you share, this is what I’ve done, this is what I’m doing and your group receives you with empathy and understanding and stays with you. Right? Take that back home, take that what you’ve received in your counseling or in your coaching or in your recovery group, to your spouse and offer them you know, it contact and you know, your tone Hearing body language like those are some things to build empathy to bring to them as they share, like what was kid was saying was how have I hurt you? And and then listen, right use your eyes, use your expressions use your body language to display. I’m here with you.
And I’m really glad Josh was just gonna say that that’s so practical because if you are and we you know, we’re talking really to the spouse who’s been doing recovery work he’s been getting some professional help. And so do you want to know what empathy looks like? Well, what’s been helpful for you like so if you’re in a room of guys and you’ve just shared you know, here’s how I was tempted. Here’s how I handled it. Here’s how I hurt my wife and the guys in the room say to you you know, thanks for coming. We’re so glad you told us thanks for opening up. And it sounds like it hurt if you’re if you’re meeting with a therapist or a professional coach and and their reflect doing some reflective listening saying so it sounds to me like, what this was like for you was X, Y and Z. You can do those same things back with your, with your with your spouse, that’s a practical place to look, you’re in recovery. Like, you’re getting up with you. They’re like, Look, bring that bring that back home. And so Kim, what were you gonna say?
I think and you made such a good point, when you said, you know, this idea that you can’t do this empathy, this heartfelt empathy apart from your own recovery. It’s going to come from that. So, you know, your own commitment to your recovery and to your healing with God is incredibly important so that you can bring that healing and that empathy that you’re receiving to your spouse. And so I just really wanted to, you know, affirm that your own recovery, you can’t do this apart from your own recovery in your own healing with God. Yeah.
So let me push back a little bit because I can I can almost hear Some people who who would respond and say, Okay, I hear that, but it’s been a year, it’s been two years. I mean, like, Why? Why does this, you know, why does every Friday night have to be like this? Why, like, why can’t Why isn’t she over? Like, I really have been demonstrating that I’m not going to do that anymore. When when will enough be enough? When will she or he be able to put this behind him? How do you respond to that? I mean, are we talking about it? An endless infinite cash chasm of, of empathy. I mean, like, you know, I’m really, you know, just trying to come at this from a perspective of like, yeah, so just respond to that.
For Josh, I appreciate right. The pushback from somebody who is saying like, I am doing some hard work right and I am trying this You know, I guess if you’re describing like a war zone or a house that had a bomb, you know, and the house is in shambles it actually takes a while to actually rebuild a house I don’t you know, I have a friend who had to rebuild a house from from the ground up and you know, it took longer than a year right and it and it had it needed stronger walls and it needed a stronger foundation and right but you know, I hear the person saying how long and I wish you can put I wish we could put a timeframe to it but once you put a timeframe to it, it could cause the spouse to feel like a hurry up feeling and and well dude, how long are you gonna stay with me? Is that is that cry? Are you are you just moving on now because you you want to move on or are you How long will you stay with me and in my pain eyes, perhaps and willing to stay in your pain, you know, we use stay with me.
You know, I love I love the illustration because, you know, you think about something like Hurricane Katrina or some some devastation like that. And it comes and goes rather quickly, and it’s in the national spotlight for some time. But the the real recovery actually is is years and years and years and sometimes, you know, take a decade or more and yeah, these things don’t start and stop really quickly. You know, if your mindset is we’re gonna sprint through this, and then you really got the wrong mindset. It makes me think, like, I know, for me, as a longtime runner, who, who’s who’s not real faithful, I received in a year running when I’m not in shape, and I’ve got a good distance to go. Maybe I’m at the bottom of the hill and I’m looking at this hill. If I look, try to look to the top of the hill, I just get disheartened. I’m like, I can’t I’m not sure I can make it Sometimes, especially when I’m not equipped for when I’m not strong enough, I just look down at my feet. And I just focus on what’s right in front of me. And that’s what in addiction recovery, it’s that old saying one day at a time. And it’s not because it takes one day, it’s because you have strength for today. God’s mercies are for you today. the job at hand is today, the worries are enough for today. And you do that long enough. And over time, yours you find yourself at the at the top of a hill, you also find yourself growing stronger in things like empathy and your relationship growing stronger. And so what used to look insurmountable and so what I said before about, this is like an infinite pit. I can’t be empathetic that long, like, Well, right now it looks too like too much like it’d be too long because it’s gonna go on too long. Over time, you will get stronger and hopefully your marriage will get stronger so that you begin to have new reserves. Because empathy is really not just a recovery skill. It is a it’s a marriage skill. It’s a relationship skill. King’s words that,
you know, we’re we all every one of us in our life wants a formula wants an answer wants a timeline, and especially when we’re in this kind of really difficult situation. And so, to be able to trust in the present moment, like you’re saying, Josh, look at what’s just right in front of you and also, like, trust that God is in it, even if you can’t see, like, you know, the end. Like, that’s what we kind of preoccupy ourselves with where’s the end? What’s the outcome? You know, and living each moment and every marriage is going to have that theme, continual challenge to you know, every marriage has their own challenges and it’s never going to be just like, okay, we’re fine now and we’re going to be fine. So it’s this trust that you’re there’s uncertainty, there’s challenge, but in the moment, we can we can trust God and we can trust each other to Like, get through it step by step. Mm hmm.
So we have this, we know, this is a huge topic. And we’ll revisit it again in another podcast. And we actually have a couple, couple other guests we’d like to invite on who, who can speak more to some of these things in their, from their clinical practices. But until then, just to end our conversation today, I want to just, if you could each just share maybe one one final thought whether it’s, you know, hey, this was the thing today, I think in this podcast, I really want to emphasize or something we didn’t say yet or resource that it would be helpful for somebody. From me, the thing that I’m taking away from this, and I, this is kind of an echoing in my brain to the conversation because of some things that you guys said. I wonder what it’d be like for and I wonder how many of the spouses we’ve been talking to in this have ever gone back to the their husband or their wife and just sat down and said, you know, and maybe it’s not in one conversation either, but it’s, you know, I’ve never asked you but But I want to hear what you tell me what it was like for you when you found out? What was it like for you when you found out what I’d done? I want to hear because I want to understand, because I’m sure I can’t fully understand the scope of of what it was like but, but I want to hear and I want to connect with you in that place. If you’ll let me when you’re ready. I wonder what a conversation or conversations that have that kind of tone might might do for for a marriage. So in kit, one final word as we wrap up.
I think I’d like to echo Josh, kind of what you said. Sitting down right and saying not only what was it like is how can I help you heal and give empathy, a real, you know, effort, like, I know that just sounds like too practical, but you know, it actually it actually makes a difference. And you will feel that you’re, you’ll grow because you’re helping somebody, you’re helping your spouse grow and you’ll benefit from it. So there’s both of you will benefit from, from empathy and, and it can be possibly the game changer that you’ve been looking for.
And I would say, you know, don’t run away from the pain and the grief of this, like, lean into it. Sometimes we get afraid and we want to just fix it, but lean into it with God experienced the pain and grief and hang on to the hope, you know, that through empathy and through, you know, kind of grieving what was but looking forward to what’s coming next, like how is our marriage going to be different and stronger, you know, to have hope, and so to lean into the pain and then also, you know, hang on to the hope
So good. Thank you guys, both for this conversation. And if you’re listening, and this is kind of, you know, this is it, this is where you are. We hope this has been helpful for you. If there’s any place that you want to push back or you have further questions, send us send them our way we, you know, we’ve just kind of hit the tip of the iceberg. And there’s a whole field of this right now and people in this that are learning about it. So let me just close in order prayer, and thank you and and Kitt for all you do for for the men and women who, who come here and let me just pray for them and for you now so Lord Jesus, as we started this podcast today, I was kind of struck with how how much this topic overlaps with our story as human beings are the drama of our stories is that we have a faithful bridegroom and we have betrayed him. And he is walking patiently with us as we grow and restore and recover and recover most especially our relationship with you. And so Lord, You care deeply about marriages that are in this place, you will not leave them or forsake them either spouse, the one wounded, or the one who did the wounding, or your hardest for them. Their will is for them, you put your shoulder to the hard work that they’re about when they’re at the bottom of the hill and they feel like they have no strength for you are there with me pray for strength for the husbands and the wives listening today. We pray that you grow all of us in the great wonderful gift of empathy, that place of of entry in order. As you have entered into our story help us to enter in to one another story where we pray this for the good of the husbands and wives, their families are listening. We pray for Your glory Jesus in this in this age and the age to come. The name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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