Affair healing Blog
In short, their anger seems to erupt from a belief that (1) there really is little or no hope for a satisfying marriage after an affair, (2) that I and other counselors sell false hope for our own profit, and (3) that my message of affair healing assumes that the marriage will be saved.
It only takes a little time of objective reading & listening on this site to realize that my view of affair healing is NOT a one-size-fits-all approach. (I'll be addressing that in more detail in upcoming posts and podcasts.) The comments made about me and my work seem to come from assumptions rather than any informed considerations.
I stopped reading the messages because they were too personal and painful. Jennifer, one of the other counselors here, did read many of them on the other site and said the anger continued to fuel more anger and that attacks were directed at what others claimed about my views rather than the actual message of this site. (For example: The accusastion that in the interview with two of my children I laughed at my ex, blamed her for my affair, and encouraged my children to do the same is so far from the truth that I have to assume someone intentionally lied about it or was so biased that they can only hear what they want to hear. Still, others assumed it was true and issued rather harsh judgments.)
I contacted the author through her website and requested a phone conversation, but did not receive a response. That's unfortunate. I've learned from her; I think she could learn from me, too. Maybe another day...
Rarely have I read a book that pushed me back-and-forth between two equally strong sentiments of agreement and disagreement. I cheer the author’s clear shouts of warning to betrayed spouses who take on the responsibility of affair recovery with a cheater who fails to do what’s necessary for genuine healing. But my enthusiasm for that message is dampened by the frequently expressed opinions that cheaters should be dumped, betrayed spouses who want to save their marriage are chumps, and those who encourage relationship recovery (especially marriage counselors) are no better than ambulance chasers, greedy to profit from the pain of others but without any real remedies.
I’d like to review this book by pointing out my primary agreements and disagreements with its author, and who I believe will be helped or hindered by reading it.
Please note: The author uses various forms of the “f-word” a LOT. If you are offended by reading that word, do not read the book and do not read this review. I will quote the author in her own words, unedited.
You can’t save your marriage alone.
From the author: “You cannot save your marriage if one person is actively not participating in the marriage. Focusing on your love languages, communication styles, and mutual flaws instead fo the infidelity is like ordering dinner options on the Hindenburg.”
I, too, am bothered by the “relationship experts” who hold out an expectation that a betrayed spouse can somehow get their marriage back on track without the full-hearted effort of the cheater. They can’t. Any claim that they can only deepens their tendency to blame themselves for failure. Genuine relationship repair requires the full involvement of the unfaithful partner. They, in fact, need to assume the greater responsibility for healing, since they caused the deep injury.
The affair is not the betrayed spouse’s fault.
From the author: “Your cheater had an entire decision tree of options, beginning with difficult conversations, therapy, and divorce lawyers. They didn’t choose those things—they made a deliberate choice to fuck other people and lie about it.”
If a cheater tries to tell you they had an affair because you weren’t ____ enough or didn’t do ____, just walk away. It’s not even worth arguing. Their excuse is evidence that they don’t get it. Like every marriage, there were likely problems and you probably contributed to some of them, but none of that justifies their choice to cheat.
Cheaters are self-focused.
From the author: “I tend to divide cheaters into two camps: those who attempt remorse and those who step over your crumpled, sobbing body and go fix themselves a Hot Pocket.”
I both agree and disagree with this, but I put it in the “agreement” list because these reactions (“attempting” remorse or ignoring it) are probably most typical, especially if the affair was recently discovered. There will be no healing without genuine remorse. My disagreement with the statement comes from my experience with cheaters who became deeply remorseful in ways that continued to affect them long after the initial shame had dissipated. So there are three camps: those who attempt, those who ignore, and those who actually do experience a humble, lasting remorse.
Marriage counseling shouldn’t be your first option.
From the author: “One of the first things good chumps do in the agony of discovering an affair is call a marriage counselor. Here is a radical suggestion: Don’t. Or at least hold off until you know if you have something to work with.”
After their affair is exposed, the unfaithful spouse may respond to the suggestion of counseling in a variety of ways: resistance, uncertainty, demands (pushing blame onto the betrayed spouse with expectations that they are the ones that need to change), or obligation (for the kids, or because it’s “the right thing to do”). Couple’s counseling, in these circumstance, is a waste of time and money. The book provides some great warning signs that indicate the lack of proper investment in the counseling process.
A good counselor will move these partners into individual counseling or, in some cases, Discernment Counseling, until the cheater is moved to genuine remorse with a desire to take responsibility for the changes they are required to make.
Trust should be earned.
From the author: “You can’t cheat on chumps without lying to or gaslighting them. Cheaters are not about to change tactics and go with unvarnished honesty now. Remain highly skeptical. Judge cheaters by their actions over time—a long time.”
Too many unfaithful spouses think that once they’ve “confessed” (often only after being caught), there should be quick forgiveness and then back to life as normal. They balk at any expectation that they make changes to show their commitment to faithfulness and honesty. Real trust doesn't come instantly; it only returns after enough time (think months and years, not days) has been filled with trustworthy behavior.
Boundaries are needed.
From the author: “Get out of the habit of talking and arguing with them. Why would you believe a word they say? Everything you need to know is in their actions. If they’re sorry, they will cooperate with a divorce. If they care about their children, they will pay support. If you have to beg for these things, there’s you’re answer.”
Right. Unfaithful partners are often caught up in the craziness of the affair, even after it's over. Expecting responses that are rational and honest is pointless. Trying to persuade will lead to exhaustion and defensiveness.
There is life after infidelity.
From the author: “The pain is finite. Don’t choose it. Don’t keep reliving it, either. Infidelity does not define you. It’s no measure of your soul, or of your worthiness and lovability.”
A lost marriage, to some, seems like a lost life. It’s not. They will live a story that is different than the one they expected. It’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book in which one choice was eliminated for you, but other choices remain. There are still good chapters to be discovered.
There is no obligation to reconcile.
From the author: “...you don’t owe anybody reconciliation. If cheating is a deal breaker for you, it’s a deal breaker. You didn’t break your vows and you’re perfectly within your rights to walk, even if your cheater desperately wants another chance.”
Yes. Yes. Yes. The consequences of betrayal are shattered trust and a ripped-apart covenant. The betrayed spouse has every right to immediately walk. That is not the only choice, but it is a legitimate (and sometimes necessary) one.
You are a “chump” if you focus on hope for your marriage
From the author: “Asking a marriage counselor if your marriage can be saved is like asking a barber if you need a haircut.”
Let me first admit that I am in partial agreement with what the author has to say on this point. Too many counseling services and products promise (for a fee) to help a betrayed spouse save their marriage without the cooperation of the betrayer. And when these methods don’t work, the wounded partner is left to shamefully conclude, “I couldn’t get that right, either,” accepting inappropriate blame.
We should probably throw religious leaders into this mix as well. Many well-meaning people are too quick to direct a betrayed spouse into attempts to save their marriage. That is a risk they are not required to make and should not be pressured to do so.
But denying hope for a healed marriage is a shift to the opposite extreme. The book leaves very little room for this consideration. In fact, the author wants to push chumps in the opposite direction. She writes, “I’m not here to help you save your marriage after infidelity. I”m here to help you save your sanity and protect yourself.”
Here’s the truth: there is hope. I’ve seen healing in marriages, the kind of healing that moves a couple back into connection and trust. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, many couples do not experience this. But marriage healing after an affair is not a foolish hope.
The best healing choice for some is to leave their marriage, but that is not only choice for everyone.
Reconciliation is a myth.
From the author: “I liken successful reconciliation to a unicorn—a mythical creature that I want to believe in, but that is rarely sighted.”
There are many examples of marriages that somehow managed to avoid divorce after infidelity, but fail to experience a genuine return to intimacy. Online forums are filled with stories of people who tried to fix their relationship yet remain disappointed and frustrated. I can understand the tendency to conclude that reconciliation is little more than an empty dream.
But couples can and do reconcile in ways that are satisfying to both of them. Some of them are open about their stories, while many remain private about this part of their lives. Every decent affair recovery therapist I know can account for many marriages that are strong despite the devastation of an affair.
Reconciliation is not the only outcome, but it is a true one.
Leave no room for grace.
From the author: “This is what enforcing a boundary looks like—the cheater decides to commit to the marriage then and there—or you put their crap in Hefty bags and throw it on the lawn for the raccoons.”
This book is a great counter to the common tendencies of “chumps” to overlook the severity of the betrayal. Forgiveness and trust can be granted too quickly and easily.
But I want to live in a world that values grace and makes room for it. I know it is empowering to embrace justice and agree that many betrayed spouses SHOULD be taking a much stronger stand for their own well-being, but there is a way to balance grace and justice. I believe we are better people when we do.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that traumatized spouses should just roll over with an “It’s okay, I still love you attitude.” Real grace will still establish real boundaries. Grace is not the same thing as trust. Some cheaters should never be trusted again, but I would still encourage a consideration of grace, not just pure justice.
Cheaters have a common motive.
From the author: “Why do people cheat? Because they can. It’s that simple. People cheat because they value their autonomy to engage in affairs more than they value your well-being.”
No motive justifies betrayal, but it’s not accurate to say that every cheater is driven by the same reason. Every cheater is 100% responsible for their choice and its consequences, but understanding an affair means giving attention to the unique vulnerabilities at play.
These vulnerabilities are not reasons or excuses. The unfaithful spouse had a multitude of other choices they could have made, but understanding the various influences at play in a person’s life is necessary for healing, whether or not the marriage survives. Many cheaters did not choose to cheat before, even when there was an opportunity to do so. It's important to gain insight into the vulnerabilities at play so that appropriate changes can be made and necessary boundaries established. Only then can there be a secure return to trustworthiness.
Yes, at the core of every affair is selfishness, but cheaters do not all pop out of the same mold.
Cheaters don’t change.
From the author: “I believe people cheat because they give themselves permission to cheat—and that’s a matter of character… After suffering my own series of false reconciliations, reading infidelity boards, and running my own blog, I’ve yet to see the grateful, prodigal unicorn.”
I doubt the author would claim that a cheater could never change, but it seems clear that she believes it is so rare that it is a near-fantasy. I wonder if her story has attracted like stories.
Over 20 years ago, I was a cheater. I am not a cheater now. And I know many other former cheaters who have long years of evidence pointing to their trustworthiness.
Some spouses have always been and will always be cheaters. Some spouses cheat once and never cheat again. And some were habitual cheaters who, like addicts, become “sober” in their relationships.
Thank God there is hope for us!
Who will be helped (or hindered) by reading this book?
There so much I love about this book, but I would not recommend it to someone who has just found out about their spouse’s affair any more than I would recommend a “You Must Save Your Marriage” book. Wise balance is needed.
Neither would I recommend the book to someone who leans toward offering a period of grace before making final choices.
But I would recommend this book, with the caveats I’ve mentioned in this review, to an injured spouse who fits any of these descriptions:
The author’s empowering message mixed with a good dose of humor would be a welcome relief to anyone who feels trapped and alone. It will help them leave the cheater and reclaim their life.