Typical Responses to an Affair

In her book, After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, Janis Abrahms Spring provides some helpful case wisdom regarding the experience of the betrayed and betraying spouse, as well as the stereotypical differences between men and women (Chapters 1-2). The importance for the care-giver at this point is to incarnate the grace of Christ to both, not just one. Notice, as well, how much work it takes to understand the complexity of each situation where infidelity is present. Abrahms does a good job of detailing responses to an affair by both parties. It is clear that this is the result of many years of experience.

Typical Responses of the Betrayed Spouse: Buried in an Avalanche of Losses.

  • Heightened Sense of Anxiety: significant physiological responses like that of severe trauma.
  • Loss of Identity: the affair forces you to re-define yourself in a fundamental way. Who am I if you and the marriage are not what I thought?
  • Loss of Sense of Specialness: I thought I meant something to you.
  • Shame: an initial response to the affair is to do anything to keep your spouse in order to avoid the embarrassment.
  • Loss of Faith in God: where is God in this? I feel forsaken.
  • Loss of Connection with Others: Who can I confide in?
  • Loss of Sense of Purpose: this can even lead to suicidal thoughts.
  • Shock and Disbelief: “When I first uncovered your secret, I stopped feeling special to you. But on a deeper level, I lost trust in the world and in myself.”

Typical Responses of the Betraying Spouse

  • Relief: It is out in the open. I don’t have to live a lie anymore.
  • Impatience: I have left my lover and told you everything. What else do you want from me?
  • Chronic Anxiety: As long as I keep busy, I’ll be okay.
  • Minimizing Guilt: once revealed, in the early stages, they often tend to justify the affair. The betrayed is made to feel guilty for not being committed to the marriage.
  • Grieving Loss of the Affair: The other person made me feel so special.
  • Guilt over Children: What will the kids think of me?
  • Isolation, Hopelessness, Paralysis: See the marriage as hopeless and just a prison to endure.
  • Shame: I feel like such a sleaze for doing this.

Typical Differences between Men and Women who are Betrayed

  • Women try to preserve, men run
  • Women get depressed, men get angry
  • Women feel inadequate as companions, men as lovers
  • Women Obsess, men distrust themselves

Typical Differences between Men and Women who are Unfaithful

  • Women seek soul mates, men seek playmates
  • Women justify if for love, men if not for love. I loved him. I didn’t love her.
  • Women anguish over affairs (My affair has complicated my life). Men enjoy them (My affair has given me life.)

Of course, while these lists are helpful, you must be careful not to stereo-type men and women or those who betray or are betrayed by their spouse. It is imperative to make every effort to understand the unique nature, dynamic and impact of the affair on the couple and each individual. You are building a bridge that will enable you to cross over into wise ministry.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.