What denial after the affair looks like –  from the perspective of the betrayed.

denial after the affair

by Sarah P.

We are all familiar with the grief that occurs after we suffer a loss or a betrayal by a loved one. Many of us are familiar with the idea that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This post will focus on what denial looks like, from the perspective of the betrayed, after a partner’s affair is confirmed.

Denial is a mechanism that, for the most part, is misunderstood. We have all heard someone telling us: “Get out of your denial and face the facts”; as if denial were something of which to be ashamed. However, denial serves a very important biological and psychological purpose that only now are we beginning to understand.

Denial’s Upside

When we are confronted with a traumatic event, whether it is the death of a loved one, or the ‘death’ of the marriage that we believed we had, the mind experiences a tremendous shock. The shock that the mind experiences after a betrayal reverberates through the body on a biological level. Our bodies experience fight or flight and as a consequence can become very ill and shut down.

Affair Recovery and the 7 Stages of Grief After an Affair

In fact, there is a documented medical phenomenon called ‘broken heart syndrome’. When a person experiences a tragedy in terms of a relationship, a heart attack can physiologically be induced in the body of an otherwise healthy and young person.

There have been cases where people have actually died from broken heart syndrome. It’s still amazing to many doctors that a purely psychological ‘disease’ can cause a deadly heart attack.

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So, denial is the mind’s mechanism of protecting the body from the biological processes that can occur when grief is unchecked. When viewed this way, denial can literally be a lifesaver. So, it makes total sense that denial is the first stage in the grieving process.

Denial After the Affair – What’s Normal & What’s Not

However, there is ‘normal’ denial that is helpful and then there is ‘denial’ that is unhelpful and prevents you from progressing and healing.

Helpful denial usually lasts several weeks and this is a period where you convince yourself that the affair wasn’t as bad as it sounds—or he/she did not love the other woman/man—or maybe you convince yourself that maybe it wasn’t even an affair at all. Convincing yourself that maybe there was not an affair at all is not delusional – it can be part of the denial process.

Unhelpful denial is when you stay in the denial phase for good and ‘deep six’ your pain. You pretend nothing out of the ordinary occurred and the process of grief is suppressed.

This is a phenomenon that is common to codependents. Codependency is not a helpful mindset in which to find oneself. It prevents emotional progress in one’s life and creates very dysfunctional marriages and families.

Denying an Affair

Moving Past Denial

Over the course of several weeks, your denial starts to lessen and you begin to slowly assimilate what has occurred. Your brain only doles out the bits and the pieces you can handle so that you can process them one at a time.

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As I said before, this is your brain’s way of helping you cope with your grief in a way that prevents you from completely shutting down. In a sense, it is a type of survival mechanism.

After you have completely assimilated all of the details that you need to assimilate, your denial will end. When this occurs, you will come face-to-face with the second stage of grief: anger.

*Originally posted on 6/6/2014 and updated on 8/10/2021

    26 replies to "Denial After the Affair ‘D-Day’"

    • Strengthrequired

      I believe I went through all the stages, only to go through the anger stage again, accepting that the affair turned physical has happened, still devastated by it though.
      As for the broken heart syndrome, ohh how I felt like it would be the end of me, I was so broken, and the chest pain was constant everyday all day. Although after the year mark the pain started to ease up, yet I still feel that tightness and heaviness and the ache, that I hope one day will eventually leave, once I finally feel like we are ok.

      • Sarah P.

        Hello Strength,

        All I can say is that I am sorry about your situation. There is healing ahead. You have been through the worst part and the only way to go is up. Little consolation, I know. But it is the truth. Still, once we think we are done grieving there can be a trigger that starts the process all over again. This is why if some men had a heart they would be as honest as possible about their affairs up front so that a wife won’t be newly triggered after she finds out yet another piece of truth that was intentionally supressed.

        • Pearl

          This is so crucial !! The cheater needs to understand – just rip off the bandaid !! You think you wrapped your head around the situation – only to learn more details – and the details do eventually come out. So to the cheaters – please just put it all out there. I just felt like every time I got my footing, I was knocked down again by some small stupid detail and I was back at square one (or back to D day) … I likened it all to an infected wound – just clean it all out – if you don’t and you leave some small piece behind it will just slowly abscess and need to be reopened and clean out again.

      • Darlene

        This is exactly my experience! I could have written this! Except that… my husband still denies his “friendship” is an affair. I will say that he seems to do less things with her, thus that the emotional affair must’ve run it’s proverbial course. But even though I maintain my stand for our marriage and have made that clear to him that I’ve forgiven him, he wants no parts of our marriage. 21 years of our life together just seems like nothing to him. I’ve read so many stories of the same. How DOES one just completely not care what havoc they have caused to their committed spouse?

    • Tryinghard

      One thing to ad in the denial stage is believing what the CS says because we desperately WANT to believe what they are saying.

      The CS is still lying even though they are professing not to be lying. The hurt is so great we want to believe because that will help it all go away.

      • Strengthrequired

        TH, that is so true, you know deep down they are lying through their teeth, but you just want to believe they aren’t. You just want to feel normal again, and that it was just a moment of insanity, that quickly passed.

      • Sarah P.

        GREAT POINT, Trying. Isn’t that the truth!

      • Stacie

        Will we learn the truth? I so need to know that I am not crazy.

        • blessingsindisguise

          It’s in your gut. Once you feel that unmistakable feeling, you begin to assimilate information without their knowledge. This may take time and a whole lot of patience, but, you’ll have enough to confront and drag it out of them. If they continue to lie, which they will, then you continue the grief since you probably passed the denial. My healing is bazaar. I discovered, waited for the right moment (sans kids) and politely asked for an explanation. When I got the response I anticipated, which was their denial and quite hilarious, I said is that all? Got up left the room, came back with her suitcase and asked her to leave. She did, and a week later called me to share the entire story. The hardest thing for me was asking her to leave. I got beyond grief and some of my healing prior to discovery so that I could react in a much calmer and systematic approach. Didn’t make sense then but it does now.

    • Broken2

      I guess I can associate the denial part with my physical illnesses. I was a very healthy person until the affair happened. Then I was sick almost every week with whatever was going around. I also developed uncontrollable high blood pressure that eventually damaged my heart but thankfully is now controlled with medication. Before the affair I took no meds…now I take 5. There is definitely a connection between the mind and body. My grandmother, married for 60 years died only a few months after my grandfather died. She was healthy as a horse…she just couldn’t live without him.

      • Strengthrequired

        Broken, I always told my h that if he ever died first, I know I won’t be long after him, because my heart would be broken. I still feel the same now, especially seeing how my heart was in so much pain after my h decided to have an affair. I really see more now how those that are older and have been with their spouse for all their life and have that deep love for them, are just unable to live themselves after their spouse dies.

      • Sarah P.

        Affairs damage emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I cannot think of something more poisonous to a person’s wellbeing. We all know how stress in and of itself can cause illness in the body. Going through an affair is stress x 100.

        I can relate to once being as healthy as a horse and then having to be on medication: high blood pressure medication and acid reflux medication. In fact, the acid reflux is so bad, I got an upper endoscopy two days ago and the doctor showed me photos of my mangled esophagus. Acid did that and the acid reflux developed under stress. All of the health problems happened after a string of stressful events in my life and it doesn’t matter how much I exercise, I cannot get back to the health I used to have. (And I am too young to have these problems.) I feel like my outside looks normal and healthy but my body internally is sick from stress.

        Also, my health problems all began when my ex-fiance left me for his affair partner.That was 13 years ago but it is like my immune system never recovered. Prior to that experience, I had never had to see a doctor or even take medications as simple as tylenol. Never broke a bone, never had a surgery, never had anything more than a very rare common cold. I was never sick and had no physical problems whatsoever. His affair was such a blow because of everything I lost. But the breaking point came when my friend recommended I go and get checked for STDs etc. When I found out I had the first stage of the type of cervical cancer that is transmitted through intercourse, something in me broke. I knew my sexual past and he had been my only partner for several years. After we broke up, I had decided not to fall back into a physical relationship. So, the doctor said he was 99% sure I got that from his affair partner. Anyhow, I never quite recovered from that stressful situation or the lingering broken trust. So after that (and now) when the stresses of life come along (and they do come along) my body absorbs every single one and I develop illnesses solely due to stress.

        In other words, I know exactly what you mean about being a healthy person pre-affair and then being on daily medication post-affair.

        There has got to be some kind of karma for guys like that. Or at least I hope there is.

        • exercisegrace

          Sarah, I can relate to this so much. During his affair, my suspicion and stress led to my getting reflux for the first time in my life. It progressed to bleeding ulcers and an irritable bowel as well. I also had numerous urinary tract infections as well as a couple of vaginal infections. Looking back those should have been such a clue! I then developed endometriosis which required surgery. I was told the surgery would cure it, and I would hit menopause before it ever came back. NOPE. It was back within 2-3 months and I had to have a hysterectomy. So excruciating to know I had my insides removed while he was screwing a whore with HPV. I have done a LOT of reading about HPV. They are just finding out more and more about what it does to our bodies. I blame it for triggering my endo and ultimately leading to my hysterectomy. My doctor can’t say for sure, but he says it is quite possible. After all that, I developed a tumor in my wrist. The surgery and recovery was excruciating and took many months. Was it related to the stress my body and mind were under? Was it random? Who knows.

    • Gizfield

      My parents married in 1946 when she was 16 and he was 26. They were together until he died of cancer in 1989. She had a heart attack that November, then bypass surgery, then a massive heart attack. Died just a little less than a year after him.

    • Gizfield

      Uh, oh. Celebrity Cheater Splitsville alert. Melanie Griffin and Antonio Banderas divorcing after 18 years. I didn’t even know they were married. Both were marriages to others when they met . The Karma Bus makes another stop…

    • Rachel

      My heart hurt so much after my ex admitted the truth.
      How he want me and wished he’d never marry me. And w didnt want me.Don’t ever want to feel that pain again.

    • Steve

      Speaking of health issues, before my w’s affair I had been diagnosed with 2 rare chronic diseases, one of which is a rare form of lymphoma. During her affair, my w contracted genital herpes. He neglected to tell her he had it, yes, she continued to see him. The hard part for me is she knew I already had these 2 diseases, and that I was on immune suppressant drugs, she still did not inform me of the GH. By the time I came down with it, her affair was over, and of course the way I found out about the affair was by getting GH.

      When I asked her how she could knowingly expose me to it without telling me, she said: “I was hoping you wouldn’t get it”. The rest of the story is she works in the health care industry.. I am 17 months post discovery, and I still flip flop between not only realizing she had an affair, but willingly gave me an incurable disease. I was in denial at first; I simply refused to believe someone I loved so much, and who I thought had loved me, could do that.

      In order for me to make sense of all of this I have learned to not make excuses for my w because no matter how she spins it, she made choices. she chose to have an affair, she chose to stay in the affair after contracting GH, and she chose to expose me to it. We both are working very hard to overcome the obstacles her affair provided us with, and we are making progress, but I also know I can never go back to the “innocent” period, nor will I ever forget what has happened. My goal is to learn and hopefully have a stronger relationship because of it. That’s my choice!

    • lifesentence

      Good insight on denial. Seems like the cheater can go through denial after dday also. CW showed remorse a couple weeks then seemed to forget. Started to minimize, dismiss or refuse discussion. Does one have to remind their CS of the pain and consequences periodically to keep their head in recovery and change?

      • Tryinghard


        The short answer is YES. You are the one who has to bring it up. They do not want to talk about for many reasons. They want all to go away and the only way they know how is to act like it never happened but it did. You have to pick a time. Maybe even say specifically , honey Tuesday night at seven I want to sit and talk with you. You will get a lot of resistance but if you still needs questions answered you need to do this. They will never bring it up. NEVER. Be ready, have a list of what you want to discuss. List what you are hurt about and make him address those things. If you stay calm and try realllly hard not to blow you can have some very constructive conversations. It’s not going to be fun or easy and you may hear shit you don’t want to hear so be careful the questions you want to ask. I don’t know if we ever get the answers we want because what we really want to hear is it never happened. And that ain’t going to happen.

        Good luck and also if you haven’t joined the higher healing area here you should. There’s a wealth of knowledge there.

    • Gizfield

      That is really dreadful, Steve. Sorry you have such an awful physical reminder of all this. The other man (for lack of a better word, cause he’s not a man for knowingly spreading diseases) is a real piece of work. Your wife doesn’t defend him as a good person or act like she misses him, I hope.

    • Tryinghard

      Actually I believe the BS goes through the denial stage more than the CS. As Sarah said for many of us the shock is so great our brains can only handle so much so in order not crack completely, denial is a safe place to be.

      Once you get past denial, anger is the next phase and is the Mac daddy of all the emotions. He takes over your broken psyche and says oh hell no and denial just fades to the background.

      I think many hold onto denial because it’s handy. We are afraid of pushing the CS further away by showing our anger, but that couldn’t be further from the truth and is the complete opposite of what as a BS you should be showing the CS. I strongly believe the CS needs to feel down deep your hurt and anger. Continuing to live in denial and pushing anger and hurt away is counterproductive to the healing and recovery process and quite frankly is dishonest and disingenuous.

      As women we’ve been taught to not show our anger. it isn’t lady like and heaven forbid we might be perceived as a bitch. Denial is a much more comfortable place for women. Well if that works for you, good luck.

      As in my experience, I know I was in denial about some aspects of the affair more so than others. I think I probably tend to deny the emotional attachment more than anything else about his affair. But given that my H is not a very emotional person maybe I’m right on. I’ll never know. Just one of the many scars I have to live with.

    • exercisegrace

      My denial occurred during his affair. While I never found any concrete evidence he was cheating, there were SO many signs. I stood rigidly in front of the tree and doggedly refused to step back and see the forest. I believed each lie individually. I did not dare to look at them collectively and add up the sum total. Looking back I am astonished and disgusted with myself for not seeing it. But then I tell myself…..not my monkeys, not my circus. His behavior was and is, on HIM. I trusted him and for over twenty years he had never given me a reason not to trust him. That is all gone now, and it is cold comfort that he mourns the loss of that man. He hates knowing that he will never have that kind of complete and total trust, ever again. Not from me, and even if he left I doubt ANY woman would totally trust him with a history of cheating.

      The upside for ALL OF US? We can allow ourselves to see relationships more clearly. That doesn’t mean we have to harden our hearts, and hold people guilty until proven innocent. BUT. We are far less likely to have anyone ever take us for a ride EVER AGAIN. There is some solace in that.

    • Jamie

      I am still stuck in the anger phase and have been stuck in it for 8 months….I don’t know how to get past it. I suppress it and just go on with my life because I have no other choice. I suppose people might say that I do have a choice, that I could choose to let it go, but that just let’s my husband off the hook. He will think what he has done wasn’t that bad and that I am a rug and he can just wipe his dirty feet all over me again without consequences. I did not deserve what he did to me and our marriage. I am just biding my time until I can afford to live on my own and divorce him. I will never let another man into my heart again. What this has taught me is that the only person I can truly count on is myself.

    • Angel

      Just mind-blowing how much damage one single toxic, unhealthy person can do.

    • Seenthelight

      Just as mind blowing is that they don’t care what or how much damage they’ve done to someone they supposedly “love”.. They don’t care what needs to be done enough to just do it. Their concern is still how they feel, nobody else counts.

    • Jodies

      Last night was the fifth d-day in six years. Maybe there were more. This was the most awful. I have decided to put these facts in a box. I can not look inside this box yet. I want to live a few more days in a world where such a thing did not happen. I know my life is forever changed because of what was disclosed. It turns out that the affair was every bit as awful as my biggest fears had told me. I should have known the truth but I let myself believe the less painful lies. My husband said « i don’t know why you wan’t to do this » meaning be told the facts. I said I need to know the truth because there was a gaping hole of dishonesty and we would never move forward until he revealed it all. Well now he has and it is on me to figure out what to do with it. Yesterday even before the final disclosures I started to flail, parked in front of a singles bar, looked up divorce lawyers, made a Ashley Madison account. In truth I am sure I will do nothing. We have a wonderful family of three kids and he has been pretty much perfect for the past six years. Looks like I may end up more broken than I already was, but for a few days I am going to leave the worst information in the box.

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