Here are 6 reasons why the unfaithful person isn’t more proactive in the recovery process. 

why the unfaithful person isn't more proactive in the recovery process

By Doug

As I’ve mentioned before on this site (and countless times while mentoring), my experience has proven that there are two basic things that most betrayed spouses (BS) need from their wayward spouse (WS):

1) For them to understand why they had their affair

2) To be more proactive in the recovery and healing process.

This article is going to focus on the reasons why the unfaithful person won’t be more proactive (and/or consistent) in the recovery process.   This isn’t backed by any notable research or anything like that.  Rather, it’s from my experiences talking to hundreds of WS over the years.

Please note that some of what follows may be tough to swallow for many BS.  But these are some of the hard truths (justifications?) that exist within the minds of many the WS.

6 Reasons Why the Unfaithful Person Isn’t More Proactive in the Recovery Process

There is certainly a fair amount of WS who just flat out refuse to do any recovery work and are pretty much never proactive.  Find them a rug and let them sweep everything underneath. Still, there are many others who may have good intentions.  They start off on the right foot but over time they backslide and generally lack consistency in their efforts.

So, why won’t they take the lead in recovery?

Here are six possible reasons… 

Shame and self- condemnation. They hate what they did and they may hate themselves. They’re embarrassed, ashamed and racked with guilt. These are all understandable feelings. But the problem is that they tend to turn the focus on themselves and what they’re experiencing, rather than on their BS and their healing.

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They’re ambivalent. They don’t know what they want to do.  Work on the marriage?  Leave the marriage? Stay with their spouse?  Leave for their affair partner?  It’s awful tough to pursue recovery and healing when there is no clarity or direction. In this case, perhaps they first need to focus on just that – pursuing clarity.

They are filled with resentment and anger. This is kind of twisted thinking, but many WS are angry at the BS because they are the ones showing all the anger and emotion.  Yet the WS feels the reason they were unfaithful was because the BS wasn’t a good spouse to them in some way.  So now the BS is furious and the WS is mad at them for being angry. 

One other thing I hear in this instance is that the WS is angry and resentful that the BS hasn’t yet acknowledged or taken responsibility for their part in the deterioration of the marriage. Typically it’s because the WS feels that the BS didn’t meet their needs in some way.

It is also often the case that the WS is just angry at themselves and the situation and is projecting that anger onto the BS.  The WS is not healthy enough to own the situation and take responsibility. 

why the unfaithful person isn't more proactive in recovery

They haven’t really had any expert help. Contrary to some beliefs, affair recovery and healing isn’t something that most people should “just know what to do.” The WS moral compass is probably so broken that they really aren’t healthy enough to lead in affair recovery. 

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Just as they used their broken moral compass to enter into and justify the affair, they will use it to justify not leading in the recovery.  Many just don’t know that they should lead.  They’re not getting it. 

Expert help can aid in getting to the bottom of what’s going on, giving them the tools and the guidance in the right direction.  But they still have to figure themselves out and fix things on their own.

For me, I was totally lost and avoidant. I was full of shame and resentment.  I was in self-preservation mode and just wanted to make it through the day without dealing with it or talking about it.

Looking back, I sure wish I would have gotten some individual therapy or had a mentor to help guide me.

They feel defeated. They feel that they can do nothing right or that they are being punished for their honesty. This is most often caused by the emotional responses from the BS to the WS words and/or actions. As a result, they lose their desire to be proactive, much less do the required work.  

At this point, the WS just hopes the BS isn’t going to talk about it or experience a trigger.  They’re in a fearful position.  It’s dysfunctional but that’s where many WS find themselves.

Infidelity Recovery – Consequences of Punishing the Cheater

They might still be in affair. Most WS will not take initiative if they are still in their affair or acting out in some fashion (porn, sexting, alcohol abuse, etc.). They may go through the motions and appear to be genuine at times, but ultimately whatever work they do doesn’t “stick.”  It’s not genuine.

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Many a WS has gone to therapy and/or appear to be committed to the marriage and to recovery and healing, only for it to be discovered that they never ended their affair or that they had a relapse.

The two times Linda and I went to therapist sessions, I was still in my affair.  Do you think I was of the mind to proactively do any work towards recovery?  Nope.


If recovery and healing is going to be achieved, the unfaithful person must be a catalyst. They must be proactive and consistent in their healing efforts.  They must do whatever it takes for as long as it takes.

At the same time, the betrayed person needs to turn much of their focus on self-care, their own recovery, healing and wellbeing. This might include individual therapy, support groups, exercise, meditation, praying, spending time with friends and family, new hobbies, etc. 

I hope this was helpful in some way.  If you have some additional reasons based on your (or your partner’s) experience, please share them in the comment section below.

Photo source:  Fiskes



    7 replies to "Why Won’t the Unfaithful Person be More Proactive in the Recovery Process?"

    • blueskyabove

      Very Good Article, Doug. I agree with the reasons you listed, but based on the 6 reasons, it might be more productive for the betrayed spouse to understand that chances are the WS doesn’t have a clue as to why they had an affair—especially if they don’t believe they were looking to do so. And therefore; if that is the number one thing their BS wants to know, it could be a huge stumbling block in the recovery process. It even makes sense to me that they (the WS) would believe it “just happened.”

      Based on my experience, it helped me to decide for myself why my husband had an affair. In my mind it was simple. He wanted to. At some level, he had an affair because he wanted to have an affair. As silly as it might sound, coming to that conclusion was instrumental in my recovery. I now had an answer that allowed me to stop struggling to understand ‘why’ and to start taking care of me instead of focusing on my husband and his affair partner. It takes an enormous amount of time and energy to try to figure out ‘why.’ And I can almost guarantee that some of that time and energy will be spent on the BS ultimately feeling bad about themselves.

      If I had a magic wand I like to think I would…use it on both the betrayed and wayward spouse so they could bypass the misery that they will most likely endure in the coming months. I don’t believe most wayward spouses (if they want to stay in the marriage) want to inflict any more pain on the one person they say they have loved and betrayed. I honestly believe it has to do with one or more of the 6 reasons you posted. So, I’d like to go over each one of them.

      #1 Shame and self-condemnation – Wow, this is a biggy! I know because I went through both of these after discovering my husband’s affair. Embarrassed? Definitely. I could just imagine what the local small-town gossips were saying…especially since I was the outsider in town.

      #2 Ambivalence – I went through this too! Should I stay? Work on the marriage? After all, this wasn’t the first affair my husband had had. I certainly questioned why I had bothered to stay all of those years in between his affairs. I questioned my judgment, or maybe lack of judgment is probably a better description. My ambivalence lasted well into the 2nd year after discovery. I couldn’t seem to make a decision! I have since learned that ‘no decision’ is a decision.

      #3 Resentment and anger – This is where we differ. Initially, I was too afraid to show any anger or emotion of any kind. However; that doesn’t mean my non-reaction didn’t irritate him anyway. Also, I can understand how a person would like their spouse to actively share in the demise of the marriage. I mean, if I was the wayward spouse it would probably make me feel like less of an a-hole if the betrayed spouse accepted some of the blame. I get that. The problem, as I see it, is in the timing. The betrayed might have been open to accepting some blame before discovery of an affair, but after?

      #4 Lack of expert/professional help – It goes without saying that if the WS was healthy enough to seek help before they strayed, they probably wouldn’t have had an affair. So, to expect them to suddenly know what the next step was that they needed to take to restore normalcy in their marriage is probably too much of a stretch. I don’t think they are in any better place immediately after discovery than the betrayed spouse is. My response is in regards to the WS that wants to stay in the marriage.

      #5 They feel defeated – I can certainly relate to this feeling. I, too, felt like I couldn’t do anything right, and that I was being punished, although not for my honesty. What do you suppose would happen if the WS was completely honest and conveyed to their spouse that they felt defeated? Even afraid? Or, if the betrayed spouse was able to recognize what the WS couldn’t put into words and asked them point blank how they felt? I suggest this might be possible because it’s mostly the betrayed who seek answers. I doubt if most wayward spouses want to dig that deep. You are an exception, Doug!

      #6 They’re still in the affair- Ditto. I experienced this during my husband’s first affair. He went through the motions of going to couples therapy and bald-faced lied while he continued the affair for months before I discovered it. I was more knowledgeable after the next affair so he didn’t try to pull that on me a second time. I guess that’s saying something.

      Summary? – Truthfully, I think you’re expecting too much of the WS to actually commit to your list of “musts” at this point. I say this because society is going to have to change considerably for this to happen. I don’t doubt that you have much more experience dealing with wayward spouses than I have, but I’m going to guess that in the overall scheme of things even that number is small in comparison to betrayed spouses seeking help. It’s a start though, and I applaud your efforts.

      In retrospect I don’t believe there is much difference in the emotions or reactions of either person when they are confronted with the realities of an affair. And, I don’t know which betrayal is worse…being betrayed by someone else or betraying myself. I only know I’m not about to conduct my own research.

    • Dan

      Great article Doug – I agree with all your observations. My wife’s lack of being “proactive” dragged our recovery out longer than it needed to be. However, through the benefit of hindsight I realize I had an unrealistic expectation for what “proactive” looked like.

      Talking about the affair and all the factors that lead up to the affair was therapeutic to me. It certainly was not therapeutic for my wife. She internalized her own guilt, shame and embarrassment over what she did. Talking about it openly week after week of therapy beat her down. I don’t feel sorry for the emotional pain my wife felt as we worked through therapy, but I respect her for enduring it. In her mind she WAS being “proactive” and at the same time I didn’t think she was being proactive enough.

      As a BS, I fell into the simple logical trap of believing that since my wife made the decision to have an affair, which absolutely crushed me emotionally, then anything I needed in my recovery she was obligated to provide.

      I wish the recovery process happened faster, and I wish my wife was more proactive in driving that process. However, through hindsight I realize she was doing the best she could based on the circumstances of the situation.

      • Nic

        Dan, hope you don’t mind me asking you a few questions. As the BS like you, I feel the same way. I know he’s trying hard & doesn’t like talking about it, but I need to talk alot. I suppose I’m hoping each time this happens I feel less angry, therefore I will heal more quickly, as in be less sensitive to it, if that makes any sense.
        I wanted to ask you what do you think being more proactive looks like ? Do you mean positive affirmations, being more open about feeling & sharing thoughts ?
        As I feel he could do more but I’m not sure exactly what he can do.

        • Dan

          Good afternoon Nic. Here’s a little more context on my situation. Hopefully it’s beneficial on some level. When we first attempted counseling, all I wanted was for my wife to fully open-up about the affair, apologize profusely, admit the error of her ways, profess her deep love for me, and be fully committed to counseling and providing me with whatever I needed to heal emotionally. That was my initial definition of “proactive”, it was wildly unrealistic, and when my wife failed to do all these things, I took it as a sign she wasn’t truly interested in restoring the marriage.

          The bottom line is I was broken, and I expected her to focus all her efforts on helping me heal. That was unrealistic because my wife was also broken. While she was responsible for causing all the pain and hurt, the reality is she was going through her own set of emotional ups and downs and wasn’t in place to focus all her efforts on helping me heal. I wasted a lot of energy questioning her sincerity and questioning her love for me, when in fact she was just trying to heal and survive herself.

          Like you, I wanted to talk…..a lot. To me, it was an emotional release that helped the healing process and (as you said) de-sensitized things. My wife was willing to talk whenever, but it wasn’t something she enjoyed. Over time I realized it wasn’t productive for us as a couple if I asked her to “talk” whenever I felt the need to talk. That doesn’t mean I avoid talking about the affair because I don’t want to make her feel back. I’ve just gotten better at self-soothing and managing my own emotions. I only ask her to talk when I’m really struggling, and I’ve found less frequent “talks” result in more open communication.

          Given where we are now, “proactive” means small genuine connections. A sincere question about how my day went (with follow-up questions) means a lot more than a good night kiss. Not sure that makes sense. I guess it’s anything that shows she’s no longer taking me or our marriage for granted.

          • Nic

            Hi Dan, thanks for your quick reply.
            With me its a bit different, im a stubborn & defiant personality. With extremely strong & deep values & morals.
            My WS did & is continuing to show intense/deep love, affection & remorse etc. He’s continued to beg, plead for a chance to prove himself. He’s persistent, consistent & determined to make me feel safe, valued & appreciated.
            He wants me to share the burdens of the trauma with him as he feels & knows he’s responsible.
            He says he never intended to have an affair it was a means to access the substance. He started using mid January she funded & supplied him from March until dday September.
            I’m not sure if its me as a person who refuses to tolerate & accept his behahiour & betrayal or maybe i don’t believe that it was only the addiction that was driving this & he was interested in her ?
            he’s adamant it was only for the drugs.
            But surely it can’t be ?
            Im confused as does it make much difference as it already happened, but then if he’s lied , then it will make a difference.
            Hope this makes sense, its difficult explaining in text.

            • Dan

              Hang in there Nic. September is still pretty “fresh”. Give it time and you’ll likely find your perspectives and priorities change. Substance abuse adds another layer of complexity to the recovery process. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you find your own therapist to help you stay strong through this process.

    • Nic

      Thanks Dan, I’m also evidently impatient lol. I have studied counselling, psychology is my passion. I like to vent & receive different perspectives. I’m a listener & a talker. I need to take a breath and appreciate what I have right now. We’re moving into our dream home soon. With a future full of opportunities & prospects. I have seen a therapist & have one on standby when needed. It’s expensive & moneys tight at the moment but I will go back for a few more sessions. Talking to you has helped immensely, thank you Dan 😊

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