*After reading the article below, I hope any individual would reconsider their thoughts of taking the secret of an affair to their deathbed and considering it noble. Unless you had an affair with a dead person, someone else knows, someone else whose motives to “keep the secret” could change over the years. In most cases others know as well. It’s important to give thought to how you tell and when you tell, but leaving your spouse to find out many years later, or after you die is no act of kindness. Affairs have a tendency to be discovered, sooner or later.
Dear Anne - A few weeks after discovering my husband had been unfaithful he was scheduled for a major surgery. Unfortunately, the worst happened. There were complications with the surgery and my husband passed away in the hospital. How do I heal from my husband’s affair, when he’s no longer here to answer my questions? How do I deal with the pain of the affair and the grief of his death all at the same time?
Dear Anne - What a relief to find your website! What I want to know is if you have any special advice for me on how to cope with finding out (after his death) that my husband had been unfaithful. My husband wrote a letter to our son to be opened after his death. In that letter, he told our son about his 6 year affair during our 33 years of marriage. My son thought it was important for me to know and shared it with me. How can I deal with finding out my marriage was a lie, after he has died?
Dealing with the death of a spouse and dealing with a spouse's affair after their death at the same time can be overwhelming. There are two separate things that need to happen. One is grieving the death of your spouse, the other is healing from an affair, when your spouse is passed away.
Affair-survivors in this situation face a similar path, to those whose unfaithful spouse’s walk away from the marriage for good. When the spouse walks away from the marriage, it can feel as if they’ve died. For some it can even feel worse, because they are actually alive, but willfully choose not to come back and/or answer questions.
Healing alone is more difficult than healing together. When a couple heals together, the betrayed spouse has the opportunity to get answers to their questions. Genuine healing involves understanding. When we can understand what has happened to us, we can also heal. One of the most difficult things to cope with in life is situations where we feel we have no control, there is nothing we can do to change or improve our future, nothing we can do to ensure we don’t fall victim to that level of pain again. Getting the facts and deriving meaning from the situation helps us to heal
Without your spouse, you’re left to put your story together alone, without the central character in the story there to help you.
Psychologically one of the greatest difficulties is lack of closure. Closure comes through understanding and accepting.
When you’re healing alone, one of the only ways to get answers to your questions is through the experience of others. Your spouse was likely not so different from other spouses who are here to answer the tough questions. You may be able to find a person who had an affair to talk with; through them you may be able to get answers to your questions, to understand why people have affairs. You’ll also get answers by reading books about affairs.
One common tendency is to allow this negative fact (the affair) to wipe out in your mind every good thing you’ve ever believed about your spouse. The reality is yes, your spouse had an affair, and that was really bad, but that doesn’t mean everything about them is bad. Neither does it mean that they didn’t mean all the kind things they said or did during your marriage (even while the affair was going on). People who have affairs have the ability to do so, while they still love their spouse. And even though they lacked integrity in this area (and lied about this), it doesn’t mean they lack integrity in all areas or that they lied about everything.
About dealing with a spouse's affair after their death, affairs expert Peggy Vaughan wrote:
“So as difficult and devastating as it is to learn that your marriage was not the way you believed it to be, it's helpful to remind yourself (over and over) that the new bad information does not negate all the good that was also part of your life together. It's when we re-write the script of our lives in light of the new information, completely deleting all the good parts, that life becomes more difficult to bear. We can make it even worse—or we can save whatever parts may give us comfort. We can only hope that time and perspective will ease some of the pain for those who face such a difficult time.”
One of the most difficult things to deal with is the unfairness of it all. And many times you may be facing other difficulties as well such as helping your children cope with their loss, financial difficulties, moving, decrease in your standard of living, or having to go out and get a job, when you haven’t been in the workforce for a long time.
In a very real sense you’ve been victimized. The love of your life, the person you trusted and relied on turned out not to be whom they said they were, and now they’re not even here on this planet to help you deal with the aftermath.
In the beginning it’s important for you to feel whatever anger, bitterness, resentment, despondency, pain, sadness or hopelessness there is. But after a while you have to ask yourself, is this where I want to stay?
Time alone will not heal you. Healing is a choice you make. You decide how you will spend the rest of your life. Wounded spouses are transformed, once they’ve made the decision to move forward.
Betrayed spouses are often the ones who’ve spent their lives giving, and putting the needs of others before their own. If you’ve spent your life putting others first, maybe it’s time to discover who you are, and express your own needs and preferences. An antidote to feeling victimized is consciously making a decision to cultivate your own inner resources and goals.
Some things you can do to get through this are:
- Call on your friends and family for help.
- Develop your own network of support.
- Cultivate new friendships.
- Join a BAN support group.
- Join a grief support group.
- Consider using the services of a therapist, counselor or coach.
- Immerse yourself in activities.
- Do something you’ve never done before, but always wanted to.
- Enjoy your children (if you have them).
Eventually you’ll reach a place where you’re sick and tired of all the hurting and pain. Hanging on to the emotions of anger and resentment only hurts you more. If you cling to your negative emotions, they will rob you of any future happiness.
Your final healing will only come when you re-emerge and create a new life for yourself that is fuller and richer than the one you had before.
In time people who’ve moved on alone and recovered report:
- They learn to treasure their independence.
- They learn to revel in the freedom to develop their own interests.
- Some surprise themselves by falling in love again ... even many years later.
- Some remarry (even in their 70’s!)
Healing is a miracle and you have no idea where the power to heal is going to come from. You have to have faith that when one door closes another will open.
Ultimately it will take the power of love to heal you. Some people find this love through their faith in God. For others it must come through people, friends, family, a good counselor or being involved in good causes.
The greatest revenge is living a joyful life! Healing from an affair is like being a caterpillar wrapped in a dark cocoon for months. You may feel like you’ll never emerge from the darkness. I know I did. But one day the beautiful butterfly emerges and your new life begins. And when you think back, you hate to admit that anything good could come out of all that pain, and yet you no longer would want to go back to the caterpillar life you had before.
©Copyright 2007 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.
For information about confidential coaching with Brian or Anne click here.
If you would like to share a success story, helpful insight or comment on this article we welcome your remarks. Email your questions or comments to Brian and/or Anne firstname.lastname@example.org .
(Due to the large volume of emails we receive, we cannot answer all emails, but we care about every person who contacts us and will do our best to respond personally to you.)