I Cannot Get These Images out of My Head
H. Brennen, January 27, 2016, 2020, Update July 2021
Some time ago a husband asked me this question:
“How can I get the images of my wife with another man
out of my head.” Note that the husband never saw his
wife with the other man. However, it is not uncommon
for spouses to imagine, ask questions, and create their
own images of their partner’s unfaithfulness.
There are some partners who have actually seen their
spouses in bed with another or viewed graphic photos or
texts in a cell phone. It is serious what the cell
phone can do to a marriage.
Decades ago, long before the cell
phone or email, many partner did not get caught.
Since the invention of the cell phone much of what is
being done in the dark is coming to light.
It is very painful emotionally when a spouse finds out his or
her partner has been sexually unfaithful. What is even more
painful is when the unfaithfulness has ended a long time ago
and the erring spouse informs the other spouse about it
months or years later. The thoughts about deception and
lies jump into the head of the one who did not have the
affair. Anger often takes over and trust is blown out of
the window. There are countless questions piling up in the
head of the faithful one. Who is the person? When did it
happen? How many times? Where did it happen? Am I not
good enough for you? What color clothes you had on? Etc.
Then the faithful spouse starts producing his or her own
movie scripts or a photo album in one’s head about the
partner’s sexual escapades. These photos soon become so
vivid and clear they leave the person shaking, doubtful, and
full of anger. But these photos are only the imagination.
They are not actual or real. The longer one dwells on
these imaginary photos the more vivid they become and the
more they are factual. So dear husband, what can you do
about those picture in your head?
One author writes “Getting the image out of your head can be
extremely difficult. As one cheated-on husband says, “Now
my wife cheated on me, the image of her with another
man haunts me constantly!” Even if your wife is working as
hard as possible to restore the trust in your marriage, the
awful image of her cheating is not something that is easily
Here are a few points to remember. I decided to share in
full what I read without editing because I think it is so
helpful. These are by psychologist, Andrew G, Marshall in
the article “Forgetting Details of Affairs – Does It
(1) You may never literally forget your wife’s
affair. “This is the truth, an affair is such an
destructive, enormous circumstance that there is a very low
chance of you ever forgetting that it happened. You cannot
change what has already happened, and that memory is there
to stay. Just remember, this isn’t about pretending that the
affair did not happen, or that your reactions at the time
are gone as well. That is not a healthy, constructive way of
moving forward. Lying to yourselves is a terrible way of
trying to restore trust. However, you are not trying to
forget the affair. What you need to focus on is being able
to love your spouse once more without having these feelings
of anger and resentment intrude on your relationship. These
feelings need to be processes and dealt with. Just remember,
trying to forget is not realistic. What you should be aiming
for is to try to leave the affair behind.”
(2) Treat the affair as a learning experience.
It is not about placing blame on a single party. Learning
from the affair is an enormous part of learning to get over
what happened. Affairs usually have complex underlying
reasons. Elements in the dynamics in the relationship that
can often be changed to make sure an affair does not happen
again. You may say, “My wife cheated on me! It’s her fault!”
While this may help you vent your anger, getting an affair
is an opportunity to examine the habits and dynamics in your
relationship that led to infidelity in the first place.
Focus on what you have been doing that may have contributed
to the affair, and examine the choices you have to change
your habits and behaviors in a positive way. This is often
more about finding out whether your needs are not being met,
and making your partner aware of that.
(3) Live in the present.
Expecting to forget an affair immediately is unrealistic.
You will need a lot of time and space to recover from the
grief and anger associated with infidelity. However, it is
best to focus on your present feelings rather than on your
expectations of the future or on what happened in the past.
By focusing on your emotions, you will have less of a
problem living in the present, an essential part of moving
forward and putting the affair behind you."
It is a good thing that you really do not forget the
affair. The author said because never forgetting builds
trust, and discourages moving too quickly. You cannot heal
overnight. It might take a year or so.
Here are a few of my tips and points for the innocent
Keep your dignity. Avoid allowing the
situation to be about you or suck you in to self-pity
and depression. Note that not all affairs are due
to poor marital relationships. Some are just about
living out fantasies, not being aware of one's
vulnerably, or plane stupidity. It is not
necessarily about you.
Do not snoop again. No matter of you feel,
avoid going back and checking the phone/emails.
Why? Because you will "find" what you are looking
for and it would not true. You can have, for a
short time, an agreement between you both that you will
randomly check the phone/emails from the perspective of
accountability, but that is for a short time and must
not continue indefinitely.
It is possible that your partner is glad he/she got
caught. I some cases, a individuals becomes
entrapped into a extra-marital relationship. At
first it felt good but soon it becomes confusing and
difficult and they cannot get out. Maybe the
person is blackmailing them. One of my clients
told me that he had his best sleep in years the night
his wife found out about the affair. He was
trapped and could not get out. It was like his
wife released the trap.
The guilty partner could be mourning just like the
innocent one is mourning. The guilty partner
is regretting what he or she did, even if it was a
choice at first. They are sad that they have cost
so much pain. Regret, depression, confusion,
despair, and even disgust with himself/herself could be
natural at this time.
Avoid repeating questions. Avoid asking
everyday "Why did you do this?" Remember,
many times the guilty partner really may not even know
why he/she had the affair. Avoid the constant
dripping of question like: "What color was her panties?"
"What hotel room did you take her to?" "Was
the lights on?" Etc. Believe it or not, the
guilty partner may not even know the answer to these
questions because that was not the focus. There
are many partners who cannot even give a clear answer to
"Why did you do this?" What is more important is
that your partner acknowledges that he or she was wrong
and is willing to change.
Establish clear boundaries and guidelines.
If you both are thinking about staying together or have
already decided to remain as a couple, it is imperative
to establish simple, yet clear boundaries.
This may include but not limited to: (a) The use
of the phone or email. (b) Sharing passwords or
not having them at all. (c) Times coming home at
nights. (d) Sharing about information. (e)
Association with friends.
Keep in mind that you must decide to
stop playing the "movie" in
your head. You might feel justified reliving
the pain of the affair, but it is not healthy for you
nor the relationship. As stated earlier, it will
only keep you stuck in your pain. This point is added
by Barrington Brennen
Dear friend, it is not fair to leave your spouse who was
unfaithful without honestly seeking to heal and looking deep
within your own heart. In many affairs the
"faithful" partner is not really "innocent." I wrote in a
previous article on affairs that often the innocent partner
creates the reason for the affairs--lack of affection, love,
spending time, etc.
It is also true that for some individuals, martial
unhappiness was not the reason they had a affair. A
partner having an affair is not always a sign of a weak or
failing marriage. It could be because one was
not aware of his or her vulnerability, or a cherished
childhood or teenage fantasy, social pressure, history of
sexual philanderers in the family, not having clear
So before you rush out of the house and
leave your spouse you have to humble yourself, suck in your
pride and take a good look at yourself. You might need your
partner to help you to do this. You coldness toward you
spouse is not an excuse for your partner’s affair but it
certain helps you to understand why it happened.
See article "No
Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP, is a
marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical
psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to
write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit
or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.