I think the effect of an affair depends somewhat on an individual's personality and past experience. For me it has been the most devastating thing that has ever happened. It has shaken me to my core and made me question everything I trusted, even my own inner voice and strong faith. I realize now that for most of the time we have been married, 25 years, I was being emotionally abused and manipulated. I am not a weak person and never have been. I have learned that there are people who get a thrill out of lying and getting one over on others (my husband). I was a very trusting person when it came to my close friends and family and my husband took advantage of that trust. I was raised in an environment where marriage is viewed as a lifelong commitment and thought I had married someone with the same view. My husband is the only one I have ever been intimate with. That isn't a popular way to live these days, but I am proud of it. Knowing that he gave to others what was supposed to be something for just my husband and I is beyond devastating. We are still together and he is working very hard to heal himself and our marriage, but the truth is it will never be the same. I won't let it be the same. I will no longer be disrespected, manipulated, taken for granted or sidelined. I have made it clear that if it does go back to that, I am done. Soon after DDAY a friend of mine who lost her husband in death told me that the pain of losing a spouse in death is much worse than being cheated on. I absolutely wouldn't even begin to assume that I know all of her agony. I don't. I have seen how it affects her from day to day and the pain of heart and loss she must be feeling. Her comment did sting though. I felt that I would never diminish her feelings in her situation because I have never been in her situation. I felt that my feelings were being dismissed as so much less. I think that's unfair. She has warm memories of a fantastic and caring husband who adored her. She doesn't have the loss of self esteem, loss of trust, feelings of betrayal, watching your child lose respect for their parent to a certain degree, and so much more. Again, I wouldn't even dare to assume that I fully understand her pain. I wish I could have received the same empathy from her. I don't want pity. I won't be a victim. I just wanted understanding from the people I am close to. At the same time, I forgive her for that sting. She doesn't know what it is to be cheated on, lied to, treated as a burden instead of a treasure. I am glad she doesn't. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy......that's not entirely true....I wouldn't mind if it happened to the AP who helped turn my world upside down.
I can see how your friend might think that her pain was far worse than yours, and I agree, unless she could compare her bereavement to the experience of going through an affair, she has no real way of knowing. And reversing it, some people can only compare the experience of family bereavements to the affair pain. I can only say that all grief of this type is similar as are the stages you go through. As you say, the bereaved partner does have the good and happy memories and the feeling that they were cherished always. The betrayed spouse has everything you mentioned and more. Everything is spoilt and sullied and empty, and to me that is far worse.