Can a Marriage Heal After an Affair
Perhaps you are going through the searing pain of an affair and you wonder if there is any way you can move forward through this, or whether there’s any use of even trying. If so, I understand something of what you must be going through, and my heart goes out to you. During the pain of it all, as you consider the complexity of the issues you are facing, you may have and perhaps still be wondering “Can a marriage recover from an affair?”
Having worked with distressed couples for over 25 years as a Christian Marriage Counselor I don’t want to sound simplistic, but I do want to be honest with you. After working with literally hundreds of couples whose marriages have been crushed by a marital affair I can answer you with a “qualifying” yes. It truly is possible to recover from an affair – provided each of you is willing to do the work it will take. It will involve taking an honest look at yourself, your spouse, and your marriage, and with God’s help work toward acquiring the attitudes, skills, and understanding you need to see yourself and your spouse through this earth-shattering crisis. Yes, a marriage really can heal after an affair. I’m certain about this because, for over 20 years, I’ve seen and helped hundreds of couples to overcome affairs, even against all odds. If you have any doubt about this, please take a look at this brief video of one couple who overcame against ALL odds, and I could tell you of many, many more.
I’ve counseled and walked with literally hundreds of couples and guided them through this anguishing experience. I’ve seen what it takes. The discovery of a spouse’s affair, whether an emotional affair or a physical affair is like a bombshell dropped in the middle of your marriage and family. The damage is incomprehensible. You feel as if your world has collapsed – at least it seems that way because it feels so devastating. You wonder whether your marriage can survive.. . whether you can survive.
When you first learn that your spouse has been unfaithful to you, you will feel wide-range emotions and profound losses. There’s just no way to prepare yourself for this earth-shattering revelation. The way you once viewed yourself, your life, your marriage, and your world has been torn apart. Whatever sense of security and self-confidence you once had, you may now find yourself being unduly hard on yourself, even angry with yourself; sometimes frequently degrading yourself as a fool, naive, or gullible. “How could I have been so blind? You may keep asking yourself. “What on earth was I thinking?
Your heart, soul, and mind likely feel broken and in a state of shock. You feel like you’ve lost all sense of control over your life — all sense of stability, justice, or trust in the world. You feel all alone in this devastating experience, abandoned by everyone” or you may at times feel abandoned or ashamed by family, friends, and maybe even God. You feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster and you will likely from day-to-day experience feelings of being on the “up” one moment and then suddenly like you’re spiraling back “down” another. When you are feeling “up” you may feel determined and confident one moment, only to feel like you’re spiraling rapidly back downwardly, and maybe even feeling humiliated and needy the next. I commonly hear spouses who have been cheated on say in a voice of uncertainty in these frequent, unstable moments, “Am I going crazy?
But trust me, I want to comfort you if you are going through this traumatic experience — you are not crazy. You can rest assured that what you are experiencing is a normal emotional response to an intensely traumatic, grieving experience. You are grieving not only from the loss of the integrity you perceived you once had with your spouse and in your relationship but also from the loss of how special you thought you were to your spouse and the belief you held that the intimacy you have shared with your spouse would last a lifetime. In the face of such devastating news, it would be abnormal if you didn’t feel a sense of deep grief over such loss. Many husbands and wives who have discovered that they have been cheated on by their spouse have told me it feels like a “fate worse than death. Many marital experts and researchers say that it normally takes two or three years to work through the traumatic aftermath of a physical or emotional affair.
After sixteen years of marriage, Lori shared with me tearfully what had happened. She had discovered inappropriate texts to and from another woman on her husband’s phone. After repeatedly confronting him and hearing denials, lies, and deceptions, her husband, Robert finally admitted that he had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with this woman for the past thirteen months. He said that what had once started as a mere innocent friendship had crossed the line and had become an emotional affair with a next-door neighbor, a “so-called a “friend” of theirs whom they had hung out with for years.
Lori said, “From the day I discovered Robert was cheating on me I went from a person who was capable, independent, and energetic, to a total basket case — burdened down with depression, unable to sleep but a few hours each night. I withdrew from friends, and many of my activities and almost became a hermit. She said, ” Several months after Robert and I had gotten back together, I was still struggling with depression two years later. Then one weekend I learned in a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Workshop that someone under extreme emotional stress is likely to withdraw from life and themselves. It clicked in my mind: that’s what it is. My depression and fatalism had a name. I wasn’t going crazy, what I was going through was normal. If only I had known earlier, I might have felt less alone and perhaps opened up sooner to the possibility of a better future. If only someone would have helped me understand what happens, that would have been a supreme act of kindness.”
While this may well be one of the hardest things you will ever go through, the good news is there is help and there is hope. In my experience of working with couples where there has been an affair, approximately three of four of those marriages have survived the affair. Most of those have not only survived, but because of the effort they put into their relationship, they thrived as a couple after healing from the affair. Of marriages that don’t survive, I guess that far too many swept the affair under the rug and never really dealt with it…a big mistake that will come back to haunt any couple who fails to do the crucial work of processing, healing, reconnecting and re-building after an affair – a mistake you don’t want to make.
Let me share with you four important truths that you and your spouse need to know right now:
- Truth #1: You can heal.
- Truth #2: You can trust again.
- Truth #3: You can love again.
- Truth #4: You can have a healthier, happier relationship with a new level of honesty and trust that you both will cherish for a lifetime.
I realize those words may seem difficult to believe, especially if you’ve just recently discovered the infidelity of your spouse. The shock and pain can be so debilitating that you may not feel any hope for your marriage right now. Maybe not just yet. But you need to know that marriages really can heal from an affair. As terrible as adultery is, it is forgivable. You’re probably not in a position to forgive just yet. But it is possible for your spouse to be truly sorrowful and repentant and to change, and it is possible for you to truly forgive.
You may be thinking, “But I’ll never be able to trust him or her again.” That’s a completely understandable reaction to the trauma of adultery, and perfectly normal for you to feel that way because trust, the very foundation of your relationship has been broken. Nevertheless, with some guidance and understanding, you can heal, you can love again, and you can trust again.
But trust me, you can have a happier, healthier relationship that you both will cherish for a lifetime. It will take some time and hard work, but we know it’s possible because we’ve been there with hundreds of couples and walked with them each step of the way through it! Healing your relationship and surviving…even thriving after an affair is possible.
Perhaps you’re sitting there reading these words but wondering if they could be true. I can understand your pain and how you might feel that way. In the early stages of recovering from an affair, most couples don’t know if healing can be accomplished, or much less, how to go about it. The first two or three months will be very hard for both of you. But it does get better. Please, allow me to offer you some suggestions as to how to begin.
Browse Our Website
Learning about infidelity and extramarital affairs puts you in a better position to cope with and navigate the challenges ahead. There’s a lot of good information and suggested resources to help you navigate the healing process. We have some excellent “FREE” resources in several other articles that address the healing process, and other key issues couples face.
Also, we have a dedicated prayer team of couples who have been through our program and will pray for you. Just email us:
Pray4Us@Earthlink.net and we’ll add your first names to our prayer list. Our prayer team will pray specifically for you and your marriage over the next 90 days (or longer if you request).
Find Out About the Healing Process
The truth is that not all counselors and experts go about the healing process, in the same way, so you’ll likely find that there are differing opinions on how to walk through your healing process. We’ve been working with couples for over 25 years and what we’ve discovered is that there are several requirements in our opinion for whatever healing path you choose.
First, the experience needs to be led by experienced counsel who has worked and been successful in helping lots of husbands and wives through the process. They need to be counselors who are spiritually grounded in God’s truth and they need to lead you through a spiritually, biblically based program.
Secondly, it needs to work for “both” of you. Both of you are in crisis and have individual needs and concerns that need to be addressed. You want your choices to be the healthiest for your marriage, so again, educate yourself. There’s a lot of information available about recovering from an affair.
Adultery is considered by all marital experts to be perhaps the most difficult marriage issue to resolve. That doesn’t mean impossible – it just means that it is a biggie. Therefore, most of us need help and guidance from someone acquainted with the terrain, someone who can give us the godly counsel and guidance we need along the way. What is needed is not a “your spouse has been unfaithful – get out” mentality. Neither is a judgmental, condemnation attitude helpful. Yes, infidelity is a sin and sure God stands against all sinful behavior. After all, God is the One who created you and your spouse and ordained your marriage as a covenant. And He cares for both of you. What’s needed most is compassion and understanding, not condemnation. That there has been a betrayal is obvious. How to repair and rebuild the marriage is not.
God understands we are all fallen people, that we live in a fallen world: that we stumble and fall, and yet He has a way to restore us and our marriage when we do. That’s why I believe it’s so important to seek a distinctively Christian counselor to guide you and help you get through the recovery process. Professional, Pastoral, and Biblical Christian marriage counseling is something we highly recommend. But we also know that wise, Biblical characterized by truth and grace can sometimes be difficult to obtain. We have a network available to those who seek help through our Christian Marriage Renewal Weekend, as well as some suggestions about how to find a good Christian counselor (see our article Article section – How a Christian Marriage Counselor Can Help.)
You Do Not Have To be Alone On This Journey
We believe… we know, there is help for you in the body of Christ and we are here for you. Disgression in whom we talk to about these kinds of sensitive matters is wise. What’s needed In this virtual, technological age we live in, distance doesn’t have to prevent you from getting the help you need. Mose importantly, we know that the God of all creation, the God of all hope and restoration loves you and if you reach out you will find His grace is sufficient for even this. He has the power to offer you and your spouse a new beginning, a new life…and a new life for your marriage if you will put your trust in Him. Don’t make the tragic mistake of letting guilt, pride, or shame keep you from reaching out and letting others help you in your time of need. Sometimes we need others to listen, pray and be the hands of God who are reaching out to us. He is there even when it doesn’t feel like it. Scripture tells us, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18).
Understand the Difficult Emotions You Will be Dealing With
The first thing you feel when you first discover that your spouse is having or has had an affair, whether a physical or emotional affair, is shocking. Most people describe the experience as being “Devastating.” You may feel overwhelmed and surprised at the variety and intensity of emotions you feel. This is a normal response to such a traumatic experience in your life. The frequent and extreme emotional swings typically experienced during this time can cause you to feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster, and include such feelings as:
Understanding, accepting, and expressing your feelings is crucial to recovery. Since the intensity of these feelings can be so overwhelming and painful, most people want to hurry the process and get past it as soon as possible. But recovery cannot and should not be rushed. It will take some time, but time alone cannot heal. It will also take understanding, support, prayer, and perseverance.
Steps That Both Spouses Can Take to Recover From An Affair
Although every relationship is different, these steps are crucial to help restore a broken marriage:
1. First, the affair must end. This includes all interaction and communication with the lover. Commit to your spouse to never see or talk to the lover again. Block potential communication with the lover (change the e-mail address and telephone, cell phone, and pager numbers. Change jobs and relocate if necessary. True reinvestment of yourself in your marriage can’t happen without this.
2. See a marriage counselor immediately. This is a marital emergency. Find a Christian marriage counselor who will help you restore your marriage. Seek help from a Pastor or a Marriage Counselor who is experienced in dealing with infidelity. Avoid counselors and therapists who see an affair as the end of the marriage.
3. Determine your shared goal. It may take some time to sort out what’s happened and make the decision to move forward and work on healing your relationship. If and when you both agree that you want to mend your marriage, express that desire to each other. If you both agree on the goal of reconciliation, it is important to know that restoring the marriage will take time, energy, and commitment.
4. Accept responsibility and be accountable. If you are the wayward spouse who had the affair, accept responsibility for your actions, whether it was an emotional or physical affair. If you are a wayward spouse, you should be prepared to have patience, answer questions, and make a complete confession. That will be difficult and wearisome. But a vital part of healing your relationship and restoring trust is being willing to be patient and tell the truth. Your betrayed spouse needs to hear openly and honestly what happened, and to be able to ask questions – no matter how difficult talking or hearing about this may be. A betrayed spouse needs to know the extent of the relationship. For example, was it an emotional attachment, or was there sexual intimacy involved?
5. Talk about it. You both are adjusting to this new reality. Again, understand that you may need the help and objectivity of a marriage counselor to work through the events of the crisis and talk constructively about it. If you are the betrayed spouse, once the initial shock is over, you may likely need to talk to your spouse several times about what happened. This is normal for a spouse who has experienced betrayal. It’s only normal for anyone who has experienced betrayal by their spouse to need to try and make sense of a world that was not what it seemed.
The betrayed spouse, having been deeply hurt, will likely need to process his or her feelings by discussing what happened and asking questions, sometimes repeatedly, about the affair. An important part of your healing is for you to be able to express your hurt, hear a trusted friend or, counselor, and sometimes your spouse to validate your feelings, grieve with you, and comfort you. Talking about the facts and feelings associated with the affair may need to be done repeatedly to adequately address your painful feelings. This can help diffuse the pain, anger, and fear. This is usually a very difficult part of the process for both spouses, but most often a very necessary part of the recovery process so that the betrayed spouse can more readily be able to move toward acceptance, forgiveness, and recovery.
Asking questions- at least some questions can be a positive thing. There are some good reasons to ask questions. One good reason you should ask questions is so that there will be no hidden issues that could emerge later in a hurtful way, or that that could later emerge and become a source of shame, guilt, or bitterness in your marriage. In asking questions, it can be helpful to first ask yourself, “What’s the point of my question?”
For full restoration to take place in your marriage, you as the betrayed spouse do need to gain a complete accounting of the affair so that you understand how you have been sinned against. Only then will your forgiveness be complete. But in the process of discovery, keep in mind that regardless of how many questions you may ask, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to fully understand everything about what happened that has turned your world upside down.
Understand too that there are some potentially bad reasons for asking questions. Sometimes after a traumatic event, we tend to think that if we had enough information we could make sense of it all, reduce our pain, feel more secure and in control and keep ourselves from being hurt that way again. But of course, gaining complete, detailed knowledge of your spouse’s sin will not bring all the pieces of the puzzle together. Having all the vivid details you can obtain will likely never enable you to make complete sense of the terrible trauma that has befallen you. Neither will it protect you, nor make you feel safe, secure, and protected again.
My suggestion to the betrayed spouse is that you ask general questions but don’t get into vivid details. Getting the general facts is important. However, particularly if it was a physical affair, sharing information about sexual details is not advisable but in fact, can be destructive. There are certain images that you do not want to be planted in your mind. Instead of trying to get all your questions answered, it can be much more helpful to you if you turn to God in prayer, put your situation in His hands, “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
6. Identify the issues. Infidelity often reveals underlying problems in your marriage. Examine your relationship to understand what has contributed to the affair. Seek to understand what each of you needs to do to prevent it from happening again. If you were the spouse who was betrayed, consider the role you may have played in your spouse’s unhappiness and reasons for straying.
7. Give it time. If you were the one betrayed, you should have the freedom to set the timetable for recovery. Often the unfaithful person is anxious to “put all of this behind us” to help cope with his or her guilt. Allow each other enough time to understand and heal. I’ve seen estimates that it takes two years to process all the issues.
8. Forgive. For many people, this is the hardest part of recovering from an affair. Forgiveness isn’t likely to come quickly or easily – it may be a long process. But if you’re committed to your partner and your marriage, forgiveness tends to become easier over time. But forgiveness is not trusting.
9. Restore trust. The first step in rebuilding trust is confession and forgiveness. and it doesn’t just suddenly return automatically after the betraying spouse confesses and forgiveness is granted. Trust is something that must be earned and rebuilt, and can only begin after a confession has been made and forgiveness granted. Rebuilding trust requires a decision on the part of both spouses. Then both parties need to make a serious commitment to rebuilding the marriage. The party that was unfaithful needs to take bold initiatives to demonstrate through actions, “I am committed to you.” “You are safe with me.” Go to counseling together to help visibly confirm your commitment to the restoration process. Be transparent and talk openly about concerns to prevent secrecy from continuing to erode your relationship. Offer to have your cell phone, voice messages, and email monitored by your spouse.
10. Recommit rebuilding a better future- an even better, open, real relationship than what you had before. What you’re going through is emotionally devastating. But know that a crisis like this often makes people and marriages stronger than ever before. Several years later after I had helped a couple recover from an affair, the wife wrote me and said, “My husband’s affair turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.” She went on to say how it had also been the hardest thing she had ever endured, and for a while, she wondered whether or not she’d be able to get through it. But the point is they did more than just recover. They rebuilt their marriage. So can you.