Relationship advice and tips: Saving a marriage after an affair or infidelity
There can be no doubt that marital infidelity is among the worst offenses one spouse can inflict upon the other. Having sexual relations outside of the marriage goes against the very vows taken in front of friends, family and oftentimes even God. ‘Forsaking all others’ is not ambiguously or vaguely constructed- it binds two people to a promise of fidelity to each other for the duration of the marriage. Couples contemplating marriage are usually well-aware that a monogamous lifestyle is part and parcel of the marital vows.
But sometimes even the best of people make tragic errors in judgment and the results can be equally as tragic. Vowing to remain physically and emotionally faithful to one person for life does not automatically remove the temptations and desires all humans carry within themselves. A married man may see an attractive woman across the table in a business meeting, for example, but fully realize he cannot pursue anything other than a platonic relationship with her. A married woman may fantasize about the handsome new neighbor, but stop short of pursuing anything other than a cordial acquaintance. Married couples face temptations every day, but usually the power of their relationship keeps these temptations at bay. Sometimes the realization of how much damage one could cause his or her spouse is the only thing standing between fidelity and infidelity.
Unfortunately for this article, we must now assume the very worst has already happened- a spouse has definitely succumbed to temptation and has had an affair. A suspicion may have been confirmed, or this confession may have come completely out of the blue. A spouse may have confessed voluntarily or an outsider (or the other person) may have confronted someone with the news. No matter how it came about, a marriage is now at a crisis point with separation and divorce looming large on the horizon. What can a couple do to save their marriage after the revelation of an affair?
First of all, this is no time for heroics on either side. Neither one of you is strong enough to rescue this marriage on your own. If ever there was a time for professional marriage counseling, this is it. Trained counselors know how to bring couples together in a non-confrontational environment, which is vitally important immediately after the shock of an affair. Both sides can also benefit from individual counseling sessions, free from the fear of hurting their spouse even more than they already have. Injured spouses can address their feelings of anger and betrayal without escalating into yet another destructive argument. This isn’t possible at all without the structure provided by PROFESSIONAL counselors, not just well-intentioned friends or family.
Never forget how painful this news can be. If you are the one who committed the infidelity, consider yourself lucky to be having ANY conversation with your spouse, let alone a constructive one. This is not the time to allow pride or a general reluctance to counseling to interfere with the healing process. Your other options besides reconciliation are very real- separation and divorce. In light of those permanent and painful solutions, a little counseling and honesty should seem reasonable. There is a lot of truth to the idea of ‘forgiving but not forgetting.’ Your spouse is not going to forget seeing you in the arms of another or the night you confessed or an anonymous phone call. What matters more is the active art of forgiveness, and it won’t work without both partners rowing in the same direction.
Another important element of recovering from an affair is time. Immediately after the revelation, it may seem like the entire world is about to collapse on you. Right is left and light is dark. Decisions are being made based on reflex and hurt feelings, not the usual way of handling marital conflict. You’re not arguing over the checkbook or whose turn it is to take out the garbage- you’re suddenly struggling to regain the most basic sense of trust and commitment. This just isn’t going to happen in a matter of weeks or even months. As time goes by, however, much of the initial pain should subside as well. The affair and its fallout may become the 400 pound gorilla in the living room, but at least you can talk about it without falling apart emotionally. Counseling sessions can do wonders for restoring trust, but it’s only through doing the routine things that a sense of normalcy can develop. The affair was a horrible thing to experience, but you may find comfort in doing those activities which don’t involve revisiting it. Couples in crisis can still be actively involved in church functions or civic groups together. Children may still need their parents to help celebrate birthdays or participate in school functions. Extended families may still want to enjoy a couple’s company even when times seem dark. If healing your marriage is a definite goal, you may have to balance dealing with that one issue against the obligations all married couples may have. If at all possible, make an effort to leave what happens in counseling between yourselves and allow yourselves to be truly happy in the nuts-and-bolts of married life.
No one has ever claimed that surviving news of an affair is going to be easy. Forgiving an unfaithful spouse is one of the hardest things anyone could expect of you. But you can find comfort in the fact that many couples have faced similar crises in the past and have gone on to enjoy stronger marriages. Infidelity is a violation of some very important core values- trust, respect, commitment, etc., but is not the worst thing many couples may face. Your spouse could have pursued a outside relationship and never returned or confessed. The fact that your partner confessed a weakness and sought your forgiveness demonstrates a willingness to make amends. Some spouses never get that opportunity- all they receive is a letter or an empty closet. A marriage could also suffer from mental cruelty or physical abuse, which is often harder to forgive or reconcile than a one-time affair. While an affair is never a completely forgettable offense, your marriage can still survive with time and counseling. Physical or mental cruelty may lead to an even more unfortunate conclusion, so it pays to keep things in perspective while sorting out the aftermath of a marital affair.