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There may be nothing so devastating to a marriage as infidelity. The eradicated trust, the deep wounds of betrayal, and the feelings of shame create a perfect storm, wreaking havoc from which many never come back. If this is your current situation, know that through the pain there is hope.
Some couples recover, rebuild, and are stronger and happier than ever after an affair. It may seem impossible now, but there is healing on the other side of this… if that's what you both want.
Based on years of research and my experience as a licensed marriage counselor, these 5 steps are crucial if your are to heal your home, hearts, and lives.
STEP 1: SEEK COUNSELING
A well-trained, compassionate, tough therapist will be necessary, more than in any other marriage situation, to navigate the complex landmine of heartbreak and anger, push for accountability, help with empathy when one partner doesn't have it for the other, and guide you to a place of trust, hope, and healing.
STEP 2: THE AFFAIR HAS TO BE OVER
An affair is any relationship with a potential romantic competitor which crosses boundaries that ought to be reserved for the marriage relationship. In this sense, there is a spectrum of behaviors that might be considered an “affair,” from as an emotional confidant to keeping secrets to “sexting” to actual physical intimacy.
If you're going to rebuild your marriage, that entire other relationship has to be broken off. There's no “toe in the pool” and no “we can still be friends.” If your spouse wants to send one final brief communication along the lines of “I need to save my marriage, so this will be the last time we communicate. Please do not contact me. I'm blocking your number” (or email, or social media, or all of the above), they may do so if you agree to it (you certainly don't have to) and if they do it under your supervision. No long goodbyes.
If you're spouse is unwilling to break off communication with the other man or woman, that may be all the answer you need to know.
STEP 3: YOUR SPOUSE TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY
It takes two to create most marriage struggles, but in the case of infidelity, the affair itself was the choice of just one of you. Whatever issues you had in your relationship, there were other ways to handle it.
While you can both be responsible for marital hardship, the partner who had an affair needs to own that choice, 100%, without trying to pass the blame for their actions. Again, a good counselor can help with this.
A professor of mine once said, about a couple in your situation, “Until his remorse equals the pain he's caused her, she can't ‘get over it.' If his remorse doesn't equal her pain, she'll worry that he's not taking this seriously and cannot trust that he won't do it again.”
The spouse who had the affair needs to apologize, sincerely and completely. How many times? As many as it takes. Being fully responsible means sacrificing privacy, being totally honest and transparent, and being committed to understanding how this happened so that it will not happen again. It also means living with the guilt of breaking a spouse's heart and striving every day to make that right.
STEP 4: YOU'LL NEED A FORGIVING HEART
Let's be clear: forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. You should forgive your spouse. Whether or not you stay together, carrying hurt, anger, and bitterness inside of you will only hurt you. It's been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
That said, forgiveness is a process. It's a daily walk. It's an intentional push-back against the voice inside you screaming for revenge, for justice, for retribution. It takes time. Generally it's not a one-time thing.
Forgiveness can be freely given, but trust has to be earned. Your spouse has to be humble, accountable, transparent. They have to prove their trustworthiness to you. The hard part for you will be opening your heart to trusting them in time. It will still be a scary, vulnerable choice that you'll need to make. But it will be necessary if your marriage is to heal.
STEP 5: YOU'LL NEED TO FORTIFY YOUR MARRIAGE (AND YOURSELVES)
Clear boundaries. Improved communication. Elevated intimacy and connection. Understanding what went wrong and how to intervene and redirect far earlier. Rock-solid conflict resolution. Overcoming affair trauma and rekindling sexual desire. All of these, and more, will be necessary mileposts on the journey from devastating betrayal to secure, united married life.
In over a decade of marriage therapy work, I've seen countless couples in your situation. I've got the experience and I've done the research. I know how to help your marriage survive, recover, and thrive (if that's what you want). I know how to help you heal and move on (if that's what you want). Let me help you explore the next steps.
We've got a free class that you and your spouse need to see. “How to Heal from Infidelity” is designed to answer your most pressing questions and give you the tools to move forward. In this 60 minute live presentation, followed by an anonymous Q&A, we'll explore:
● What is betrayal trauma? How do individuals and marriages recover?
● How does betrayal trauma affect relationships?
● How do affairs happen?
● How can you keep them from happening ever again?
● Can trust be restored? How?
● Can your marriage ever be more than just “okay” after this? How?
Join us on for our free “How to Heal From Infidelity” class to get all your questions answered. RSVP here.
Schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation to get your questions answered, or book a 90-minute introductory session if you're ready to start healing.BOOK HERE.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.