What if I Can't Forgive?
Dear Dr. Bill: I've heard you talking about forgiveness on this program and I wonder if you can help me. I'm having trouble forgiving my husband for his adultery. I discovered the truth back in February and kicked him out of the house. Now he wants to reconcile but how can I stay married without losing my self-respect? Maybe I can forgive my husband, but I don't think I can love him like before. And if I divorce him and lose my house, it would feel like I was being punished for something I didn't do. What do you think?
Kendra, I'm very sorry to hear about your husband's affair. I'm sure the past 10 months have been very difficult for you, and that you've experienced feelings of shock, anger, sadness, and betrayal.
If your husband is truly repentant, I believe you should give reconciliation a chance. You may find it hard to believe, but many couples whose marriages were devastated by adultery have been able to put the pieces back together and go on to have a fulfilling, loving relationship again.
Every one of those couples will tell you the process involved a lot of hard work, and that the feelings of love didn't return overnight. But some would tell you that their marriage is healthier now than it was prior to the affair.
If you are willing to at least consider reconciliation, I'd encourage you to find a Christian therapist who is experienced in working with marriages impacted by adultery. Our Focus on the Family counseling department may be able to help you locate a therapist in your area.
Also, let me recommend an excellent book that I know you'll find helpful. It's titled Unfaithful: Rebuilding Trust After Infidelity. The authors are Gary and Mona Shriver, a couple whose own marriage survived an affair. We recently aired their story on the Focus on the Family daily broadcast.
How Do I Restore My Relationships?
Dear Dr. Bill: Several years ago, my marriage was struggling and as a result, I became involved with another woman. The affair cost me five years of my marriage, five years of watching my children grow, and about five years of my life. Thankfully, my wife has chosen to forgive me and we are back together. But what I'd like to know is this: How can I rebuild the relationship with my wife and with my children to what it was before?
I appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to share this very difficult issue. First of all, I need to commend your wife for the strength and courage she has demonstrated in forgiving you. Many spouses who have been cheated on are never able to forgive their husband or wife.
From your e-mail, it sounds like you are truly repentant and have renewed your commitment to your wife. So you've already taken the first step toward healing.
It's also important for you to understand that when a violation like an affair has occurred, it often takes a long time for trust to be rebuilt, both for the spouse and for the children. You can take specific actions to help re-build trust, such as joining a men's accountability group at your church. You'll need to find a group of men with whom you can be completely open and transparent, and who will be willing to hold you accountable to your commitment to your wife and kids.
You also need to understand that your family may still harbor feelings of anger toward you for what you did. It's important that you not get defensive when they are angry with you or bring up the past. The fact is that you messed up and now you need to be willing to accept the consequences.
Most importantly, you, your wife, and your kids need to commit to family counseling. First, you and your wife need to work through those things in your marriage that caused the conflict in the first place. Basically you need to perform an "autopsy" on what died in the relationship and led to the affair. If you don't, unresolved issues in your relationship will surface again. After you've dealt with the marital issues, it's critical that your kids join you in the counseling process. They've got a lot of emotional baggage to unpack, and that needs to be done with a Christian family therapist. I want to urge you to call the Focus on the Family counseling department. You can speak to one of our caring counselors who will then refer you to a licensed therapist in your area.
By the way, a great book that will help you and your wife is called Torn Asunder: Recovering From Extra-Marital Affairs by the Rev. Dave Carder.