How can we move forward in our marriage after going through a crisis of infidelity? A year and a half ago, I committed adultery. My spouse says he forgives me, but it's obvious that he still has a lot of anger. I'm doing everything I can to show him that I love him and that I'm repentant. I've asked God to forgive me, and I believe He has, but I want to feel that my spouse forgives me too. What can I do to help him stop dwelling on the past?
You're to be commended for confessing your fault and asking forgiveness of both God and your spouse. That took a great deal of humility and courage on your part. Without that necessary first step there can be no restoration of the relationship. But it's important to remember that it's only the first step. Nothing shakes up a marriage quite like an affair, and you can't expect to reverse the damage overnight. Your spouse is still reeling; he feels betrayed, and you have to allow him to work through the pain and anguish of that experience. It's easy to say that "time heals all wounds," but the fact is that very little healing can occur unless a paradigm shift has taken place at the heart of your marriage. Without that shift, you can become hopelessly trapped in an ongoing pattern of grief, anger, or depression.
You've made a hopeful beginning, and there's much you can do to keep moving in the right direction. At this stage in the game, you and your spouse need to work together to discover the distorted thought processes and root issues that led to your adultery in the first place. Many times these lie so deep that they actually pre-date the marriage. It usually takes two people to make a relationship more vulnerable to negative influences, and unless the causes of this vulnerability are identified and dealt with, you run a very real risk of falling into the same trap again at some point in the future. The fact that you've confessed and asked forgiveness in the present doesn't guarantee that you'll be equipped with healthier coping skills the next time trials or temptations arise.
Given the rawness of your wounds, it's unrealistic to suppose that you and your spouse can resolve these issues on your own. No one expects cardiac patients to perform surgery on themselves. In the same way, a marriage that has been through the devastation of infidelity needs the healing touch of a highly skilled third party – a trained professional therapist – if it's to survive. For this reason, we'd strongly suggest that you and your husband seek marital counseling together.
You have a number of options in this regard: for example, you can go to weekly sessions or to a one-time brief intensive therapy program which is three to ten days long. These can be life-changing and life-giving experiences. If your spouse is unwilling to join you, we'd recommend that you go ahead and begin the process by yourself.
If you need assistance locating a qualified therapist, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department. Our staff can provide you with a list of professional marriage and family specialists practicing in your area. They'd also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
In the meantime, we'd like to recommend that you get a copy of Dave Carder's book Torn Asunder and study it together. This resource is available through the ministry of Focus on the Family and can be ordered by calling our offices or visiting our Online Store.
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