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You may be asking yourself, How in the world did I get here? or thinking, I didn’t see this coming. Or, maybe you had reached such a place of disconnect with your spouse that in your pain you sought comfort outside your marriage. Regardless of what led you down the road to infidelity, at some point there comes the wake-up call that demands you acknowledge what has happened and the utter devastation of your choices. If you are digging yourself out of the enormity of an affair, as Josh did, and you now desire to fight for your marriage, this article is for you.
The day came when Josh had to come face-to-face with the destruction his choices had led to. Not only for him personally, but for his marriage and his children. Once Amy had pieced the deception and lies together, she confronted him. After running from the truth and into the fantasy of his new life, Josh hit an all-time emotional low. After a year of what he thought was the answer to all of his personal and professional issues, Josh approached Amy with humility and enormous brokenness, pleading with her for at least a glimmer of hope to save their marriage. He knew the road wouldn’t be easy, but when faced with the reality of losing his best friend, the mother to his children and the dream of growing old together, Josh’s heart was broken with remorse.
If you desire to pursue healing in your marriage after being unfaithful to your husband or wife, here are some steps to consider:
End the affair completely. Stop all contact with the other person — including face-to-face meetings, text messages, phone calls, quick meetings, and especially any romantic or sexual contact. If the other person contacts you, report to your spouse before he or she asks you about it. This will begin to rebuild trust and complete honesty.
Take 100 percent responsibility for the affair. Although an affair usually indicates underlying issues within your marriage, you must take responsibility for your choices and actions. You betrayed your marriage vows — regardless of the issues at home. Although it would be easy to slide into the blame game, you need to own your choices and set all excuses aside.
Attempt to empathize with your spouse. Your husband or wife will have many emotional responses to your unfaithfulness. As you empathize with him or her, seek to understand what this has been like for the betrayed partner. This is not the time to demand that your spouse own his or her imperfections or faults. Right now you must help establish your commitment and fidelity to the marriage relationship. Being empathetic can lead you to ultimately seek true heartfelt forgiveness. Some marriage experts contend that the No. 1 indicator of whether a marriage will survive an affair is the ability of the unfaithful spouse to show empathy with the betrayed spouse when he or she is emotional about the pain caused by the affair.
Although you will likely want to defend yourself or fight back, it’s essential that you do everything you can to be empathetic and understanding of your spouse. Try to validate his or her pain, showing compassion and tenderness; understanding that your choices have caused the turmoil your spouse is experiencing. Although it may be difficult, allow your husband or wife as much time as is needed to process these deep emotions, consistently responding to him or her with honesty and regret.
Recommit to your husband or wife. This kind of commitment can be expressed by clarifying that you are all in and will do whatever it takes to fight for your relationship. Your spouse’s level of trust with you has been deeply impacted, even lost, and rebuilding it will take time. The proactive steps you take now will be vital to his or her recovery.
Be completely honest and transparent with your spouse. Although answering questions with complete honesty and openness seems counter-intuitive, it is an essential part of rebuilding trust with your spouse. Tell the whole truth about the affair, honestly explaining how it transpired and then how you have ended it. These are important pieces of information if your spouse is going to understand the timeline of the affair. Your husband or wife should feel confident that you have no secrets about life — in social media, phone records, text messages and in all information pertaining to your whereabouts. Allow your spouse to ask questions and inquire about the details of your life. Transparency will help in the healing process.
Be careful to protect your spouse from details that will bring images to his or her mind. Although a commitment to complete honesty is critical, too many sexual details will give your spouse images he or she doesn’t need to experience. Having a counselor walk you through this process is often helpful so you can determine what is useful information and what might be hurtful in the long run.
Seek help with the healing of your own heart. You will also be experiencing enormous amounts of emotion — feelings such as shame, guilt and unworthiness. Because a healthy marriage is made of two healthy individuals, getting outside help will be beneficial for you as an individual and for the health of your marriage relationship.
Express gratitude to your spouse. He or she is choosing to fight for your marriage relationship in spite of the choices you have made. This truly is an act of sacrificial love. Make sure to let your husband or wife know how thankful you are.
Although the shock waves of an affair will be felt within your relationship for many, many months or years, it is possible to rebuild a marriage that is good — even great. Amy and Josh can attest to this fact. They describe the difficult road they walked to recovery as being well worth the gift they have today within their marriage and their family. Remember, right now is the time to choose what kind of legacy you will hand down to your children and their children.
It is a powerful thing to see our gracious heavenly Father heal a devastated marriage relationship. Isaiah 43:19 declares, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
If you are willing, the Lord is able to do a “new thing” in your marriage; He can even make a way in your wilderness and create rivers in your desert.
Dr. Greg Smalley is the vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.