Can you heal your relationship if your spouse is not remorseful?!

Question: My husband had an affair and we’re trying to work on our marriage as we both do not want to divorce. However, he is not remorseful. I think he needs to be on his knee’s asking forgiveness, but he is nowhere near that. Is this a marriage I should try and save? Can you heal your relationship if your spouse is not remorseful?

Answer: If you are still in the early stages of recovery, there is lots of hope for your marriage. Rarely are unfaithful spouse’s remorseful in the early stages of healing, but if you are more than a year beyond the disclosure date and your spouse is still not remorseful, you have reason to be concerned. Remorse is an essential ingredient in the full healing of a marriage. The question is when does it come.

Among many sad things in recovery from affairs is the fact that this process of healing a marriage is so unfair. Of course your unfaithful spouse needs to be remorseful, eventually … in order to heal your marriage, but most unfaithful spouses are not remorseful in the early stages of recovery. Nonetheless many, many of these marriages do heal. (Mine was one of these.)

The unfaithful spouse becomes remorseful through the honest journey of healing. Yes, by all means, two years after the affair, and your unfaithful spouse is not remorseful, then there’s minimal hope for having a quality marriage with this person, and you may decide that ending the marriage is the best option for you.

I remember, clearly, the night my own wonderful husband (not so wonderful then) came home from his affair, after moving out of our home for two weeks leaving me with the impression that our marriage had ended forever, and he was going to marry the other woman. Reading about this episode in its completeness in my book, “My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” is extremely helpful.

In short, he called one evening and asked if he could come home. I said yes. We went to bed together, sleeping a foot apart. No sex. I stared at the ceiling wondering what was going on, so I asked, “What are you doing here? Are you like HOME? Have you chosen me over her?” He responded by saying “Yah, I guess so” in a tone that made it sound like he really didn’t want to. I wondered, “What have I done? Do I even want this man? Where are the flowers? Where is the saying he was sorry? Where is the part where he gets on his knees and begs for my forgiveness?!!”

Well that part doesn’t come for a while, I learned. This fact is one among many things that are so incredibly unfair about healing from an affair. Fast-forward in your mind to a future that is possible for you, but that you probably can’t even imagine right now. A future where you are happier than you ever imagined possible before and fully getting your needs met in the marriage. If in the future you are living the life you always dreamed of, does it matter if parts of the journey were desperately unfair? Or is the most important thing that you got to the happiness? Life isn’t fair.

Inevitably, the unfaithful person has gotten something that felt good, out of the affair. It may not have been good. Usually it’s nothing more than the affair la-la land fantasy. Affairs impair your judgment and provide an escape much like the effect of drugs or alcohol. Something felt good in the affair or they wouldn’t’ have been there. Usually the person having the affair believes they are experiencing “love” in the affair, but it’s not real love.

One of the most commonly made statements to their spouse, by someone having an affair, is “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you.” They are not in love with their affair partners, because affairs are a fantasy, but they perceive that they are in love. Things would change in that relationship if the affair replaced the marriage. They are in love with the thrill of the affair, the “I’m in love” feeling has to do with the fact that it is an escape from reality. They aren’t doing real life together.

In 97% of relationships that begin as affairs, as soon as the affair becomes the primary relationship, the “in love” feeling disappears. Some of the appeal of the affair is the excitement of the secrecy, the feeling of doing something forbidden. What the person having an affair is really in love with is the FEELING they get from being with this other person, not the person. When they make a decision to come home to the marriage, the unfaithful spouse, goes through a period of grieving the loss of the positive feelings they had in the affair, and they perceive that they are grieving the loss of the other person. It takes about three months of no contact whatsoever with the 3rd party before the unfaithful spouse is able to think fully rationally again.

See: This article.

Even emails or text messages serve to keep the affair fantasy alive in their minds. Once a person has had an affair with someone, they can no longer be “just friends” with that person. The relationship has gone beyond that. In order for them to heal their marriages, it is imperative that they have NO relationship with their affair partners.

As they move beyond this loss of the affair-grieving period, slowly they will begin to re-engage fully in the marriage, and if they are a good person the remorsefulness will come. It’s important that you get good help to move forward from the affair, so that all these steps of healing can fall into place, and there is some accountability and guidelines so you can ensure you are on track.

Can you heal your relationship if your spouse is not remorseful? If you are in the early stages of recovery, no, your “good” spouse is probably not remorseful yet. You are going to need to give them time. If your unfaithful spouse never becomes remorseful for their behavior, then there may not be much hope of having the kind of love and trust together that are foundational to a healthy marriage.

©Copyright 2013 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.

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