Rebuilding Trust in a Marriage

This article is taken directly from my book,
My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me
© Copyright 2004 Anne Bercht. All rights reserved.

REBUILDING TRUST IN A MARRIAGE AFTER AN AFFAIR

For months [after the affair was revealed] I asked questions, I became obsessive about things, I misunderstood things, I cried and I argued. It was not easy for [my husband] Brian. Yet he hung in there. This proved his incredible love for me. This worked he did; this price he paid for me, helped me to trust him again.

The levels of trust we have in people can be likened to a bank account, a trust bank account. There are separate accounts, how much I trust you and how much you trust me. Usually when we meet people we start with a zero balance. (People who have been hurt before may start you with a deficit account, because they have already learned not to trust.)

When people do nice things for us, are thoughtful, share their secrets, keep their word and are faithful — they make deposits into the account. When people break their promises, hurt us, tell lies or do other things which lack integrity, they make withdrawals.

For eighteen years, Brian had been making ongoing deposits into his trust bank account with me, and very few withdrawals. So before the affair he was a very rich man as far as his trust account with me was concerned. The night he told me of his affair, he instantly plummeted into a huge debt. And two nights later, when he told me our wedding vows didn’t count anymore (that was then and this is now), he owed me thousands of trust dollars and teetered on bankruptcy. I almost closed the account permanently.

From that point forward every time he disclosed the truth, he made a deposit. Acts of kindness, quality time, explanations and answers to questions, holding my hand, and kept promises were all deposits. Dishonesty, unkindness and especially withholding information became withdrawals, something he could no longer afford.

Through sincerity (including breaking all ties with Helen) trust climbed perhaps thirty percent. Through ability (discussing the affair, answering questions and proven behavior) trust continued to climb.

At this point in our healing, I had probably gained abut forty percent of my trust with Brian. His account with me was still not out of the red.
We had to be willing to face our problems rather than burying them, or pretending they would just go away with time. We faced our situation head on and we dealt with it, although it was far from easy.

The whole thing was so painful and uncomfortable for both of us. We would have welcomed an instant formula for recovery, but there is no such thing. There was no rushing it. It took time. We were both committed to honesty and to investing the time and energy necessary to deal with all of the ramifications of the affair. We actively worked on it together pursuing a better relationship.

Both of us decided we would not settle for a mediocre marriage. Either we were going to have a great marriage or no marriage at all. The worst relationships are not the ones where couples are fighting. At least then there is action, communication and emotion. The worst relationships are the lukewarm ones. You’re okay, but you are not my favorite. There’s nothing wrong with you, but there’s nothing special about you either. You’re just okay. Now that would be a true nightmare. We agreed we loved each other too much to settle for that level of mediocrity in our marriage.

We both viewed our crisis as an opportunity to “get it right” – something we hadn’t done in the beginning when we had been functioning to some degree out of a blind trust and just assumed that we were going to be okay because we loved each other through thick and thin. These things alone were not enough to guarantee the monogamy of our marriage. What we didn’t know did hurt us.
Another major hurdle we had to overcome was that of re-establishing trust with our children.
Dustin and Tamara were able to accept their father and forgive him quite quickly, through the quality time Brian spent with them, and our willingness to be open with them in answering their questions.

I could see that Dustin and Tamara were watching me. When I was insecure, they sensed it and were insecure as well. As I healed, they sensed my healing and I could tell this put them at ease. These teens were smart and perceptive. I could not pull the wool down over their eyes.
When I was having a bad day, I didn’t lie about it or pretend otherwise. At the same time, I was careful not to fall into the trap of role reversal. I didn’t allow my children to be my counselors.
Healing our relationship with our strong-willed oldest child was a different story. Perhaps Danielle had been affected more simply because she was older, and understood more thoroughly what was going on.

She had lost respect for her dad and still refused to listen to him. If he asked her to do anything or tried to place a restriction of any sort on her, she disobeyed it.

It was a high and painful price Brian paid for his actions. We came to a place where, if Brian wanted Danielle to do something, he asked me to talk to her. She complied with my requests, but not his. So in this respect, I was paying the price for the affair too. I needed Brian’s help in this huge task of parenting teens. For months, I had to do the parenting alone. Danielle simply wouldn’t listen to her dad.

I tried on several occasions to talk to Danielle about respecting her father and forgiving him. I explained that if I had forgiven him, she could do the same, that we all make mistakes sometimes and need to be forgiven, that her father had done everything he could to earn back our trust and respect and that we could not hold this against him forever, but it was all to avail.

Then one day I finally had my chance. It was two years after the affair, and she herself had really screwed up (as we all sometimes do). She had taken our van out one evening, and had fallen asleep wherever she was. When Brian had gotten up to leave for work the next morning, she was not even home. We had tried to contact her, but were unable to and eventually Brian had to rent a vehicle to get to work. When she came home at eleven o’clock in the morning she was overcome with remorse. She wept bitterly.

“Mom, I’m such a screw up of a daughter. I’m screwing up my whole life. I try to do the right things, but I keep doing the wrong things. I’ve done so many bad things, how can you even stand me? I’m not good enough to be your daughter. I’m not good enough to love.” (Do you see the generational pattern?) Instantly, I recognized my window of opportunity.

“Danielle, what you need in your life right now is a complete do-over. You need all of your past to be wiped clean, as if it never happened. And I want you to know that you can have that. I see you are truly sorry. I see that it will be too difficult for you if I forever hold all your teenage mistakes against you. You can never go back and undo the things you’ve done. What you need right now is for your past mistakes to be erased, as though they had never happened. And I want you to know, I can do that for you. I’m willing to give you a completely clean slate and never mention your wrongs again.”

“Oh Mom, it’s impossible. How can you ever do that?” “I can do it. All you have to do is ask.” I explained to her some of the basic principles of forgiveness. “Oh, Mom, will you? Can you?” “Absolutely, I promise if you want you can start completely over with Dad and me from this moment forward. I promise never to bring up any of your past mistakes again. It will be just as though they never happened.”

“Oh Mom, yes please, I want that,” she said, a glimmer of hope returning to her eyes as the tears began to subside. “Okay, I will give you a clean slate; I just ask one thing of you.” She looked at me questioningly.

“You have to forgive your father. What is good for one is good for another. Your father also screwed up big time, but he is also sorry. He can never go back and undo what he has done. He, too, needs a clean slate. Sure it was painful what he did, but if I can forgive him, you can too. We can never have a happy family if we go around harboring unforgiveness in our hearts. You can be forgiven, but you must be willing to forgive.”

I could see that my words were penetrating. I could see that she understood. I held her close in my arms for a long time, and from that point forward her relationship with her father was restored.
We gave her the clean slate we promised. From this point forward, we consciously thought only of the sweet beautiful girl that she was inside her heart, and not of the unacceptable behavior we had witnessed in the past, her way of dealing with her pain. It was the miracle of healing a broken heart, the miracle of forgiveness.

© Copyright 2004 Anne Bercht. All rights reserved.

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