Dear Anne - I am really struggling with healing a marriage after an affair. We seem to be up and down. I love him so much, and a part of me wants our marriage more than anything and wants to keep our family together. But then I think about the affair, the other woman, all the lies and the depth of his betrayal, and I get angry. I yell and scream at him. I throw things and call him every mean thing I can think of. I tell him to leave and that I want a divorce. Sometimes my husband is willing to discuss his affair with me. Other times he shuts down, gets mad, and is unwilling to be nice to me. Is there any hope for us?
Yes. There is lots of hope for your marriage. The question is how serious are you about healing a marriage after an affair?
Because healing a marriage after an affair is not a journey for wimps. Even if you aren’t strong when you start, if you take it one day at a time, and don’t give up, you will become strong along the way.
It takes … commitment to the process.
For most husbands and wives in those early days post-disclosure, it’s too big to fathom committing to the marriage, perhaps even unwise. The betrayed often feel ambivalent towards the marriage, doubtful that their unfaithful spouse is going to do the work, and can’t imagine how they could ever possibly forgive and move beyond. The unfaithful sometimes struggle with feelings of attachment for the other woman/other man, worries that they can never be forgiven, and wonders if they will ever be able to get through to their injured spouse about things they are hurting about. It’s a big mess.
What is a Key To Healing a Marriage after an Affair?
Imagine you are an Olympic athlete. Picture one of those 10-meter high diving competitions. The diver is about to complete a graceful acrobatic tumbling somersaulting, twisting, turning dive and land clean and smooth into the water. At least that’s the goal. This diver is going to start the dive with a backwards summersault. He stands heals hanging over the edge of the board, hands at his sides, eyes closed. The crowd looks on with anticipation. What is the athlete doing in this moment before he dives?
Imagine for a moment that his thoughts are: “I’m not sure if I can do this or not. I don’t know if this is going to work. I’m going to give it my best shot, but if it doesn’t feel like I’m going to make it then I’ll just pull out of the dive, give up and quit.” What are the chances that this athlete is going home with a gold medal? That’s right. Zero. The athlete who wins gold is one hundred percent committed to the process. So it is with you.
Healing your marriage after an affair is probably just as hard as competing in an Olympic event. In order to succeed you are going to have to learn some new skills. You are going to have to be willing to be honest with yourself, and then to be honest with your spouse. You are going to need to practice those new skills. You are going to need to be willing to challenge your own thinking and have it challenged by your spouse.
Newsflash! Whether you are the unfaithful or you are the betrayed, you are not 100 percent right about everything you are thinking. In fact we’ve learned that YOUR TRUTH is often YOUR ENEMY.
Healing your marriage after an affair is a tall order. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a rollercoaster. It has often been described as a 4 steps forward 2 steps back journey. THERE ARE GOING TO BE DAYS WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE QUITTING. There are going to be days when you may feel hopeless. There will be days when you feel like you or your spouse will never get beyond it. There may be days when you feel like kicking your spouse to the curb. My husband, Brian, described the journey like running a marathon. You think, “Will this race ever end?”
So it is with an athlete training for the Olympics. Do they feel like getting up at five am every morning to train … again? Do they feel like eating all the right foods all the time? Do they agree with or feel like taking the advice from their coach always? Do they win if they only do it on the days when they feel like it? Are there days when they think: This is too hard, what am I doing? I’ll never make it!
The answer is yes. The key is they are committed. They are committed to the process. They keep before their minds eye the prize that they desire. They do the right thing even when they don't feel like it. They honor the commitment they have made to themselves and to others.
“In a race, everyone runs but only one person gets first prize, so run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup. We do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow boxing or playing around. Like an athlete, I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to, otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27, The Living Bible
You cannot succeed at anything great in life with a half-hearted commitment. Wimps don’t win. So it is with you. It’s going to take commitment to the process. You will not succeed if you are running your healing journey according to your feelings.
In many cases it would be unwise to commit to the marriage too soon. Having personally experienced an affair in my marriage, I would never tell another husband or wife, “You should stay in your marriage.” What we do instead at Passionate Life Seminars is help you discover what you really want, and then help you get there. For most (not all) that is a happy, healed and fulfilling marriage on the other side of the pain. It does take both spouses being willing to do the work to get to fulfilled and healed.
In an Olympic race there is only one gold medal winner. In healing from affairs, every marriage can win if they are willing to commit to the journey, follow the roadmap, and use the tools. It’s important to be doing the right work. If you aren’t succeeding either you don’t have the right map or tools, or you are too busy trying to change your spouse, and not working on changing yourself. In 90% of marriages, if one spouse changes appropriately and stops engaging the dysfunction, the other spouse will respond by making the right changes too. We need to focus on what we can control, changing ourselves.
So if it’s too soon to commit to the marriage, what exactly should you be committing to? You are committing to the healing process for a period of time.
When we work with clients we require a 4-month minimum commitment. This is because it takes at least four months to see significant change/results. We commit to the to the couple and they commit to each other and to us, that during the agreed time period, they will engage fully in the process, they will complete all the exercises, be present for the agreed program, do all the “homework” assignments, and the “divorce” word is off the table. There is no giving up, quitting, separating, throwing each other out, or threats during the specific time period to which you commit.
The betrayed makes it safe for the unfaithful to tell the truth, and the unfaithful tells the truth.
If you think healing is just going to happen, you’re mistaken. Both spouses need to commit to the process and together they both do the work and make it happen.
They grow up. They mature. They listen. They engage. They resist the futile exercise of thinking, “if only my spouse would do this or that.” Instead they focus on the part they can control … themselves.
Commitment is one of the 12 secrets those that experience a loving, passionate, fulfilling, lifelong monogamous marriage choose to live by. There is not a married person on the planet who hasn’t at least once woken up beside their spouse and wondered, “What have I done in marrying this person?” You don’t give up because you are having a bad day. You don’t give up because your spouse didn’t live up to your expectations on a particular day. There is incredible fulfillment and happiness in standing beside your spouse and loving them both in the good times and in the bad. (We do not imply that this includes the bad times of an affair.)
To heal from an affair, you use a healthy marriage as your standard. In healthy marriages people make a commitment and then honor it, even on days when they don’t “feel” like it.
So it is with healing from an affair. You commit to the healing process for a time period, and in the middle of the time period, you don’t give up and quit.
On my own journey, I first committed myself to 3 months, and I promised myself that if we had not moved forward in 3 months, I would give myself permission to leave. After 3 months, I was just a tad more hopeful. Overall there had been minimal progress. So I decided to commit to another 3 months. And so on I went until I reached the 2-year mark. It was 2 years after Brian disclosed his affair to me, and he at that point had done all I could think of that any man could do to make it up to me, that I decided that I needed to make a decision about my marriage. At 2 years I fully recommitted myself to our marriage, not before.
After that commitment, I never bring up his affair anymore. I made a decision to forgive and let it go. Remember, though, that Brian first gave me the gift of fully committing to the healing process, as I did with him.
I looked for the good in what he was doing, and resisted the temptation to expect perfection or for everything to be my way. He did the same with me.
Today, even though helping others recover from affairs has become our life’s work, we never discuss his affair anymore. We cannot tell you how incredibly worthwhile the rewards have been. Back then healing from the affair seemed insurmountable. Today, eleven years later, the healing process seems comparably short, and not that bad, but the rewards have been so worth it.
If we can do it, so can you! We'll be happy to provide the roadmap, tools, and a friend/mentor/coach to help you succeed.
Be committed to do what it takes to have what you want!
PS - Don't hesitate to contact us for help. We've spent the last 10 years doing what others have called "impossible." We can help you achieve "impossible" too!
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