The discovery of betrayal by a spouse severely disrupts your life and breaks your heart. You face daily painful reminders of what your relationship failed to be. There are times when you feel like you can't breathe — or are not sure you want to keep breathing. Every interaction seems to open the door for more hurt.
At the same time, God is far bigger than our circumstances. As those of us who have traveled this hard road can attest, the marriage we now experience is far better than what we once had. So you can never tell the end of the story by the beginning. I encourage you to stay the course and see what God can do if your life and marriage have been rocked by one of your worst fears and deepest hurts.
What I would like to do is share some practical things we have learned in helping couples recover and go on to live in strong marriages. So here are some tips for both spouses when the discovery of infidelity has ripped your world apart. I believe there is something for each of you and some good practical advice for anyone who cares deeply about their own marriage or the marriage of a friend who finds themselves in this kind of trouble. 5 Tips for the Unfaithful Spouse:
- Stop the affair. You will most likely need help. We suggest finding an experienced professional, spiritual leader, or someone who has been in this type of situation.
- Commit to creating an atmosphere of safety; commit to openness and honesty. Be available by cell phone, be willing to call from a land line (to show where you are), hand over passwords, e-mail addresses, bills, and give access to your mate in order to give him/her assurance.
- Take responsibility. As bad as your marriage may have been, it still doesn't justify breaking a vow to God, to your spouse, and to yourself. Have the courage to say "I messed up."
- Develop empathy for your spouse. Daily express to your mate that you're sorry for the pain that you have caused and/or appreciation that your mate is still there. Being able to genuinely express grief over what your actions have cost your mate is one of the first steps to moving beyond the betrayal.
- Be patient and ask your mate how he/she is doing. If you see your mate is down, simply ask how he/she is feeling. Our first tendency when we see those storm clouds brewing over our mate is to run for the shelter, but in recovery, it's best to be a tornado chaser by creating space to share about the pain.
- Don't be defensive. Usually defensiveness sounds like, "Well if you hadn't ..." Defensiveness can become a way to blame our mate and try to justify why we messed up.
5 Tips for the Betrayed Spouse
- Express your feelings and thoughts without the destructiveness of rage. This one can be tricky, but it will be easier if you keep in mind that anger is a secondary emotion. Then, instead of expressing your anger, talk about the underlying feelings that evoked the anger. The underlying emotions might be hurt or fear.
- Avoid rapid-fire questioning. Ask questions slowly, always asking yourself if the answer will be information you want to live with the rest of your life.
- Commit to forgiveness. This doesn't have to happen quickly, but for your sake you want it to occur. Don't fall into the trap of believing you can control your mate's behavior by not forgiving. Remember, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
- Allow yourself time and space to grieve and process what has happened. It's not about the amount of time you give it, rather it's about how you utilize the time you give it.
- Recognize your vulnerabilities. Don't let your hurt and pain drive you to behaviors you will later regret. Avoid putting yourself in vulnerable situations.
5 Tasks for the Couple:
- Find support. Try to find at least two or three people you can both agree would be safe individuals to share with. Having a safe place to process feelings, apart from the marriage, can be beneficial.
- Separate the marriage from the train wreck of the infidelity. Remember, there is more to your relationship than the infidelity. The infidelity does not rewrite your whole history, although sometimes it may feel like it does.
- Make time to talk about the marriage and the effects of the infidelity. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to stop the dialogue about what has happened. Allow time for both of you to process what you are learning along the way.
- Arrange a problem-free time during which you have fun and enjoy each other. This is a must, otherwise you will begin to feel like who you are, and what your relationship is, are just byproducts of the infidelity. Remember, there is more to life. So try to find times where you don't discuss the marital issues.
- Remind yourself and each other that your relationship can be better. You are building honesty and empathy that were probably not there before the infidelity. Your relationship will emerge from this so much better, if you let it. It will never be the same.
Affair Proofing Your Marriage:
- Assume that an affair could happen and take precautions, rather than assuming it will never happen. Actively avoid putting yourself in harm's way. Together with your mate, design "our rules" for keeping your relationship safe.
- Both parties need to understand that temptations don't define us, so be willing to be honest about dangerous situations around you. Understand that if your mate is willing to share something that he/she is struggling with, then your mate is choosing to keep the marriage safe rather than to endanger it by hiding struggles or weaknesses.
- Work hard at your marriage. Marriages take work. Be willing to put as much time into the marriage as you do into other activities which you love. The grass isn't greener on the other side of the hill, it's greener where you water it.
- Be willing as a couple to talk about this issue. Be willing to honestly discuss any areas where the relationship is at risk.
- Give back. If you've already recovered from a betrayal, be willing to give back to others who are still dealing with infidelity. There is no better preventive medicine than working with others who are coming along behind you. Their journey will be a constant reminder of the cost you incurred and experienced in your own journey.
There is truly nothing that the nearness of God cannot heal. The tasks on this list are just a few suggestions that will help you find and protect hope and safety in your marriage.
For more practical advice go to http://www.affairrecovery.com/ft/hh-heartlight and receive a free copy of a two hour webinar featuring leading experts in the field of infidelity recovery. During the webinar, the panel answered multiple questions posted by individuals struggling to move beyond betrayal.