Tacoma Christian Counselor
Getting married is a big deal. Marriage is meant to be an exclusive relationship between two people where intimacy and vulnerability can be explored in a safe space. Genesis puts it this way: “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24).It isn’t easy for many people to be vulnerable with others, so taking that step towards deeper lifelong relationship matters a lot. With that depth of commitment and the level of trust required to pull it off well, marriage is a delicate dance.
Infidelity undermines the trust and sense of safety within a marriage. What was meant to be shared between two individuals now involves an uninvited third party. The delicate dance is disrupted when infidelity interrupts the relationship.
Infidelity causes one to question the very foundations of the relationship – was any of it real? Were the expressions of love honest? What were we working toward all these years? Once trust is violated, infidelity also raises serious questions about whether the relationship has a future.
What is Infidelity?
Infidelity can take many forms. Most obviously, infidelity occurs when one of the spouses has a sexual relationship with someone else. What is sometimes less obvious is when emotional intimacy is shared with someone other than your spouse.
There are certain thoughts, emotions, and conversations that rightly and exclusively belong within the marriage relationship. When these are shared with someone else, especially if that is accompanied by an emotional connection with that other person, you’re headed into trouble.
While not all instances of emotional infidelity lead to sexual intimacy and infidelity, they are often a starting point toward that end. Sharing the deep parts of yourself with someone other than your spouse can lead to your spouse being displaced from their deserved place of privilege in your life, and that severely undermines the relationship.
How to Restore Your Marriage After Infidelity
How then does a couple find their way back after infidelity? Is there hope that what has been broken can be mended, or does infidelity cause irreparable harm to a relationship? The good news is that a couple can restore their relationship. While things may never look the same as they did in the first place, it is possible to give the relationship a new lease on life. If you choose to work at the marriage and restore it, what does the road to recovery look like?
Acknowledge that the pain is real
Infidelity in marriage relationships is unfortunately commonplace. A few years ago, there was a scandal involving a dating website – the details of the users were leaked, and it was shocking to see many married people, including those in paid ministry, among the names of those who used this service.The pervasiveness of infidelity does not mean that its presence in your marriage is of little consequence. That pain is real, and the hurt caused ought to be acknowledged. With that pain comes plenty of other emotions, and you need to surround yourself with people (friends, family, spiritual leaders) who will help you gain perspective to make wise decisions.
But to get going on the path of recovery, the spouse who was unfaithful needs to hear and understand the pain and damage caused by their actions. They must take responsibility for their behavior.
Excavate the foundations
The couple needs to explore and understand the “why” behind the infidelity. Often, several factors contribute to infidelity, including issues within the marriage that may have been simmering for a while.
Other reasons that may underlie the infidelity are a breakdown of communication, lack of affection, withholding approval, lack of physical intimacy or loss of emotional connection. While it does not excuse what happened, understanding the factors that led to the infidelity is important for addressing concerns, and rebuilding the relationship.If you committed infidelity, among other things you must understand clearly what you thought the affair gave you that your relationship did not, and thus why you thought it was worth giving up what you had. With the help of a trained professional such as a marriage counselor who is experienced in dealing with infidelity, you can work through this and other questions to understand what happened and plot a way forward.
When you understand the needs that each person has, that can allow you to relate to one another in ways that strengthen that relationship and leave little room for outsiders to come in or be sought out to meet those needs. A clearer understanding of the dynamics at work in your relationship will help you to rebuild your relationship on an even stronger foundation.
Taking responsibility means repentance (taking a 180 degree turn in your thought and actions) and taking active measures to prevent the same thing from happening again. In many situations, the unfaithful spouse does not come clean of their own accord but is discovered.
It is important in these situations that the remorse being expressed is not remorse for getting caught, but rather a remorse that stems from a keen understanding that what they did was wrong and caused their spouse pain. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Godly sorrow is the kind that stems from a conviction and realization that what one did was wrong. The affair should never have happened in the first place. Worldly sorrow is a shallow kind of remorse that will very easily revert to the same patterns of behavior because at a deep level there is no understanding or conviction that there’s anything wrong with the behavior.
While a counselor or the other spouse can explain what they’ve done and its impact, a person cannot be compelled across the line from worldly to Godly sorrow. And so, if a person cannot see for themselves that what they have done is sinful, the chances of restoring the relationship are limited.Being accountable also means that if you are the unfaithful individual, you need to cut off contact with the person with whom you were involved. That may mean deleting online accounts or phone numbers if the interactions were digital and ending all forms of communication with the person. That may mean the privacy you had before the infidelity may need to be exchanged for transparency for a while.
In the situation where the infidelity was with a coworker, it may mean that contact should be limited to work-related matters, and where possible you should look for another job altogether. The point is that you must create boundaries for your relationship and remove yourself from the situation to prevent a relapse into old patterns of behavior, and to make your partner feel safe again.
Work to restore trust
The process of restoring trust and reconciling with one another is not an easy one. Each couple will have their own unique journey. What is important is that both parties agree on the next steps, understanding that the road ahead may be a long one.
As mentioned already, to move forward, the sorrow or remorse being shown by the unfaithful partner needs to be authentic. Real and lasting change will come when there is a deeply heartfelt understanding of why the unfaithfulness was wrong. That is followed by seeking the forgiveness of the other partner.
The other side of the equation is that if your spouse is the unfaithful one, forgiveness is a necessary ingredient to healing the relationship. Forgiveness isn’t excusing what was done, nor is it giving them a pass for it or saying what they did was okay. It requires a commitment to not want to hurt them back or hold their hurtful behavior against them and a love for yourself so deep that you choose to cut the chain with which unforgiveness binds you.
This is something that you should do when you are able, and there is no real timetable for when you should be ready for that step. You may also need to forgive yourself for things you may have said or done in anger, to let go of the feelings of shame the affair may have generated, and to not blame yourself for what happened.
Infidelity can challenge the very foundation of a relationship. It calls into question what the relationship was, and if there is still a future for it. Infidelity does not have to be the end of a relationship. Though infidelity causes a lot of pain, it is possible to rebuild and mend the relationship into a new marriage that can weather hard storms.
It will require both parties to be honest with one another, be willing to change, and fight for the relationship. Some days will be harder than others, but with work and perseverance, you can redefine your relationship and emerge on the other side stronger than before.
“Hearts and Hands”, Courtesy of Takmeomeo, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Heart of Divorce”, Courtesy of Mohamed Hassan, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Grief”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Redhead”, Courtesy of JerzyGorecki, Pixabay.com, CC0 License
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