After adultery has been discovered, the attitudes that you and your spouse adopt will play a key role in determining whether or not your marriage will survive the infidelity. If you want to repair your marriage but you’re not prepared to do the work, your attitude will affect the results moving forward. To have a shot at success, you and your partner need to commit to doing whatever it takes to restore the oneness of your relationship.
Working through Mixed Emotions After Adultery
Extramarital affairs can have a deep and lasting impact on both partners. Sometimes it takes time for each spouse to sift through their conflicting feelings well enough to be able to articulate them clearly.
The most important ground rule during this process is for both spouses to commit to honesty. If you are experiencing ambivalence toward your marriage after infidelity, say something. “If you cannot throw yourself wholeheartedly back into the relationship, admit that you are struggling with your inner conflict.” If the adulterous spouse confesses their ambivalence, it helps the betrayed spouse understand what is going on.
Signs that the involved partner is ambivalent:
- They refuse to cut off contact with the affair partner.
- They refuse to talk about the infidelity as a sign of loyalty to the affair partner.
- They are more concerned about how their affair partner is handling the post-disclosure upheaval than their spouse.
If the involved spouse insists on maintaining contact with their affair partner and cannot promise their spouse they will end the affair, they need to tell them. If they continue to see their affair partner but do not tell their spouse, they are just making it harder for their marriage will succeed, as the betrayed spouse will most likely eventually find out. However, if the unfaithful spouse chooses not to acknowledge their ambivalence and instead continues to deceive their partner, they may end up leaving the marriage.
Let’s talk about the betrayed partner and their emotions. Learning that your spouse has committed adultery is like a stab in the back. It’s natural to react in a way that will protect yourself from further pain. You may recoil and not want to be near your spouse, or you may have a sudden urge to do everything you can to win them back. You may just need some time to gather your thoughts, process your emotions, and work through your decision about what you want to do moving forward. In the beginning, you may feel too overwhelmed by betrayal, questions, and pain to be able to know what you want to do about it.
Signs that the betrayed partner is ambivalent:
- They are reluctant to do nice things for their partner.
- “They may feel entitled to be paid back in full before they are willing to take any initiative to invest in the marriage.”
- “Their attitude is to ‘wait and see’ how hard their partner is willing to work to make amends.”
Here’s some advice to betrayed partners, from Dr. Glass: “Don’t push your partner away or try to pull your partner in. Sink your feet firmly in the ground and declare your commitment to work on the marriage alongside your partner, as long as your partner is willing to meet you halfway.”
Ambivalence in both partners is not as bad a sign as you might think. As long as they are not dead set on getting divorced, there is still hope for the marriage. However, they need to decide whether they are willing to put in the work required to save their marriage.
According to Dr. Glass, “A remarkable thing happens when you are honest with each other, even if it is about your ambivalence. You feel closer because taking down walls and opening windows results in greater intimacy.”
“But I Don’t Want to End the Affair”
Ending an affair is hard. You care about this person and cannot imagine never being with them again. But you cannot continue stringing along your affair partner and your spouse. As the Bible says in the book of 1 John, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning because they have been born of God.” (1 John 3:9 NIV) Don’t misunderstand this verse. It is not saying Christians must be perfect. It is saying that true believers will acknowledge when they have been tangled up in a sinful habit and will commit to stopping that sin with the help of the Holy Spirit. No matter how many excuses you come up with, continuing an affair is against God’s design for marriage.
Christian Counseling for Dealing with an Affair
Adultery is a crippling experience. It can be enough to make you lose hope. One partner may not be sure whether they want to end it. The other may not be sure whether they want to endure the lengthy and strenuous process of restoring the marriage. But there is hope. Be encouraged by this passage from the book of Jeremiah: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
NOT ‘Just Friends’ by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D. with Jean Coppock Staeheli
Both photos courtesy of I’m Priscilla, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License
“Lost Dreams,” “I Walk Alone,” and “Let’s Make This Work”