AFTER THE AFFAIR: Rebuilding Trust
I’ve worked with couples who don’t survive infidelity. There are many reasons they don’t, but one of the consistent themes running through these marriages is that the person who had the affair didn’t commit to being monogamous in the future. S/he never said, “I won’t do this again, I promise.” Some people fail to say these words because they think it’s self-evident. Others don’t promise this change because they’re too proud.
Whatever the reason, failing to promise monogamy makes your partner wonder whether the two of you are on the same page about the future of your marriage. So, don’t hold back. If you can honestly say that you’re committed to being monogamous, let your partner know in no uncertain terms that that is your plan.
SHARE DETAILS: If your spouse is the sort of person who requires lots of information in order to feel better about the affair, you should be honest. I know this is very difficult and you may be tempted to withhold information, thinking that you’re protecting your spouse. But many in your spouse’s shoes have said that the worst part of the infidelity were the lies and deception that followed the disclosure. It’s time for you to come clean and clear the air. As tough as that might be, it’s a lot easier than lying, covering up, and being discovered again. That corrodes trust tremendously. So share, even if it hurts.
Sometimes you’ll question whether sharing information is a good idea because your spouse reacts so badly to the things you’ve said. But if your spouse determines that the road to recovery is paved with brutal honesty, that’s the path you need to take no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. There will be times when the two of you will feel close as a result of this new honesty and you’ll begin to feel that your truthfulness has really paid off. Then, just when you though you were out of the woods and the questions would cease, a whole new slew of questions get thrown your way. You feel as if you’re getting the third degree.
Remember, healing is a process, not a quick fix. Just because your spouse was fine on Monday doesn’t mean s/he will be fine on Thursday. It also doesn’t mean that sharing information isn’t working. Some people think, “I told him/her what happened. If that was so useful, why is s/he still having a problem and needing to talk about it constantly? That’s just the way improvement happens … in waves. You need to continue to be forthcoming, from now until forever.
OFFER REASSURANCES: Although you may have decided to turn over a new leaf, your spouse is still reacting to what happened. This is completely normal, for now, you owe it to your partner and to yourself to bend over backward to prove your trustworthiness.
You might be thinking to yourself, “I decided to stop the affair and be trustworthy, I don’t know why s/he just doesn’t trust me now.” Your spouse is feeling very insecure right now and needs all the help you give him/her to get back on stable ground. You need to extend yourself—even if you don’t think you should have to—to help your spouse feel more secure. Along these lines, do what your spouse asks. Here are some things s/he might ask of you:
• Call from work often.
• Limit out-of-town travel temporarily.
• Offer complete travel itineraries and phone numbers.
• Carry a pager.
• Talk about your day in detail.
• Spend more time together.
• Be willing to answer any and all questions about the OP and about your whereabouts.
Remember, once your spouse feels more trust in you and in your marriage, many of these requests will stop.
EXPECT UPS AND DOWNS: I really want to emphasize this point. The road to recovery is a zigzag, not a straight line. At first, the bad days will definitely outnumber the good ones. In fact, there may not be any good days to speak of. But slowly, as you begin to talk and make sense of what happened, you will have your positive moments. Moments will turn into days. Then, you will actually have a stretch of a few good days at a time. Just when you start to get optimistic something will happen that will remind your spouse about the affair and bring back those unpleasant feelings.
This rockiness and instability will occur for a very long time. You need to expect that. It doesn’t mean that this problem is insurmountable, it just means that this problem is on its way to being resolved. It happens slowly, much too slowly for you. And what should you do in the meantime?
BE PATIENT: Even though you might feel a great deal of remorse about what happened, there will be times when you have a hard time understanding why your spouse seems intent on hanging on to the affair. From your standpoint, the whole thing is over and you want to just move on. However, if you convey this emotion to your spouse, s/he will feel that you’re not empathetic, that you have no idea what s/he has been going through, and that will set both of you back considerably.
I realize that your need to move on has little to do with your insensitivity. In fact, one of the primary reasons you want to put the past in the past is because you don’t want to see the hurt on your partner’s face any longer. But be that as it may, you have to move at your spouse’s pace. You won’t be able to speed things along with your anger.
Continue to answer questions and be reassuring. If your spouse still wants to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing, continue offering information. It won’t last forever, even though it seems that way right now. This is a transitional period. There has been major breach of trust and it takes time to heal. Be patient, be loving, be responsive, and you will get through this.
Marriage Missions’ Editors Note: We’re concluding this article by giving you additional thoughts that may help in this battle of rebuilding trust:
• Advice Dr Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil Show Drphil.com, “You’re Not the Person I Married” aired 12/5/02) gave a husband who had an affair:
“I’m gong to tell you, one guy to another, if you really want this marriage to work, you gotta get real with her, and you’ve got to get real with yourself, because you’re kind of trying to gloss this over a little bit and hope that it goes away, but let me tell you, my wife told me something a long time ago that I’ve never forgotten. She said, ‘Women have a real long memory.’ And you have, brick by brick by brick, constructed a wall between the two of you with your past behavior. And I’ll tell you what it takes, and if you hear not another word I say today, hear this, OK?
“Number one, people who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. They hide nothing, mentally, emotionally, physically, behaviorally. They’re an absolute open book. Just whatever you want to know about me, I’m here. I’m just completely, totally open. And unless and until you do that—and it’s not just a matter of ‘if he’s over eating pizza when he says he’s eating pizza’—it’s a matter of everything being honest and truthful with you. It starts with being totally open and totally transparent.
“And the second thing—and this may be the most important thing of all—She will never, ever, ever get beyond what has happened unless and until she knows you have heard her. Until she knows that you get the gravity of what you have done and are doing, she will never, ever, ever be anything but the picture of pain you’re looking at right now.”
• Another thought to consider:
“It’s difficult to forgive 10 gallons worth of hurt when your spouse is only asking for a pint of forgiveness” (Dr. Roger Barrier — Casas Adobes Baptist Church).
The point is, there’s still a lot more emotional work that needs to be done before the person who’s hurting truly feels you understand the enormity of what’s been inflicted upon them. But when they feel you understand—that you really, truly get it, and are absolutely sorry, then REAL healing and hope for a brighter future comes into the relationship.
Scripture verses to consider:
• He who conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Proverbs 28:13).
• Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act. (Proverbs 3:27)
• Jesus said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41).
• An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips (Proverbs 24:26).
• Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3).
• The following advice comes from the excellent book, When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages -written by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott (published by Zondervan Publishing). This is advice for spouses whose marriages have been jolted by an extra-marital affair. The first is:
To the spouse who had the affair:
• First and foremost, sever all contact with the third party immediately.
• Clear boundaries need to be established if you’re wanting to rebuild the trust you have broken with your partner.
• You must be willing to answer any questions from your spouse. This isn’t because your partner needs to know all the details of what went on, but they do need to know they have your willingness to give them the details.
• Openness to questioning shows respect, honor, and equality. It shows that you can be trusted in the future.
To the spouse who has remained faithful:
• You should only ask questions if you really want the truth. Some things may be better left alone if you can do it.
• You must also steer clear of the temptation down the road to use any information you ask for as a way to beat up your partner for other problems.
• Realize that it may take years to absorb the emotional impact of what has happened. Adultery isn’t something you can get over quickly. It’s important to give yourself plenty of recovery time.”
Also, below are several links to articles posted on various web sites that you might find helpful as you work to rebuild trust. Please click onto the links provided below to read:
The first portion of this article came from the book, The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage -written by Michele Weiner Davis, published by Simon & Schuster. Although this book does not come from a “Christian” perspective, most of the principles presented are very solid. She teaches you how to identify specific marriage-saving goals, move beyond ineffective, hurtful ways of interacting, and become an expert on “doing what works.”
Inspirational anecdotes and in-depth case studies show how couples have used these techniques to save their marriages, and how you can use these same techniques to rescue yours. The author also offers solution-oriented strategies for readers to cope with infidelity, and midlife crises. And if you think you partner already has a foot out the door, this proven program is a recipe for change, even if only you participate.
(NOTE: While we agree with about 95% of what this book presents, we do disagree with some of Michelle’s advice to couples who face an Internet Pornography problem. Even so, we recommend this book to couples because the rest of the advice is very helpful.)