Life certainly has its challenges, but little compares to the monumental task of healing from infidelity. As a marriage therapist for two decades, I’ve heard countless clients confess that the discovery of an affair was the lowest, darkest moment of their entire lives. And because affairs shatter trust, many seriously contemplate ending their marriages.
However, it’s important to know that, no matter bleak things might seem, it’s possible to revitalize a marriage wounded by infidelity. It’s not easy —there are no quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions —but years of experience has taught me that there are definite patterns to what people in loving relationships do to bring their marriages back from the brink of disaster.
Healing from infidelity involves teamwork.
Both spouses must be fully committed to the hard work of getting their marriages back on track. The unfaithful partner must be willing to end the affair. They must also do whatever it takes to win back the trust of his or her spouse.
The betrayed spouse must be willing to find ways to manage overwhelming emotions so, as a couple, they can begin to sort out how the affair happened, and more importantly, what needs to change so that it never happens again. Although no two people, marriages or paths to recovery are identical, it’s helpful to know that healing typically happens in stages.
If you recently discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, you will undoubtedly feel a whole range of emotions. You will feel shock, rage, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. You may have difficulty sleeping or eating, or feel completely obsessed with the affair. If you’re an emotional person, you may cry a lot. You may want to be alone, or conversely, feel at your worst when you are.
Healing takes time.
While unpleasant, these reactions are perfectly normal. Although you might be telling yourself that your marriage will never improve, it will, but not immediately. Healing from infidelity takes a long time. Just when you think things are looking up, something reminds you of the affair. This causes you to go downhill rapidly. It’s easy to feel discouraged unless you both keep in mind that intense ups and downs are the norm. Eventually, the setbacks will be fewer and far between.
Although some people are more curious than others, it’s very common to have lots of questions about the affair, especially initially. If you have little interest in the facts, so be it. However, if you need to know what happened, ask. Although the details may be uncomfortable to hear, just knowing your spouse is willing to “come clean” helps people recover. As the unfaithful spouse, you might feel tremendous remorse and guilt. You might also prefer avoiding the details entirely. But experience shows that this is a formula for disaster. Sweeping negative feelings and lingering questions under the carpet makes genuine healing unlikely.
Once there is closure on what actually happened there is typically a need to know why it happened. Betrayed spouses often believe that unless they get to the bottom of things, it could happen again.
Reasons for affairs aren’t always clear.
Unfortunately, since the reasons people stray can be quite complex, the whys aren’t always crystal clear. No one forces anyone to be unfaithful. Infidelity is a decision, even if doesn’t feel that way. If you were unfaithful, it’s important to examine why you allowed yourself to do something that could threaten your marriage. Were you satisfying a need to feel attractive? Are you having a mid-life crisis? Did you grow up in a family where infidelity was a way of life? Do you have a sexual addiction?
It’s equally important to explore whether your marriage is significantly lacking. Although no marriage is perfect, sometimes people feel so unhappy, they look to others for a stronger emotional or physical connection. They complain of feeling taken for granted, unloved, resentful, or ignored. Sometimes there is a lack of intimacy or sexuality in the marriage.
If unhappiness with your spouse contributed to your decision to have an affair, you need to address your feelings openly and honestly. This way you can make some changes together. If open communication is a problem, consider seeking help from a qualified marital therapist. You can also take a communication skill-building class. There are many available through religious organizations, community colleges and mental health settings.
Another necessary ingredient for rebuilding a marriage involves the willingness of unfaithful spouses to demonstrate sincere regret and remorse. You can’t apologize often enough. You need to tell your spouse that you’ll never commit adultery again. Although, since you’re working diligently to repair your relationship, you might think your intentions to be monogamous are obvious, they aren’t.
Tell your spouse of your plans to take your commitment to your marriage to heart. This will be particularly important during the early stages of recovery when mistrust is rampant.
More to Do
Conversely, talking about the affair can’t be the only thing you do. Couples who successfully rebuild their marriages recognize the importance of both talking about their difficulties and spending time together without discussing painful topics. They intentionally create opportunities to reconnect and their nurture their friendship.
They take walks, go out to eat or to a movie, develop new mutual interests and so on. Betrayed spouses will be more interested in spending discussion-free time after the initial shock of the affair has dissipated.
Ultimately, the key to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness, which is frequently the last step in the healing process. The unfaithful spouse can do everything right —be forthcoming, express remorse, listen lovingly and act trustworthy, and still, the marriage won’t mend unless the betrayed person forgives his or her spouse and the unfaithful spouse forgives him or herself.
Forgiveness opens the door to real intimacy and connection. But forgiveness doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious decision to stop blaming, make peace, and start tomorrow with a clean slate. If the past has had you in its clutches, why not take the next step to having more love in your life? Decide to forgive today.
Michele Weiner-Davis write this article. It was featured in Parade Magazine, March 18, 2001.
— ALSO —
Below we are linking two additional articles on the matter of healing after an affair. They are both posted at Beyondaffairs.com and they give some good advice. They also give practical tips, that aim at helping you to heal and move beyond your deep hurt. We encourage you to read:
• HEALING A MARRIAGE AFTER AN AFFAIR
• AN IMPORTANT KEY TO HEALING A MARRIAGE AFTER AN AFFAIR
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Surviving Infidelity
35 responses to “Healing From Infidelity”
(USA) The solution to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness, which is commonly the final step in the curing procedure. The unfaithful partner can do the whole thing correct- is helpful, convey regret, pay attention fondly and act responsibly, and still, the marriage relationship won’t restore unless the betrayed individual forgives his or her partner and the disloyal partner forgives him or herself. Forgiveness opens the entry to genuine closeness and relationship.
But forgiveness does not just occur. It is careful choice to stop blaming, build harmony, and start tomorrow with a spotless slate. If the history has had you in its control, why not get the subsequent footstep to having more care and love in your life? Make a decision to forgive today.
(NIGERIA) It’s been months since I found out that my husband has been in affairs. So many stories he told me now have 2 versions; he is very silent about the whole affair, he claims it’s in my head and that he’s never committed adultery. What I don’t understand is that he apologized. Why apologize if you did nothing wrong?
I think my greatest hurt or pain is that he has not come clean with his stories. How can i trust him again? He did it before and he can do it again. It hurts so bad, its unimaginable. I don’t wish it for my worst enemy. I’ve prayed for healing and I believe God will heal me to trust again.
(SOUTH AFRICA) I have read everyone’s story and they are all so touching and I feel your pain as I have gone through the same thing. My husband had an affair and even wanted to leave us – but I have begged him to stay and we are still together and both of us are working hard on the marriage. It is not perfect but nothing in life is perfect. For now I will take all the good – I have grown a lot out of the whole experience – I have learned to love myself, how can you expect anyone to love you if you can’t love yourself and know your value as a person? I have forgiven him and strangely, I trust him more now than I have ever before. This, I really can’t explain.
This happen in April 2009. When it happened I knew from the start and hoped it was not true but lol – he was surprised that I am willing to take him back and work on our marriage. But for me, marriage is so special, created by God. I wanted to kill myself – I hated him and her especially because she knew us; this was worst.
I do have days that I feel so sad – but I get up and get on with life. I have to. I have changed myself as a person. I am a better person now, I have to say, more relaxed and calm but then he also tries very hard and that does help.
So my advice is take it day by day. Celebrate the good days, allow yourself time to cry but don’t let it overpower you. Give it 30 minutes and move on. Know that you are loved by God and your family. But love yourself to know that you are the best you can be – I will love myself completely today, regarding myself with pride and honor. Because my soul and spirit come from God. I cherish myself too much to let anyone abuse or defame me in anyway. This have helped me through all the hard days. I am not perfect; I still am scared, very scared.
(KENYA) I just found out 6 days ago that my husband has been having a string of emotional affairs – so he says, and has also been involved in pornography. I found sexually explicit emails to this particular woman whose contents he says are purely fantasy and that he has never acted them out. We went for counselling and have since reconciled. He claims he has instantly gotten over the affairs and is willing to change his ways. He has started coming home early and is trying to communicate more and be accountable for his whereabouts through out the day. He is very hesistant though, when I interrogate him about the affairs. I still have a nagging doubt at the back of my mind. Can he be trusted?
(USA) I found this website today and I have done a lot of reading! My husband told me of his affair in November. It was a short fling, it lasted 3 weeks, unfortunately it got physical before he really thought there was a problem.
He came clean and I told me it was over with her. I had an immediate sense of peace and forgiveness. I love him more than I knew I did. The Lord gave me peace towards him and the other woman (whom I have met with several times).
Sometimes I really struggle with the pain, insecurity and sadness. I really do feel like I have really forgiven him but I can’t seem to get my mind to move on. Some days are just really really hard. I guess it’s a daily struggle. I just wish it would go away.
(VENEZUELA) I feel I’m nowhere near healing. It has been a year since my fiancé cheated, or as he says “he didn’t have physical contact.” But I believe lying with the intention to have one, is just as bad.
Now we’ve gone through with the wedding preparations and are getting married in 2 weeks. But I have thoughts that he will do it again soon.
He still looks at other women and flirts a lot. Either way, I’m not sure if the phrase once a cheater, always a cheater isn’t around for a reason. Please elaborate on how one gets over lying and moves on to being happier, because it seems I cannot.
First of all Jessica, if you’re having these feelings, you need to postpone your wedding. Otherwise these feelings, whether proven true or not, within your wedding, will force you to lock yourself in a prison that you put yourself in.
Second of all you need to express these feelings to your fiancé before you consider whether or not to stay engaged. While you are not married, is the time to express your feelings, and try to work them out. If you do this within marriage you and he will not have as much freedom as if you were not married. Plus, it might make your marriage just another prison you lock yourself in. Remember God intended marriage to be a joyous thing, and not a prison.
(USA) I knew for about a little over a month before the truth came out about my husband having an affair. We were having problems and I even offered him separation three times and he would always say no and wanted us to work things out and all along he had been cheating. I found text and emails with them proclaiming their love for one another. The other woman was even helping him with important paperwork for his business (I offered to help him and he would tell me he didn’t need any). Out of his own mouth, he told me that she told him that he should think about himself (he agreed and hence their relationship began) because I had been out of work for 4 of the 7 years we had been married up to that point. I had never in my life been out of work for so long and I began to get severely depressed. It’s like I was a zombie. He said he no longer knew how to reach me and he didn’t know what else to do and she came along at the right time when he was it his lowest.
I am so hurt, devastated, angry, shocked, you name it. This has hurt me to my soul. The night everything came out I took a 9mm handgun and drove to a vacant lot and almost pulled the trigger. I have forgiven him but some days it’s hard to look at him. I fear that if we have another fifty years together that I will never trust him again and I don’t want to live like this. I check his text, email, call history all the time, I have become my own private eye but it’s driving me crazy. I know the Christian thing to do is to heal my marriage but this situation is beating me up real bad because I didn’t deserve this. Please help me…
Steph… I’m so, so sorry that you are experiencing this horrible pain –the depth of which it’s hard for anyone who hasn’t suffered it to understand. I encourage you to go into the links part of this topic to read through the resources we recommend, which could help you, and the web sites, which deal with this type of situation all the time. You need guidance. This is the kind of thing that can drive one crazy if they don’t get help to disrupt the horrible direction your pain is taking you. Others who have lived through it –been there and have done that essentially, might be able to better guide you. I hope so. I pray for you Steph. I pray you will eventually experience the hope that you will see brighter days.
(USA) Steph. I wanted to encourage you. I found out my husband was cheating around Sept 2011. It was the worst day of my life. The female that he slept with I had seen a few times but I didn’t think anything of it. I asked my husband to let me know on many occasions why he did this and why he lied to me but he still doesn’t have an explanation. To be honest he doesn’t even admit to it verbally for some reason, although I have all the emails and messages they sent talking abou their sexual relationship. He even told her he loves her, in less than 3 months!!!
We separated too, to see if this marriage is really what we wanted. I felt some days that I would not make it. I couldn’t find the energy. We have 2 little ones ages 3 and 5 and they primarily live with me. So often times I feel a lot of guilt for moving out. I felt some days that it would be better to die but I had to think about my family, my kids, how would they feel?
I wanted to show you that it could be worse. The fact that your husband admits to his wrong is a sure sign that he at least respects you. Pray and give God your attention and he can heal your mind, and heart. I know that it’s hard and that it seems easier to walk away but regardless of the path you take, you will have to endure some pain whether it be missing him because you have left, or forgiving him because you stayed.
God will never put more on you than you can bear, so know your strength. I pray often and I fast often too because I have to be willing to sacrifice the now for later. Sometimes it’s like this is pointless because I still haven’t even gotten a promise from my husband to never do this again, let alone admittance to his infidelity; but I can’t let that stop me from being the woman that God has made me to be. Don’t let the devil have his way with your mind; claim your marriage and your life back and forgive.
(USA) I found out in March that my husband of 13 years had an emotional affair with a woman he works with and also attends my church. This is a pain that is absolutely trauma to my system. Her husband discovered that my husband was calling her all the time and texted my husband. This drove my husband to then tell me about what was going on. And even though they had not had sex yet (so he swears, anyway), or even had dinner together, they were telling each other that they loved each other. For me, I would have rather have had him have a drunken one-night-stand than an emotionally intimate relationship. But I do thank God it wasn’t both (even though I really believe it would have been had they not been caught). I have found forgiveness for his actions, but the present hell continues as he has been having a hard time letting go of the memories of their talks. He still imagines a life with her sometimes, he told me.
Most recently, he told me that he ran into her last week with the kids in tow at the McDonalds. He spoke to her for a half hour while the kids played. This alone feels like a new betrayl to process, but he didn’t tell me about it until almost a week later. And in addition, due to his behavior being different during that week, I point blank asked him if he had talked to her just two days after he saw her, and he said no. He said he had been thinking about her though, so the absence must be making the heart grow fonder. So many painful secrets and lies. I feel like I’ve lost all hope of him being trustworthy ever again.
I am trying to hold onto the fact that even though it was a week later, he did end up telling me. He didn’t have to tell me ever, I suppose. Maybe that is something. But he has not been fully committed to me yet. He is still living in our house, in our bed at night, but he doesn’t consistently show remorse for what he has done. Once in a while he will say he’s sorry for hurting me. That it had nothing to do with me. He feels she is his soulmate. He hasn’t asked me to do something with just him in two months now. I’ve been trying my hardest to be an example of Christ’s love to him. I’m not saying I’m perfect at it all the time, but I am definitely working on that harder than I have ever before. I’m not above doing my part to repair things and hopefully contribute to making it a stronger relationship than ever before, if he would only want the same.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my entire life, including the period in my life where my father was addicted to prescription drugs, going through treatment and rehab and counciling for 3 years. I want to die sometimes, but I would never put my children through that or separate myself from the Lord. But I CAN imagine that if I didn’t have those convictions how easy it would be to swallow a bottle of pills and stop hurting.
I’m looking forward to the day when I can come out of this on the other side and understand God’s plan for me, whatever it may be. Until then, it’s a daily struggle to live but I will keep on doing it. What other choice do I really have?
(USA) God Bless you and I am so sorry. I don’t want to put any more pain on you but my cheater and every other one I know begins with “we’ve never had sex”. I do not know of one instance where that proved to be true and it eventually comes out.
He cannot be truly repentant if he has not told you all, therefore, there is no healing as of yet. God says he is keeping the devil via lies in his heart and where there is any other “god” meaning something we want to hang on to more than God, God will not exist there.
I tell everyone about Dr. David Clarke’s book. My husband sat and read the entire thing to me then began reading here on this site. The fact that people all around the world were hurting like I was and our kids told him it was the same M.O. of Satan. He came knocking and my husband let him in.
It sounds like your husband is still enslaved to his sin and keeping the devil on your household/family as well. He’s worked this hard to get away with it, it seems like too much to his pride to give that up now. All sins will find us out and the truth will make us free.
You can count on my prayers. I know just what you’re feeling like suspecting. I knew it in my soul and no matter how hard my husband tried to convince me, it wouldn’t work and I was right. The things he is saying to you says he isn’t finished with her and no one deserves to be second best although you are in reality 1st, so says God. I didn’t want my husband for the years of abuse, threats and sinful behavior yet carried on at church like some humble saint. He made me sick so if he ever said such things of another to me he would be gone so fast and he knows that. I am sure he wants me but it’s very hard to get over.
Forgiveness means you give up your right to get back not condone or never speak of. The fact that I have not retaliated tells him I have forgiven him and he would lose his mind if I ever did. Stick with God’s definitions, not man’s and they are all in the Bible.
Stand your ground and pray. Please read that book, it changed everything for both of us. I Don’t Want a Divorce and I even was able to counsel with Dr. Clarke. This site has helped us tremendously, the reading and sharing. Thank you to the Wrights for all they do. God bless you.
(USA) Your husband must commit to permanent separation from this woman. No contact for life or your marriage will never recover.
(USA) I was the one who had the affair after what felt like many years of neglect, rejection and just feeling worthless. My husband was addicted to pornography and would contact women on the internet. I forgave him over and over again until one day someone started giving me attention that I craved so much. I told my husband about the affair. We have spent 6 months just trying to co-exist for the sake of our child. This weekend we had a breakthrough… we want to make this work.
I am dealing with shame and guilt… and just have felt so far away from the Lord. So my question for is more someone who has had an affair. How will I ever heal from what I did to myself?
(USA) You had an affair because you have poor boundaries around the opposite sex. The first thing you need to do is to permanently separate from your affair partner. You must never see this man for the rest of your life.
You should also expose your affair to family and close friends. Your child should also know that you had an affair and if you and your husband are willing to work on your marriage visit marriagebuilders.com and you will find resources. When you get there visit the Forum for great advice.
(AUSTRALIA) I had an affair two years ago -not that I am proud of it. Accept that it takes a long time to rebuild the marriage relationship. Both you and your husband have in some ways been unfaithful to each other, just in different ways. Don’t beat yourself up about it -people make mistakes. It’s exciting that you both want to make your marriage work. That will go a long way.
It goes without saying, but is probably worth saying -NO CONTACT ever with the ex-affair partner. Obviously you need zero contact with him so you will heal, and you will forget, you can forgive yourself. Your marriage can be stronger than ever before, mine is. I would not recommend telling family, maybe a few close friends to keep you accountable and to support you. It does not need to be broadcast to the community. Just be patient. Time, hardwork and commitment will pay off – I’d say it’s taken the full two years, and I’m still on the journey.
A few months ago I found out my husband was having a relationship with another women. This women has been bent on ruining our marrige, and I am upset with my husband for bringing her between us. My husband denies sleeping with her, but to me, that does not matter. All that matters is that he betrayed me and our trust. I want to forgive, I feel like I have, but at times I remember and I am filled with resentment. I feel so insecure.
Please help a friend by posting to him. He is a lost soul and is searching and cannot be faithful to his wife and a string of women he lives with, promises he is on the verge of divorce, preys on their vulnerability and then leaves when he can no longer have his own way in controlling, manipulating and abusing them verbally, financially, emotionally and physically.
My husband’s affair was certainly not unique, though I believe it started before we married and continued for almost twenty years and was on and off. What’s unique about it is the fact that I didn’t find out about it until 2 1/2 years ago. We have been married for 33 years. I found texts where they reconnected when she wished him happy birthday. From the texts they had met a few times, talked over the old days, talked about their trip to New Orleans (he told me wives weren’t going on this business trip), the great sex and their favorite songs, including their “old favorite”.
I knew who she was and needless to say I was completely shattered. He apologized for hurting me, never once for what he did. As far as I know, they are no longer in contact, probably because she’s afraid I will tell her husband. Boy, would I love to, but I’m not a vengeful person and I wouldn’t want him to suffer as I have. I have forgiven my husband and he has been better to me in the last two years than ever.
He just refuses to talk about it and won’t give me any details. If I just knew all the truth or heard that he was sorry for the affair I could get past it, but I think about it constantly at night. He has no idea how I feel. I still cry over it on a regular basis. She contacted me and said she was sorry for hurting me and then proceeded to ask how my grandson was doing. She said she used to hear all about him when he was little. He wasn’t born until almost seven years after our marriage.