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”
(ZAMBIA) How would one know that the healing is taking place after infidelity? I don’t think I am getting any better because my emotions keep fluctuating. Its been 3 months now since I found out about my husbands adultery. I don’t even let him touch me.
In the beginning he was very remorseful, but now he wants me to just let it go. He thinks am not trying enough to let go of the hurt and bitterness. Why is he impatient? He thought I would just forget and move on as if nothing happened. Infidelity really is really bad. I would not wish it even on my worst enemy.
(CANADA) Mary, I can totally sympathize with you. It’s been just over 4 months since I found out about my wife’s affair. I think at this point you have to ask yourself, do you want to stay in this marriage? If you do I would strongly suggest that you and your husband see a marriage counselor.
I forgave my wife and we have committed to working on our marriage. We are much happier than we have been in a long time. But personally, I still feel a lot of pain. Sometimes it’s too much to handle. I think the healing will start to take place when you can forgive your husband. If you can’t do that then I’m afraid it will be very hard. I think the fact that your husband is remorseful is a good sign that he understands the mistake that he has made.
(ZAMBIA) Hello John. Thank you for your advice. It took me 1 month to tell my husband that I had forgiven him. We even had my pastor come over to talk to us. He does not go to church with me, but he accepted to see the pastor.
When I just discovered the adultery, I was very hurt –such that I even got a leave from work and I am going to be out Monday next week. I wanted to have nothing to do with him. I hated him, and regretted ever marrying him. He does not know about the leave and I am sure he will get the shock of his life. I want to go away for awhile and make a decision if I really want to stay in this marriage or not.
I feel there isn’t much of a marriage anymore. I don’t think my marriage is worth saving. He has not been showing any effort as to help me heal, only recently did he start reading the resources we got from the pastor on how to survive infidelity.
Everyone is telling me to forgive him, even my own mother and my 2 sisters, as we have come along way. We have been married 7 years. We were so happy and had normal problems just like everybody else, I wish I knew just went wrong. I will keep on praying for God’s guidance. I will keep you in prayer too.
(USA) Hi Mary, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write to you. I have been reading your posts.
The one thing I wanted to mention that has not been brought up is the obvious – but what kind of sexual activity was there between you and your husband BEFORE he raped the housekeeper? Obviously, I can’t help wondering about that. Was it once a week? Once a month? Did he ever bring up with you a lack of satisfaction about the sex between the two of you? That’s certainly something to consider.
Also – it’s completely normal when a person that has done a horrible damage to a marriage in some way to get to the point where they just tell the other person to "get over it" and they don’t really want to help the healing process.
I’ve heard that it is because they feel so bad about what they did but I also know, firsthand, that it is a lack of desire to make amends. There are some who feel bad and try to make up for it but when someone doesn’t and just avoids the hurt all together, then that, to me, shows a lack of sympathy and lack of desire to make amends.
I think it’s good for you to get away, like you mentioned, and do some real praying and fasting. That’s necessary to get close to God. That will give you clarity as to what decision to make on your marriage. If you do decide to stick with it – I think you all will need a professional Christian counselor – there is a serious issue if your husband was forcing himself on someone else. That’s not healthy and I think a counselor needs to hear and give in put on that kind of situation.
I will say that it’s okay to forgive and let go of your anger, but still recognize the fact that the other person is not making amends. I don’t think that seeing someone is not making amends comes under the unforgiveness category. But it would be good for you to detach emotionally from your husband until you all can move past this phase (if you decide to stay and work on the marriage). It will help diminish your anger. Just detach emotionally and grab onto God in the meantime.
Hope this helps, God bless, LT
(ZAMBIA) Lt, thanks for your response. You asked how our physical intimacy was before the adultery. You won’t believe this, but we used to have great sex ever 2 or 3 times a week. We would spend most of the time in bed on weekends. We were always learning what turns each other on.
Nevertheless, in July this year, he detached himself from me and was always moving away from me each time I tried to initiate intimacy. By August I confronted him to tell me what was really going on. And you know how he answered, "I think my Libido is gone". I asked if he had been sleeping with someone and he totally denied it. I offered to escort him to hospital for examinations, but he said he would do it on his own.
I thought he was telling the truth and I encouraged him and told him I understand his position since it was the first time such a thing was happening in our marriage. I told him I would still stick by him til he gets better with time. To be precise, I never had sex with my husband in July and August, and August is the month he committed such a crime.
Shortly before the truth came out, we had physical intimacy in the beginning of Sept. I asked him how he got all the strength from all of a sudden and he told me a lot of stories. About 3 days later the house keeper confessed what he done to her. It was so painful to realise he was abstaining from me and yet he was forcing himself on the housekeeper. Upon torturing him with questions, he told me he was guilty for what he had done and he could not bring himself to have sex with me because he feared he might have contracted some disease and did not want to infect me with the same.
So this is the story LT. But now I don’t want him to touch me anymore. I had a test to check if I had contracted any STDs, but I have nothing. He agreed to have us checked for HIV/AIDS. I told him I can only do it after 3 months because the results may be accurate. I may do it in December depending on my decision as I go away to think things through.
This is the reason I feel there is no need to save my marriage because I have lost all the respect, trust and the love I had for him. In short, I hate him and forgiving him is like letting him go Scot free.
(USA) Hi Mary, Thanks for the clarification on your situation. It seems like something a counselor could understand. If the sexual frequency was not lacking, yet your husband did what he did, could it indicate a disorder?? I don’t know but I would say that’s something a counselor could answer.
At any rate – I wanted to refer you to an article that addresses a lot of the emotional issues you are experiencing. It pertains to a question that someone wrote in to Focus on the Family and the woman had been sexually abused as a child. I know that is not the same situation you are in but the response pertains to forgiveness and unforgiveness as well as dealing with the emotions that arise when someone else has committed a wrong against you. I know you did mention that you had trouble forgiving since your husband has not been held accountable.
The couple of things that came to mind is that he is being held accountable by you. And that God says vengeance is His, not ours. But forgiveness is not an overnight process and you will have to work through your emotions, too. I think this article might speak to some of your current feelings.
God bless, LT
(ZAMBIA) Hello LT, I just saw your post. I did not have access to computers where I was, I read that post in Focus on the Family. I hope you will not get bored with my problem. I am still not getting any better. Recently my housekeeper told me my husband started pursuing her last year. Can you imagine? She did not say anything. Maybe if she had we would have put a stop to all this. She says he forced himself on her, and he says she consented –I don’t know who to believe anymore. I believe they are both liars.
I have asked him several times if our sex life became boring and that it was the reason he had to do what he did. He still says he does not know why he did it and that it’s not about me. He says, he still can’t believe he had to do it with her, of all people, and he does not even want the mention of her name.
I remember last year my husband had a tendency of getting pornographic materials from his step brother. This step brother has since left his wife and he is living with his secretary he was having an affair with. We fought about his brother bringing such tapes and I even banned his step brother from ever coming to my house. Early this year again he started watching the same tapes, and I am sure this is what led him to do what he did.
My pastor, the one who put us into counselling told me I am part of this problem, saying I brought a woman into our house and not that my husband went looking for a woman outside. Also that why should I employ a housekeeper who is almost my age? She is 28 and I am 33. Why was I leaving him with her all alone? And that the next time I need a housekeeper I should get a much older person.
I am back at home, and the situation is still the same. My husband is the one not talking to me anymore. When I say something, he will just look at me or just nod. Each time I am in the sitting room, he would be in the bedroom, and when I go to the bedroom he would go to the sitting room. We are living totally different lives. I wonder why he is so angry, when it’s me to feel that way.
I am tired of talking about this issue and I don’t want to bring up any discussions with him because he will still deny it. Maybe I should have just filed for divorce that same time it clicked into my mind instead of being tortured everyday. I am tired of being miserable. If you were to see my photos of now and before, you would not be happy. I am a shadow of myself now. Please I need prayers, I can’t do this alone.
(USA) I just found out my husband is having an emotional affair. He told me he ended it. I put a tracking device on him. He was still seeing her. He said he was just so unhappy in our marriage. He has been unhappy for 25 years and said we should have never married. I kicked him out. He is staying at his parent’s house. I told him he could come back when he leaves her. He says he loves and cares about me. We were going to a therapist. I am going crazy waiting for him to call me. I love him and want to make it work. What should I do? How do I get him back? I have prayed and fasted. I know I had stop being a good wife. I even thought about killing myself.
(UNITED STATES) Mary – Isn’t it just a little harsh of the pastor to blame you for being part of the problem? Whether a woman is in your house or not, if the man is so inclined (due to disorders or addictions or whatever the problem may be), then he will search. Whether the search is in your house, your neighborhood, or even another county/providence/etc…
I’m sorry that this has happened to you. I do hope for better days ahead, even if that means the tough chore of going it without your husband. It does seem though that it is even tougher than current days would suggest. I really hope that you find the strength you need, be it from God or friends or both.
But if I may suggest one thing before going. Do forgive him. It does not tell him ‘you may do so again’… it does not tell him ‘you are absolved of your crime’. What it does tell him is this – ‘you will not have the power over me of devastating me for the rest of my life’… ‘you are the one who has done wrong and must face the consequences, I am not one who forced you to do so and will not let myself feel that way’…
(ZAMBIA) Chris, thank you for your comment. I went out to cool off for sometime. I am back home now. I have decided to forgive my husband. He has promised me he will never do anything like that again.
I am taking it one day at a time. It has not been an easy road for me. I am no longer with the Church where the Pastor assumed I have to take the blame for what my husband did.
I am thankful for the Christian sisters in my current church. They have been very helpful. I still need your prayers. Thanks again.
(ZAMBIA) As much as I have been reading the resources here, I can’t find a way to have some closure. I am on this site almost everyday reading posts and different resources, and really they have helped me a lot. Sometimes the memories of my husband’s infidelity are too much to handle. How can I find some closure?
(USA) It’s been 7 months since I found out my husband was having an affair. We have been going to counseling and marriage classes but none of it seems to work. I am lost. I don’t know how to forgive him. I feel like I can never trust him. But what is a marriage without trust? I am trying to forgive him but I don’t know how.
(INDIA) Mary, I feel deeply for you. You are still young. It was wrong for the pastor to pose such suggestions. My husband is constantly emotionally unfaithful. He says he is sorry but the same repeated acts seem to dissolve what he says. So if you truly love your husband, try and analyze if he would do the same to you again –go beyond his words. Sita
(ZAMBIA) Mary, I really felt for you for the pain you have been going through. I pray that God may give you eternal peace & joy. You really deserve to be happy. One thing you should always know is that you can never change a man & whatever a man says, it’s not the guarantee that they will change. I am not threatening you but all I am saying is to put everything in the hands of God. Let God change your man so that he won’t repeat his deeds.
People say a leopard can not change its colours. But I do believe that their creator is the only one who can change that. So dear, be strong. I have been in that road before. I know how it feels. Read Jeremiah 29:11. Stay blessed.
(USA) Mary, I was searching the net for some info on how to heal after infidelity. I read your post and my heart goes out to you. I won’t totally agree with the pastor that told you such things, but he was correct about not bringing a 28 year old into your home. The devil comes to break up homes in every way possible, and he used that 28 year old to destroy your home. You must try your best to stop communicating with the young lady because it will continue to separate you.
Now your husband was definitely wrong, but you have to forgive him. It’s not about you letting him off the hook, but your letting yourself off the hook. Don’t allow him to hurt you over and over by not forgiving him. You must try your best to not continue bringing up what happened. It only will continue to hurt you. The best thing is to let it go. Of course you will never forget it but if you keep talking about it and asking questions, it will continue to hurt you. Don’t give satan that much power.
I totally agree with Tary. God can do anything but fail, but you have to get out of his way and let him work on him. If we had the power to change someone he would be changed by now. It’s easier said than done. I know. But this is what must happen. As a matter of fact, it won’t and can’t happen overnight either. Give God more than a few hours to work on him. You see, I had made that same decision. God started to bless our marriage but I put my hands on the situation again trying to be the counselor and God took his hands off my marriage. When we decide to fix our problems God allows things to happen because we have placed ourselves in a position to do his job. I just pray that he will start to work things out for us again.
(USA) Erica, First, I understand that this is over a year after your post. I chose to respond to your comment because you already have the answer. In your comment you said exactly what you need to do. It is exactly the process I am going through right now. Getting out of God’s way is much harder than it should be. As people, it is our nature to want to fix things. Unfortunately, we’re miserable at it. But God is not. He created us. He knows how we are made. What we have inside of us. When your computer breaks you don’t fix it yourself (OK, some of us do), instead you send it to the manufacturer to repair it, because who knows better how to fix something than the one who created it?
Your comment made me smile the whole time I was reading it, until the last line. Yes, by all means, pray that He begins the healing process again. But then, let go of it. And, don’t continue to ask Him to do it, rather thank Him for doing it. Thanking God before He answers your prayers is a gesture that shows that you have faith that He will hold true to His covenant with his people (namely you,) and makes it easier for us to allow ourselves to go the “hands off” approach. Thanking Him, is saying, “Lord, this is what YOU’RE doing for me.”
Do you say to yourself, “Thank you for making me a cup a coffee?” No, but if somebody else made you one, you would thank them. Anyway, this has become much longer than I intended it to be. I hope that over the last year God has already had His hand in your situation and you are living in the joy that He has promised His people. I pray that for all the people on this board. Be blessed everybody, and ask God to show you the truth of His love. It is AMAZING!