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Today’s Question: I discovered my husband’s 8-month affair 1 1/2 years ago. We separated for 3 months and then I took him back to work on things. I even told him I forgave him. He continued to lie to me. Then 3 1/3 months ago I discovered he betrayed me again a few more times with the same woman 6 months prior while we were trying to rebuild and take all the affair recovery courses.
So we separated again and this time I wasn't codependent. I didn't tell him what he should do. I left it totally up to him, but he's done nothing and in his weak moments, he has even approached his affair partner for conversation. I recently told him this is the end of the line for me. He told me he wants to reconcile, and he gave me a genuine apology. He passed a polygraph that I asked for a long time ago, but he was unwilling to do it then because he hadn't come clean to me about all the lies yet.
Would I be a fool to consider possible reconciliation and rebuilding our marriage after all this? We've been married 33 years and have two grown (recently) married children. Thanks so much.
Answer: Thank you for your question. I think it resonates with many women who find themselves in your position. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through.
After many long years together, you discovered his affair. Your husband cheated, lied, told you he wanted to work on things, lied, and cheated again even while he was pretending to work on “rebuilding your marriage”. Now he’s told you once more he wants to reconcile only after you said you were done. He’s apologized and taken a lie-detector test that he wasn’t willing to do before. Your question is, would you be a fool to consider possible reconciliation and rebuilding your marriage after all of this?
My answer depends on what he is willing to do next. Rebuilding a broken marriage is usually worth giving serious thought to. You have 33 years of history and two married children and that is important. But you are not foolish for pressing pause and thinking through your next right steps.
I’m curious what kind of work has your husband done on himself to understand his own actions. For example, has he explored the reasons he gave into temptation jeopardizing his 33-year marriage with you? Why did he lie to you, pretending it was over when it wasn’t?
You said that when you left him the second time and said this was the end of the line, he did nothing to work on himself, but once again resumed his conversation with his affair partner. Now after you said this is the end, he wants to reconcile. What’s different now than before? Why should you trust him? You already know he’s not trustworthy. He’s proven that.
You face a common dilemma that many women find themselves in. Marital trust has been shattered. Multiple times. Now he says he’s sorry or doesn’t want to lose his marriage, or his perhaps his retirement nest egg that will be impacted if you divorce. Now he says he wants to “work on rebuilding your marriage.” What exactly does that mean to him? You cannot repair the damaged trust he created until or unless he first works on himself and looks at why he was willing to lie and cheat in the first place.
Think of it this way. Your house (marriage) has damage to its foundation because of termites eating away at the woodwork. You call a repair person to fix the damage, to rebuild the foundation so that your house (marriage) doesn’t collapse (divorce). But you never address the termite problem. What that means for the future is that although it looks like you have a new foundation, termites are still there eating away at all the work you just did, making your house vulnerable to another collapse.
What’s the reason your husband chose not to do any of his own work when you told him this was the end of the line? Also, if he’s a believer in Jesus, did his actions bother him? If so, why didn’t he listen to the Holy Spirit? If he cares for you, his break in marital trust and the hurt he caused you should rattle him deeply. Did it? How would you have known? How does he see himself as a man of God? Husband? Father? Why was he willing to throw away things that should have mattered to him (his family, his integrity, his reputation) for temporary pleasure? And most important, who is he really? Is he a good man who messed up? Or is he a self-centered man who wants what he wants and you happen to be that right now?
I believe a marriage can be healed after betrayal, but only after the one who did the betraying does some hard soul-searching and healing as to why he made the choices he did.
I’m going to give you a few questions to ask him to think about. I suggest you write them out and give them to him that way. His thoughtful responses (or non-answers or reactions) may help you get clear on your next right choices. (You may also want to answer these questions for yourself to see how closely your answers align with his answers).
- What would repairing our marriage look like to you?
- If our marriage was already healed, what would it look like, sound like and feel like to you?
- What’s most important to you in having a good marriage?
- What have you learned about yourself from this experience?
- How do you think your behaviors have affected and impacted me and our marriage?
- What are the changes you need to make in yourself so that this does not happen again?
- What steps do you think you need to take to rebuild my shattered trust?
Before giving him these questions, I suggest you say to him something like this. “I don’t know if I’m willing or ready to rebuild our relationship, but I do have some questions I’d like you to look at and answer for me.”
Then wait and see what he does. Don’t remind him. If you are important to him, he’ll work on it and give it the attention it deserves. If he honors you by giving these questions serious thought and consideration, reflecting on himself and how his behaviors have impacted you, him, and your marriage, then perhaps he’s ready for more personal growth. On the other hand, if he ignores them, minimizes or criticizes you or the questions, or answers the questions with superficial responses, the chances of rebuilding a marriage that is any different than it was before is zero.
This will give you the information you need to decide whether it’s wise or foolish to take the next step forward together.
Friend, when your trust has been shattered in marriage, what steps were taken to rebuild your trust?
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