This week I am in Round Top, Texas with some very special women I meet with each year for fun, prayer, reflection, refreshment and accountability. I was hoping for warm weather after barely making my flight out of Philadelphia Saturday morning but the cold weather blew down here too. Brrrrrrr
Pray for me while I’m here. That I would hear from God, that I would sleep well, that I would connect with other women in a deeper way and would come home refreshed.
This Week’s Question: Do you have a book on what steps need to take place after sexual infidelity in order for the marriage to truly heal? My husband says he’s sorry but I’ve heard that before. If I didn’t know about the affair, I’d think we had a fairly good marriage but now I don’t know what to think. I want to forgive him but I don’ t know how to forget what he’s done. It hurts so bad. Help if you can.
Answer: I am so sorry. Sexual infidelity is betrayal of the deepest kind and tough to truly recover from. I think that’s why Jesus said it was one of the few grounds for biblically divorcing a spouse. For a marriage to truly heal from this devastating breach in trust, hard work must be done by both persons in the marriage. I haven’t written a book that specifically deals with adultery as a stand alone issue, but between How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage you will find the crucial stepping stones that will help you and your husband rebuild your marriage.
You may also want to look at Dave Carder’s book Torn Asunder. Dave talks about three different kinds of affairs – the one night stand, the emotionally attached, and the chronic yet meaningless affair. He gives specific steps couples need to take to address each type.
However, couples often needs additional help when there is infidelity. Without outside accountability and support, most couples do not do the work needed to deeply heal the damage even if they choose to stay married.
Adultery is always evidence of a deeper and more sinister problem at work in the heart and mind of at least one of the individuals in the marriage. Before a marriage can be rebuilt, that issue needs to be identified, owned and worked on.
Let me give you an example. Many years ago the city of Allentown, PA was held spellbound by the drama surrounding a giant sinkhole that threatened to topple an entire office structure called Corporate Office Plaza. The sinkhole had developed in the middle of the night and quickly spread over 50 feet wide and 18 feet deep.
The first clue that something was wrong came when operators of the city's reservoirs noticed a 2 foot drop in water levels in the middle of the night. Crews were sent out to search for the leak and discovered a widening sinkhole which was swallowing up the water. Very early, before any business life entered the city , the menacing sinkhole began its destruction in the street. Corporate office plaza began to sink and crumble. Huge shards of glass and bricks tumbled to the pavement below as the building began to buckle and crack, teetering on the verge of collapse.
“Can this building be stabilized?” people cried. “Can we at least go in to salvage our things?” This happened in February and many of the offices were used by accounting firms in the middle of tax season.
But no, Corporate Plaza was ruined. Destroyed from deep within by a force that was unobserved and unknown until too late. The damage was subtle at first and then without warning, dramatic.
When adultery is revealed, what looked like a good marriage on the outside suddenly and dramatically begins to crumble. The marriage no longer is standing erect and the very foundation upon which that structure has been built, is questioned. Where was the love, trust, commitment and loyalty? What has happened? What has gone wrong? How do we fix this? Is it even fixable?
Just like Corporate Plaza couldn’t be safely rebuilt without addressing the sinkhole problem first, a marriage cannot be rebuilt without addressing the inner issues going on in the heart that led to someone to choose to betray and lie to his or her partner.
Here are ten (10) steps that need to be taken.
1. Is there not only remorse for the sin but repentance? Does the spouse who committed adultery take ownership for his or her choice – no blaming? (That doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious marital issues that need to be addressed that may have contributed to feelings of anger, resentment, and loneliness in the marriage that made the choice to go elsewhere for love feel reasonable and acceptable).
2. Is there a willingness on the part of the spouse who committed adultery to do the work of self-examination to understand better why he/she made that choice so that the triggers and excuses are addressed? Is he willing to look at the deep heart issues that allowed him to make this choice – the sinkholes in his life like pride, entitlement, selfishness, anger, poor impulse control, sexual addiction, family history issues?
3. Is there a genuine sorrow for the pain he/she has caused the spouse? Often times the “caught” spouse is in pain because they’ve been caught, they’ve been humiliated and shamed, they fear the loss of their family or financial security through divorce but there isn’t any real acknowledgment or awareness for the pain they’ve caused their spouse.
4. Is the adulterous spouse willing to sit with their spouse and listen, really listen to their hurt and heartache over this and show compassion, empathy and care no matter how long it takes?
5. Is the injured spouse willing to forgive?
6. Is he/she willing to also take a hard look at ways he/she may have contributed to neglect in the marriage or other unresolved problems that created emotional distancing to develop. What were the sinkholes in the marriage before this happened?
7. Is he/she willing to be honest with her feelings of sadness, hurt, anger and do the hard work to work through them and move past them? So often there is pressure to sweep these under the rug and forgive and move on without doing the hard work.
8. Is he/she willing to acknowledge the positive changes their spouse is making toward building trust and healing the marriage.
9. Is he/she able to understand that this whole thing is a process, it takes time, hard work, and often goes in fits and starts so that it isn’t always a smooth ride?
10. Is the spouse who has committed adultery willing to be patient with the process as his/her spouse isn’t able to let it go, gets retriggered with old memories or current reminders, or can’t immediately feel trust or warm feelings for her spouse? Does he show empathy and compassion or irritation and impatience? Is he willing to do what it takes to rebuild her trust?
If a couple goes through these stages, I believe a marriage that has suffered infidelity can come out stronger and healthier than before. Sadly, too often we want the quick fix and aren’t really willing to do the hard work to repair the damage. But think of it this way. If Corporate Plaza was rebuilt without addressing why the sinkhole was there and how to prevent that from happening in the future, it would be vulnerable to the same problem happening all over again.
Friends, if this has happened in your marriage, what stages did you go through to bring healing or were these short circuited and healing never happened?