When your spouse has had an affair, it can be a serious trauma for you. People who have experienced this betrayal need to seriously consider whether or not the benefits of their marriage outweigh the effort involved in moving beyond the affair. If you have been the victim of an affair and want to work together to make your marriage work, I have developed a three-step process to move toward acceptance, forgiveness and trust.
- Both husband and wife need to agree that their relationship is most important and they are willing to do whatever it takes to work through this trauma.
During this step, it is especially important for the non-offending spouse to shift his or her question from, “What’s wrong with me that led my partner to commit adultery?” to “What part did I play in this affair? What was I prioritizing over our marriage?” The victim is not to blame, but in most cases of adultery, each person was engaging in an extramarital affair. While one person prioritized something over their marriage—their job, children, aging parents, friends, community commitment, etc.—the other engaged in sexual relations with another person.
This point is made, not to blame the victim, but to rid the typical villain/victim script from the affair. As long as the one wronged blames the other without examining their own role in the betrayal, forgiveness is virtually impossible. It is important for both people to understand affairs don’t happen in a vacuum—there are always contributing factors. Once the non-offending spouse can accept their responsibility for the affair, then the healing becomes about strengthening the relationship rather than punishing or forgiving the offending spouse.
Each of you must be committed to prioritizing your relationship above everything else. This mindset is necessary before starting the journey to forgiveness.
- Both partners need to correct their behavior that led to the affair.
Once you have both accepted responsibility for the affair, it is necessary to correct the injurious behavior. For the person who had the affair, you must end all contact with the person you had the affair with. Do everything in your power to allay your partner’s fears, even if it involves becoming completely transparent in your behavior and communications: let your partner see your messages and provide full itineraries of where you will be and with whom at all times.
For the person having a more socially acceptable affair, you must correct that behavior while realigning yourself with your marriage as your number one priority. Reduce the amount of time you spend with whatever else was taking precedence over your relationship.
This step is about rebuilding the trust that was damaged while prioritizing your relationship over everything else, including your own individual desires. Always ask yourself, “What would be best for our relationship?” This is a question you need to ask regardless of whether your partner is doing the same. Prioritizing your relationship is what you do because you want to repair the relationship—don’t prioritize the relationship just because your partner is doing it too. Of course, it’s ideal when you’re both doing this simultaneously, but both partners are not always in the same place at the same time. When working towards reconciliation, you need to be willing to prioritize the relationship because it’s the right thing to do and you’re being the person you want to be.
- Both need to develop forgiveness for the other.
Forgiveness means you not only forgive the initial problem but you also reestablish trust. In order to accomplish this, don’t think of trust as a noun that must be earned but as a verb, a behavior that can be chosen. As you and your partner reconnect in Step 2 by prioritizing your relationship, the natural consequence is to make the decision to trust.
You realize you both made mistakes that you both regret. You understand you both were doing the best you knew how to get what you wanted. Your partner was not deliberately trying to hurt you; in every situation, people act in ways designed to help them meet their wants and needs.
Trust is the behavior you choose when you want a healthy, connected relationship. When you choose trust, you simultaneously let go of the need to punish your partner. You will stop blaming, criticizing, and stalking your partner—you’ll let go of the idea that they’ll cheat again. You extend your trust because you want to be a trusting person in a trusting relationship.
Should your partner break your trust again, you will have a new decision to make. Until then, trust and forgive. You can find out more about “Surviving an Affair” in my book, Secrets of Happy Couples.