Twelve Steps to Facilitate Affair Recovery

affair-recovery-300x200You’ve decided to salvage your marriage after an affair. It’s not going to be easy to sift through the wreckage and there will be no quick fixes. Re-establishing trust after a monumental transgression is grueling, but with grit and determination you can rebuild. The saying, “What you have done, you will do again,” in the context of infidelity means: once a cheater always a cheater. I reject that belief, having one affair is not the same as being a serial cheater.

Of course you don’t have a guarantee that your partner will never cheat again, but you never had a guarantee to begin with. No human is above falling. If you were the faithful spouse, it is crucial you understand the infidelity wasn’t your fault. You are not responsible for your spouse’s actions and poor decisions. There is no magic recipe for healing, but these twelve steps can be instrumental in the process of rebuilding.

  1. Forgiveness– There is nothing fair about forgiveness; it is a costly gift the betrayed spouse offers to the unfaithful one. Healing will take time and you will most likely need the assistance of a counselor. Therapy can help you flesh out the affair narrative and get you the answers you need to move forward in order to forgive.
  2. Recommitment– Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long-term successful relationship. The higher the commitment level, the more likely you will be to stay together when the storm winds blow. Trust can be re-established, love can be revived, but once you throw in the commitment towel, the relationship is essentially dead.
  3. Affair Termination– If the primary relationship is to survive, the affair must be terminated abruptly. No explanation is needed. If you work closely with the affair partner, transfer to another department or change jobs altogether. Block rather than delete phone numbers and email addresses.
  4. Disclosure– As a therapist, I advocate for full disclosure of the affair so the faithful partner can make informed decisions, such as seeing a doctor for STD testing. A word of caution however, you will need to balance your partner’s full disclosure with your ability to cope once the specifics come out. Any communication from the affair partner should be divulged to your spouse immediately.
  5. Secrets– Affairs thrive in secrets and marriages thrive in transparency. When all secrets are on the table, you know who and what you are up against and you are better able to move forward in the healing process. Sharing social media accounts and passcodes for phones, iPads and bank accounts assists in recovering trust. Agree to never change the passwords without consulting with the other partner.
  6. Remembrance– Emerson Eggerichs introduces the 80:20 ratio in his book Love and Respect. This concept says that 80 percent of the marriage can be categorized as good or great while 20 percent is troubling. Many times (pre-affair) couples are focused on everything wrong with each other. As you pursue healing, make a conscious decision to remember the good, get the derailed back on track, forgive the flaws and make new memories.
  7. Romance– You can sabotage your marriage by spending more time on the things that annoy you. In doing so, you water the weeds and strangle the romance. If you want your reconstruction efforts to be fruitful you will have to make a deliberate choice to revive the passion through flirting, laughing, kissing, and when going on dates- staying off the cell phones.
  8. Counseling– Attending weekly sessions will provide you both with the support you need in order to re-launch a better than ever marriage. It also provides a safe place to voice your opinions and concerns about the affair while examining the causes of the unfaithfulness.
  9. Partnership– Marriage is a partnership, which means one person does not hold too much or all of the power. Both parties should contribute meaningfully to the relationship while respecting each other’s contributions.
  10. Grief– One of the best gifts you can give to yourself is permission to grieve the death of your marriage as it was. Set up a support system of friends who will allow you to lament freely. Journaling can provide the outlet to express intense emotions so you do not grow bitter. Whatever you do, stay with your grief work for as long as it takes. There are simply no short cuts.
  11. Boundaries– Trust can be re-established, but getting there will take time, patience and boundaries. Explore those boundaries together so both of you are clear on what you are expecting. If you were the unfaithful spouse, engage a friend or pastor as an accountability partner; your spouse cannot police all of your actions. Finally, commit to a new and higher standard of sexual conduct.
  12. Bonding Time– Initiate a nightly routine of “pillow talk” before going to sleep. This is a good opportunity to strengthen your emotional bond as you recount the day, talk about future plans, pray, or read a devotional together.

Six Things to Let Go of Post Affair

imagesLearning you have been betrayed by the very person who vowed to love, honor and cherish you until parted by death is devastating. Most betrayed partners remember with vivid clarity, every detail of the day they discovered the affair. Not one moment passes by where there is not an acute awareness of their spouse’s decision to stray from the marriage covenant. The knowledge of the infidelity is always present, in every context of life.

Survivors of adultery say you are healed when you can recall the affair and it no longer causes deep emotional anguish. Until that point, every remembrance of the affair threatens to take your breath away, but you do not have to be a hostage to depression or enslaved by fear. With consistent and focused therapy, you can recover and relinquish the toxic waste that has been weighing you down. These six things are healthy to let go of post affair:

  1. Unforgiveness– Forgiving your husband/wife may seem reasonable, especially if you’re trying to reconcile the relationship, but the affair partner? You may not even want to forgive them or perhaps it feels like an impossible task considering their blatant disregard for your marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Talk to God, process your feelings in therapy, but choose forgiveness. I know it isn’t easy and it may take a while to get there, but unforgiveness will fester and spread like cancer. Forgiveness is making the difficult choice to radically accept what you cannot change and agreeing to no longer hold this egregious action against the people who caused you this seemingly unending pain. Forgiveness will liberate you.
  2. Images– If you suffer from mental images of your husband/wife with the affair partner, you are not alone. These abominable images come to your mind at the MOST inconvenient times, they are hard to erase and become the triggers that fuel many arguments and sleepless nights. They are not emotionally healthy and they get in the way of being present with the people you love. So when the intrusive images make their presence known, interrupt the experience and block them by thinking of something more positive.
  3. Despair– One of the reasons betrayal hurts so much is because it is a weapon found only in the hands of someone you love. Your enemy doesn’t have this power. Betrayal is mutiny, a violation of a trust, an inside job. After a betrayal it is common to feel despair. You may even question who you are and court suicidal thoughts. Humiliation and embarrassment become your closest friends. It’s okay to acknowledge the feeling, but don’t live here. Discuss these feelings with your therapist. Even if your marriage is not salvageable, you will recover. Divorce despair and pursue healing and wholeness.
  4. Demonizing the affair partner– It’s easier to forgive your spouse when you are trying to save the marriage and demonize the affair partner. And though there may be many reasons for demonizing him/her: decimated finances, pregnancy, STDs, etc., the brutal truth is, they (your spouse and the affair partner) are BOTH to blame. It is highly unlikely the affair partner will feel guilty enough to take responsibility for their actions or even apologize for their home wrecking antics. Don’t let this person live rent free in your head and don’t waste your precious time plotting revenge.
  5. Ruminating on the affair– Instead of ruminating on the affair and all the “what if’s,” focus on the redemption of your marriage and the new things God is doing in your life. If your partner is repentant as evidenced by terminating the affair, expressing remorse and taking active steps to repair the damage while participating in your healing, you are headed in the right direction. It is safe to stop replaying the events of the affair disclosure in your mental theatre.
  6. Interrogating your spouse– I advocate for the affair details to be shared with the offended party in order for proper emotional healing to take place. Constantly interrogating the guilty spouse, however, will only serve to push them away and you end up reliving the trauma. A good therapist will help you flesh out the affair narrative, learn the causes of the infidelity and repair the breaches. Resist interrogating your spouse and allow your therapist to facilitate the questions and answers you need in order to heal.

 

Two Responses to Valley Experiences

Spring and early summer is typically when local communities gear up for Relay for Life; an organization whose tagline “celebrate, remember, and fight back” inspires its participants to raise money for cancer research for the American Cancer Society (relayforlife.org, 2014). It’s also the time of year that triggers a flood of memories from my own experience with cancer.

I frequently refer to my encounter as “the valley of the shadow of death” because those were some of the darkest hours of my life. It was an emotionally charged journey, filled with questions and uncertainty about my tomorrows. “Will I live?” “Will I die?” “Will I always feel this miserable?” These represent just a few of the questions that reverberated through my mind at any given moment. During periods of tribulation our faith is often tested and we learn what we are made of. People usually respond to valley experiences in one of two ways:

1. Grow closer to Jesus – These folks make an intentional decision to grow closer to Jesus; it doesn’t happen by chance. Although their suffering seems unbearable, they cry out to God in raw pain and He answers in tangible ways resulting in growth and greater intimacy.

2. Move further away from Him – Moving away from the Lord in times of tribulation is also a choice, although it may not always be a conscious one. Sometimes, people simply drift from God; usually because He did not answer them in the way that was hoped for.

After some deep soul searching, I chose to grow closer to Jesus. So I sought Him with my whole heart and in the midst of my suffering, I found Him walking with me, holding me, wiping away my tears and equipping me with promises I could hold on to. The most tangible promise God gave me came from 2 Chronicles 20:15-17:

15 “…This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you’” (italics added for emphasis).

Are you currently walking through your own “valley of the shadow of death?” Perhaps your valley isn’t cancer, but the death of a loved one, job loss, financial woes, a wayward child, infidelity, divorce, you fill in the _____________. Choose your response to your valley experience wisely my friend. Refuse to waver in your faith, even in the face of uncertainty. Go out and face whatever mighty army is coming against you and commit this truth to your heart…when God fights, God wins!