Part 1 of a 2-Part After Infidelity Series
You’ve recently learned that your spouse committed adultery. Now what do you do? Your mind is reeling. You want answers – and you don’t. Do you really want to know? Can you even trust your husband or wife to answer truthfully, if they’ve been hiding so much from you and deceiving you for so long?
In her book, NOT “Just Friends,” Dr. Shirley P. Glass offers a list of ten questions you might work through when talking with your spouse about his or her affair. This article will address the first five questions; look for Part 2 in this series for the remaining questions on the list.
1) What did you say to yourself that gave you permission to get involved?In other words, “What motivated you to have an affair? What attracted you to this person? How did you excuse your relationship? Were you more worried about getting caught or about the consequences of being unfaithful?” Pinpointing the answers to these questions may help to identify what led your spouse to the affair and therefore, how to set up boundaries and hedges of protection to prevent a future recurrence.
The gradual development of an emotional relationship with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse is a common first step toward adultery – particularly if that relationship involves conversation about your own marriage problems. This is a big mistake. Sharing about your marital unhappiness or complaining about your spouse to a member of the opposite sex will lead that person to believe you’re not committed to your marriage. According to Dr. Glass, “Although women share deep feelings with lots of people, particularly other women, men are usually most comfortable sharing their feelings in a love relationship. As a result, when a relationship becomes emotionally intimate, men tend to sexualize it.” (209)
Another common way unfaithful spouses expose their marriage is to allow themselves to be drawn to desirable characteristics or qualities they don’t see in their spouse. As a general rule, women do not commit adultery unless they are unhappy with their marriage relationship. They look at the lack of connectedness with their spouse and start to depend on someone else for emotional fulfillment and satisfaction.
A man may connect with a woman who shares certain interests, or he may bond with her because she allows him to fulfill a role he cannot fill for his wife. In her book, Dr. Glass gives the example of a man who had an affair with a colleague who had been raised in a poor family. Their relationship allowed him to play the “knight in shining armor” – taking her out to fancy restaurants and supporting her in ways her husband would not.
Sometimes the attraction is purely physical. Consider the account of King David and Bathsheba. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about David’s thought process between seeing Bathsheba taking a bath on the rooftop and sending someone to fetch her. It doesn’t seem as if there was any emotional connection between David and Bathsheba. He saw an attractive woman and used his political power to have sex with her.
Listening to your spouse talk about what attracted them to someone else will surely be a painful experience – but it can be fruitful and worthwhile. By understanding your partner’s vulnerable areas, you can seek to help him or her make changes that will steer clear of a similar episode in the future. As Dr. Glass explains, “When involved partners share their feelings on this level, they are letting their betrayed spouse inside their mind and reforging their bond.” (209) By allowing your spouse to articulate what when on in his or her thoughts leading up to the affair, you will actually strengthen your union in the long run.
2) Did you feel guilty after the first time you had sex?
The experience of guilt after a first extramarital sexual encounter can lead to a vast number of different reactions. Some people feel so guilty they break it off at once. Others attempt to rationalize or minimize their actions. For some, the guilt actually drives them back to their affair partner for another sexual encounter, as if a repeat experience could distract them from their sense of shame. (210)
Asking your spouse about the guilt they may or may not have felt will reveal their level of integrity. Believe it or not, some people never feel guilty about committing adultery. Some immediately regret agreeing to extramarital sex. Others may feel guilty, but not enough to keep them away from the illicit relationship.
Hearing an honest answer from the unfaithful party will likely be painful, but it may also prove a necessary step toward recovery and reconciliation.
3) If you knew it was wrong, why did you let it go on for so long?
According to Dr. Glass, “Unfaithful spouses often appear addicted to being addicted to their lovers. They fail in their efforts to end the affair time and time again, pulled back by a magnetic force they can’t seem to resist. Only with great determination are they able to break the spell.” (210) The adrenaline rush, tension, and subterfuge that accompany infidelity can become addictive ingredients that are very hard to resist.
The desire to do something we know is wrong is an age old struggle, dating all the way back to creation and the Garden of Eden. In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul articulates the struggle like this: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18b-19). Going back to David and Bathsheba, David knew that what he was doing was wrong – and yet he still did it. Then in desperation to cover his guilt, he went on to organize the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. Obviously, David was not thinking about the lasting consequences when he saw Bathsheba bathing and sent for her. He let his desire rule over him, and he was defeated by the power of temptation and sin.
In some instances, extramarital affairs begin for one reason, but carry on for a different reason altogether. For example, some begin as casual friendships but gradually grow into a powerful emotional bond. Others stem from an emotional connection but are sustained by the sexual aspect. Sometimes they are caused by a spouse feeling desperate during a low point in the marriage but continue after their marriage improves because the affair has taken on a life of its own. (210)
Another question to consider is “What ended the affair?” It takes time for the involved spouse to get over their relationship with their affair partner. They will likely mourn over it as would anyone who has had to break up with someone they cared about. This process will differ depending on whether they ended it on their own, or when they got caught. “If the affair ended abruptly, the attachment will be harder to break than if the affair died a natural death. It’s easier to put a relationship behind you if you’re the one who made the decision to leave.” (210)
Maintain open communication with your spouse and allow the process to go through the necessary stages.
4) Did you think about me at all?
Glass cited a study that revealed, “87 percent of involved partners think of their lover while with their spouse, but only 47 percent ever think of their spouse while with their lover.” This contradicts the betrayed spouse’s assumption that their spouse thought about the implications to their marriage while they were cheating. “If the unfaithful partner had been thinking about the betrayed partner, he or she wouldn’t have gotten so involved in the first place. The act of infidelity is not about the person who was betrayed – it is about the person who did the betraying.” (210-211)
Given the potentially hurtful answer, you may receive, give careful consideration to whether you really want to hear a truthful response to this question. And if the truth hurts – be encouraged by the fact that you are not alone.
5) What did you say about our marriage?
Many affairs stem from an unhappy spouse finding a sympathetic listener for their marriage complaints. Understandably, after the affair ends, the betrayed partner wants to know how much their spouse shared with their affair partner. Discussing what was shared helps determine the emotional intimacy of the affair and address any loyalty issues within the marriage relationship.
However, not all affairs begin from the foundation of an unhappy marriage. While some spouses may divulge weaknesses to their affair partner, others don’t go there. While it sounds backward, some may even commend their spouse and marriage to their affair partner. Others manage to compartmentalize both relationships. They may refuse to talk about their marriage with their affair partner in an attempt to “honor” the relationship.
“In any case, if you are the unfaithful partner, it’s important for you to talk to your spouse about real problems in the marriage that you’ve discussed only with your affair partner.” (211)
Christian Counseling Extramarital Affair Recovery
Talking about an affair is difficult, which is why so many couples avoid it and inevitably make more trouble for themselves. However, refusing to discuss an affair is like keeping garbage in a box under your sink and never throwing it out. The box is insufficient to mask the entire odor. Eventually, something is going to knock over the box and leave a nasty mess in your kitchen. Dr. Glass’ questions provide a helpful starting point, but the best source of guidance is a professional Christian marriage counselor. They can cater the approach and action plan to your personal situation and marriage. A professional Christian counselor in Spokane will help you understand what caused the affair, guide you through the repair process, and teach you how to prevent future infidelity.
This article refers to the book, “NOT ‘Just Friends’” by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock Staeheli
“Conversation On a Bench,” courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Getting Together,” pixabay.com, pexels — CC0 Public Domain License; “Look to the Future,” courtesy of Alex Jodoin, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License;