Recovering after an affair requires perseverance and hard work, but the relationship can be restored slowly over time. Of course, it means trudging through the issues that were present before the affair began, in addition to the aftermath of the affair. It may be difficult for your partner to trust you, and this may be hurtful to you as well. But there are things that you can do to demonstrate your commitment to reconciliation. Though you can’t control your spouse’s response, this article highlights behaviors that you can do to slowly rebuild the trust you have broken with your spouse.
1. Cut off all Communication and Contact with the Extramarital Partner
Make it clear to your affair partner that you will no longer communicate with them in any way, and stick to it! No more social interaction of any kind—lunches, coffee, or even a quick conversation if you bump into each other at the store. Often affairs occur with colleagues from work. This one is tricky, but still can be done. Apart from necessary work-related conversation that must happen, do not interact with your affair partner anymore. Sometimes the extramarital partner will attempt to contact you, especially if they are not motivated to end the affair. To sever any relationship is uncomfortable, but it is essential work for rebuilding trust with your spouse.
No, you can’t be “just friends” after an affair!
Breaking up is hard to do! I am not saying that it will be easy. The unfaithful spouse is likely to experience all the heart-wrenching emotions that come with breaking off a relationship that had emotional and/or sexual intimacy, despite the fact that it was an affair. But even checking in on the affair partner opens one up to temptation. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41 NIV) So even if intentions are good, this verse counsels us to stay away, lest temptation gets a foothold, sin overpowers, and then corrupts.
2. Let your Spouse Know of any Contact You Have with the Affair Partner
Since many affairs originate in the workplace, interacting with your former affair partner may be unavoidable. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, be up front with your spouse every time you must interact with your affair partner. Yes, your spouse may get upset at the idea of the two of you being together in the same place. However, they will likely appreciate you being up front about all interaction and communication that occurs between the two of you.
It creates even more opportunity for trust when it comes unsolicited or in a situation where your spouse might never have found out. Dr. Glass offers an example of this in her book, NOT ‘Just Friends.’ She tells of a couple, Terri and James, who were working through the aftermath of infidelity. When Terri asks James how his day was at work, she is wondering about his interaction with his former affair partner. His response that not much happened, led her to ask specifically about his interaction with his former lover. He then admits he did see her, but just to inquire about a project.
James’ reluctance to be open about his interaction with his affair partner feeds Terri’s distrust and heightens her desire to question whether he may still be keeping things hidden from her. If James had disclosed right away that he had to speak with his former lover, Terri might have felt sad, but she would not have felt as if he was trying to cover up his relationship with his affair partner.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:3-4 NIV) If you are forthcoming about your contact with your extramarital affair partner, you are looking to the interests of your spouse first—quieting their anxiety and offering a foundation for building trust in you again.
3. Give Your Spouse the Tools to Hold You Accountable After An Affair
“Knowing what is really going on is the only way a traumatized person can begin to reestablish trust.” Making your life available and accountable to your spouse is one of the best ways to build trust again. Your spouse is vulnerable. The more willing you are to share all activities and interactions, the more helpful you will be. “You can turn over the beeper, share the cell phone bills, and share your e-mail correspondence. If your affair was an Internet affair, share your Internet history file.”
This piece of the reconciliation process may be uncomfortable and tedious. It may feel like each interaction with another person is being examined and analyzed. However, this is a consequence of the broken trust that was caused by the affair. It is your responsibility to have transparency in order for the marriage to be reestablished. It requires humility to answer your spouse’s inquiries. Pride never has a place in a godly marriage anyway.
Consider the lesson in Luke 16, “Whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10-12 NIV) When trust has been abused, it is understandable that your spouse may not want to give you their trust, in case you misuse it again.
This practice of reporting, or accountability, is not about punishing you as much as it is about relieving the anxiety of your spouse. For example, don’t leave the room to take a call. If you do, let your spouse know who it was that called and why. Inform your spouse if you are going to come home later than planned. Glass makes an analogy from parenting. For each moment their teenage driver is past curfew, there is another moment for the parent to picture what their child looks like in a ditch after a bad accident. The longer your spouse must wonder what is keeping you, the more certain they become you must be off sneaking around.
Christian Counseling for Couples Building Trust After an Affair
If you are wondering how to reestablish trust with your spouse after an affair, consider seeking out a professional Christian counselor in Spokane. They can provide therapeutic insight, rooted in Scripture, for your marriage problems. Further, the counselor can give you strategies for transparency and honesty in your marriage so that trust can be regained, and can also assist your spouse in dealing with anxiety induced by the affair.
“NOT ‘Just Friends’” by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock StaeheliPhotos
“Coffee Chat,” courtesy of Joshua Ness, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Misty,” courtesy of Christiana Rivers, unsplash.com, Public Domain; “Let’s Sit a While,” courtesy of I’m Priscilla, unsplash.com, Public Domain License