Although a “gotcha” moment might make a good crime show, it’s not a good tactic to use when talking to a spouse after they’ve had an affair. Infidelity is horrifyingly painful, but in order to talk about it, you need to resist letting your emotions lead the way. In her book, Not Just Friends, Dr. Shirley P. Glass discusses three ways to talk about an affair with your spouse. The truth must always be first.
Stage 1: Interrogation
When you’ve been betrayed and want to find the truth, it seems intuitive to interrogate your spouse. However, if you placed your spouse under interrogation lights like in a detective movie or attempted to hook them up to a lie detector examination, the guilty spouse would feel attacked. And when we’re attacked, it’s easy to begin evading questions. In this scenario, no one gets closer to truth.When the betrayed spouse takes this approach, it makes sense as a last-ditch effort to force honesty. The betrayed spouse likely feels the only way to get answers is to force them out. But this method is predicated on mistrust and hostility, and it positions the spouses as combatants. In this case, the involved spouse feels attacked and it’s easy for him or her to be dishonest. Consequently, the dodging of the truth reinforces feelings of betrayal for the interrogating spouse and trust is further lost.
If you’ve discovered that your spouse had an affair, controlling your anger must be supernatural. The betrayed spouse is hurt, tired, distrustful, and wants to know the truth. But even in the midst of this, God tells us to display self-control: “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29). Anger only perpetuates more anger. As you act with a level head, it means your spouse can, too. That’s how the truth gets out.
Stage 2: Tell it Like it Is
Although it’s easiest to sweep details under the rug, it is healthier for a relationship to heal if both spouses know what really happened. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). When a spouse is betrayed, he or she will imagine the worse. Only if details are divulged can healing happen.
Glass suggests using an interview format. Prepare your questions, sit down with your partner, and have him or her answer them. Don’t add fuel to your hurt or their betrayal by accusing or contradicting. Like a reporter, listen and pay attention when your spouse answers.
Hearing the truth is hard because what your spouse says now may not be the same as what they said earlier. It’s easy to point out lies. Try to appreciate the fact that you are finally getting real and honest. Glass writes: “You might feel better if you accept that the lies and cover-ups were a frantic attempt to keep you from discovering the truth and leaving the relationship.”
The spouse who has had an affair will need to grow past his or her initial discomfort relating details of the affair. It’s easy to avoid sharing memories because of shame, fear, or wanting to keep some memories and experiences separate from your spouse. However, sharing those cherished memories will distance the involved partner from the extramarital affair. The betrayed spouse may act strongly out of hurt and anger. After an expected emotional outburst, watch to see if behavior changes from obsession and moves towards healing.
Try the Fishbowl Technique:
If an interview format feels too hurtful or confrontational, try the fishbowl technique to discuss infidelity. The betrayed spouse writes down questions and places them in a fishbowl. When the involved partner is ready, he or she can choose a question from the bowl and answer it. In Glass’ book, one couple proceeded with the fishbowl technique until they were in a healthy enough space to go away for a weekend and answer the offended partner’s seven pages of questions.
Stage 3: Finding Healing
It’s normal to want to understand why the affair happened in the first place. Glass advises that these “why” questions should wait until after details of the affair are discussed. She writes, “Conversations become introspective, respectful, sensitive, and free-flowing with information.” When healing begins, it starts with empathy. Rather than withholding details or trying to trap the involved partner in a lie, work at empathy. The betrayed spouse may learn to extend sympathy with the involved partner’s pain when the affair was severed. The one who had the affair learns to sympathize with how it must be hard for the other spouse to trust him or her in the future.
Christian Counseling After Your Spouse Had an Affair
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“The Conversation,” courtesy of unsplash.com, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “On the Phone,” courtesy of Soren Antrup Jorgensen, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Stay with Me,” courtesy of JUrban, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License