News of infidelity can shatter a person. There is a deep sense of betrayal and broken trust when a spouse seeks fulfillment – emotional or physical – in another person. Betrayed spouses are filled with questions: Will my marriage ever heal? Will I ever be able to forgive? Can I even dare to hope that our relationship will someday flourish again? Is surviving infidelity in a Christian marriage even possible?Do you even have legitimate reason to be hopeful? If both spouses commit to working through the wounds with honest dialogue and open hearts, then yes! There is reason to hope. The process will surely be difficult. But repentance, alongside good counseling and practical tools for establishing new patterns of behavior and communication, can breathe new life into a broken marriage. It is, in fact, possible that the marriage can flourish and thrive in a greater way than before the infidelity occurred.
Surviving Infidelity in a Christian Marriage
Let’s talk about some tips for surviving infidelity in a Christian marriage, including practical steps you can take to heal your relationship with your spouse after infidelity has occurred.
To begin, it is essential for the unfaithful partner to ask for forgiveness from their spouse. Although this may be obvious, there are frequently less obvious relationships left wounded in the aftermath of an affair as well. Forgiveness may need to be asked of many others, also, such as immediate and extended family members, close friends, and co-workers. Owning up to our wrongdoing takes courage and humility. It can be difficult to ask for forgiveness for the pain caused by selfish choices that disregarded the effects on others.
Go for Counseling
It is very difficult for all involved in an affair to recover from its aftermath. Because of the multifaceted components and emotions, it is critical to have a Christian counselor or pastor guiding the healing process. It is necessary for another to accompany the couple on this difficult journey of restoration. The role played by this important “outside voice” is to assist in asking questions, mediating conflict when necessary, and directing conversations in a productive way. The view from outside the marriage can be enlightening and offer perspective to what may have contributed to the marital breach. A counselor can also offer the crucial assistance needed to put practical guidelines in place for healthy patterns and to protect the marriage going forward.
Be Honest about Your HurtsThere is no part of a person – emotional, physical, spiritual, or cognitive – that the betrayal of an affair leaves untouched. The layers of hurt are deep and far-reaching. Therefore, there is no hurt or thought that should be considered insignificant. Peeling back and examining the layers is vital to unpacking the impact of the affair and to expose the hurts. The hurts of the offending partner should be attended to as well. Though the infidelity is not to be excused, it is very possible that the marriage was strained before the affair occurred, and all hurts should be aired honestly and openly.
Be Open to Listening and Acknowledging Wrong
True listening is very difficult to do. We are often drawn to defend or justify our actions and behaviors when listening to others recount how we caused hardship. But for genuine healing to take place, listening without defending is essential. Having an open, receptive posture and taking ownership for actions that have caused deep pain is a key element of the recovery process.
Recognize Negative Relationship Patterns
In many cases, marriages develop harmful and unhelpful behavioral patterns before the infidelity takes place. Identifying these patterns is crucial for change to occur in the marriage. Sadly, many marriages are merely surviving, not thriving. A pastor or Christian counselor can assist the couple in locating these hurtful patterns. Examples include not prioritizing time for building the marriage; connecting with others and not face-to-face with your spouse; too much time absorbed by social media; insufficient time discussing hopes and dreams, with logistics, planning, and children dominating spousal conversation instead. This is the piece of the reconciliation process where the couple determines what needs changing.
Agree to Establish Healthy Patterns in the Relationship
Identifying what needs to change is the first step. Next, the couple must agree and commit to which new, healthy behaviors they are going to put in place. Here is where the couple asks, “What must happen in order to bring positive change?”
Create Opportunities for Intentional Time Together
Intentional time is necessary for all marriages to thrive. How much more for a couple healing from infidelity? It can be small and simple. For example, setting aside a certain night of the week for date night. Being diligent about having face time twice a week. This will allow time to share hopes, dreams, concerns, and new information. Some couples commit to daily “couch time” in which they catch each other up on the happenings of the day, shielded from the distraction of children. The kids are taught it is time exclusively for Mom and Dad. This is essential for children who are aware of the affair. They need to see their parents spending time together, reconnecting, talking, and in time, hopefully, laughing together.
Put Accountability in Place
Everyone in the process of recovery needs a trustworthy friend, pastor, or person to provide accountability. This is not just for the affair, but also accountability to the commitments and behaviors meant to restore and rebuild the marriage. You may be more likely to follow through on new behavior patterns if you know you will be lovingly asked, “When is your next date?” or “Did your face-to-face time happen this week?”
Ask God to Help You Forgive and Be Willing to Move Forward
Holding sins against someone is warned against in Scripture. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:31-32) To bring the wrong up again and again is unhelpful. When the hurt has been shared with the spouse, forgiveness has taken place, it is key to concentrate on the positive instead of the negative. New feelings might surface that need to be discussed and worked through, but ultimately, the couple wants to move in a forward direction. Using the affair to coerce or shame the offending spouse will not bring health and life to the relationship.
Allow Time to Grieve
Grief does not have a timeline. When a spouse forgives, it does not mean that all feelings of grief disappear. The grief journey varies from one person to the next. There will be times that it will be harder than at other times. There may be setbacks. However, continue to move forward and pursue what makes the marriage stronger.
Abide in the Marriage Covenant
Outside from God’s covenant with men, the only other covenant we have on earth is with our spouse. It is a covenant, unlike a contract which can be changed or cancelled. It is a relationship meant to thrive, not to endure, or feel “stuck” in. It is worth investing energy, time, and even finances into your marriage. (Go for a romantic weekend away!) It’s this kind of investment, or lack of it, that determines whether a marriage “fails” or “succeeds.” If your marriage is seeking to recover and heal from an affair, then you would do well to prioritize your marriage with investments of time, resources, and energy.
The earlier you seek out Christian marriage counseling, the more hurt and heartache from unresolved conflict you will spare yourself and your marriage. Marriage is a living parable which depicts the Lord’s relationship with His church. Living the “art” of marriage means we enter into this parable. Therefore, while building a healthy marriage is hard work, it is still worthy of our desire, time and effort.
“Storm,” courtesy of Peter Hershey, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Anita Peeples, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “For Better or For Worse,” courtesy of Thomas Curryer, unsplash.com, Public Domain License