The Ask Affaircare Series started because our readers have questions. About Affairs. Reconciling. Marriage. Divorce. Christianity. The Bible. And God. Initially, we tried to answer each question through e-mail, but we quickly realized that there were many people asking many similar questions, so we started this weekly series!
It’s not our goal to make you agree with us, but rather to explore what the Bible says in thoughtful, and clear manner. Additionally, we try to write our answers in a loving but truthful manner (Ephesians 4:15) because we know there is a real person – with real struggles and dreams – behind every single question. Thank for you visiting Affaircare. Keep those questions coming!
Our question today comes from a Loyal Spouse just 9 weeks past D-Day. He writes:
I am 9 weeks out from finding out about my wife’s 9 month affair. After individual and couples counseling, including a week-long, 20-hour session with our church, I find myself still struggling greatly. I do not know how to move forward. I need help!
Dear Don’t Know How to Move Forward,
Your email is very short and there are many facts we don’t know that would be extremely helpful, such as “Was it a physical affair or an emotional affair?” and “Is your wife showing true remorse and making the necessary changes…or is she rugsweeping and trying to get you to rugsweep too?” If we knew the answers to some of those questions, it would really help a lot! But since we don’t know, we’re going to reply just assuming that it was “generic” infidelity (as if there is such a thing) and, since you didn’t bring it up as an issue, assuming that she is doing the work to face herself and take full personal responsibility for her choice to commit adultery.
If either of those assumptions is NOT TRUE, then be aware that it might change the trajectory of our response. But for now, let’s “move forward” since that it our topic.
When we received your email, three things jumped out at us:
- It has only 9 weeks since you discovered proof of the adultery.
- You and your wife are drowning in therapy: individual counseling, couples counseling, and CHURCH counseling! And…
- To move forward you need to let go.
So let’s go over each one of these three topics, shall we?
First, it’s only been 9 weeks since you discovered proof of your wife’s affair. Now, normally people suspect for a while before D-Day proves it to them, so although you may have had a gut feeling earlier, it has only been 9 weeks ago that the proof was irrefutable and/or your wife confessed. Traditionally, those in the infidelity industry agree that it can take YEARS sometimes for the Loyal Spouse to recover from the betrayal of adultery. Here at Affaircare, our guideline is not blogs or pop psychology though–it’s the Bible. We don’t know of any place in the Bible that we are told that we have to recover from a painful, life-changing event “quickly.” God does tell us to forgive (more on that later), but He doesn’t say we have to “not feel the pain” or “be okay with it” or even to “get over the grief fast. ”
In fact, the Bible has a LOT to say about grief, and make no mistake, after discovering adultery, a Loyal Spouse goes through a GRIEF process. That’s because there has been a death: the marriage died the moment the Disloyal Spouse was unfaithful! Before the affair, you two were exclusive and you probably thought “Oh affairs happen to OTHER people–that will never happen to us. We have something special.” Now that innocent trust is dead. The image you had of “your marriage” is dead. And you (the Loyal Spouse) need to mourn just as surely as someone who lost their spouse–only your spouse isn’t dead! They are right there in front of you.
Here are several verses ABOUT mourning and grief–let’s see what we can learn from them:
Psalm 31:9-10 “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.” Wow, doesn’t the psalmist do a good job describing grief? His eyes are SPENT from crying! His soul is tortured and even his body is ill from the sorrow. This verse clearly indicates that sorrow takes a while, and it wears on the psalmist!
Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Well this one is a promise on which we can depend! When someone is brokenhearted…when someone’s spirit is crushed… the Lord is NEAR! We may not “feel” Him because the truth of His nearness isn’t based on our emotions. He promised it and so HE IS!
Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Here we learn that our hearts do fail us, and I don’t think the psalmist means cardiac disease here, do you? I think he’s talking about feeling so deeply sorrowful that your heart HURTS. Again, note that nowhere does it say that your flesh shouldn’t fail or that our hearts shouldn’t hurt. In fact, we could surmise that they will! But when they do… God is our strength.
Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Again, note that it doesn’t say we shouldn’t have a broken heart or that being wounded is a sin. It says that when that does happen, GOD HEALS. And since He promised, we can depend on that even if it doesn’t “feel like it.”
Isaiah 26:3 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” We threw this one in, even though it doesn’t specifically speak about grief, because it implies that something has occurred that would create LACK of peace. There is agitation, distress and conflict! And this verse talks to use about how we can regain peace: by having our mind, our thoughts, our reflection, our concentration FIXED on HIM.
Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” See how it doesn’t say “Thou shalt not mourn”? Nope, it says that mourning is going to occur, and we have a promise. We aren’t alone in our mourning and grief–He is there to comfort us.
Here are three more verses about mourning and grieving and affliction, and you go ahead and write in the comments what you learn from these three verses:
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
1 Peter 5:7 “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Don’t Know–this is going to take some time. It will never be “the way it was” and you are going to have to go through a period that is very similar to the grief process for “your marriage of the past.” Just based on our experience, we’d estimate the quickest possible timeframe would be a time equal to her affair (9 months) and if you deal with grief slower, it may be up to two years (roughly). Now that doesn’t mean that for the next two years there won’t be good times or you’ll hold your wife’s affair against her, but rather it will be like someone who is mourning. They are GRIEVING but life goes on. They just “go through the motions” at first. Then they learn to do a little better but feel guilty for doing a little better. Then they deal with it and time heals a little more and even more good days sneak in. And then one day maybe a year later they realize they are okay–they survived. It will be very much like that. You won’t “get better” all at once.
Second, you and your wife are drowning in therapy. What we mean by that, is that clearly you are going to a counselor to address how you are feeling and what you’re thinking and how to deal with all this and to address your own issues. And clearly your wife is going to a counselor to address why she cheated and to face her demons so she can identify her issues and change. And clearly you are going to couples counseling to address THE MARRIAGE’S issues and how to do better as a team/couple and how to gain the tools to be better at this whole “marriage” thing. We totally get that! And you are off to your church’s 20-hour intensive to try to make a grand gesture at facing and addressing your marriage problems from a Biblical point of view. Kuddos for that!
But, Don’t Know–you are doing so much therapy that it’s all you think about! Every second of every day is filled with either the day-to-day things like work and school and chores…or THERAPY. A person can only do so much deep, intense, emotion-charged, vehement analysis before they start to burn out, and our guess is that a portion of your feeling like you don’t know how to move forward is because you are so overwhelmed by all this analysis that there is no real time off. YOU are a human and so is your wife. She can only feel as low as the dirt on the bottom of a bug’s shoe for so long and she’ll get tired just because it’s too much to handle. Same for you–it’s just too much! So we would make a suggestion: balance the deep, intense emotional relationship talks with an equal amount of lighter, gentler, more agreeable time together. For example, if you have one hour of therapy every day in one way or another and then spend another hour talking about whatever went on in therapy–balance that with an equal amount of time doing pleasant, enjoyable things together.
Here’s why, Don’t Know. When you agreed to reconcile, what you were really saying is that you agreed to build a WHOLE NEW MARRIAGE. During her affair, your wife equated you (and thoughts of you) with unpleasant feelings and thoughts. “Well, he was abusive so I deserved someone who treated me better”…that kind of thing. Anyway, now that her affair is over, your wife equates you with long, painful conversations that feel like the Spanish Inquisition, and tears, and hours and hours of therapy. Likewise you equate her with destroying your trust, destroying your world, and destroying the very foundation of everything you believed in. And part of the challenge now is not only facing the issues that brought you to this place, but also rebuilding something loving! Well, when people love each other, they association POSITIVE thoughts and feelings with the one they love! They LIKE being together and ENJOY each others’ company and think their spouse makes them feel GOOD. So right now, you need to add some of that to your new marriage.
Now, you know how many/most couple’s counselors will tell you to “date each other”. UGH, that’s silly! You’re MARRIED why should you have to try to re-win someone who made promises to you? So that’s not what we’re saying here. What we ARE saying is that one piece of this puzzle that is missing is the “remembering the things I love about my spouse” piece. It is imperative that you two sometimes put all the counseling down, and put all the affair-talk and crying down… and just agree to be each other’s friends and do something fun. It can be something easy like just renting a video and sitting on the couch holding hands–it can be something complicated like a weekend away riding the nearest rollercoasters. But balance–for every hour of therapy, have an hour of enjoying each other.
Third (and finally), you say that you don’t know how to move forward and you need help. We partially addressed that when we said that it’s going to take some time–like 9 months to 2 years–in order to go through the grieving process and rebuild a new marriage. So part of “moving forward” really is just time and giving yourself time to recover. It won’t be instantaneous and it won’t be “the way it was.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t be REALLY GOOD!!! You could even build an even better marriage than you had because now you’ve grown and matured and so has she!
But you know how the final step of the grieving process is “acceptance”? In the infidelity process, the key step to moving forward is forgiveness. At some point, if you truly commit to reconciling with your spouse, you are going to have to volunteer to lay down your claim for recompense for the hurt and damage she caused you. Please note that forgiveness is not condoning (failing to see it was wrong), excusing (not holding her personally responsible for her choices), pardoning (removing the consequence of her debt–it’s God’s job to judge or not) or forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from your consciousness). Forgiveness means that you KNOW you have the ace up your sleeve that you could always win an argument, you have the sword over her head that you could hold against her, and you have the weapon with which you could punish her forever…and you make a decision to lay that weapon down and let go of your legitimate claim.
Right now it may sound utterly FOOLISH to even think about forgiving. After all, most of the blogs and psychological “wisdom” will tell you things like “you deserve better” and “once a cheater always a cheater”. But we are not suggesting that you be a fool. God has a lot to say about forgiveness, so let’s just look:
God tells us s that we should be willing to forgive because we are sinners too and God forgave us (Matthew 6:14-15 and Colossians 3:13). He says when someone sins against us and is truly remorseful we should be willing to forgive over and over (Matthew 18: 21-22 and Luke 17:3-4 ). He says we should forgive people so they don’t feel overwhelmed (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). He tells us that forgiving is a priority–we should make things right even ahead of worshipping Him (Matthew 5:23-24). But nowhere is there any mention of forgiveness not hurting or of forgiveness being easy and making all the struggling go away. We are just told to DO it.
The good news is that He even tells us HOW to forgive in Luke 17:3-4: “So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
Step 1–Watch YOURSELF. Haven’t you ever been in a position of doing something REALLY WRONG and wishing that people would be kind and forgive you? Then just like the hypocrite in Matthew 7 and Luke 6, we need to watch ourselves and treat others the way we would have liked to be treated when we sinned!
Step 2–A brother or sister (someone close to us–a fellow believer, disciple, spouse, neighbor, or family member) does something against us. Maybe they gossip or spread a lie or offend us or actively hurt us. Whatever it is, they do wrong by us.
Step 3–Holy smoke look at that. We are supposed to rebuke them! Of course, the Greek word there is epitimaó, which means to admonish, or warn by instructing. Oddly enough that word is a verb (an action) and it has a whole bunch behind it. It means “have so much value due, that you respond in a way suitable to the situation.” In other words, we VALUE the brother or sister. We place due honor upon them because they mean so much to us, and thus, out of love, we go up to them directly and tell them they did wrong and encourage them to DO THE RIGHT THING.
Step 4–“if they repent….” Note that it doesn’t say “if they are remorseless and continue to sin, you go ahead and forgive them anyway.” it says that the next step has to be remorse or changing of the inner man. We like to define repentance as a complete 180 degree change from what they’ve been doing! A full U-Turn! In other words, they have to be acting and thinking 100% different from the way they WERE acting and thinking. They have to “come to themselves” and return to doing the right thing. And if they do repent and do change… then on to the next step.
Step 5–“…forgive them.” Even if they do wrong by you 7 times in one day and come back to you with a changed inner man 7 times, you must forgive them. The word for “forgive” here is aphiémi, which means “send away” or “release”–“wipe the slate clean”. See how that fits with our definition above about putting down your legitimate claim to restitution? You make a decision in your mind to let go of that claim and you commit to never, ever picking it up again! That’s forgiveness. And note the word MUST!! This isn’t a suggestion or something we do if we feel like it–we MUST. That’s imperative, which means it is required.