Can a marriage survive infidelity?
By Robin May
As the Body of Christ we can either bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we don’t face the same challenges as non-believers, or we can deal with the facts but respond with the truth. The fact is that just like Non-Christian marriages, Christian couples also deal with the pain of infidelity in their marriage. But the truth is that there is no valley that God can’t bring us out of, no matter how tough it seems.
The question is often asked “can a marriage really survive infidelity”? My response is yes! It can actually not just survive infidelity; it can actually thrive after an affair. But survival (or thrival – Clearly not a word, but just flow with me), doesn’t come without a cost or without a fight. If your marriage has suffered from the wound of infidelity, it will require a commitment from both parties to do a 180 degree turn to restore the relationship. But! Here is the good news for those who confess Christ! You don’t have to do it alone! You have the supernatural power of God on your side and we already know that He majors in bringing dead things back to life!
So what do you do! Here are the practical steps that you need to take if you want to start the journey towards restoration.
If you or your spouse have been unfaithful and you are both serious about restoration, start by closing ranks but not isolating. In other words as angry or hurt as you may be, be careful about venting to the people in your life. The people who love you also want to protect you. But their desire to protect you may not mean protecting your marriage. As you are trying to decide how you want to move forward, you want to make sure that you aren’t being impacted by those who mean well, but aren’t skilled to support you in the most effective way.
BUT at the same time you do not want to isolate! You and your spouse should not try and navigate the restoration journey by yourselves. The common refrain is “I don’t want folks in my business” but isolation is dangerous. Be prayerful and seek support from someone (preferably a professional) that you can both trust! You may also need a personal friend or confident, but again, be careful and make sure the person wants what God wants for you above all.
The next step is to try your best to stop any further damage. Immediately after an affair is found out the injured party (the person who was cheated on) may feel a strong desire to retaliate. And even if that retaliation doesn’t include infidelity, they may want to hurt that person in some other way. These emotions are normal and at some point voicing and processing them will be necessary. But without guidance, the emotional response and then defensive response that may come from the person who cheated, only serves to do further damage. So what do you do? Remember step 1! You want to turn to someone that can help the two of you move forward with as little collateral damage as possible!
The final step (final as in what needs to be done initially – not final as in that’s all you need to do! Trust me…this can be long process) is to get brutally honest about your relationship. When working with couples, as tough as it is, it’s important to understand the full scope of the issue. Was this an isolated event or has there been a long-term pattern of betrayals – from cheating to lying to holding back full details in situations? Was this indiscretion between the spouse and a consensual adult? This is the time to get to the truth of what has been and is going on in the relationship and in regards to the affair. You want to be unequivocally honest about the reality of your relationship. You MUST face the truth before you can decide how to move forward. Again, it is not wise to try and navigate this journey alone. Your emotions are too raw! Seek support!
Infidelity can be a devastating and at times fatal blow to a marriage. But there is hope! If you are the participating party (the person who had the affair), below are 4 things you want to consider in order for the relationship to move from its death bed, to surviving, to thriving! Immediately following you will find 4 questions the person who was cheated on (again – the injured party) must ask themselves! Finally, you will find resources that I believe can help you along the way!
Have you been unfaithful in your marriage? If so, here are 4 things you must consider.
Do you have:
1. An internal motivation for change
While initially your desire to keep the marriage is because of how much you have invested in the marriage (“we’ve been together for so long!”), or you don’t want to disrupt the children (“I want them to be in a 2 parent household!”). But in order for you to thrive in your marriage you need to have an internal motivation. In other words, “I don’t like that I did this…and this is not the person I want to be”.
2. An acceptance of responsibility and a sincere expression of remorse
Don’t blame your spouse. Even if you feel like there was something going on in your marriage that made you unhappy, you did not have to choose to cheat. Take responsibility. Express sincere remorse. And follow that remorse up with action.
3. A willingness to be held accountable
If you have cheated your spouse has every reason not to trust you. That means they need to know that you are willing to be held accountable to what happened so that the two of you can start the process of healing. Saying “well, you can trust me now” just isn’t enough.
4. A willingness to be transparent (extreme transparency initially)
This is tied into # 3. Yes… each of us ideally are entitled to some extent of privacy even when married. But cheating impacts your right to privacy. That means you must be open and honest and transparent. That might mean no locks on your cell phones, sharing email and even social media passwords, checking in more frequently when you are not with your spouse. This can help the process of rebuilding the trust. The goal is that as time goes on, your consistency creates less of a need for your spouse to “check up” on you!
Was your spouse unfaithful? Here are 4 things you need to consider:
1. Address any areas that you or your behavior MIGHT have contributed to a risky situation for you and your partner. Wait! Before you put your guard up…this doesn’t mean you caused the affair. You can’t force your spouse to do anything. Regardless of what was going on in the marriage, your spouse chose to respond the way they did. BUT, each of us must consider how we contribute to the chaos in our marriage.
2. Will you be able to move on despite your hurt? There will come a time that you have to decide if you can move on. At some point your spouse can no longer be held captive to what they did in the past. A huge part of that is their response and behaviors, but if they are doing their part, you want to commit to doing yours.
3. Are you able and willing to take gradual but appropriate risks in restoring trust in your partner? Moving forward will cost you something. There will be a risk. There is no guarantee that your marriage will survive the infidelity. But if you are willing to try, you want to do so understanding that it is an emotional risk —that very well could yield great rewards!
4. Consider how your decision to stay or leave impacts your own values/beliefs. You don’t want to ignore your own values and beliefs when it comes to marriage. How does your faith play a part in how you choose to forgive? What are your values when it comes to marriage? This is important to consider as you decide how to move forward.
Special note: As you may have noticed, there has been no mention on how long this process will take. That is because there is no set time. For some the rebound happens quickly, for others it can take awhile. The point is to do what you know to do, seek help and trust God with the results!
Books that can help:
- Past the Affair by Baucom; Snyder and Gordon (The therapeutic approach I have shared is based on this resource).
- Desperate Marriage by Chapman
- Boundaries in Marriage by Townsend