Affair healing Blog
A word to those of you who've had an affair...
I met with a couple who were desperate to determine whether or not their marriage was salvageable. She had recently discovered evidence of repeated sexual communications with other women over the past year and suspected there might be more to the truth. While speaking privately with me, he admitted a history of unfaithfulness in previous relationships and expressed a desire to break this pattern once and for all. In the counseling session, he told her the same thing.
Her response was full of wisdom, expressed in a way that I'd never quite heard before. Here's how their conversation went.
When a partner has been betrayed and carries the wound of an affair, they long for the spouse to feel their pain and accept responsibility for it. To do this, the unfaithful partner must be willing to move toward that hurt rather than away from it. But let's be honest: most of us aren't wired that way.
In the presence of such overwhelming suffering, often expressed in anger, the guilty husband or wife usually reacts in self-protective ways by either avoiding or attacking their spouse. When that fight-or-flight response is mixed with a strong desire to sidestep the shame of an affair, it's easy to understand why so many cheating spouses simply want to voice a confession and then move on to other matters.
In preparation for attending a Marriage ICU Retreat (private couple's retreat) with me, I ask participants to explain some of the ways they have been changed by the affair. Here are responses to those questions from an unfaithful husband. They are published with his permission.
What have been the most significant things you have learned in regard to your personal and relationship recovery?
Here are some of the things I've learned:
1. I’ve learned what real pain looks like. My past work involved me with family/marital crises, funerals, and personal tragedies, but I’ve never witnessed the kind of pain and distress that I’ve seen in my wife since the day of discovery. It’s going on 4 months since discovery and the sobbing and tears still have not fully subsided. Just yesterday a deep sadness came over both of us and the sobbing (tears doesn’t describe it) began. my wife keeps saying she won’t cry anymore…but she does and the tears come from deep in her spirit. It’s heartbreaking to watch and know that I caused that. My heart is to help heal the pain I’ve caused in her and restore my marriage.
After my affair, I could never attend a wedding without being reminded of the promises I once made and eventually broke. The marriages of my own children, however, have always been particularly thoughtful occasions.
My children love me and have forgiven me for the affair that broke their family twenty years ago. Their grace washes away the shame that would otherwise spoil the celebration of their marriages. But the past is always present, and so in their vows I hear echos of my own.
I don't try to hide the story of my infidelity from my children. I hope that maybe they, and their spouses, will learn something from it and avoid making the same mistakes. And so recently, the week before another daughter was about to be married, I wrote the following letter to her fiance, my soon-to-be son-in-law.
In the introduction to her excellent book, How To Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair, Linda MacDonald identifies 5 options available to unfaithful partners after an affair has been discovered. With the author's permission, I've reprinted her options with my comments and added a sixth option as well.