Affair healing Blog
Can you save your marriage? Should you?
After an affair is exposed, much pain and confusion is often experienced. And when a couple, caught up in the turmoil, reaches out for answers to the "What's next?" question, they are likely to hear many different answers.
I'd like to give you mine.
My response is more than opinion. It is an honest conclusion that has been firmly established by many years of counseling individuals & couples following infidelity. It is learned from my own experience, too.
But let me adjust the questions just a bit before I answer them further.
Let's take a closer look at each question...
Can your marriage be saved?
I recently confronted a wave of angry criticism against my belief that a marriage can not only survive, but become satisfying and secure after the trauma of betrayal. The critics accused me of preying on the pain of others for my own gain. If they are right, then I should be deeply ashamed.
They are not right. Many marriages can and do survive infidelity.
Can yours be saved? There are a number of factors that determine whether or not a marriage can survive infidelity. In broad terms, I look at two general factors in determining the likelihood that the marriage will heal:
To be frank, not every marriage is worth saving. For some, the affair is just the latest example of deep dysfunction that has always existed in the relationship. The work of rebuilding a broken marriage is hard enough on a good foundation; it's almost impossible on a bad one.*
Both partners need to have a true intent (by what they do, not just what they say) to make the changes necessary for repair. That brings us to the second question.
Can you save your marriage?
If the "you" is plural (both spouses working toward the same goal), then yes you can. If it is singular (your spouse has different desires or goals), then no you cannot. You may be able to come to a compromise that avoids divorce, but without marriage healing--a relationship between two people who find their way back to connection with each other.
You cannot do that on your own. Any person or program who claims that you can is not being honest. You may choose to spend some time getting healthy yourself, invite your spouse to join you in healing, and wait to see if they are willing to do so, but you cannot make that choice for them. In fact, the more you try, the greater their resistance will likely become.
It takes two people, both committed to their part. And at the beginning of the process, when trust is shattered, the greater work must be done by the person who broke it.
For more information, the eBook Affair Healing: A Couple's Guide to Recovery explains the steps of relationship renewal and what each spouse's needs to do.
Should you save your marriage?
The question that should first be asked of the betrayed spouse is, "Do you want to save your marriage?" It's an important decision with many implications whether the answer is yes or no. Because of that, I usually encourage clients to take some time in deciding their choice—enough time to measure the true intent of their partner.
Let me be clear about this: every betrayed spouse has the right to answer "no" from the very start. Any pressure placed on them to fix their marriage is both unfair and unkind. There should be no constraint for them to stay.
In fact, Justice would demand that they leave. Justice is good and can be a powerful ally to someone who feels compelled to stay because of pressure, shame, fear, or need.
But Justice isn't the only possible ally. Grace may step alongside justice and say, "Yes, you are calling for a right choice, but there is another. Let's work together to see if something else might come from this."
And I believe that is how some marriages are saved--with grace and justice. With grace, a person can say, "I'll offer something you do not deserve," making room for reconciliation. But Justice doesn't leave. It remains to make sure the true work of change takes place, allowing trust can be legitimately restored in the process.
Yes, you can save your marriage IF you want to and IF your spouse does what is necessary. No, you cannot save your marriage if you are the only one doing the real work. If that is your story (and I've met some clients who have been struggling for years to try to make their marriage work with an unfaithful spouse who wants to do nothing more than just "move on"), then accept the fact that your marriage will likely be nothing more than it is.
Is that good enough for you?
*I have sometimes witnessed "miracles of grace" in which a deeply dysfunctional marriage goes through an infidelity crisis and finally gets on track. We often pray for this to happen, but it is not the norm and caring people should not create the expectation that saving this kind of faulty marriage is the right thing to do.
Nor should anyone claim to speak for God in this matter. From a Christian perspective, the devastation of adultery is recognized by the clear freedom (not command) given to betrayed spouses to leave their unfaithful spouses. I believe churches or religious leaders who add any restraint to this freedom are injecting their own biases into the process.
7/12/2017 07:41:14 pm
Tim, you provide such wonderful advice and insight. My husband and I have followed your blogs and podcasts along our healing process. I guess you would call our story a miracle of Grace and Justice. The betrayal of one long term affair spanning our whole relationship (prior to and during our marriage - 7 years in total) and additional shorter affairs and flings had threatened to destroy our family and our four beautiful children. It has been almost 2 years since discovery and though there are times when I still feel anxious and lash out, or when my husband is insensitive and dismissive - we are working hard towards forming a new and healthy relationship. It takes a lot of work, communication, prayer and support to keep a marriage intact, and that's including marriages that have not been affected by infidelity.
9/30/2017 08:00:30 pm
Rachel, I only pray that my marriage is blessed by God as yours has been. I have good days followed by real bad days and I too lash out, then my husband wont talk to me and avoids me. The "incident" happened this July and it is still fresh and deeply painful for me. I'm trying to move forward but it is difficult. Plus he is in the Military and we do not live together so that makes things even more difficult. I enjoyed reading your post because it gives me a bit of hope. I am very happy for you because I know what you have been through.
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Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources.