Affair healing Blog
In Recovery Room podcast #502, counselor Jennifer Gingras and I discuss issues related to someone who has had repeated affairs. Let's focus on just one questions: If a marriage has any hope for healing after repeated infidelities, what is the one thing that matters most? What is the best predictor of genuine, lasting recovery (assuming the betrayed partner decides to stay)?
First, let me list some circumstances that are not most important in relationship recovery from multiple affairs. Although these may all be part of the recovery process, they will not matter if the one thing is missing.
The essetial, necessary change is this: The involved partner's sincere passion to take responsibility for personal and relationship healing and their desire to work on change that happens from the inside-out.
There must be an obvious, recognizable difference in the way the unfaithful partner confronts their affair behavior. There needs to be a real difference in the way they work on recovery now in contrast to their efforts after previouse affairs.
The inside-out change means they are driven by a personal passion to do what is necessary in pursuit of lasting change. Not because they're being forced to do it. Not just because they fear the consequences if they don't. Not because it's what's "expected." It needs to be an almost desperate desire to figure out the pattern and to follow a different path in the future.
This shift is the greatest predictor of long-term healing.
For more information about this "inside-out" motivation, I'd suggest listening (or reading the transcript) to podcast #501: "Satisfying Choices, Lasting Change."
This is an edited copy of the letter one woman wrote to her husband after her affair. It is used with her permission. The entire letter is included as an extra resource in the Understanding WHY course.
If you had told me seven months ago that I would be writing this letter, I might not have believed it—not because I am not profoundly sorry and regretful for my actions in the past, but because I never believed I could survive telling the truth, that you would survive hearing it, that we could survive its aftermath, or that you would even be willing to offer me the chance.
I came across the recent photo of a full-chest tattoo on Jose, a man who seems desperate to prove how sorry he is for cheating on his wife. It's a kind of confession that can't be easily taken back. And why did he do it? "So that I can earn my wife's trust back for the pain and suffering I have caused in our marriage."
He confesses to being a liar, cheater, manipulator, deciever [sic], dishonest, disrespectful, and apparently one other descriptor deemed too inappropriate for public viewing.
At first thought, we might think: Wow! This guy is really serious about accepting responsibility and making things right. Maybe he is. But there are at least a couple problems with this dramatic declaration.
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.
As pointed out in an earlier post, a self-focused apology (one in which "I'm sorry" is just a way to get out of an uncomfortable situation, not bring any true relief to the offended person) is seldom satisfying to the recipient. But forgiveness-seekers aren't the only ones who can sap the power out of forgiveness. Forgiveness-givers can be selfish, too.
I hesitate when it comes to pointing out the shortcomings of an offended person. After all, why should anything be required of a victim? Shouldn't the offender carry the full responsibility for making things right?
And in the case of an affair, shouldn't the cheater be expected to do all the work of fixing the marriage?
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources.