Many couples seek counseling from our ministry to help rebuild a marriage shattered by infidelity by one of the partners. We do the best we can as counselors to assess the situation, the willingness of each to “work things out” and then help them implement a process to begin reparations.
Once a couple are through the initial discovery crisis, they face unique and overwhelming fears. For the purpose of this article, we will consider the wife as the offended partner although either situation can prevail.
The wife’s fear is simply, “If I forgive him too quickly, will he hurt me again?” The husband’s fear is, “She’ll never let me live this down. She will throw this up to me for the rest of my life.”
There are at least three elements of this process.
- There must be forgiveness. The adulterous spouse must ask the offended spouse for forgiveness. The offended spouse must take the step of accepting the apology and granting forgiveness. Even saying, “I am willing to forgive you,” is a significant starting point.One important element of forgiveness is purposing, as Paul said, to “forget what is behind” and press on towards the goal. Forgiveness does not mean condoning nor choosing not to be wise, but it does carry an aspect of “forgetfulness” in terms of not dwelling on the past, unless it is in the context of healing, which is addressed below.
- Recognize that emotional healing is a process that takes time. During this process, each partner addresses the other partner’s fear. It is the husband’s obligation to address the wife’s fear first. He needs to say things like, “You know, when I think of the pain I brought to you and how careless I was with our marriage and family, I wonder where my head was.”Then it is her turn to address his fears. She has to tell him she understands his fear that she will never let him live this down but, his obvious repentance is making it easier for her to forgive him.It is important for the husband to respond appropriately when the offended wife feels the need to unburden her pain and anger as part of the healing process.Men/husbands typically want to “fix” situations. The best path here is simply for the husband to listen, to reflect back the pain and hurt he is hearing and respond in compassion, love and empathy on an emotional (not intellectual) level. Something like, “I am so sorry for the pain that I brought you. I wish I had not done that and I want to do what I can to help you heal. How can I help?”
- Trust, like a brick wall, can only be rebuilt as part of a consistent daily effort. Infidelity smashes whatever trust (little or great) was in place in the marriage. The act of forgiveness, the process of healing and rebuilding trust should go hand in hand and bring about restoration and more wholeness in the marriage. How does that play out?The husband, day by day, hour by hour, must have a willingness to be committed to meeting all commitments readily, be available by phone, have open access to email/phone viewing plus whatever else it takes to prove he is trustworthy. Being forgiven does not mean forgetting all that has happened! Trust must be (re-)earned but the offended spouse must be willing to extend that opportunity without prejudice.
You know you have reached greater restoration when you are still in touch with the pain, but it is more like a scar than a wound. The evidence of the trauma is still there, but the deep hurt is subsiding.