Infidelity: it’s not something Mark and I ever thought would be part of our story, but it happened to us. And we healed. Now God is allowing us to bring hope and help to those who are walking a similar journey.
If you’re here because you’ve discovered that your spouse has had an affair, and the bottom has just dropped out of your marriage, please know that you’re not alone. I’ve been where you are.
Just over 10 years ago, I discovered Mark was having an affair, and my world was turned completely upside down. The emotional pain was so intense that I wanted to vomit, and the weeks and months afterward were some of the darkest of both our lives. So I understand that things feel very scary right now, maybe even hopeless.
But there is hope that your marriage can recover after an affair. Mark and I are living proof.
If you need to borrow our hope for a season, that’s okay! That’s why we created this post, as well as many other resources, that can help you in your time of uncertainty. Right now, you’re probably having trouble thinking straight. With that in mind, here are 7 practical steps you can take to move toward recovery after you’ve discovered your spouse’s affair.
1. Recognize and Refute the Lies that Halt Recovery
There are plenty of falsehoods that surround affair recovery. Believing them will smother your hope and keep you from moving past the trauma of infidelity and toward the hope of healing.
If you recognize these lies and replace them with truths, however, you can start the journey forward and begin to move your marriage from hurting to hopeful to healed.
The lie: Recovering from an affair is impossible.
There were plenty of times, especially in the beginning, when recovery felt impossible. There were times when the pain was so intense that, if we’re being honest, it seemed like divorce would have been easier than reconciliation. Sometimes it felt like healing would never come. But it did. It took time, effort, and God’s help, but healing came.
Mark and I aren’t the only couple to survive infidelity, either. We’ve coached hundreds of couples over the years who’ve not only survived infidelity but went on to create thriving marriages.
Once you and your spouse recommit to your marriage and start doing the work it takes to move forward, not only can your marriage recover, but it can be better than before. Mark and I can personally attest to this. In fact, we like to say we have gone from Mark and Jill 1.0 (just surviving) to Mark and Jill 2.0 (thriving!)
No one will say it’s easy to move past an affair, but don’t believe the lie that affair recovery is impossible.
When you’re overwhelmed with emotion and you feel like there is no hope for moving forward, remind yourself of this: There is always hope. The Bible tells us “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
So take heart in knowing that God is with you and He is for you. He makes crooked places straight. He’s an ever-present help in times of trouble.
The lie: There is shame in staying.
Much of society says it’s foolish to stay with a person who has been unfaithful. There’s an attitude that strong people who love themselves would never stay married to someone who’s betrayed them. But choosing to stay and trying to create a better marriage doesn’t mean you’re weak or foolish.
In her book, Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken, Cindy Beall was trying to figure out what to do after her husband’s affair. She was unsure of whether she should divorce or stay. A wise pastor said to her, “I would respect you if you felt that you needed to remove yourself from your marriage. What you’ve endured is very hard. But you are not a fool to stay and be a part of the redemptive work in a man’s life.”
Those words spoke deeply to me as I worked to reconcile with Mark after his infidelity. Throughout our recovery process, I’ve had a front row seat as God did His redemptive work in my husband’s life. It was hard to be a part of, but it was a privilege.
While I can’t promise that your situation will have the same resolution as ours, I can say that it is never shameful to want to stay and try to rebuild. I stood for my marriage for a year before Mark decided to recommit. God used that year to grow me in so many ways. Even the wait wasn’t wasted.
Your marriage is the foundation of your family, and it’s worth all the effort, all the money, and all the time you invest in it.
The lie: I can never trust my spouse again.
There is no denying that infidelity creates a massive breach of trust. And although you may not be able to trust your spouse for now, if you truly believe “once a cheater, always a cheater,” you will cheat yourself out of the possibility of rebuilding a healthy marriage.
Often, affairs are not premeditated. Many who stray have been faithful for years, even decades, before their indiscretion. And many who come to see the pain they’ve caused their spouse deeply regret what they’ve done and never want to cause that kind of pain again. They can learn the tools they need to stay away from temptation and avoid repeating their mistakes.
Even if your spouse suffers from a sex addiction, there is hope for recovery if they are willing to get help and put in the work.
It may feel like you can never trust your spouse again, but the truth is this: trust that has been lost can be rebuilt over time. That’s our story. Mark and I have lived it out. It didn’t happen overnight. It took nearly two years of hard work, but trust was restored. And our restored marriage is proof that trust can be rebuilt after an affair.
The lie: There must be something wrong with me or my spouse wouldn’t have cheated.
This is one of the most painful thoughts that surface when your spouse has had an affair. It’s so easy to wonder what you did wrong, or think if you were thinner, younger, or more attractive, then your spouse wouldn’t have strayed. But this is 100% untrue.
While you could have unwittingly contributed to an underlying dysfunction in your marriage (we will address this later), you are not why your spouse cheated. You can’t make your spouse choose to do anything. Their decision to have an affair is their own choice — their own fault — and no one else’s, even if they try to place the blame on you.
More often than not, people who choose to cheat do so because they don’t know how to deal with their own inner turmoil in a healthy way. This is one reason that, like Mark’s, many affairs coincide with a midlife crisis.
It’s never your fault that your spouse cheated. The choice they made to be unfaithful falls solely on their shoulders, and it’s usually a sign that they’re responding to their own internal issues in an unhealthy way.
When I first discovered Mark’s affair, I felt so rejected that my heart literally ached. And in my pain, I wanted to lash out at him in anger whenever I saw him.
However, when I began to realize that Mark’s affair wasn’t really about me at all, but rather the pain he had in his own heart, I began to have compassion for him instead of bitterness and anger. I started to pray for God to heal Mark’s pain as well as my own. Realizing Mark’s infidelity was not my fault allowed me to open my own heart to forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation.
The lie: I have the right to retaliate.
You have every right to be angry. But the Bible is very clear that our anger doesn’t give us license to sin. In fact, Ephesians 4:26 admonishes us to “In your anger, do not sin..”
Romans chapter 12 takes this principle even further by telling us not to repay evil for evil, but to repay evil with good. Verses 20 and 21 tell us why: Good overcomes evil, and being good to those who have wronged you will be like heaping burning coals on their head.
At one point when Mark was pursuing the other relationship, God showed me that he wanted me to treat Mark with love and respect despite how he was treating me. I didn’t always do this perfectly, but I made a point to try. About six months after I had made the decision to respond in kindness instead of lashing out, Mark asked me, “How have you treated me so kindly?” My response? “It is God working in and through me.”
When he finally came home, I showed him the verses in Romans (Romans 12:9-21 ) that I had used to help me love him when it seemed impossible. When I shared it with him, he said,, “That’s exactly what you did. You heaped burning coals on my head! You did that by treating me better than I deserved to be treated!” Once I began to respond in a respectful and calm way ( although he didn’t deserve it), Mark began to see there was hope to truly reconcile if he decided to leave the other relationship and come home.
It’s not easy to be kind when someone is breaking your heart without seeming to care. But it’s necessary, and you can do it with God’s help.
Your anger is justified. Your vengeance is not. There is no room for aggression and/or retaliation in the affair recovery process.
So if you’re considering blasting the news of your spouse’s misdeeds across social media or using other revenge tactics — stop! Revenge might make you feel good for a moment, but it will make recovery even more difficult. Hurting and humiliating your spouse will only drive another wedge between you and lessen your chances of reconciliation.
And don’t even think about getting them back by having your own affair. You’ll create an even bigger mess and now have double the trust to rebuild.
To give your marriage its best chance at recovery, you must learn to express your feelings of anger without attacking or belittling your spouse.
2. Don’t Bury Your Pain (or Let it Bury You)
It’s OK to not feel OK for a while.
You will need to allow yourself time to grieve. Even though you want to try to move past the affair and rebuild your marriage, you have still experienced great losses — the loss of trust, the loss of safety, the loss of normalcy, and the loss of the marriage you once knew.
With time, all those things can be rebuilt. But the emotional toll of infidelity is very real and shouldn’t be pushed down or ignored. Trying to avoid the pain will backfire and just prolong your agony.
Yet, you also can’t let your grief overwhelm you.
When Mark left, I cried for days and couldn’t eat. I wanted to sleep as much as I could just to get away from the pain for a few hours. Eventually, I had to stop drowning in my pain and decide to take care of myself.
Part of that was making self-care a priority whether I felt like it or not. The other part was enlisting the help of others. I talked to a counselor to help me make sense of my grief and my circumstances. I let a friend pick things up from the grocery store for me. I asked trusted friends and family to help me talk through decisions that I had never had to make before on my own.
Do whatever it is that you need to do so that you can process your emotions in a healthy way, and never feel like you need to do that all by yourself.
3. Dig Deep Spiritually
Jesus understands betrayal. He knows what it means to be tired and discouraged. He understands agony.
He has the strength to help you bear the burdens that you can’t carry on your own.
For the first few weeks after I discovered Mark’s betrayal, I was too tired and emotionally drained to pick up my Bible. Slowly though, I began to read a few verses a day. I was determined to anchor myself in God’s word. As I did, God spoke to me and gave me the peace that passes understanding. He provided strength, direction, and wisdom for the journey that I couldn’t have found on my own.
I don’t know where you are on your spiritual walk, but wherever you are, know that as you draw near to God, He will draw near to you. He will help you navigate the dark times that you are going through. And He will help you take step 4 when it feels like there is no way you can.
4. Choose to Forgive
If you want to move toward reconciliation with your spouse after infidelity, you have to forgive them.
But, despite the well-known cliche, forgiving your spouse doesn’t mean that you have to forget the transgression. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that you should never again talk about what happened. It definitely doesn’t mean you condone their actions or that you automatically trust them again.
Forgiveness simply means that you let go of the bitterness and resentment you feel toward your spouse for hurting you. The Greek word for forgive means “let go” like when a person doesn’t demand payment for a debt that is owed. When you choose to forgive, it relieves you of the burden of seeking revenge or repayment. It gives you emotional freedom and peace by untangling your heart
5. Redefine Boundaries
In order to move toward healing, you will have to be very intentional about boundaries. If your spouse is willing to seek counseling and wants to stay in the marriage, you will each have to make your lives open books. New standards of communication and accountability will have to be established.
If your spouse isn’t willing to be an open book, or if they aren’t willing to leave the affair relationship, then you may need to separate for a while.
When Mark left, I had to establish boundaries that would protect my heart as well as our children’s. Mark wasn’t allowed to just drop by any time he wanted to see the boys. It was too hard on them emotionally for their dad to just show up without any warning. Instead, we designated locations away from the house for Mark to meet the boys at set times. This gave them time to prepare to see their dad and established our home as an emotionally safe place during a very tumultuous time.
When Mark came back home, those boundaries changed, of course. But we were very intentional about establishing boundaries that created accountability and kept us and our family safe as we healed.
6. Own Your Part in the Dysfunction in Your Marriage
It’s never your fault that your spouse chose to cheat. EVER. But there were underlying areas of dysfunction in your marriage before the infidelity that you may not have noticed or might have ignored. Each spouse contributes to these unhealthy relational habits. However, it’s very easy to overlook your part when you’re the spouse that’s been betrayed. After all, you weren’t the one that was unfaithful.
Yet, if you want to rebuild your marriage into one that’s stronger than before, you have to admit any part you played in its dysfunction and start making changes.
In my case, I discovered that I had been overly critical and had a tendency to “parent” Mark. These kinds of behaviors had made Mark feel emasculated. They had undermined our intimacy for years without me realizing it.
Once I got honest with myself and started changing my own negative behaviors, it opened the door for more intimacy to grow as we moved past Mark’s infidelity and rebuilt our marriage.
7. Get Help from Counselors Who Have Been There
You don’t have to do this alone. Mark and I have been where you are, and we’re here to offer help and hope. We offer one-on-one, couples coaching, and marriage intensives. We’ve been on the journey you’re on, and we know the steps to healing. Let us help you.
You can learn more and schedule a coaching session, or you can schedule one of our most effective resources for affair recovery, our Marriage 2.0 Intensive.
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Please help me to know how to pray? I read somewhere how you prayed God place thorns around this person my son is seeing, is this right?
Donna, yes, just simply pray a hedge of thorns around your son and this girl, asking God to allow conflict to happen in their relationship. This often helps to wake up someone to see that another relationship isn’t the right answer.