On today’s #MarriageMonday, I’m answering an email that was sent in about the difficult journey of healing from painful memories after infidelity. Sometimes there are photos, destinations, people, or other triggers that bring up strong emotions, often unexpectedly. So how do we navigate that?
I have been following you for a couple of years now. Thank you for your marriage and faith work.
I am struggling to recover from my husband’s infidelity. We have done a great deal of work, and are staying together. He is a new person – one I love dearly.
My specific question for you is whether you have any guidance to offer regarding how to manage memories and photos from the time of the infidelity, particularly any portion during which you were unaware at the time. Do you have any blogs or resources about this already? These used to be precious to me and now are just a really hard and raw area, and it’s been years already so time is not seeming to lessen that pain.
Thank you for any perspective you can offer, and I would appreciate your prayers.
Dear Still Struggling,
I’m so glad you reached out. Memories are some of the hardest parts of infidelity clean-up. I’ve found there are four ways to handle those memories and photos from the time of the infidelity:
1) Remove them.
It’s okay to remove photos taken from that time period that you had displayed. It’s also okay to delete photos from your phone that you took of the two of you during that time period. There’s nothing wrong with either of those actions and they can be a viable way to tend to the pain in your heart. (If you’re on Facebook you might want to remove posts during that time period so Facebook doesn’t bring them up in Facebook memories in future years.)
I deleted quite a few pictures from my phone from that time period in our lives. One I distinctly remember was a picture taken of the two of us at a friend’s wedding. Three weeks later is when I discovered the infidelity. I chose to delete that picture. I also threw away cards I had received from my husband during and even before the infidelity. I didn’t do that in anger. I just chose to not have those memories in front of my eyes.
2) Forgive them.
Here’s what I’ve learned: forgiveness is layered. It’s not “once and done.” When you’re cleaning up infidelity, you have hundreds of little memories that need to be forgiven. When those raise up for you, choose forgiveness—and that’s just between God and you. Forgiveness helps untangle your heart and keeps bitterness from settling in.
My parents celebrated their 50th anniversary by taking the whole family to the Wisconsin Dells during the time that Mark was being unfaithful. I had no idea what was going on during that trip. While I don’t want to discard those photos because my parents were celebrating their anniversary and the whole family was together, I have had to work through them and forgive him for each picture that represents the deception that was going on. This untangled my heart in so many ways. Occasionally hurt will rise back up and that just reminds me that I have some more “heart work” to do as it relates to those memories pushing me to work through forgiveness once again.
3) Reframe them.
Certain dates can be hard. Some destinations can be difficult. This is because they were a part of the deception, misuse of time or finances, or experienced with the other person. This is where reframing can be helpful. When we reframe, we make a new memory to cover over the old memory.
As we approached the one-year anniversary of the weekend Mark left, I found myself feeling anxious about the weekend. We decided to reframe it. We found a cute little cabin about an hour from our home and spent the weekend there. The old memory of Mark leaving was replaced with a new memory of us getting away and experiencing somewhere new. This can be done with locations, dates, and experiences.
4) Rethink them.
What we think determines what we feel. We can choose to focus on the past or the present. When you’re healing, you have to deconstruct the past to understand what happened and be able to move forward. However once you’re headed together into the future, you’ll need to learn how to take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then you have to push your thoughts towards what is true NOW (Philippians 4:8).
When my thinking wanted to ruminate on the past, I would push my thinking towards what is true about Mark now: He is humble. He is honest. He is rebuilding my trust. He is repentant. He is remorseful. He is a different man than the man who broke my trust. Once I got my thinking in the right direction, it changed my feelings.
Two more things:
???? Mark and I did some videos for a Focus on the Family online article titled Recovering From An Affair. You might particularly find the videos titled “Forgiveness” and “Reframing Memories” helpful!
I think you’ll find those helpful!
You are not alone,
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