On July 1, 2009 South Carolina Gov Mark Sanford, 49, provided insight about his recent affair, “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair—it was a love story.”[1] He went on to share that he views his recent love interest, Maria Chapur, as his soul mate. The comment caught my attention because after twenty years as a divorce recovery expert, I’ve heard many people say similar words. It’s not uncommon for someone to become convinced that the “forbidden lover” is their “love of a lifetime.”

The governor went on to share that he is, “trying to fall back in love with his wife.” If that’s true, what’s it going to take to restore this marriage? Is it possible to put “Humpty Dumpty” together again? After Pandora’s Box has been opened how do you shove the evil, sorrow and suffering back under the lid? Can the “genie go back into the bottle” as Sanford himself adequately stated?

As a divorce recovery expert of 20 years let me share it is possible to restore a marriage after an affair. However, it will require that the governor and his wife, Jenny, be brutally honest with themselves and each other. It will take a long time to rebuild the trust. But with prayer, hard work, excellent counseling, and a fierce commitment to make the marriage better than before, it can happen. 

I’ve watched many Christian couples reconcile after an extramarital affair. Most quickly move back in together and the following Sunday they carefully apply their “church mask.” Amidst cheers and “Amen’s” from the congregation, they proudly walk to the altar proclaiming a healed marriage. The crowd roars with glee.  

It would be wonderful—if it were true.

Rather than taking the time and the steps required for a true healing, the issues are swept under the rug. The couple reads a few Bible verses on marriage, slaps a forgiveness label on the front door, and crawls under the sheets, (the formula they received from their pastor). They “go back to normal.” What they don’t realize is that the unresolved issues which led to the affair are still brewing and rotting beneath the relationship. And toxic gas is being emitted and inhaled by the couple, their children, their church family and those around them. The poison goes on to destroy future generations and Satan smiles. Once again he has deceived the Bride of Christ, and She is totally unaware. 

The issues associated with adultery are often complex, and there is no simple formula for restoration. However, if the couple sincerely desires a healthy, thriving marriage after an affair here are a few beneficial insights:

Eventually, both people must be committed to restoration.

If one spouse attempts to manipulate, badger, guilt or shame the other spouse into restoring a marriage it won’t work. It’s necessary for both people to be open to restoration. It’s not uncommon for one to start off more willing than the other, but if over time that person remains opposed, restoration can’t happen. 

Provide the offended person time to grieve

Infidelity annihilates trust, security, privacy, and intimacy. Therefore, grief abounds. The person who committed adultery needs to allow the offended spouse the time and space to grieve the violation and breach of the covenant. Any attempt to rush the healing process, or demands such as “The affair is over, I never want to talk about it again” are indications that the adulterer is not truly repentant.