Staying Together After an Affair
- Thursday, July 27, 2006
Define what it means for you and your spouse to try to reconcile. Carefully and reasonably, keep defining specific ways you would like to try to grow closer during each step in the process. Ask your spouse to try whatever you’d like, but don’t require it. If your partner can’t give you what you ask for, ask him or her to propose a close alternative. For example, if you ask your spouse to start sleeping in the same bed with you again but he or she isn’t ready for that yet, an alternative could be sleeping in a different bed but in the same room.
Transform negatives into positives. Remember that the main goal of reconciling is to explore the problem and generate solutions. Ask God to help you turn broken, negative thoughts into whole, positive ones. Rather than thinking, "The worst thing is the dishonesty," know that, "My partner is right now being honest with me about one of the hardest things to reveal." Instead of thinking, "No one can ever really get over this," realize that, "Over time, as we approach this with wisdom, it will become a distant memory from which we profited." Continue to turn negatives into positives as you discuss the issues, until you reach a whole and healthy consensus with your spouse.
Realign your relationship. If you’re the spouse who had the affair, let go of your relationship with the third party (the person with whom you’ve been romantically involved outside your marriage). Work with your spouse to come up with a closure letter to break off the affair. Then, after your spouse approves the wording, send it yourself to the third party. Do your best to make as clean a break as possible, eliminating further contact with the third party. Expect that a relapse might occur, and if it does, simply be honest about it with your spouse and work through it together. Don’t keep any secrets from each other.
Refine your character. Base your long-term decisions on your values instead of your feelings. Ask God to use this crisis to help you become the best person you can be. List your most positive character traits. Then list your most negative ones, and commit yourself to turning the negative traits into positive ones. When talking with your spouse, mention each other’s positive traits often, never or rarely mention negative ones, and focus on the commitments that you each have made to improve. Encourage each other as much as you can while you grow.
Engage in healing rituals. Consider participating in rituals that will help you and your spouse strengthen your bond, such as: renewing your marriage vows; inviting a spiritual leader to bless your marriage and home; receiving communion together; burning or burying things symbolic of a negative past; erecting or displaying things symbolic of the positive future; having a new family portrait taken; remodeling, building a new home, or moving to another home; taking another honeymoon or special trip; and throwing a celebration party.
Enhance your relationship. Do all you can to rebuild your marriage so it’s better than it was before the affair occurred. Increase the frequency of positive experiences you share with your spouse. Engage in activities that you both enjoy. Ask God to help you relate to your spouse out of strength and independence rather than neediness and dependence. Remember the qualities that first attracted you to your spouse, and seek to notice new qualities that also draw you to him or her.
Dream new dreams together. Think and pray about how you can work with your spouse to pursue significance through fulfilling relationships, developing your talents and skills, contributing to the world to make it a better place, and making peace with God. Develop specific goals as individuals and as a couple that address personal, spousal, parental, familial, communal, financial, and professional achievements you hope to make, as God leads you. But be sure to wait about a year after the crisis began to make any life-altering decisions. Give yourself plenty of time for professional counseling to support you both through the healing process. Be true to your values, and trust God to give you all the love and wisdom you’ll need to move into a better future together.
Adapted from Staying Together When an Affair Pulls You Apart, copyright 2006 by Stephen M. Judah. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Stephen M. Judah, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, a workshop presenter and an advanced clinician in Imago marriage therapy. He serves as executive director of the Columbus Marriage Coalition in Columbus, Ohio.
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