After many counseling sessions, Sarah began to understand that the things she loved about Steven were still there and available to her—if she would allow the healing to begin.

Reaching for the Positive

Remembering anything positive is challenging in the midst of broken trust, violated safety and stability, and painful emotions. Everything can appear bleak. That's the nature of crises. Perceptions are skewed, emotions are frayed and edgy, and the outlook appears dismal.

In the midst of this desperation, however, opportunity awaits. There is a chance to remember what was good about your mate before the crisis and what still can be grasped within the relationship today and in the future. You can look clearly at the situation and determine if a reasonable risk is worth taking.

Sarah could begin remembering many positive traits about Steven, but to do so she'd have to decide if Steven was worth the risk, and that would require an open mind, a strong dose of wisdom, and immense courage.

We explored some of her memories of what they had built as a couple. Stretching beyond her comfort zone, beyond the ever-present hurt, she began to see some of their legacy:

three lovely children: Brianne (age three), Chelsea (age five), and Tyler (age nine)

several years of teaching young married couples in their church

a beautiful country home where they bred Arabian horses

a large extended family—hers and his

many wonderful vacations, including a favorite at a small coastal village in Mexico

a vibrant church family

a shared enjoyment of movies, the theater, and community activities

a strong and enduring attraction to one another

Sarah smiled faintly as she reviewed the life she had built with Steven. She still loved his company and longed to plan another vacation to the village they enjoyed so much in Mexico. She missed seeing him walk down to the barn in his suit and knee-high boots to water and feed their horses. She missed sitting with him in church and gathering their children for their Sunday afternoon pizza ritual. She missed her old life.

"But that's all gone now," Sarah said wistfully. "He ruined it. It will never be the same."

"No, Sarah," I said. "Right now, that life is covered with the pain of his affair, but much of what you've built is still there. If you want—but only if you want—you can remember, recapture, and reattach yourself to many aspects of your old life."

"And what about what he's done to dirty our relationship?"

"I guess it's like the old barge my wife had me look at a few weeks ago. It had a lot of stains, some broken hinges on doors, and some window caulking that needed to be replaced. But it's got great lines and immense possibilities. My wife says it can be brought back to its glory years with some elbow grease." 

"Maybe you're right," Sarah said slowly.

"I think for now, ‘maybe' is a wise choice. No ‘forevers' until we see why he did what he did and whether he's willing to do some work to make sure it never happens again."

What We Focus On

I watched Sarah's disposition and perspective change slightly over a few weeks. She changed what she focused on and the meaning she attached to the horrific events. She began to open her mind to new possibilities.

Sarah reminded me that when we focus on something, we magnify its importance. In fact, what we see becomes our reality. In the midst of a crisis, we focus on the harsh words, the disdainful glances, the withdrawn love. Reeling in pain, we focus on those agonizing aspects of the relationship.

Couples in crisis lose sight of the positive elements in their marriage. Because they feel so much pain and because they dwell on that pain, they can't enjoy the positive aspects of the relationship that still exist.

"I know I still love him," Sarah said to me recently, "but I'm so angry with him at times that I can't feel that love."