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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

Healing a Family After an Affair

Healing a Family After an Affair

James and Deborah came to The Marriage Recovery Center like most others, broken and wounded. They had many issues to work through in their marriage.

As is often the case, however, one broken part of a marriage ripples out to other parts. James had been unfaithful twice in their twenty-five marriage, most recently three months ago. While their three children didn’t know about the first affair, which occurred when they were much younger, this last one created a rupture that further that further impacted his wife and now grown children.

“Jimmy won’t talk to his father,” Deborah began, sadly recounting the impact of the affair her husband had several months earlier.

“We split up for a couple of weeks while I tried to make sense out of his affair. The kids figured out something was wrong and know some of what happened. We’ve been careful not to drag them into this, but they’re adults. They want to know what is happening with their parents. Our son, Jimmy is furious.”

“We’ve begun to pick up the pieces,” she continued, “but our grown children know what has happened and won’t so quickly forgive their father.”

James grimaced at her words, appearing angry and sullen.

“What do you think about what she is saying, James?” I asked.

“Not much,” he said, stroking his graying beard. “I guess I’ve brought this on myself. Not much I can do about it now. Each of our kids have reacted differently.”

“So,” I began, “what efforts have you both made to heal the pain your children are feeling?”

“Not much,” Deborah said slowly. “They are just so angry at their father and mad at me for staying with him. They love their father but believe what he did was unthinkable.”

“Yes,” I said. “They are going through their own grief process, and anger is one of the predictable stages of their grief. They’ve lost something too.”

“When will they forgive me and move on?” James said impatiently.

“Good question, James,” I said. “We know something about grief and there are predictable stages. However, as you know, everyone is different and a lot depends on how you folks handle this. It will be critical that you talk to each of your children, sharing appropriate information but not more. Let’s talk about grief and what we know about it.”

With that I shared with them some of the predictable stages of grief we have learned from grief experts such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

First, there are recognizable stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression/ sadness and finally acceptance. Many believe people go through these stages at different rates and in different ways. It is critical to be self-aware and aware of your family to discern where they may be in this process.

Second, each stage requires some ‘work.’ In the first stage everyone must work through feelings of shock and denial. This may be accompanied by feelings of numbness and total disbelief. This shock provides some measure of protection from being overwhelmed by your experience. 

Third, many feel overwhelmed as reality settles in. Shock and denial give way to pain, guilt and anger. Many are enraged at the injustice of an affair. It is critical to understand that everyone, including the children, have been betrayed and have losses to process. Anger and guilt are natural aspects of this process and there will likely be a ‘roller coaster’ of emotions. Your mate and perhaps even your children may wish everything to ‘be over,’ and yet emotions cannot be bottled or fully contained.  

Fourth, many try to bargain with God, or their mate, to end this pain. We all look for ways out of our pain. We desperately want to feel relief, and yet relief will only come as each person goes through their own grief process. Your children may avoid their parents for a while or may rail against both of you as they try to make sense out of what has happened. 

Fifth, bargaining gives way to depression, sadness and ultimately acceptance. Each member of the family must go through their own grief process, but thankfully can arrive at a place of acceptance. They can ‘grow through this’ and not simply ‘go through it.’ There are lessons to be learned, and thankfully God promises that our suffering is never in vain (Colossians 1:24). This leads the way to a new relationship with your mate and your children.

Finally, acceptance leads to reconstructing a new relationship with new hope. As each family member accepts the reality of the affair and the impact on them, they can find new solutions to problems. They can, along with you, grow, rebuild and create even stronger relationships. While you will have scars, you can live beyond this tragedy. You can learn to communicate in healthier ways, forgive each other, love each other deeply and create bonds that will carry you safely into the future.

‘Grief work’ is work involving the entire family. Some will be more open to talking about what they are experiencing while others may withdraw for a time. Each person is different and their unique personality must be appreciated. That said, be available to them to talk through their pain. Grow through this extreme loss as a family.

We are here to help and offer phone/ Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please go to our website, and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.  Please send responses to me at and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Publication date: March 4, 2014