I remember that day vividly. I could tell you how the air felt, the different smells that surrounded me as I walked up to our house. There before me was the one thing I feared more than anything in the world. My husband was with her. The following days were met with confusion, sorrow, prayer, and counsel. It was mixed with embarrassment and questioning. How could I, a therapist, be in this situation? What did I not see? Were there signs of trouble that I missed? But one question outweighed all the others. What do you do when you discover your significant other has had an extramarital affair?
There is no simple solution; however, there is hope. Hope in a God who heals. Hope that with some hard work, a lot of prayer, and many hard conversations, that your marriage can be restored better than it was prior to the affair. I’ve found the people who make it—as in emerge healed and whole again instead of bitter and broken—do well at these three things.
Three Steps Toward Healing After an Extramarital Affair
1. Make an Honest Assessment
The most important decision to make is whether or not the marriage is worth fighting for. The person who’s been cheated on needs to ask themself, “Is my spouse ready to change?” In other words, you need more than just their apologies or remorse. Someone who is remorseful can still make the same bad choices. You’ll need to see them eliminate all forms of communication with the third party. You’ll need to see signs they’re turning from their old ways, bad habits, and former thought patterns—and tuning into what God wants for their lives, instead. This is how you’ll know you can begin to walk forward together toward healing and wholeness in your marriage.
I wish I could say it always happens this way. Sometimes, it doesn’t. But you can be sure that God will restore you to a place of healing and wholeness as a single person, too. Whether you’re both going to walk forward together or not, don’t delay in moving on to the next step on this list.
2. Get Help
You simply must find someone to talk to. Don’t delay. Go to your mentor, pastor, a therapist, or a counselor. If you’re both willing to fight for your marriage, find someone you both trust and both feel comfortable with. If one of you don’t feel that bond, you should seek someone else. It’s important for both of you to feel comfortable in order to create a safe environment in which to communicate honesty and vulnerability. I will tell you, as a therapist, don’t worry about having to break up with the therapist or counselor. It is not about our egos; it’s about your healing. We always keep that in mind.
3. Embrace the Process of Forgiveness
It is important that the spouse who had the affair knows what they will be up against in the next several months. Many will experience pain, shame, embarrassment, and other emotions. It is so important to process those emotions. The worst thing that can happen is for the person who had the affair to wear “Adulterer” like a scarlet letter around their neck. Part of the healing process is to move past what happened and into a place of communication, vulnerability, and trust. One cannot enter that place without healing from their mistakes. Ask God for forgiveness, ask your spouse for forgiveness, but most of all, ask yourself for forgiveness.
If you’re the spouse who’s been betrayed, then you’ve got a path of forgiveness to walk, too. As followers of Christ, we must learn to forgive one another, no matter how badly we’ve been hurt. When we choose to forgive, over and over, we are healing, we are honoring Christ, and we are becoming transformed into a new person.
Is any of this easy? No. But I’m so thankful my husband and I put in the hard work. My marriage is completely different from what it used to be. My husband is different from who he used to be. I am different from who I used to be. And, I can attest that those I’ve worked with through the years who had to start fresh after a devastating end to their marriage also can make it. We’re a band of people who are living proof that with God’s help, you can make it through an extramarital affair.