How to Save Your Marriage After You’ve Had an Affair
by Ashley Willis
“I’m having an affair.” If you’ve said these words, then you understand the weight they carry. They are daggers to the heart and can be deadly to a marriage, but there is still hope for healing and restoration. And, if you are the spouse who committed the affair, your words and actions in the days that lie ahead are essential and have the power to heal or break down your marriage even further.
Not long ago, I received an email from a reader whose husband recently confessed to having multiple affairs during their ten years of marriage. She believes that he is completely remorseful and fully realizes that he has broken his vows…over and over again. This couple has two children and has been together a long time. Even after hearing his gut-wrenching confession, she still loves him and wants to stay with him. Trying to hold it together, she doesn’t know how to deal with the myriad of emotions she’s experiencing – sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, desperation – you name it. I share this story with you to serve as an example as what your spouse is (or will most likely be) going through in their mind and heart. As the spouse who had the affair, it is important to remember that your spouse will experience a wide range of emotions after hearing about your affair, and it will most likely take them a long time to heal. So, please give them the time and space they need to process their emotions so you both can continue to move towards restoration.
You might be thinking, is that even possible? Can a marriage truly be saved after an affair? Yes, vows have been broken. Yes, trust must be earned once again. Yes, it’s messy and emotional and hard. However, after years of meeting with and talking to couples both in person and online, I can tell you that IT IS POSSIBLE…but it takes lots of work and constant prayer.
So, if you had an affair, here are four crucial steps you must take to save your marriage:
1. Start with REPENTANCE and CONFESSION to God and your spouse.
The very first steps that must take place when you have had an affair and realize that what you are doing is wrong is to STOP seeing this other person IMMEDIATELY. Cut off ALL contact in person, online, or elsewhere. Change your daily patterns to make sure you won’t run into them, change your phone number, and shut down your social media accounts for as long as it takes to make sure you won’t be contacted or be tempted to reach the other person. Then, REPENT. Ask God to forgive you for being unfaithful and to help you refocus on your commitment to your spouse. Ask Him to give you strength to confess, and then, do it. God will help you through this, but it won’t be easy. It will be gut-wrenching, emotional, and heartbreaking. But, you MUST confess in order for healing to take place. And, the sooner you end the adulterous relationship, repent, and admit to the affair, the better. No matter how awful and ugly the truth may seem, once the truth is brought to light that is when God begins to heal our hearts. He is our Healer, Sustainer, and the Restorer of our souls and He can do this for your marriage as well, but it won’t be a smooth journey. Ask God to help you stay the course and do what it takes to regain your spouse’s trust, and He will help you step-by-step, day-by-day.
2. Be completely HONEST and OPEN with your spouse about EVERYTHING.
You don’t necessarily need to tell your spouse ALL of the details of an adulterous relationship, but you must be willing to answer ANY and ALL questions that your spouse may have. Trust has been broken. The process to regain trust is a slow one, and this can only happen with full transparency. With that said, I want to remind the “innocent” spouse to be cautious when asking for specifics. It is hard for us to get things out of our mind once they are in there. We don’t want to keep replaying images of our spouse cheating on us with someone else over and over in our thoughts. This will only hinder the healing process. It’s okay to want specific details to better understand what lead to the affair, but knowing the details isn’t going to change the fact that it happened.
Important questions the spouse who committed the affair must answer include: Have you completely ended the affair? Have you cut off all contact with this person? Have you gotten rid of any devices or apps (i.e., secret cell phones, snapchat, etc.) that links you to this person? Are you willing to get rid of passwords, change jobs, move, or do whatever it takes to not be around the person with whom you committed adultery? If you want to answer “no” to any of these questions, then you are not ready to move toward healing yet because you are not willing to give up your life with this other person for the sake of your marriage. And, the longer you resist leaving the illicit relationship and come to a place of total repentance to God and your spouse, the harder it will be to salvage your marriage. Once you can willingly and honestly say “yes” to all of these questions, then you can move on to the next step.
3. Fully COMMIT to saving your marriage even when it feels ugly and uncomfortable.
For any marriage to last, even when no affair has taken place, BOTH the husband and the wife must be FULLY and COMPLETELY committed to one another. True love will not last without commitment. When an affair occurs, the commitment has been broken, and that is precisely why some decide to divorce. The only way a marriage can survive and even thrive after an affair is by both the husband and the wife recommitting to one another. However, as the spouse who committed the affair, this recommitment starts with YOU. You must take the first step by showing your spouse how committed you are to doing whatever it takes to regain their trust and save the marriage. This will encourage your spouse to give you and the marriage a chance to heal. Both of you must be willing to go through all the emotions that follow the news of an affair, and your emotions will be all over the place. The “innocent” spouse is allowed to be angry but must do their best to not sin in their anger by punishing the “guilty” spouse with hateful words and actions. As the spouse who was unfaithful, you must face the consequences of your sinful actions and approach your spouse with tenderness and humility.
Both of you must also be willing to do things differently, and this can be very frustrating and awkward at times. A marriage counselor or pastor is extremely helpful in navigating through all of these steps and helping a couple move forward. We cannot forget the past, but we can move forward with recommitted hearts, healthier habits, and a deeper understanding of God and one another with God’s help through prayer and counsel.
4. Be patient with your spouse’s willingness to FORGIVE and TRUST you.
Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.
– Luke 17:4
I don’t believe anyone sets out on a quest to commit adultery and bust up their family. It happens one small bad decision at a time. One “meaningless” flirtation that leads to a lunch date at work. One silly text that points to inside jokes and a secret meeting. One inappropriately vulnerable conversation that leads to an intimate relationship. And, any of us can fall prey to this temptation when boundaries are crossed, and we proceed without caution. Even so, when one spouse decides to have an affair, they choose to break their marriage vows. The other spouse is NOT to blame. However, no spouse is ever completely innocent of sin in marriage. We ALL fall short.
In this article, I have at times referred to the spouse who had an affair as the “guilty” one and the other as the “innocent” one, but none of us are completely innocent because none of us are perfect. But thankfully, we serve a perfect God who graciously chooses to forgive our repentant hearts. His forgiveness wipes away the stain of our sin, so we do not need to beat ourselves up and walk in shame emotionally. However, we must face the natural consequences of heartbreak and broken trust that are an inevitable reality after an affair.
As the spouse who had an affair, you are asking for a vast amount of forgiveness. When you humble yourself and approach your spouse with a repentant, honest, and contrite heart, they will be more prone to forgive you quickly and trust you over time. Please remember that we all process things at different rates and experience various emotions, so give your spouse the time and space to cope so they can come to a place of forgiveness in their heart. Then, make it your mission to be honest and consistent in your words and actions to regain their trust every day.
Again, no spouse causes the other to have an affair, and an affair is NEVER warranted. We all fall short of being the perfect spouse. Humility will move us towards harmony. James 4:10.
Nothing is impossible with God…even saving a marriage after an affair. I highly encourage you both to see a Christian counselor on a regular basis and attend a crisis marriage retreat/conference. Please go to MarriageToday.com for more information on this and to see our other resources.
Saving your marriage after having an affair is not an easy road, and it will take everything you both have to fight for it. But, your spouse and marriage are worth fighting for. It is our hope and prayer at MarriageToday that you and your spouse experience full restoration and healing in your marriage. May God bless you and keep you as you both move forward and work hard to cultivate a healthy, thriving marriage!