Can a marriage really survive an affair? We asked readers to weigh in on how to survive infidelity. Here is their response (with comments).
We asked readers (Email and Forum) the question: Can a marriage really survive an affair? If so, what are the 3 most important things you can do to get your marriage back on track after your spouse cheated?
From their answers, we compiled a list of ‘best advice’ to offer in this article on the healing process to create a healthy relationship after an affair.
Many of those who contributed were the victims of an affair; some were the offending party and offered lessons they learned on rebuilding their relationship. Their advice is both practical and pointed.
This article is part of our ‘Can A Marriage Survive’ series where we deal with the tough issues couples face.
A marriage can survive an affair but you must be prepared for changes in the relationship. Some say it will never be the same again. The damage done to trust, loyalty and love cannot be undone.
That said, it is possible to rebuild. Much like mending a broken bone, healing a broken marriage after infidelity can make the marriage stronger. I need to put an ‘IF’ after that statement.
Making a marriage stronger after an affair takes a lot of work and requires both parties to work through some serious issues. Many times it takes professional help to get back on track. But it is possible.
In this article, we will look at a few requirements both partners need to consider in order to survive an affair.
It can be difficult, but it is possible. With communication, forgiveness, and trust, your marriage can overcome this difficult time.
3 Attitudes Required To Rebuild After Infidelity
Attitude is everything! So says the old adage. While I don’t totally agree (it takes more than attitude to succeed at anything in life), it is important. And in the case of rebuilding a marriage after an affair, it is part of the foundation needed to build trust and confidence.
Both parties need the correct attitudes, but these are mostly directed toward the offended party.
Here are the attitudes our readers indicated were necessary to regain and rebuild trust.
Attitude #1: Patience
Once trust is broken, it takes time to restore. It doesn’t happen over night. Therefore, it requires patience as your spouse learns to trust again.
Be patient because you can’t put a time line on it! It can take months or even years to get that trust back!A Reader
Yet, this is the area where most marriages crumble. Because it takes so long to rebuild, many couples call it quits. It’s hard work to build back what was torn down.Once trust is broken, it takes time to restore. It doesn't happen over night. Therefore, it requires patience as your spouse learns to trust again. Click To Tweet
Many offenders find it too constricting to answer questions about who they are talking to on the phone, where they were for the past hour, and why they were late getting home from work. We discuss this below in the section on what to do to rebuild your marriage.
Attitude #2: Remorse
I call ‘remorse’ an attitude because most who contributed indicated this was the one thing they needed to see in their spouse. Those who sensed genuine remorse and regret were more likely to work together to make the marriage strong. Those who did not see remorse usually ended in divorce.
Remorse is one indicator that signals this is not likely to happen again. After all, that’s the fear most spouses feel. This will become a pattern. When there is real remorse it creates a sense of security and boundary.
One writer put it this way:
Remorse is when they feel a sense of shame for violating their own moral code and have a fear of going down this path again…Remorse gives a foundation for the marriage to be rebuilt on. Without it, the cheater will not be in an authentic frame of mind to do their part to heal the damage. They endure the storm instead of own the fact that they created it. They wait for their spouse to forgive and move on instead of work on being trustworthy.
Remorse says, ‘I know this is my fault and it will never happen again.’
I agree with the writer that working on ‘being trustworthy’ is the key factor. If your spouse (the offender) is simply wanting to forget about it and move on, maybe they aren’t really willing to work on being worthy of trust.
Forgive and forget is an important principle. It is detrimental to your physical and emotional health to continue to harbor unforgiveness and bitterness. That doesn’t mean, however, you should allow the offender to pretend it never happened. It certainly doesn’t mean your feelings, hurt, and insecurity in the relationship aren’t valid.Remorse is not 'I feel bad because I got caught.' It is a recognition that you hurt someone you love and feel the pain you caused them. Click To Tweet
Remorse is not ‘I feel bad because I got caught.’ It is a recognition that you hurt someone you love and feel the pain you caused them.
Yes, there is a time to ‘let go and move on.’ Too often couples feel pressure to make this happen before healing has occurred. The reality is, you can’t move on until the wound is healed.
There is a fine balancing act that has to happen between working through the issues and wallowing in the mire of what happened. This is where professional counseling can help you distinguish the difference.
Attitude #3: Humility
Humility has many definitions and nuances. My goal here is to apply it to rebuilding after an affair. In those terms, humility is ability to approach your spouse understanding what they have experienced by your infidelity. In a way, it is similar to empathy.
It is realizing you should expect nothing. An offender deserves to lose his rights because he violated a sacred trust. Humility is realizing this and hoping for mercy.
This is because humility offers the opportunity to become less self-involved and more attuned with the feelings of others.Source
8 Requirements For Restoring Marriage After An Affair
Building upon the foundation of the proper attitude, let’s look at the top 8 ‘things’ our readers said the offending spouse should do in order to reconcile the marriage.
#1: Get Counseling
I’ve mentioned this before, but we don’t always recommend counseling. Specifically, marriage counseling. We give our reasons here. There are other programs we prefer as a starting point in rebuilding your marriage.
We do, however, recommend individual counseling. For both parties involved.
Counseling will help the victim process what happened and move forward in the journey of healing. For the offender, it will help them realize what is at stake, and how they should approach the issue of reconciliation.
One writer put it this way:
One of the most difficult things I had to do was listen to my partner and understand what she was feeling, how she was thinking and why she made the choices she did. It was not an easy process and I had to accept that there were things I could have done and should have done differently. Without this understanding and willingness to make necessary changes it would have been impossible to restore our marriage. Counseling and participation in a marriage improvement program helped.
#2: Cut Off All Contact
According to our readers, this is a must. All contact with the other person must be stopped. This is often difficult because of working relationships (co-worker is the other party). Some readers went so far as to say the guilty person should change jobs if necessary. While that might seem unrealistic to many, it is certainly a line of demarcation that states clearly, ‘My marriage is more important than my career.’
Line of Demarcation: A line defining the boundary of a buffer zone or area of limitation. A line of demarcation may also be used to define the forward limits of disputing or belligerent forces after each phase of disengagement or withdrawal has been completed. See also area of limitation; buffer zone; disengagement; peace operations. TheFreeDictionary.com
This insight came from one reader:
Almost ALL infidelity advisors state that the top things that MUST absolutely happen to get a marriage back on track are…The spouse who is doing the betraying MUST cut off all contact with his/her affair partner. No progress will be made until that occurs.
Breaking ties with the other party is mandatory for the marriage to heal properly. The point is, the offending person must be willing to what it takes to re-create an atmosphere of trust, security, and emotional healing.
#3: Commitment and Agreement
This should go without saying. If one party is unwilling to comply, the chances of rebuilding the marriage are slim. It is not impossible, but it is more difficult when only one party is trying to make it work.
These statistics are not scientific, but merely our observation after working with couples:
- If the offending party is the one trying, the odds are better for the marriage to be restored.
- If the victim is the one trying, chances go down. There may be many reasons for this; the main one being their lack of concern about their spouse and desire to continue their life of infidelity. Until this changes, not much else will change.
If your situation is one-sided (you are the only one trying to make it work), check out our healthy marriage toolkit.
In order for trust to be restored, the betraying spouse MUST be accepting of his partner’s request for accountability as to where he/she is, disclosing phone calls, text messages, computer information. Betrayers have to be open to “tracking”.
This is another non-negotiable requirement. For trust to be reestablished, accountability must be in place for the spouse to prove (demonstrate) faithfulness.
The most basic thing about accountability is telling, or being willing (or able) to tell, whatever you’ve done or haven’t done. Source
What does this mean for both parties:
1. For the offender
It means you must realize the pain and hurt your decisions had on your spouse and family, and be willing to answer questions about your actions. See Attitude #3 above.Accountability implies you open the books of your life (actions, plans, whereabouts, social media, etc) to your spouse. They have full access. Click To Tweet
Accountability implies you open the books of your life (actions, plans, whereabouts, social media, etc) to your spouse. They have full access. This is necessary until THEY get to a point they no longer need that information.
2. For the offended
Accountability means you must be willing to work at letting go and moving on. If your decision is to make your marriage work, you must then do the work. You cannot hold your spouse hostage forever and use their past failure against them.
This requires dealing with your pain and working toward solutions.
In essence, accountability means you stand ready to answer for your actions and behavior in order to build trust.
#5: Getting To The Root Of Why It Happened
Sometimes, for healing to take place, couples need to dig deep to discover why it happened. This may not always be the case; some couples do better, letting go and moving on. But for most, it could be a move in the right direction to explore why infidelity happened.
There are many possible reasons:
- The thrill of it
- Sex addiction
- Bad character
- Unhappy marriage
None of these are offered as an excuse. In fact, as one reader states, ‘There are reasons for an affair, but not excuses!’
The couple must have an open and honest (and often painful and difficult) discussion about why the affair happened. An affair happens when a person is not getting what they want or need from their partner. There is Always a reason for an affair. What most people fail to understand at this point is that the reason is not the same as an excuse or a justification. But there is always a reason.
Discovering the reason could be the key to moving forward and safeguarding your marriage in the future.
Another reader put like this:
I usually have people tell me that the person who was cheated on is Never at fault or to blame. That is just plain wrong and the very reading most couples cannot recover from an affair. More often than not it is some failure within the marriage.
This point could be debated, but the point is, people do things for a reason. Finding out that reason can be the difference in success (healing and restoration) and failure (divorce).
I’ll close with this point:
Both partners need to sit together and talk in order to understand and figure out what went wrong, where the marriage failed. They must acknowledge and understand what needs to be changed in the marriage in order to restore. They must understand what they can do to make a difference.
#6: Communication Is Key
Communication is more than talking. It is connecting. Without connection there is no marriage. You may have a marriage certificate, but real marriage is built on connection.
This is why couples need to talk.
They lack communication skills demonstrated by failing to discuss whatever it was they felt justifies diving between someone else’s legs for comfort. Lack of communication destroys relationships. They have become a poster child for this.A Reader
#7: Spend Time Together
Most all our readers agreed that quality time plays a significate role in a strong marriage. Even more so after infidelity.
Many times in a marriage a person feels lonely/left out and thinks they’re not loved, hence the desire to cheat. Spending time together will be very helpful in filling the loneliness the cheated spouse felt when they were being cheated on.A Reader
Reconnecting takes time. So invest in your relationship in order to rebuild.
#8: Let It Go
At some point, you need to let go of the offense. The perfect scenario is, you have done the work and are now healed from the wound so it’s easy to let it go.
In the real world, this can take time. The key is to do the work (start with these steps) and get healed so you can move forward.
Regardless of what you think, time does NOT heal all wounds. It can. It all depends on your perspective and willingness to work on your relationship. Time can be a brutal reminder of past mistakes and failures.
Marriage is work as it is, surviving something so soul wrenching is even more. BUT if both are willing to commit and put in the work, the rest STAYS in the past.A Reader
Letting go does not mean forgetting (necessarily). It does mean you stop letting it be an issue. You stop bringing it up. You both work to start over – fresh. You can’t do this if you continue to hang on the offense.Letting go can only come when the hurt is healed and your soul is restored. Seek this first. Then you can let go. Click To Tweet
Forgive and let go.
When I talk with couples about this, I sometimes get push-back. This is usually an indication that the wound is not healed. Letting go can only come when the hurt is healed and your soul is restored. Seek this first. Then you can let go.
I’m thankful (and appreciate) those readers who answered our question, ‘Can a marriage really survive an affair?’ There responses are valuable keys on how to walk out the aftermath of infidelity.
Many of them were either victims of an affair, or spouses who had one. In my opinion, they are brave people for stepping forward with their stories.
We did not include all the comments or stories for practical reasons.
- 3 Attitudes Required To Rebuild After Infidelity
- 8 Requirements For Restoring Marriage After An Affair
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