Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

When to Save a Marriage and Surviving Infidelity

When to Save a Marriage and Surviving Infidelity

At Affair Recovery we are committed to helping people heal as individuals and couples; but how does one know if it's worth the effort, pain and commitment to pursue restoration?

Before couples attend our EMS Weekend or take an online course, I'm often asked,

"When is it worth the effort of working things out and when is it best just to move on?"

It's an excellent question.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger talks about the three A's as reasons to end a marriage:

Abuse, Addiction, and Affairs.

In these circumstances the betrayer has chosen something other than the marriage, and I fully agree with that concept. The betrayal of a marriage is no small matter and surviving infidelity is not easy. In fact, for many, the pain caused by infidelity is the most devastating and painful event in their life. However, leaving a marriage after an affair to escape the pain and the loss of self-respect is not always the answer. It is possible that in a strange way the crisis created by the betrayal may actually provide the necessary environment for healthy change.

Before abandoning their relationship, we invite couples to honestly explore what went wrong and how they've arrived at this major crossroads.

The old saying, "those who fail to learn from their past mistakes are destined to repeat them" is certainly true. There is no action that either spouse could have committed which could justify any of the "three A's," but at the same time, no person is guiltless (don't take what I've just said and go verbally beat your spouse with it. This is about looking at your personal failures, not at your mate's).

My mate is not my problem, but my mate most certainly reveals the problems in me.

All of us arrive in marriage with our own personal baggage and unlike the airlines, our personal baggage will never get lost in transit. It will always arrive at our next relationship. Before abandoning ship, we recommend discovering the nature of your personal baggage and how it has contributed to the problems in the marriage. This is a key process in surviving infidelity. The answers that each of you discover may well provide motivations for reconciling your marriage.

Factors to Consider in Restoration

One of the first signposts in determining whether or not you should reconcile a marriage after an affair is the initial response of the unfaithful spouse.

The unfaithful spouse needs to display a strong willingness to do whatever it takes to move toward health and recovery. If there is not a willingness to be honest and to stop the hurtful behaviors or inappropriate relationships, then saving the marriage becomes questionable.

We suggest that the betrayed spouse give the unfaithful spouse a short season to see if they will come back, but if they don't then it's time to move on. A partner needs to be truly grieved over what they've done to their mate and the pain they've caused. Without remorse, surviving infidelity may still not be hopeless, but it becomes more difficult.

Is It Too Early To Tell?

Another thing to consider is timing. It's difficult to make sound decisions at times when we are so emotional. At the initial impact of the revelation of a betrayal, it's difficult to know if it's worth the effort of saving the marriage. The pain and trauma for both partners override reason when you're dealing with infidelity. In addition, it's impossible to tell how one's mate is going to respond over the first 12 months. The betrayed spouse may find themselves on an emotional roller coaster for as long as 18 months. While 18 months is not that long, it feels like an eternity to the couple going through the ups and downs. It is true that the ride gets less intense as the process goes on, but in the beginning it can feel like it goes on forever.

The more time you allow for emotions to subside and reason to rule, the better your chances of making a sound decision after an affair.

It's key that during this initial process you are receiving the proper support, which will care for both of you and minimize any further damage. To simply gut it out on your own will not only exhaust you of all your mental and emotional resources, but will cause even more collateral damage to both spouses.

One of the simple factors in deciding to reconcile a marriage is past history. If at least 10% of the marital history was positive, then the probabilities of a positive outcome and surviving infidelity increase significantly. Of course, it may be difficult to be honest about the marital history. The pain of the betrayal may cloud judgment when considering the positives in the past. Often, all the betrayed spouse can see are the failures, not the successes. At the same time, it's not uncommon for the unfaithful spouse to rewrite the marital history and eliminate all the good times in order to justify their actions. I would encourage both parties to honestly try to look at reality. If at some point it was good in the past then it's possible for it to be good again in the future.

A majority of those who restore their marriage after infidelity say they have an much more fulfilling, intimate, and joyful marriage than they did before.

There are also some more common reasons for trying to salvage a marriage such as finances, children, and shared history. In reality, one of the main reasons for saving a marriage is because it's worth it, not only for self, but also for others. At the point of revelation, there is often little or no perceived value in the marriage, but it is worth it. Whether or not you see it, there is value in saving your marriage.

But there is one reason that trumps all others. When God tells you the path you need to take then it doesn’t need to make sense. It’s our belief at Affair Recovery that if there is a clear sense from God to work on the marriage then you must work on the marriage. In our private practices of marriage and infidelity-specific counseling, the other counselors and I frequently ask our clients, "What is God telling you?" Interestingly, many of them have a clear sense of what they are being told. In those situations we believe following that path is most important. If you don't have a clear answer, please wait until you do.

Next Steps for the Unfaithful

Again, although very possible, surviving infidelity is a long, but promising, journey. I've only begun to touch on some of the issues of when to consider saving a marriage.

If you're an unfaithful spouse and need help with how to begin your own recovery journey I hope you'll consider our Hope for Healing course for unfaithful spouses.

It's a 17 week, infidelity-specific curriculum designed for the unfaithful spouse's healing, empathy development and overall personal recovery.

If you are struggling with whether or not to continue, consider participating in our free First Steps Bootcamp. This seven day Bootcamp is a tool to help you determine if it's worth fighting for your marriage and to show you what recovery will take. Perhaps today is a day to start anew on your own recovery or your marriage's by simply giving it 7 days.

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Comments

Affair

18 months is a long time to work on a broken marriage but perhaps it is better than looking back and having regrets over a decision made in haste. At 14 months, I cannot imagine ever trusting my husband again.

How do I know I have all?? My

How do I know I have all?? My husband has taken a little over 8 months to tell everything, but I feel that there is more. How do I take that leap of faith that this time I do know all? I had about 50 d days and after every reveal he would say now you know everything. Will I ever feel like I know all?

Affair

I think they all lie about the details because of the extreme shame they feel. If you believe the affair is over, maybe best to stop asking questions and focus on the broken parts of your marriage. I won my husband back by working on me and the whole time I am wondering if I have the energy to do this. I have finally decided that this was not my fault in any way but there are things I can do to make me a happier person.

How do I know I have all?? My

How do I know I have all?? My husband has taken a little over 8 months to tell everything, but I feel that there is more. How do I take that leap of faith that this time I do know all? I had about 50 d days and after every reveal he would say now you know everything. Will I ever feel like I know all?

So hard to decide!

My ex — he is the one who had the affair—and I tried to get back together twice. Both times I told him I would not feel safe as long as he was still seeing the other person and that I needed time without the AP lurking in the background to reconnect. He assured me that they were just friends. Both times I drove by where he was living the day after we discussed this and saw her car there. (I know I should not have been doing drive-bys but that is another story.)

He told me both times that again, she is just a friend. But my problem was this: I did not want to live my life wondering what they were doing together. Maybe I could have done it had he been willing to be transparent with his cell phone messages and emails but he wasn’t. I just did not want that kind of life. Even with transparency, I did not want to be checking up on him all the time. In the end, though we both wanted to be together, I just couldn’t do it. It was a very hard decision, but I don’t regret it. I felt that I would eventually meet another person who did not need two women.

Something I’m struggling with

Something I’m struggling with is that we’re not actually married yet. We had plans to get engaged this year and have already discussed dates for the wedding but I’m not sure how to move forward. It’s been 11 months since D day and I know that this process will take time so I’m not sure how to proceed with wedding plans. I already know I will recieve judgement from some people that know our situation when we get engaged but neither one of us feel like this relationship is something we should give up on. Has anyone else had this issue with how to proceed and move forward in your relationship during this stage of recovery?

Emotional Abuse: A Series of Betrayals

Finally! I found an article on here that touches on abuse as betrayal. I knew my husband was emotionally abusing me our entire young marriage. In fact, it's what forced me to leave after 5 years, because I was broken to the point of losing my sanity. I was no longer just hurt. I was destroyed by the person I love most in this world and who was supposed to love me, and it resonated into the kind of mother I was being for my children.

He works offshore, and I began to experience extreme anxiety before he would come home to the point that all I could do was cry instead of being happy that he had returned safely to me and to help relieve me of the sole parenting and housekeeping responsibility. I hated it every minute of every day and night that I could not be with my husband and we could not be a family - our kids were just toddlers - because of the way he treated me. I could not continue to give him my heart when he was incapable of receiving it. He was not safe.

After I left, I was grieving as though I was in the middle of an ocean struggling to keep my head above water and only able to see land very far away at certain times. I had to continue communicating with him because of the kids, one of which has special needs, which made me feel like he was floating by me on a raft and criticizing me while I struggled to breathe and keep my head above water. Needless to say, the digs into my being continued from him even with the little communication we had.

I started attending church regularly, a new church, working on my salvation and praying that my husband would see the light and return to me, at least wanting to be a new man. So, you can imagine how devastated I was, then, to find out that just for months after our separation, I started receiving calls about a picture posted on Facebook of him and another woman. He claimed nothing happened, and we eventually began to reconcile after four months of no contact (communicating and exchanging children through family members).

Our reconciliation was short-lived, because as I questioned him about his time with this other woman, he admitted that they had sex. Two months later, he admitted to his porn use during our marriage. To say that the trauma of the emotional abuse is compounded by my husband's other forms of infidelity is an understatement.

It wasn't until I found Affair Recovery and Samuel's videos on YouTube that I realized I was now experiencing PTSD and had been traumatized just from the emotional abuse. It's not simply that all of these behaviors stem from the same faulty thinking patterns, that one "progresses" into another, or that they all go hand-in-hand given enough time.

My point here is that emotional abuse, in and of itself, is not simply a betrayal but a series of betrayals. It is repeated, devastating, traumatizing infidelity. The courses offered through Affair Recovery are very much suited for people whose situation falls into this category, whose "unfaithful" spouse may not have acted out in an affair, yet.

I would be elated to see Samuel address more of this in his videos.

To Healing,

Harboring Hope Participant