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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Confirmation

I dreaded reading this post bc I'm always torn as to whether or not I have made the right choice to stay together after discovering my husband's affair 2.5 yrs ago. He's not involved w her anymore, but we still have major issues when it comes to trust and honesty. But in the back of my mind I know God told me to stay put. I've questioned Him and asked if He's changed His mind yet bc I did NOT want to stay. It has not been easy and I have wanted to give up more times than I can count... But God promises ALL things work for our good and His glory in Romans 8:28. We have 3 beautiful children, one of which I found out I was pregnant w 3 weeks after finding out about the affair. I knew God was giving me a reason to stay then, and this post today has confirmed that I have made, and am continuing to make the right choice.

Dr Laura's 3 reasons for leaving a marriage

I've been thinking of the 3 reasons for leaving a marriage ( abuse, addictions, & affairs) and I realized there is a 4th reason to consider: abandonment !

Oh WOW!

This really helps me a lot. I have been praying for God to show me which path to take after 2 years of finding out about my husband's sex addiction and that right there just summed everything up for me. He ISN'T showing remorse for his actions cause he just continues looking for another sex partner. He is sorry that he keeps getting caught but he isn't sorry that it happened in the first place. He continually breaks my trust AND we have a 13 month old son(found out I was pregnant right after I found out about his infidelity) who all of this will ultimately impact. Our son doesn't deserve to grow up with a father who teaches him that it's okay to cheat on his wife multiple times with other women. Thank you so very much for your insight! Now for the hard part; divorce. The next chapter in our lives!

I wish I'd known this sooner!

Thanks, Rick, for your insightful article on when to end (or save) a marriage. I first discovered my spouse's betrayal approximately 2.5 years ago. All my friends and family thought I was certifiably insane for choosing to work on the marriage for two long years, especially since my spouse was not remorseful and unwilling to change. I did this because it was my belief that God was asking me to do this.

After two years of my single-handed effort to save the marriage, my spouse informed me that he was unwilling to put any work into saving the relationship (not that he had prior to that anyway). While the marriage failed, I still believe that I followed God's will for my life during an excruciatingly painful season, and I know that I have experienced tremendous personal growth as a result. Since my marriage ended, I have continued to read your articles, and they have been very helpful. Thank you for your ministry to hurting people; you are making a difference.

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?

Disclosure

We are 9 months from D day and just in the last month Ive decided that if I keep on searching for new information I will probably find it. Ive decided instead to look at the facts of our relationship today. The facts are: He is still here, sticking this out no matter how hard Ive been to live with. He has given all passwords, and lets me look at any media at any time without haste and anger. He is consistently working on himself and the parts of himself that led to this mistake. He has apologized, taken responsibility and is continued to make himself worthy of my choice to stay. These are the facts. When I can objectively recognize this I can see a future that allows me to trust him again. The fact that I stayed at all shows some willingness to trust in a better future.
The bottom line is that no matter how much new information I find or he discloses, it will never be enough until I decide that it IS in fact enough. I cant see the point of digging any longer when I look at the facts of our daily lives now. At some point the need to know has to be trumped by the effort of the unfaithful moving towards healing. Its a hard pill to swallow but we have gained more momentum and hope since the day I decided I didnt need more information. I knew enough to start moving forward. I hope that you can get to this place because it is a lot less terrifying than waiting for more bombs.

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.

Stay or go on with divorce

Married 49 yrs. Husband has lied from beginning of discovery. Was in affair for 15+ yrs. said she lived in Nashville where they got together every three moths bit found out 2 moths ago she has lived in Knoxville all along. Won’t tell me her identity, wont tell me if he took her on trips which I suspect as I had to take leave and care for daughter three weeks out of town. Has owned some things but I need him to come clean as my mind is so traumatized. Been to five counselors. Rick can you help me decide. I still care for him but Im do stuck still.

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?

Husband cheated while we were dating

Hi Basil,

I had a similar situation to yours. My husband cheated on me while we were dating. Prior to getting married I thought it was only a few conversations with his high school sweetheart, and so we worked to restore the relationship, eventually we got engaged, and then were married. Four months into the marriage I found out it was a full blown affair that resulted in AP getting pregnant which they aborted. He cheated on me after only one year of dating, when I can't really say we were having any kinds of problems. He had unresolved feelings for her even though his first child with her (out of wedlock) was 14 yo at the time when they decided they needed to fire up another relationship, and the AP was married.

Fast forward now 10 years later...yes 10 years...and I've never fully recovered. I do think you have a great advantage over me...you know what you are marrying. I thought it was only a "conversation." I found out about everything after we were married. I was very angry for a long time because he had not been honest with me prior to the marriage and robbed me of having a choice as to whether I would want to marry him. He has also been very prideful and filled with guilt and shame over what he's done which has caused him to be very verbally abusive. We have separated multiple times (we are on our third now because of his verbal abuse.)

If you have not gone to the three day weekend for Affair Recover, you should go now and get the proper counseling before you are married and realize that you have made a terrible mistake, and are now faced with getting a divorce. It is much easier to not get married than to get divorced.

Worrying about whether people judge you or not is the least of your worries. You need to determine whether or not you can trust this person for the rest of your life.

If I had been given the gift of knowing like you, I believe my life for the past 10 years would have looked very different. There is NO RUSH to get married!! Being married and trying to recover from infidelity is extremely difficult.

I wish you wisdom in making good decisions before pledging your life to someone who has already demonstrated they can be unfaithful.

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

Infidelity trauma

I read many articles and blogs on many sites to try to heal since 2012. I have mainly used harboring in trying to understand all about infidelity for both the betrayed and the unfaithful. It has helped so much in understanding and definitely is for those who have already been betrayed but I have severe ptsd and depression from my situation and have not been able to heal. A few months ago I found this video and finally someone who understands that part. I couldn't stop crying just watching the video. I have been doing the courses and finally am getting the help I needed. This is just for women though. There is recovery for men who struggle with porn or sex addiction. My husband thought there was something wrong with me for being affected so much because his family has dysfunctional beliefs. When he saw the video he finally started to understand how much I have been going through. Now he goes through many of the courses they offer with me. He is finally helping me and I can recieve it. Even if he did nothing I am getting healing. Now we use harboring hope, bloom, and addo resources. Harboring hope offers so much more to understand and make decisions after being betrayed and Bloom is focused on healing from the trauma. I need both. I hope it helps you, too.

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