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

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? Before couples attend our EMS Weekend or take on 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 and 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 discovers may well provide motivations for reconciling your marriage.

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.

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. In fact, 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. Marriage counseling, especially  ‘infidelity-specific’ counseling, is what we do, and we 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.

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 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

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.

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