You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

It’s a very common occurrence, that when a spouse is trying to heal from either their own infidelity or their spouse’s, they try to make decisions about the future. On the front end, there would appear to be many strikes against them.  From the nature of the affair, to the length of the affair, to multiple affair partners, to having to work with the affair partner: the issues can be mind boggling. Many still think Samantha is mentally imbalanced for staying with me.

Many times spouses will utter phrases to me like “There’s so much going against us, how will we ever make it?” Or, “Our situation is so different,” and quite usually it’s not, but they are trying to get an idea of what the future will look like. They’re also pondering whether there is a future at all with their spouse. 

But, they are not there yet, and they are on the very front end of the journey trying to decide what to do. To try and make decisions about what you will do down the road isn’t proactive. Just like the spouse that says early on in marriage, “If you ever cheat, it’s a deal breaker and I’ll be gone.” Then their spouse has an affair, kids are now in the picture, and life looks a whole lot different. What we seemed so sure about then isn’t the case anymore: and that’s OK.   

It’s just not that easy. As we all say, everyone says what they will do if there is infidelity until they have to go through it.

What I’ve heard Rick say to many people is to stop making decisions about events that haven’t happened yet. I’m not sure how you will overcome situations. I’m not sure how your spouse will be able to still work with the affair partner, or if they can at all. I’m not sure how you’ll be able to police your spouse while they are away from you, and if that’s even a real option. I’m also not sure what life will look like for the spouse that’s been unfaithful several times, over several years. I don’t know if you can forgive them and really enjoy freedom. I know you can, but I’m not sure you will want to.

What I do know is there is a plan to help you, for now and for then. 

When we need to cross that bridge we’ll cross it. For now, even though every one of us is in a different stage, I’d encourage you to focus on the moment you’re in right now and make decisions to get help to start to forge ahead.

If after you get the help you need, and your spouse is unwilling to then manage their own recovery, perhaps you’ll need to create space between you and them. If after you both have gotten expert help, and your spouse refuses to stay accountable and share where they are at, or to return calls quickly or other accountability measures, then you may need to take a step back and implement some consequences to that behavior. Having to still work with the affair partner for example, will only work after help has been implemented. It is possible, but requires expert strategy and requires getting the right kind of help for the situation. Who knows if your spouse will be able to forgive you, or you will be able to experience forgiveness as you go forward in your marriage.

But to sit and wonder and remain paralyzed, and not try to forgive and see what life will look like, is a recipe for disaster indeed.

There are a few must needed questions you do need to answer now. Such as where are you going to get help? Are you open to restoration? Are you or your spouse willing to get help? Are you really aware of what divorce looks like? Are you prepared to go through all the stages to finally divorce, when possibly there could be change?

I’d suggest answering those questions before you try and answer questions about how you’ll enjoy your later years together, or whether or not you can be physically intimate again, or the litany of questions along those lines.

You don’t know what you just don’t know….and that’s more than OK.

But if you do know you want to try, then here’s what I would emphatically say to you my friend:

1.       Get expert help.

2.       Get it right now.

3.       Take it slow and watch the progress before you make any final decisions.

4.       Don’t quit till you’re convinced there is no hope.

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we've done this

Married 35 years, dated 6 years before that, high school sweethearts. We've gone to marriage counseling...the counselor listened for 20 minutes, asked us if we even liked each other and then gave our marriage a 2% chance of making it. We each go to separate therapists....he was supposed to be working on anger management, but didnt, now he's with a different therapist...I am supposed to be working on my zero self esteem and why I allowed him to abuse me for 30 years.....all this has been for 14 months now since confrontation. We have attended EMSW and are still involved in the after care phone calls, I did Harboring Hope and still do the after care calls, he won't take a polygraph unless he has a 100% guarantee that there will be no "false positives", he has refused just about any solution that I have suggested, yet still says he "loves me and wants me".....and I am getting weary. I am ill from it all---high blood pressure that I didn't have before (some readings are at stroke level), eating disorder -- lost 35 pounds from the stress, chest pains, sleep disorders....and I still have no proof he's given her up. I don't trust him, probably never will again. I don't respect him because he abused me in almost every way possible because I kept asking questions about his latest affair. So when is it time to say there's no hope? How much more can I try? 35 years is a long time and investment to just throw away, yet I feel unloved, damaged, used up and given to Goodwill, afraid that once I give in, we will go right back to the marriage we had and it will start all over again. He will probably be back with her- for the third time- in 6 months or so. I am so afraid of this. My mind resists attempts with reconnecting because of fear of all this happening.I don't want to be made a fool of for a third time, especially with the same woman. I have prayed and prayed and can't get clarity on what God wants me to do. Most women would have left him months ago. I truly don't know what I don't know. So again, when is it time to say I have tried everything and there is no hope?

Recovery for you

I'm in recovery as the Betrayed. Like you, I've found myself asking questions like these. I decided to go to recovery for ME. I recognized that there were broken ways of relating in me, deep fears and old wounds, and I wanted to be free to love boldly, in spite of the hurtful experiences I have lived through. I'm learning a lot about what a healthy ME would look like, and I have a lot of work to do. Living a life lacking emotional intimacy is what I learned as a child, and it has not helped create a life-giving marriage. The idea of "poor in spirit" in the Beatitudes in the Bible's New Testament book of Matthew has been one of the most helpful concepts thus far. It talks about moving from dependence upon people, and toward recognition of my utter neediness for a trustworthy, faithful Love found in God. I feel like a person driving down a hill realizing the steering wheel is gone…terrified. I want control! I'm learning that I don't get to control much but the place I go for help, and typically we need that place to be 100% trustworthy after experiencing abuse and/or betrayal. People are not able to be this (as we are learning from the Unfaithful in our lives), but we can entrust them to God IF we can grow to trust God ourselves. I have sat shaking with desperation to make myself safe and come to realize that it is the desperation for safety that, although important in relationships with people, is revealing the real problem. I know IN MY HEAD that people are broken, yet God is always safe. But, my behavior suggests that my mind and heart DON'T agree on the matter of the trustworthiness of God. So, my recovery has been focused on dependence on God: whether or not I'm willing to let go of pride and ingratitude and resistance and unwillingness in order to receive from Him what I need to fill the giant needy hole in my heart (which we are all created with). My husband may or may not remain safe and on track with recovery. I hope he does; he has an awful lot to lose. But, regardless of what he chooses, I know I am growing in ways I never realized I needed to…and I'm proud of choosing this. I've wanted to run away all day, every day for nearly 9 months, yet I've stayed to face this. I'm changing and it's the staying in this uncomfortable place of marital limbo that is pressing me toward the only One who can help me. It's giving me a real faith in Him, born from heart-shattering pain. You know, I'm realizing God really is amazing. I love how He never wastes anything, not even the thing I hoped I'd never have to face: the ultimate human betrayal. Somehow, someday He will make even THIS into a jewel in my crown.


Thank you for sharing your journey. This one of the most powerful stories in recovery I have heard. In the sense that I most relate to. I desperately want to learn to trust God in a way I never have before. I am trying to focus on my recovery but having trouble allowing God to be everything I need and not be dependent on my spouse. How did you learn to do that?

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