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Four Steps To Recovering Your Marriage After An Affair (Adultery - Part 4)

“What in the world do we do now? We are not prepared for this.” That is what I typically hear in the first counseling session after an affair is confessed or discovered. Understanding the basics of what it takes to recover from an affair may help you empathize with a friend, or it may help you have a clue where to start if you ever find yourself in affair recovery. Having counseled couples after infidelity and having read books and articles about how marriages can rebuild, I believe there are four steps a couple must take to rebuild a healthy marriage after unfaithfulness.

1.    Completely end the inappropriate relationship.

First, the unfaithful spouse must completely and fully cut off the inappropriate relationship. As a counselor, I will not progress past this step until the adulterous spouse has cut off the relationship. Some spouses want to hear or see the adulterous spouse cut it off, and that can be beneficial for some. Is important is that both spouses have confidence the relationship has been ended.

2.    Build trust.

An affair destroys trust in a marriage. Forgiveness is given as a free gift, but trust is earned. The affair included sexual and emotional secrecy, and trust will be earned with a lifetime of honesty, transparency, and vulnerability.. Below are some common ways couples have sought to build trust back into their marriage.

  • The offended spouse has permission to ask any questions, and you (the adulterous spouse) answer with honesty and transparency.
  • Git rid of technology (smart phone, Facebook, snapchat, iPad) that was involved in secretive communication or inappropriate picture sharing. If it would help build trust, give your spouse all the passwords for your email accounts, phone records, social media sites, and financial accounts. 
  • If your work environment is not helpful for building trust due to traveling or working with your affair partner, change jobs or request a different position in the company. This may seem drastic, but you must do whatever it takes to earn trust. 
  • Do not minimize the pain your spouse feels or defend your adulterous actions. Seek to not grow impatient with your spouse's distrust. Expect it to take years to rebuild trust. 
  • Be intentional to rebuild trust by doing other things, such as checking in often, frequently letting your spouse know where you are and what you are doing, providing an itinerary if you must travel, getting involved with a small group or Bible study, and pursuing counseling. 
If your spouse is staying with you to try to make the marriage work, odds are that he/she wants to trust you. Instead of viewing their questioning and desire for evidence (phone records, email, etc.) as him/her wanting to catch you in a lie, view it as your spouse looking for evidence that he/she can trust you. The more you take the initiative in rebuilding trust, the better. If you broke the trust, do not make your spouse beg for the things that will help rebuild it.
It is the adulterous spouse's job to do whatever is asked of him/her, within reason, by the offended spouse. It is the job of the offended spouse not to use this as an opportunity for payback, manipulation, or control, but to only ask for what is needed to rebuild trust.

3.    Heal.

I am not seeking to imply that building trust and healing are completely separate. They normally happen at the same time. When I say heal, I mean that the offended spouse is cared for by his/her spouse, friends, and church family and supported through the grieving process. Healing includes the unfaithful spouse hearing and understanding his/her spouse's pain and apologizing. It includes the offended spouse's support system listening and weeping with their hurting friend. It includes praying for healing and strength to forgive. It includes expressing forgiveness to the adulterous husband or wife.
Healing is not only for the offended spouse. Most who have an affair feel intense shame, guilt, and isolation. These emotions need to be cared for and faced. The adulterous spouse needs to confess, repent, and work on their character and integrity. He/she needs to be supported, as they often go through hard months and sometimes years as they see the effects of their actions hurt the people around them. The unfaithful spouse needs encouragement and support. This spouse's role in healing the marriage is crucial, but often exhausting and lonely.  

4.    Work on marital problems that existed before the affair.

     This only happens after significant trust-building and healing have been achieved. If you do this too early, the offended spouse will likely come to believe that the affair was somehow his/her fault. That is a lie. There is nothing one spouse can do that makes the other have an affair. I want to be clear! It is not your fault that your spouse had an affair. However, it would be foolish to not go back and seek to understand and change patterns in the marriage that created distance and a lack of marital satisfaction pre-affair.
If your marriage feels destroyed due to an affair and you want to give saving your marriage a chance, I strongly suggest finding a professional counselor that values marriage to help you with your recovery. Every couple and every situation are different. Do not seek to apply these steps or any others as a formula. There are exceptions, and these are not rules. I hope these broad steps help you to think through what it takes to recover from an affair. If you are going through affair recovery, I hope and pray that your marriage is able to heal and experience strength and health in the future. 
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