An affair wreaks havoc on a marriage. Continuing a marriage with someone who has broken their vow of monogamy, either physically or emotionally, is a personal choice. Some choose to dissolve the marriage when an affair is discovered; others choose to honor their side of the vows in spite of their partner’s lack thereof. Anyone who has ever survived an affair knows the road back to trust and intimacy is a long one, met with many bumps. If the choice is made to save the marriage, both parties must work individually, and together, to find their way back to each other. Surviving adultery is possible, especially if both people are willing to do what it takes to repair what has been broken.
The first step to rebuilding a marriage after an affair is admitting wrongdoing on the part of the spouse who cheated. If they do not acknowledge impropriety, little work can be done to save the marriage. Similarly, if the offending party refuses to cease contact with the person with whom they cheated, it will be extremely difficult to continue working to heal the union. Sometimes this is not always possible if a spouse cheats with a coworker, for example. All attempts should be made by the offending spouse to remove contact and to distance themselves. Perhaps changing departments or even taking another position to distance them will be necessary in order to save the marriage. If an already hurt and betrayed spouse knows her husband is interacting with his former mistress on a daily basis for example, progress will be difficult.
Secondly, remorse on the part of the cheating spouse is essential to aiding in the healing of the spouse who has been betrayed. Groveling can come across as insincere and should not be necessary if the hurting spouse has already agreed to work on the marriage. However, if the cheater is dismissive, unremorseful, flippant, or seems angry about being discovered, rebuilding the marriage will prove to be nearly impossible. The cheater should be willing to openly communicate remorse and accept responsibility for their mistake.
Additionally, a commitment from the cheater to never again seek comforts outside of the marriage is necessary. However, trust has been broken, and the cheater’s promises are not likely to be taken at face value. Nevertheless, communicating an understanding that cheating is never acceptable under any circumstances is a first step. Vowing to never cheat again may seem an empty promise to the hurt spouse, however, it is a small comfort that the cheater understands there are no second chances. The cheater may also agree to become an ‘open book’ for a while, allowing a spouse free access to whereabouts and plans, with the ability to confirm their authenticity. Although no one should feel they must report their every move, it is not unreasonable to expect some suspicion to continue after an affair is discovered.
Seeking a marriage counselor experienced in treating couples attempting to rebuild their marriage after an affair is vital. Counseling will help the couple explore their feelings in a safe environment and will allow both parties to feel heard and validated. People seek affections outside of marriage for several reasons, and those reasons often provide little comfort to the spouse who has been betrayed. However, exploring those reasons in counseling with a marriage counselor can help to shed some light on why the marriage has broken down. Cheating is often just a symptom of a larger problem within a marriage. It is simply not enough for the betrayed spouse to dismiss the problems that already likely existed before the cheating occurred. Willingness for both halves of the couple to work together within counseling is needed for a marriage to survive an affair. Individual counseling should also be considered, so each person is allowed privacy to discuss issues they are working through within themselves.
Finally, forgiveness on the part of the spouse who was cheated on is necessary to rebuilding a marriage after an affair. It is important to remember that forgiveness doesn’t imply that the cheater was justified, or that their actions were condoned. Forgiveness doesn’t make someone a doormat or give the cheater a green light to have another affair. It simply means that the injured spouse is willing to release some anger and soften their heart to allow love to blossom in the marriage once again.
Choosing to remain in a marriage where one has been hurt deeply by the other’s actions is not a decision that is made in haste. Couples should accept that rebuilding a marriage takes time, and along the way there will be many setbacks, second-guessing, and intense emotions. However, there is hope for couples seeking to rebuild their marriage and move forward together. Marriage can survive and once again thrive in spite of an affair.