Over the past decade I’ve been heavily involved in marriage coaching. I’ve worked with hundreds of couples–many who are trying to survive an affair. God has called me to work with some really “hard cases”–couples who came to me with little hope. I’ve seen God do miracles.
My experience working with couples buried in the rubble of a broken covenant due to an affair and my work with them as they try to dig out and rebuild a marriage has taught me some of the keys to surviving an affair.
If you’re in this same situation, you can survive. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count. I’ve seen horrible and hopeless marriages restored through the healing power of God and the hard work of committed couples.
For a marriage to survive an affair, the spouse who cheated needs to repent. This looks like sorrow, grief, brokenness, and a commitment to never cheat again. If the spouse who cheated is unrepentant, any steps towards true reconciliation are illusory.
2. End It Cold Turkey
When you are dealing with a person who has had an affair, you’re dealing with someone who—like a drug addict—will lie, cheat, and steal to keep the “high” going. They will do whatever it takes to get the next “hit.”
Unrepentant cheaters will create secret email accounts, arrange clandestine rendezvouses, risk their jobs and reputations, jeopardize their children’s well-being, and do pretty much anything to keep the affair going. The only way for a couple to survive is for the cheater to cut off all communication with the other person immediately, decisively, and completely.
No more phone calls, meetings, emails, texts…no more anything! If you hope to survive, all personal and unprofessional contact with the other person must end.
3. No More Secrets
To survive an affair, there must be a new-found openness and honesty in the marriage. Your spouse needs to have access to your email accounts, social media, and cell phone. Your spouse needs to have his or her questions answered. They need to hear whatever they need to hear until they’ve decided they’ve heard enough.
When the wound is already open, you need to confess whatever needs to be confessed. I would not recommend withholding important and painful aspects of your sin. If they are revealed years after the initial painful experience, your spouse may see that unconfessed sin as the “last straw.”
When your spouse is found to be having an affair–to the offended spouse–it is as if your spouse has died. The spouse you knew before the affair is dead and gone and–if you are going to survive–you need to allow yourself to grieve.
Grief does not play fair. Grief is a profound experience that does not visit briefly or gently. Grief leaves a wound that never quite goes away. But serves to create a longing that will only be satisfied by an eternity with Jesus. This is one of the big reasons it takes years to recover from an affair.
5. Talk About It
It happened. Don’t act like it didn’t. Not dealing with it is an illusion. The pain, confusion, and heartache aren’t going anywhere and you need to talk about it.
Significant healing will come through communication. It has to be the right time and right place. And the spouse with the moral “high-ground” (the innocent party) gets to decide when and where that is.
6. Get Counseling
You will need the help and perspective of a skilled counselor to guide you through this. I believe it’s naive to think you can just find your way out of the mess called “adultery” on your own. If you do, it will be a much longer journey than it needs to be.
7. Loose Lips Sink Ships
Too many people involved in your recovery effort will only make it more difficult for your marriage to survive. Especially if the people you dump your affair “garbage” on are your parents, your spouse’s parents, your siblings, your spouse’s siblings, your entire side of the family, your spouses entire side of the family….get the picture?
Keep it between you, your spouse, your counselor, and God. Surviving an affair is messy. Don’t make it worse by dumping your “mess” on a bunch of people standing on the periphery of your relationship.
8. Make Love
Yes, one of the purposes of sex is to make us one and unified with our spouse. Adultery breaks the covenant, so—if you and your spouse are both willing to try to restore your marriage—you need to start having sex sooner rather than later.
Now, there will be tears and possibly some anger mixed in with those first few sexual encounters, so be prepared, but you will find the first manifestations of healing mixed in there as well. This can’t be forced or contrived or faked in any way.
Both spouses need to agree that it’s okay to make love, so there is no unnecessary guilt or anger if it happens. In my experience, the couples who survive an affair reconnect sexually sooner rather than later in the healing process.
9. Get Intentional About Your Relationship
Many relationships go over the cliff called “adultery” because the couple began taking each other for granted and had put their marriage on “cruise control.”
If you are going to survive an affair you need to have a plan and that plan needs to include new mutual goals, new mutual relationship priorities, healthier moral boundaries, regular date nights, time for developing your relationship with Christ as individuals and couples, and time to bond through communication.
10. Grow in Your Commitment to Christ
All of the couples I know who have survived an affair got serious about developing and deepening their relationships with the Lord both individually and as a couple. A marriage built on the “rock” of God’s word is more apt to survive than one built on the “sand.” Which is important, because it rains on everyone.
You can survive an affair, especially if you’re both standing on the words of Christ as you stand with each other in the midst of the storm.