Part one in a series about repairing your marriage after an affair
References “NOT ‘Just Friends’” by Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D with Jean Coppock Staeheli
By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
This article is first in a three-part series. It offers suggestions to help you and your spouse get comfortable around one another again after one of you has had an affair.
Remember when you used to enjoy spending time alone together? Before the affair? This step is about rekindling that. You have spent so much time lately fighting with one another and tiptoeing around that you might have forgotten that it used to be fun to spend time together. The only way you can remind yourselves is by proving it.
Because life insists on chugging along in spite of the earth-shaking revelation that is discovering an affair, Glass suggests coming together over household responsibilities first. Tackle a domestic project together.
You can also repair the bridge between yourselves by getting out of the house. Do not assume you’ll have time this weekend to go somewhere together. Schedule it. Find a local event or park you have not been to, hire a babysitter, and go. Make sure it is guaranteed to be light-hearted, so you do not trigger any unpleasant emotions by remembering the affair. If you go to a movie, make it a funny one. If you go out to eat, avoid heavy conversation. “Make your meal together a true time out. Stick to mundane discussions, superficial pleasantries, or intellectual sharing about current events or interesting tidbits that you’ve read or heard. If it feels too awkward to be together, create a buffer by asking along another couple who are comfortable and easy to be with.” (164)
Sharing experiences is important for bonding. “Begin and end each day by sharing information about scheduled activities, daily frustrations, and simple achievements.” (163)
Beginning to like one another again after infidelity is complicated. On one hand, you want your marriage to work out and for you to fall in love with one another again. On the other hand, you’re in pain, and you do not want to give them another opportunity to hurt you again. Part of repairing your marriage involves taking advantage of opportunities to reestablish rapport with your spouse. You may not want to use these opportunities. You may feel your mate should make the first move. This is not the lesson scripture teaches. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Eph. 5:15-17 NIV) Being like Christ means discomfort. It means extending the hand of friendship to someone who has wronged you. It means taking the high road and; perhaps, walking it alone. But following Christ’s model of loving first is the only way you will save your marriage.
Bonding in the Bedroom
Predicting how you will feel about being intimate after infidelity is tricky. Some people fall back into each other’s arms out of intense, spontaneous emotions. Others may feel no sexual inclination toward their partner. Or you may swing between the two. During this period of sexual reintroduction, the more amorous partner needs to be considerate of the less passionate partner’s desires. Find out what kind of touch they are interested in (massages, holding hands, goodbye/hello hugs) and start from there. Massages are a good way to do something nice for your spouse while also relieving tension.
Get Out the Scrapbooks
No matter how bad things are now, as long as a couple still speaks positively about the early days of their relationship, and what attracted them to their spouse, there is hope for them. Take a night to yourselves to watch your wedding video, look at photos, and reminisce about what drew you together. Take turns telling each other about how much certain caring things the other did meant to you. “Avoid comparing your glorious past with your miserable present: you don’t want remembering to become a chronicle of how much you’ve lost.” (165) You might even use the time to remember an activity you used to enjoy that you can start doing again as a way to reconnect.
When you are walking through a valley, it helps to think about what it will be like when you get to the mountaintop. Imagine what it will be like in a few years when you finally recover from the trauma of unfaithfulness. “You have so many life events to enjoy together in the future, such as graduations, weddings, grandchildren, and retirement.” Glass likens deciding to divorce immediately after an affair to buying high and selling low. You have so much effort put into this relationship that it would be a waste to throw that all away without at least trying to see if you can salvage it.
Take heart from the message a prophet gave King Asa in the Old Testament, “The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you… But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (II Chron. 15:2-7 NIV) You may see it now, but every time you reach out to your mate you replace a brick in your marriage. It may take a long time to see the fruits of your labor, but they are growing.
Christian Counseling for Estranged Spouses
Restoring a relationship with someone who has betrayed you is a herculean task. It feels so much easier to cut your losses and leave, so they can never hurt you again. While no one can make this decision for you, Glass urges couples to avoid making an immediate decision. Instead, make an appointment with a professional Christian marriage counselor. They can help you talk through your marriage problems and offer spiritual encouragement about the possibilities of marriage resolution.
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Marriage-problems-not-end-of-relationship Flickr user sagetherapy