How to be Nice After an Affair to Avoid Further Marriage Problems
Part two 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 the second in a (three-part series). It offers suggestions to encourage you and your spouse to break the cycle of repaying hurtful behavior with more negativity.
Love and trust power forgiveness. This is why you can forgive your spouse after they do something hurtful. An affair ruins that. However, you can learn to cut your partner some slack again by forgiving them when you do not want to. It is understandable for the betrayed spouse to not feel like doing anything nice for their spouse after they have been unfaithful. The involved spouse may even run out of patience with their partner when it seems like they cannot stop throwing the affair in their face.
“If you are reluctant to initiate caring with someone who has disappointed you so much, you can focus instead on giving to the relationship. Every time you do something good for your partner, you are doing something good for yourself by making the relationship the benefactor of your giving. Don’t wait for your partner to make the first move.” (162)
Doing the right thing can be excruciating. But, as Paul told the Galatians, it is the only way we will become more like Christ. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Gal. 6:9-10 NIV) “Doing good,” even when you are weary of it, is the only way you will improve your marriage. Think of it as exercising spiritual muscles. It feels painful and nearly impossible at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Love your Partner
Find ways to show your partner their emotional and physical quality of life are important to you. This is where the rule “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” falls apart. You need to remember that, just because you would like something, does not mean your partner would. And that something that seems insignificant to you might be vital to your partner. For example, the security needs of the injured spouse. Some involved spouses feel smothered by their partner checking up on their every move. They need to remember they have erased every bit of trust their spouse had toward them. They can help repair this through gestures such as calling when they will be late getting home. The betrayed spouse can also help foster rebuilding of trust by respecting some of the involved partner’s wishes for autonomy such as unaccompanied trips to the gym.
Small Gestures can mean Big Things
- To modify a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, show your mate you love them. Use words if necessary. Holding hands while watching a movie, speaking gently, and cuddling at night can often say much more than words.
- Be a pair of listening ears. Let your spouse know you are willing to hear about their pain. Give them space if they need it. “Knowing when to be quiet and let things be as they are for a moment is a healing and, sometimes, a heroic act.” (168)
- Do something nice for them. Do an early morning bakery run before they wake up. Offering to handle the softball practice carpool for the week gives them a break and shows you respect what they do for the family.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is something they would want. People often give the gift they would like to receive, rather than shopping for what the recipient actually wants. Before deciding what to get them, think about what they might actually want. Some people are more task-oriented than emotionally expressive. If your spouse is like this, they would probably appreciate you cleaning out the garage more than they would a pricey gift. (168)
This stage is about understanding love as a verb, rather than a feeling. Love is the workhorse that keeps marriages going, even if you do not feel that fuzzy feeling people normally associate with love. This is the love Paul speaks of in 1 Cor. 13, and Peter speaks of in his first epistle, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:8-9 NIV)
Say “thank you”
If your spouse does something nice for you, let them know how much you appreciate it. Letting people know how much you appreciate something makes them more likely to do it again. This is the best way to reintroduce a cycle of positivity into your marriage. Unfortunately, people tend to react more immediately to negative exchanges with their partner. They respond defensively because they feel as if they have been attacked. Glass says couples need to work on counteracting “negative messages by using affirming words and gestures as often as you can.” (170)
This also helps the involved partner restore their image in the eyes of their spouse. “In the affair, unfaithful partners love the way they look when they see themselves reflected in their lovers’ eyes. After the revelation of infidelity, they may be consciously avoiding the eyes of the betrayed partner because they are uncomfortable with the tarnished image that is reflecting back. The betrayed partner also misses the adoring glances of yesteryear.” (170)
What you used to have is called “positive mirroring.” When a relationship is healthy, spouses feel a pick-me-up from looking at one another because their eyes send a subconscious message of their admiration and affection for their partner. Infidelity ruins this. Instead of the shining star you used to see, now you either see a spouse bruised from their tumble off their pedestal or a pair of disappointed eyes.
You fix this through the positive gestures we talked about earlier. You are going to have to cut your partner some slack. Yes, they were unfaithful. Yes, it’s horrible. But if you’re still in the marriage, you’ve made an agreement to try to improve it. You cannot do that if you refuse to acknowledge any of their effort to recommit to the relationship. When your mate does something thoughtful, show your appreciation. The only way you will restore your marriage is with forgiveness and generosity.
Christian Counseling for dealing with Affair-Related Marriage Problems
If you and your spouse are struggling to be thoughtful and giving with one another after an affair, consider making an appointment with a professional Christian marriage counselor. Being loving toward your partner when you may not feel like you love them is difficult. A professional Christian counselor will encourage you with scripture, and use counseling techniques to help you deal with this trying time in your marriage.
How-to-be-nice-to-your-spouse Flickr user Mahalie.jpg
Gifts-for-your-spouse Flickr user Moyan_Brenn.jpg