Reconciling a Marriage After an Affair

Seven issues of concern to the therapist working toward the reconciliation of a marriage torn by an affair are discussed. They include (1) options for the marriage, (2) ensuring closure of the affair, (3) trust, (4) amount of disclosure by the offender – the term used here to refer to the unfaithful partner, (5) forgiveness, (6) individual issues, and (7) renewing physical intimacy. God’s high view of marriage is set forth as motivation for the Christian therapist to favor reconciliation over other options for the marriage.

The affair has been discovered. The shell of a marriage has fallen. That which had at least the illusion of wholeness has broken into a million pieces. The couple decides to “save the marriage” or to “make it work” for reasons that are yet to be unveiled. They come to a therapist that they trust has a high view of the sanctity of marriage and ask, “How can we put it back together again?” It would be a very unusual therapist indeed who didn’t at one time wonder, “Can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put this marriage together again?” By God’s grace, many marriages are not merely patched up, but can be reconciled to a level of intimacy exceeding what either spouse had ever known before.

If God has made the family such an inviolable unit and if the quality of the marriage is so crucial to the health of the family, then Christian therapists ought to have a unique passion for being a competent instrument of God to facilitate this healing process. We need to be sensitive to the key issues involved and to intervene in ways that optimize renewal of trust and vulnerability that will be lasting. Precious little is written on the practical aspects of doing therapy as compared to the statistics of affairs, types of affairs, or dynamics of affairs. While the motivation of the couple is a necessary condition for renewal, it is not sufficient. “Wanting to” is not always enough to bring about self healing. The wisdom and skillfulness of the therapist’s interventions could be the added ingredient that enables the couple to accomplish what they want to before the Lord.

This paper seeks to address the key issues in reconciliation and presents some ideas on how to deal with those issues. No presumptions are made concerning the ultimate completeness of these ideas, but hopefully they will stimulate other therapists to think more completely, creatively and openly about their critical role. It is toward this forum of shared experiences that this paper is written. Because most extramarital affairs are by the husband’s unfaithfulness (Lawson, 1988), the pronoun “he” will be used, though “she” is just as applicable.

Dealing with the options for the marriage
Each partner eventually decides to follow one of three courses for the marriage: (1) end the marriage in a divorce, (2) remain in the marriage, but with an attitude of “grin-and-bear-it,” or (3) work through the crisis by building intimacy. At the early stages of therapy, it is important to clarify the attitude of each partner. The attitudes of the spouses toward therapy will influence their level of participation in the healing process. Ables (1977) suggests that the two factors determining these attitudes are “(1) the feeling of adequacy versus helplessness to improve their marital situation, and (2) the degree of enthusiasm versus pessimism that help can be achieved through a third person” (p. 35).

The ideal situation is where each spouse wants to rebuild the marriage in line with God’s ideal. But what if one partner wants to work and the other is more invested in looking good? For example, if the offender is inclined to simply tolerate the burdensome marriage to avoid hurting the spouse, he will direct his energy differently from the working spouse. It is not uncommon for a passive person to take this more short-term superficially compliant approach in order to avoid being decisive. If I suspect this attitude, I talk to that person individually about the limitations of his approach. The presence of the spouse around this kind of compliant person inhibits much of the truthfulness of feelings that needs to come forth. The offender has not yet let go of the idealizations underlying the affair and will most likely sabotage therapy. If the couple represents two differing attitudes toward the marriage, they need to make those differences clear before working further in therapy.

Another less than ideal situation that is very common is a marriage in which there is a severe discrepancy in power. Most deteriorated marriage relationships experience a tense power struggle that defies resolution. The more negative attitude has the greater power. Even though it is not constructive power, it is nonetheless powerful. For example, the more positive spouse who wants to rebuild the marriage is powerless in the face of the spouse wanting a divorce. No amount of work one person does to bond the marriage will be effective as long as the other is determined to break the ties. Therefore, it is important to focus greater energy on the more negative spouse when the two positions differ. If he is committed to divorce as an option, I work toward building a Godly, more attractive view of marriage, often separating realities from fantasies and idealizations. To help facilitate this reorientation, I often recommend they read Petersen’s (1983) The Myth of the Greener Grass. Conway’s (1978) Men in Mid-Life Crisis is also a helpful reference for men in that stage of life. During this period, the person’s developmental arrests will emerge as he projects his deeply imbedded perceptions and associations. Similarly, if he has decided to “grin-and-bear-it,” I try to highlight from his own material how incongruous his superficial behaviors are in relations to his attitudes, which tenaciously cling to the idealizations of the affair. When an objective therapist points out a client’s inconsistencies, the client usually experiences tension and may even feel phony. This discomfort can motivate his to give up his duplicity in favor of a more stable, single-minded attitude. Hopefully, this nonjudgmental exposure to inconsistencies of his life will guide the negative person more toward the working orientation of his spouse.

Realistically, ambivalence is the more common position taken by a confused, angry and disillusioned victimized partner. Sally does not know if she wants to stay in the marriage. She is not sure she loves Phil any more. She begins to wonder if she ever did, or if she ever could. For this person, their Christian commitment may be the only “glue” to hold them in therapy. This is a time to praise a person’s faith for being willing to make a decision based on their faith alone, not on the weight of their circumstances. It is also a time to discuss the purpose of marriage from a Christian view. One person offered the insight that God’s purpose for marriage is not gratification, nor experience of love, nor sense of well-being; rather, it is for sanctification, or becoming more Christlike. When the painful ordeals of rebuilding a marriage are seen in the light of maturing into more Christlikeness, reconciliation may not seem so futile, and James’ perspective on trials and growth can become more real. I also have noticed that with even small gains in the genuine expression of caring, the ambivalent partner is often energized and motivated.

I have found that it is important to refrain from “preaching the truth” during these sessions. While the zealous therapist may derive a sense of gratification at exhorting the errant one, moralizing is not likely to be helpful for the development of the client’s personal convictions to do what is right. I doubt that any Christian who has been involved in an affair is unaware of its wrongness. The offender is already in a mental attitude of opposition to what others (including God) say is the right way to be living. Overzealous exhortation at this point may even push the guilty party into deeper self-justification. There is ample literature in Christian bookstores concerning God’s teaching about His desires and standards for marriage so that exhortation is usually not needed. Motivation by intimidation or shame yields only short-term gains at best.

Although separation is often utilized as a stepping-stone to divorce, there are times when an objectively planned time apart can be used to sort through the issues more clearly. Particularly when a couple tends to escalate their conflicts into abusive combat, they may need a month or two apart while they work on control issues. Separation would, in my opinion, always be designed to prepare for clarity of thought to maximize the chances of returning to the marriage. It should never be utilized as an opportunity for the offender to maintain the relationship with the lover.

Regardless which attitudes spouses embrace, some changes in orientation must be made if the marriage is to succeed. Tally (1985) highlights two prerequisites to reconciliation. “First, you have to change roles” (p. 101). For example, if one spouse is relational and the other is task oriented, these roles must be exchanged. “Second, you have to recognize the role of significance and security” (p. 103). If reconciliation is to be effective, the woman must meet more of the man’s needs for significance and the man must meet more of the woman’s needs for security. The issues that follow represent guidelines to dealing practically with these two prerequisite principles.

Dealing with Ensuring Closure of the Affair
A sharp knife cuts clean, and decisiveness leaves no frayed ends. I believe strongly that if the marriage is to have a chance to knit together again, the offender and the lover must first sever their ties completely. Ables (1977) expresses this truth clearly; “Marriage, in terms of romantic charm, cannot compete with an affair . . . the person having the affair adds to marital discontent and drains off energy that could be directed toward improving the relationship” (p. 225). He turns to his lover to feel good in much the same way an alcoholic turns to drink rather than facing a conflict directly. Willi (1982) concurs with the importance of this value judgment by excluding the lover from therapy. “Since I have not yet found adequate evidence to believe that a triangular relationship can evolve smoothly for all three members, I am inclined to support the demarcation principle” (p. 179).

Severing the ties may involve drastic geographical relocation. It certainly means cessation of verbal and written communications. Since rationalization and idealized fantasy are so strong with affair participants, they are likely to minimize the dangers of lingering emotional connectedness. “We’re just going to remain friends and keep in touch through letters, but there is nothing sexual to it any more” is a commonly heard rationale for maintenance of emotional ties. Maintaining active friendships and confidences allows the secret liaison to flourish. It is precisely this heart-level connectedness to a needy third party that stands in the way of unreserved dedication to the spouse.

This process of letting go often represents a deep-seated loss to the offender. Saying good-bye to an old life-style, no matter how destructive it had been, can involve a grief process of major proportions. Therefore, the therapist should be sensitive to the possible need of the offender to do searching grief work. This work would involve developing a keen awareness of all the positive sensations associated with the affair. For example, it may mean saying good-bye to all the pleasurable feelings that he experienced without having to work very hard to achieve. It may mean saying good-bye to a convenient escape, an alternative to the pain of working through conflicted emotions. At this point of grief work, it is important to be subjective and non-judgmental, allowing the person to develop a clear picture of all the positive aspects of the affair as he perceived them, independent of the effect those experiences may have had on the marriage. It is his subjective experience for which he needs to grieve the loss. Obviously, this work should be done on an individual basis.

The trust that the betrayed one needs to develop requires emotional fidelity from the spouse. The nagging questions, “Has he really let go of her and does he really want me?” underlies and controls the redevelopment of trust. Simply stated, holding on to the lover in any form is evidence that the offender has not let go of the affair enough to warrant or deserve the trust of his spouse.

On the other hand, if the married couple will submit to a third party that will help maintain fidelity, they can minimize the centrifugal forces of temptation and distrust. This accountability could be to a therapist, but also could be to a church group or another couple. This strong-other person functions in much the same way as the sponsor of an alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous. Accountability is the key to fidelity.

Dealing with the Anger and Rage of the Victim
Betrayal elicits rage. Kate “ . . . wanted to get out of the care, to run, but couldn’t. I threw my empty soda cup at him and then took off my rings and threw them at him, too. Then I pulled the collar of my sweater up over my face and cried” (Bryce, 1988, p. 60). Kate’s intensity of rage is not uncommon for one who discovers a spouse’s unfaithfulness. The effectiveness with which the betrayed partner works through rage profoundly contributes to the durability of the renewed ties. Unresolved anger is like a rotten spot inside a tree limb. Even though the limb may look healthy in its grown-over state, it can snap like a toothpick in a storm. The victim has been affronted at the level of his or her dignity. The shock of realizing that one’s object of trust was not worthy of that trust, will send tremors through the bedrock of a person’s orientation to life and self. Consider that trust is one of the first developmental issues put into place in a person’s psychosocial structure. Therefore, the anger is reasonable and must be channeled effectively.

Therapy techniques for rage reduction are well developed. The issue of concern for the therapist is to be attuned to the particular ways the client handles anger ineffectively. The person who denies anger and tries to deal with the problem cognitively needs help with emoting. The self-punitive person who turns the anger toward himself needs help with directive the energy outwardly and nondestructively. Encouragement to externalize the acidic and corrosive emotions in a safe environment is one of the kindest and most helpful contributions a therapist can make.

On the other hand, to allow the counseling sessions to be reduced to badgering the offender would be a serious mistake. I often teach basic communication skills in order to keep the interactions focused on issues of substance and to deal with some of the deeper, more personal causes of the marital discord. There are times, however, when individual therapy is more productive than conjoint therapy (Willi, 1982). If the couple uses material uncovered in the conjoint session as ammunition for hurting each other, they may require the safety of individual sessions to begin to look at themselves. I prefer to use individual sessions as remedial, returning to processing issues conjointly as soon as possible.

While working with the victim to manage the anger appropriately, the therapist can help the offender realize the extent and nature of hurt that the affair has caused. Typically in the mind of the spouse involved in the affair, admission of guilt marks the end of the matter. Getting on with business of the marriage is all that is left. There is no need to rehash history or to “beat old issues to death.” In the mind of the victim, however, exposure of the affair marks the beginning of a long agonizing process. For that person, issues need to be processed thoroughly. Values need to be clarified and reworked. It behooves the offender to use the anger of the offended spouse to guide his thinking into the very issues he tends to avoid dealing with. For example, what kind of affair was it (cf. Lawson, 1988, pp. 52-54)? How did the offender perceive his spouse (and children) during the affair? How did the offender go about deceiving his spouse to keep the affair secret? What character flaws led to the offender’s self-oriented behaviors with such insensitivity to the spouse? (“How could you do such a thing?”)

As the issues of anger are cleared away, the issues of trust emerge more prominently. Anger at being deceived is the main barrier to trusting in another because these two dispositions are mutually exclusive.

Dealing with Trust in the Aftermath of Betrayal
The offender who is willing to rebuild the marriage is on probation. His actions and statements are going to be scrutinized against the criterion of genuineness. Since he has a history of saying things that were in the service of ulterior motives, he will not be taken at face value. All this is as it should be. The offender needs to realize the probationary nature of his position without, on the one hand, becoming defiant and oppositional or, on the other hand, becoming too contrite and placating so as to encourage the spouse to become demanding.

The victim, in contrast, is naturally inclined to seek information that will justify the withholding of trust. More often than not, the victim is not looking for information at all, but simply wants to extract vengeance. After the appropriate grieving over the betrayal, this person needs to be encouraged to look for reasons to trust again and be willing to reinvest herself.

How does a person build trust? By doing what he says he will do. How does a person tear down trust? By not doing what he says he will do. If Jane says she will be home from her appointment at 6:00, but she doesn’t come until 6:45, then Jack’s trust has been eroding by the corrosive effects of his imagination for forty-five minutes. If Jane then resents having to explain the lapse in time, she further contributes to his suspicion. He begins to recall other times she was secretive or evasive about where she had been while he was being deceived. The pattern to recovery is clear. While Jane works on allowing her probationary life to be scrutinized, Jack needs to work on seeking information that will serve to justify his potential trust, not to continue to seek prosecution and punishment.

Control issues become particularly sensitive during this probationary period. The offended spouse “wants to dictate what can and cannot be done rather than what can or cannot be tolerated” (Ables, 1977, p.233). That spouse’s hurt will come across as anger that is punitive and controlling, restricting the movements of the offender. Since the preservations of autonomy is so often a salient preoccupation of the offender, he will most likely react to these controls defensively and even aggressively. Consequently the basic issues of hurt and disillusionment in the offended spouse are not recognized or resolved. The therapist can help the offended spouse to communicate hurt as hurt (not as vengeful, controlling rage) and to use language of limits and tolerance (not ultimatums). The therapist can help the offender then to be sensitive to the hurt and distress that lay behind the controlling statements. The offender can therefore manage his behaviors responsibly and autonomously in light of his spouse’s feeling, not being controlled or determined by those feelings.

Another problem pattern in the renewing marriage is the victim’s suspicious association with certain cues. For example, if Jane acts withdrawn and quiet, Jack my be convinced that she is thinking about her lover and that she may rendezvous with him soon. In therapy, Jack needs to learn how to accept behaviors for what they are, resisting his tendency to read Jane’s mind or to project his own fears onto Jane’s behaviors. He will also have to work hard at believing what Jane says about her inner thoughts or motives. Naturally, this process is often slow and arduous because Jack probably had been overlooking too many signs of trouble during the affair. In this resolve to “never let it happen again,” he is prone to overreact. The therapist’s role is to encourage balance with a view to reality orientation. Considering the probable lack of good reality testing with individuals involved in an affair, this role of the therapist is one of the most important and pervasive functions in the healing process. Tally (1985) devotes an entire chapter in his book to suggest techniques in facing reality. In it, he says, “To help you inject sanity into how you react and what you do, you must get with someone who will be honest with you. You do not need a cover-up; you need reality” (p. 105).

Dealing with the Disclosures of the Offender
The last thing the offender wants to do is to lay open the dynamics of the affair after it has ended. Discussing the affair with the one from whom he has kept it secret for so long is even more difficult. If he had been comfortable with that level of openness, trust and vulnerability in the first place, he probably would not have found himself in an affair. Also, he probably never thought about many of the personal issues his spouse is interested in. So even if he were willing to disclose, he may not have the necessary insight into his true motives to satisfy his spouse. Further, he is emotionally invested in making the entire affair a “closed case” as soon as possible. Yet it is precisely his willingness to be open, above board, and honest, that the victim is looking for as a basis of a renewed level of trust. Thus, the therapist must help the couple get past the seeming impasse of the one’s unwillingness to disclose pitted against the other’s critical need to know.

Guidelines need to be established to ensure that the information that is shared does, indeed, need to be known in order to rebuild trust and that the information is in the service of building intimacy. I have often had several individual sessions with the reluctant offender to clarify these guidelines before continuing the conjoint therapy modality. The first guideline that needs to be clarified is “How much does the victim want to know and need to know?” Some individuals do not want to know anything because they are aware of their own inability to handle such sensitive information about such a repulsive situation in their life. When this is the case, however, they need to be reminded that as they grow in their ability to cope with more truth, they may at a later time want to ask for more information. On the other hand, if the victim wants to know about factors that contributed to the betrayal he has a right to know. Further, knowing about these factors can be used effectively to rebuild trust and to ensure prevention of a recurrence.

The second guideline is that the particular behaviors and events that took place as part of the affair should not be discussed. Such details as where we met as lovers, where we slept, what we said to each other, and how we were physical serve only to feed the mental imagery of the victim. The victim will be hampered by these “burn-in” mental pictures, which are usually embellished by fantasies.

The third guideline is that comparisons should never be made. Knowing what the offender found attractive about the lover that he did not find attractive about the spouse serves only exacerbate the victim’s sense of inadequacy and powerlessness.

The fourth guideline is that any open discussion that will help expose the unconscious needs of the offender that left him vulnerable to the affair can be very helpful. When Steve realized that he had a deep need to be told repeatedly how fine a person he was, he became aware of why his lover was so enticing and why he tended to withhold emotions from his more critical wife. Therapy can then focus on the realistic need for praises and enhancing statements and on resolving the inordinate aspects of Steve’s needs for someone to inflate his sagging self-esteem. All this can be done without getting into the comparison trap. This context can be conducive to explore the splitting that typically takes place in an affair. Explore how Steve allowed his potentially holistic relationship with his wife to reduce to a dreaded partial relationship with a “bad other.” Also explore how he fleshed out his fantasies to make a partial relationship into an idealized relationship with a “good other” lover. The limitations of the affair need to be clarified, lest the affair become a model against which the adequacy of the marriage partner is measured. Realizing that no spouse could ever compete with an idealized partial relationship can help promote the transition back to reality.

The fifth guideline is a delicate one to keep in balance. The victim must see a willingness on the part of the offender to disclose and to manifest an attitude of exploration for the sake of understanding and resolving the many confusing issues. If he is inclined to limit his responses to short, carefully worded responses to his spouse’s interrogation, the spouse will be inclined to wonder, “What is he withholding? The only way I will get the information I need is to ask specific, penetrating questions that have no loopholes through which we can squirm. Therefore, I will intensify my interrogation and leave no stone unturned.” On the other hand, if the offender is participating in a mutual effort to explore patterns, the victim is likely to relax the intensity of the interrogation and be more inclined to trust the “I don’t know” kinds of statements.

Each couple will have to work out their own version of custom-made guidelines based on their own needs and capacity to cope with the forthcoming information. Ultimately, the goal of disclosure is to understand why it happened so the couple can be in control of preventing a reoccurrence as well as knowing personal growth areas for the intimacy enhancement of their own relationship.

Dealing with Forgiveness
Infidelity is a severe breach of trust that causes offense to the betrayed party. No one would argue that forgiveness is the bridge crossing the chasm of broken trust. Surely, apology for the offense must be offered and regret expressed. But how is this done? When is it best negotiated? Premature and superficial forgiveness can result in the preservation of unresolved hurt, increased guilt over lingering anger, and perpetuation of an ingenuine level of toleration that can actually inhibit the development of needed intimacy and honesty.

The statement, “I am sorry,” can reflect a wide range of possible meanings, which must be clarified. If the statement means, “I regret getting caught,” or “I regret that you got offended,” the person is reflecting very little personal remorse for the offended spouse. The solution to the problem that this person would offer, then, would be for all these other people who have been offended to simply dismiss their anger and to overcome their hypersensitivity. That is, others need to change while I remain the same. This attitude will obviously frustrate the efforts of therapy to establish a balanced intimacy. On the other hand, if the statement reflects a truly broken and contrite heart, the ground is prepared to proceed with a lasting forgiveness.

Three aspects of forgiveness are important to bear in mind. For it to be healing and lasting, forgiveness (1) must be offered in view of the offense, (2) is a process and not an isolated act or transaction, and (3) may be multi-level (i.e., forgiveness may be increased if a more severe offense has been discovered.)

Forgiveness must be connected to an offense that is being forgiven. When God offered forgiveness in Christ, He was well aware of the full extent to which our sin offended His holiness. But a betrayed spouse may require some time to realize the many ways they have been offended by the affair and to what depth the hurt has penetrated. At the same time the spouse asking for forgiveness should be able to link the forgiveness with the specific offenses. In other words, he needs to have a clear view of what he is asking forgiveness for.

While the process of forgiveness need not drag on indefinitely, the couple would do well to allow for reexamination of issues at a later time if some additional offenses are discovered. This process can be likened to a dentist cleaning out the decay from a cavity before filling it with amalgam. Usually one treatment will suffice. But in the event that some decay is left remaining under the filling, or if some additional decay develops, the distasteful process of reopening the infected area must be engaged. Pretending that the forgiveness is a once-and-for-all act, never to be dealt with again, can lead to a festering decay in the marriage. On the other hand, a decayed relationship that has been cleansed by a thorough-going process of forgiveness is free to progress to higher levels of honesty, trust and intimacy.

Sometimes a person discovers some hurt that had as yet been undiscovered. What are they to do in response to that deeper offense? Should they refuse to admit that it is real, since they have already forgiven the other person? Should they assume that the original forgiveness was not genuine? Instead, they should validate the work that has already been accomplished and simply be willing to forgive more deeply for an offense that has been recognized more deeply.

Dealing with Individual Issues
The affair is not just the problem of one person. The affair, like any marital problem, is a manifestation of individual problems that have developed out of the particular chemistry of the couple. It is helpful to reframe the affair as an opportunity to look closely at each person’s areas of needed personal growth. In the early stages of therapy, this is very difficult to do because both individuals are inclined to think in terms of blame and responsibility. For example, Frank was unwilling to examine any of his behaviors that contributed to Betty’s vulnerability, because he saw that as equal to admitting to his being responsible for her affair. “It was her doing, and she is the only one who needs to change anything,” is a typical comment. Frank struggled hard against the final realization that being a contributing factor is different from being the cause. He was able to make significant progress when he broke through this barrier. For example, he discovered that he demonstrated very little affection or kindness toward his wife, but demanded sex frequently, criticizing her harshly for her lack of enthusiasm. He even admitted telling her that her body was not her own, that it was intended for his pleasure. He could then begin to look at issues of his own insecurity and powerlessness.

Some of the key personal issues that relate to such a broken marriage are self-esteem, power, security, dependency, reality orientation, moral development, locus of control, and connectedness. It is important to link deficiencies in these areas to deficiencies in the person’s psychosocial development. The patterns and dynamics of the affair are fundamentally manifestations of unresolved developmental conflicts. The affair is the symptom of the problem, not the core of it. If the deeper problems go unexamined, the residual pattern will simply emerge again at another time with a few variations. Strean (1980) provides an example of linking these patterns back to the classical psychoanalytic stages – “the oral, anal, phallic, oedipal, latency, pubertal, adolescent, and genital periods of development” (p. 21). An excellent resource for the cognitive therapist is Talley (1985), who offers practical steps to bring about reconciliation. I think the specific theoretical orientation is not as critical as the consistency of thought and penetration to the meaning under the manifest level of behavior.

Renewing Physical Intimacy
Patience, understanding and self-control will be in high demand for this phase of rebuilding. The emotional and physical vulnerability involved with sexual intercourse provides a prime target for unloading any salvos that might be left from unresolved anger or vengeance. Setbacks and disappointments will be frequent. The tendency to hold the marriage partner responsible for anything that goes wrong will be strong. But if both partners are willing to proceed slowly with realistic expectations, the renewed physical intimacy can help contribute to the broader trust issues. In some marriages, the physical relationship may be the strong point that initially holds the couple together. In other marriages, it may be the last aspect of the relationship to develop. Often, problems with intimacy that have been present in the marriage all along will emerge with greater-than-ever intensity, but the couple may be better able to deal with them in their current disrupted state.

Useful Scripture Passages and Concepts
Marriage, from the Christian perspective, is a sacred bond. It reflects the relationship between God and His people. The husband is reflective of God while the wife is reflective of the people of God (Ephesians 5:22-33). The sanctity of the marriage contract is maintained by sexual fidelity. Any other sexual involvement is a perversion of God’s design. Hence, Christians have a point of reference by which to orient their lives and guide their decisions.

Alternative arrangements, though justifiable according to some people’s rationale, cannot possibly be Christian. For example:

“Under some circumstances, extramarital sex can be constructive to the marriage. It’s possible for two people who have a rich and rewarding relationship in almost every way not be on the same sexual wavelength. An outside liaison may enable a spouse to release some sexual tension and take a lot of pressure off the marriage” (Singer, 1980, p. 172).

Scripture is particularly helpful in providing attitudinal orientation to confused and hurting people who are churning in the midst of an emotional tornado. For example, most people evaluate “good” on the basis of comfort and “bad” on the basis of pain. In order to go through the excruciatingly painful process of reconciliation, the couple needs to understand that they are experiencing a painful process that is good in God’s eyes. Many times they will continue working only because they believe that God wants them to. God honors that kind of faith.

Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-5 provide a glimpse of God’s view of how suffering can be a positive experience. Philippians 3:10 shows that suffering is apart of knowing Him, the highest goal and purpose of man. In particular, Christ’s sufferings involve dealing with rejected love. Even though His love was perfect and was rejected on such a grand scale with such profound implications for all mankind, we can know Him more experientially by seeing our rejected love similar to His. The entire book of Hosea shows how God, by example, honors his commitment to an adulterous nation. Matthew 18:21-22 gives us the “seventy-times-seven” guideline for forgiveness. Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5:22-33 provide the basis for God’s purposes and ideals for marriage.

The theme of reconciliation provides a common thread throughout all these passages. For God clearly wants those who are distant from Him to draw near and those who are alienated from one another to unite in a bond of love. “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us a ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NASB). How appropriate that we, who will be among the blessed “who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9, NASB), should participate now in this ministry of reconciliation.

Ables, B.S. (1977). Therapy for couples. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Bryce, H. (1988). After the affair: A wife’s story, Leadership. 9 (1), pp. 58-65.
Conway, J. (1978). Men in mid-life crisis. Elgin: David C. Cook Publishing Co.
Lawson, A. (1988). Adultery: An analysis of love and betrayal. New York: Basic Books.
Petersen, J. A. (1983). The myth of the greener grass. Wheaton; Tyndale House Publishers.
Singer, L.J. (1980) Stages. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
Strean, H.S. (1980) The extramarital affair. New York: The Free Press.
Tally, J. (1985). Reconcilable differences: Mending broken relationships. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Willi, J. (1982). Couples in collusion. New York: Jason Aronson.

[This article originally appeared in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 1989, Vol. 8, No. 4, 63-72]
J. Lee Jagers (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary; Ph.D., University of North Texas) is a psychotherapist in a private practice in Dallas, Texas. He holds a diplomat status in the American Psychotherapy Association. His specialties include couples therapy, individual psychotherapy, and treatment of chemical dependency.

72 Responses to Reconciling a Marriage After an Affair

  1. Jill says:

    I’m printing this after briefly skimming it on the internet. I was the offender and struggling where to pick up the pieces and start the process of healing – where do I start? I know baby steps, and living in the moment, one day at a time. After 15+ years together (and almost 14 years of marriage) where did it go wrong? I’m taking all the information given to me and will try … hard … and pray! I look forward to reading this more in depth. I was caught just 5 days ago so I know this is only the beginning, but willing to try. Thank you for posting this on the web!

    • Angelina says:

      @Jill – It’s been over 5 years since your post. How is your marriage doing now? I also (the wife) was the offender. I am needing to connect with another Christian woman, so that I can know what I should, need to do.

  2. Lee Jagers says:

    Jill –
    In addition to the personal stuff I sent you via e-mail take a look at Psalm 51 for a picture of what brokenness looks like. You have already taken the first step toward rehabilitation by making it public. Secrets breed sickness, openness allows for healing. Best wishes. — JLJ

  3. Pastor Andrew Jenkins says:

    Dear Mr Jagers,

    I am currently helping a young married couple recover following an affair the husband instigated. I found your article most helpfull, very planly written and of great benefit.

    Sincerely yours,

    Andrew Jenkins

  4. Lee Jagers says:

    Rev. Jenkins,
    Thanks for your feedback and, more significantly, thanks for the healing work that you are doing. You might also find some thoughts from Dr. Ev Worthington to be helpful. On the post he talks about two kinds of forgiveness. You can also enter “forgiveness” in the search box and scroll down to it.

  5. Solomon says:

    Thank you for such an insightful article. I have been trying to understand my wife’s affair for the past nine months. I have been to counceling but she has stubbornly refused after two visits. I am at this time stryggling with the feeling of doubt about our efforts at reconciliation especially since I found out that she initiatd contact with the third party.
    How do I deal with this. I am confused and hurting

  6. Lee Jagers says:

    Thanks for your visit and post, Solomon. I responded to you at a more personal level via e-mail, but I’d like to say here more publicly that it’s a good idea to get into some counsealing yourself rather than waiting for her to go together. While she did a bad thing by having an affair, you need to make sure you are a resource for her needs so that she’ll have something to come back to. Hoping for reconciliation, healing and growth. — JLJ

  7. Massimo says:

    Your atrticle has been very helpful in better understanding the dynamics of a process my wife and I are just entering into. After many months of denial, she acknowledged her affair with a co-worker last June 15. The confirmation, while hurtful, had the effect of lifting the veil that had been draped over our relation for the last couple of years and–strangely perhaps–I feel closer to her now than I have in several months. The critical issue for me now is rebuilding trust and yet her attitude is one of “let’s move forward, and I believe that she lied about the duration of the affair, suggesting it was a 7-9 month relation; while I suspect that it had actually startedseveral months earlier. Notwithstanding my deep love for my wife and my commitment to reinventing our relationship, I feel that I cannot go forward if the basis for our discussion is itself a lie. Am I right in expecting her to come clean on the affair, and top do so now? I so want us to succeed!

  8. Lee Jagers says:

    Thanks for your comments, Massimo. I hope the article contains some helpful insights. I also hope you find a good counselor to guide the two of you through the turbulent waters of reconciliation. May God bless you both. — Lee

  9. Massimo says:

    I am checking in after almost three months of fairly significant progress in our efforts at reconciliation. My wife and I have rediscovevered (discovered?) intimacy and dialogue as well as a better understanding of the other. And while my wife seems genuinely committed to an honest relationship, I am troubled by certain “untruths” from the early days of our reconciliation and which my wife has chosen to stonewall. The msot fundamental is that she told me and our therapist that her two-year affair did not involve intercourse, but only heavy petting and oral sex. This remarkable statement very reminiscent of Clinton’s famous denial, may have had a kernel of truth: My wife told me she did not want to cross the line and felt if they only had oral sex it was not an affair! In and of itself this is not significant–an affair, is an affair, is an affair. However, her continued rationalization troubles me as it signifies a certain denial of the facts as well as of responsibilities. We have discussed this issue and she has as much as admitted to lying however, she will not. I hav enot pressed her for intimate details of her relationship, this on the other hand is an issue which she has created and which reminds me of the duplicity she showed–with no apparent remorse–for some two years. What do you suggest, do I drop it, give her room and hope that our trust will grow to the point where she will be comfortable talking about things or make it an issue in our therapy?

  10. Ann says:

    I am so glad to finally see a Christian look at this situation.
    My problem is slightly different. Twenty eight years ago, I suspected my spouse had cheated, but had no definite proof. He swore I was mistaken and I guess I wanted to believe that. Two years ago he decided to finally get everything off his chest and has now confessed to me that I was right. He swears there was just the one night and it was nothing more than a lustful opportunity to him.
    This has been a terrible ordeal for me and I’m still reeling from it. I was on anti depressants at first just to help me cope. Then things got slowly better and I went off them. We get along well and the last three years have been especially good ones. But recently I just can’t get it off my mind. I think about it constantly, I’m back on anti depressants just to allow me to function. It’s almost like I have flashbacks, everything will be just fine and then a word, a sight, a sound and it’s right there in my mind torturing me. I know I can’t change what happened. I feel cheated that I had to wait this long to know for sure. I probably would have divorced him at the time, but now it’s 32 years of marriage later, our children are grown and we have grandchildren and we do love each other. What can I do to stop torturing myself? I don’t want to waste what time we may have left crying all the time and barely getting through the days.

  11. Charmaine says:

    Thank you for a very enlighting article. My husband had an affair, moved in with her for about 3 weeks then came back home but he is still in contact & seeing her. He says he is not sure what he wants, he knows there is no future with the other woman. He does not know if can remain faithfull if he decides to stay in the marriage. He is unsure if he wants to even stay married. He does not want to go to counselling but I was seeing a psychologist but I think I need to start again. I don’t know why I am unable to tell my husband to leave, why am I putting myself through this. Maybe you could shed some light.


  12. Marie says:

    Hi, HELP! going to meet with pastor on monday but cannot wait that long! DYING!

    anyways, here is the story in a paperback version:

    Single divorcee female working at a christian organization. Husband meets her for business and tells me he was feeling uncomfortable by her because he felt pursued by her and she knew he was married. My daughter sees her and says she was appauled at her dress, she could see her cleavage and she would bend over in front of my husband.

    I find out as he keeps telling me he feels uncomfortable near her he also dialouges about personal things with her. Gave her a laptop computer because he had sympathy for her and she gave us gifts on birth of baby, etc. christmas, but she is the client, we are the vendor. I find numerous emails that are not business related from her to him. she came to his office (numerous times) once with a pamplet to invite him to a hunting ranch? lots of emails say she wants to “catch up”. He says he did nothing wrong but feels uncomfortable in her presence. I finally met her and she says, “you are pretty?”… she put her arm around my husband, he never backed away… By the way, lets add she dressed like a harlot and oozes of sex…

    Anyways, i think he had an emotional affiar. it has devistated me horribly, I cannot be intimate with my husband because i can never hold a candle to this lady… I am a mother of 5 children and feel like i am back to my freshman year in highschool with 0 confidence and a low self esteem. this all was going on while I was pregnant and overweight…

    We exposed her to her boss and I emailed her and said to stay away, but my husband still has never told her no, but at this point she has not tried to contact us. I feel betrayed though and will always wonder if something more could have happened… We are strong christians, but at this point I dont think it seems to matter…

  13. Marie says:

    lets add she invited him to her office and stated, “I will be working alone” 3 times…

  14. marie says:

    why wont anyone give me some advice… is it ok for my husband to stop over to another womans home and drop off paperwork??? this is now a new scenario… its another woman than mentioned above now…

  15. Patricia says:

    My husband and I have been together for 11 years, married for almost 3. I recently realized that he had been talking and texting with a woman that he met at work excessively. I usually don’t look at the call logs on the cell phone bills, but I felt that something wasn’t quite right and when I would ask him he would deny that anything was wrong at all. I found out by looking at the call logs that he had been talking to this person everyday several times a day, but only when I wasn’t around, on his way to work, while I was at the store, when he was at work, etc. I also noticed that he had paid $150.00 in prepaid phone fees and we don’t have a prepaid cell phone, but his “friend” did. He said he paid for minutes on his best friends phone, but even if this were true I don’t believe that he would have paid three different times $50 a pop. Then there is the matter of the days that he would be unreachable for hours, but he says he was with his friend who lives in a different town from us. I saw his credit card bill and his bank statement and according to them the only money he spent (non-cash) that day was at a Korean restaurant (which he doesn’t remember going to) and at Target, which in the entire time we’ve been together he’s never stepped foot in as far as I know.
    He said he would change his number and didn’t. He said we would go to counseling and I told him that I felt that he should take the initiative to schedule the counseling session, but he never did. He said he would stop talking to her, but because I kept asking for a few days if she had called him and he kept saying no (this person had talked to him several times per day for about 2 and 1/2 months) I asked him to put his word on our son and then he came clean and said she had called that day.
    By the way he was very upset that I went through “his” bills and bank statements. He said that I violated his privacy, I basically told him if I said I was sorry I would be lying, and that it doesn’t make sense for him to call them “his” bills because if something were to happen to him I would be stuck paying them all back, so they are our bills.
    I told him I would be willing to work things out, but no more secrets. I told him that the only way I would stay with him was if he were willing to really unite as one, and that for me this includes both of us having access to each others accounts and being able to open the bills and statements as they arrive. As it is I know he hasn’t really come clean and that really bothers me because I feel that he is not taking responsability for what he has done. He claims that all they would do was have small talk and that he never talked about sex with her and that he certainly never had sex with her. He says that if he had actually had sex with her he would understand better why I am so upset. He says if he would have had sex with her he would be willing to share all his information with me, but under the circumstances he doesn’t see why he should have to.
    Did I mention we live in California and he recently received a job offer from England?? Well, yes this has made things even more difficult. Well he finally agreed a little over a month ago to allow me to open his mail freely (by the way, I’ve opened it in the past and it wasn’t an issue because I wasn’t spying on him) the only thing is that he first went paperless on everything and he changed the password on the internet access to the main cell number (his) when he realized I was looking at the account. about three weeks ago I discussed this with him and he said he would give me access. Two weeks ago I reminded him and again he said he would do it. Last week I reminded him and he was obviously upset about me bringing it up again, this time he again said that he was going to change his number because he didn’t want her to call him and for me to think that they’ve been talking. I told him that I am not unreasonable and that if I see one call for one minute I will assume he talked to her long enough to tell her not to call him anymore, but if I see several calls then there’s a problem. Again, he didn’t give me access. This week I brought it up one more time and again he was upset, but this time I asked him in person and I could tell by the change in his body language how upset he was that I would dare continue to ask for this information.
    Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I don’t have the right to ask, but I do know that without him trusting me with this I can’t trust him. At first I wanted to believe him and I wanted to put this behind us and try to rebuild the trust and the friendship that we used to share, but now the way he’s handled everything and his reactions make me have more doubts. I feel he’s trying to buy time and he thought we would have left by now and he would have a legitimate reason not to have to give me the account information, but he hasn’t received a start date yet. At this point I believe I will be staying behind, I can make due on my earnings and the way he is controlling this situation the last thing I want to do is leave the country and not have my own earnings and to have to rely on him. I don’t trust him anymore and that is so very hard for me because I really did trust him with my life. I feel that I lost my best friend and now because of his lack of action I am also losing my husband and my son his father. It’s not like he’s going to live around the corner and he can come pick our son up for a visit.
    I don’t know if you’ll even read this, but if you do thank you. I just don’t know what to do, and although I found out about 2 months ago it isn’t any easier, because the way things are going I can’t start the healing process. I only wish he understood how I feel.

  16. Claire says:

    Thank you so much for your insightful article. I have read quite a bit about rebuilding marraiges after infidelity, but your article presents the best action plan I’ve seen yet.

    I have been struggling with my husband’s infidelity after discovering emails between him and his lover 10 months ago (she is a co-worker in a remote office). I have been in counseling since my discovery of his actions, and had initiated a separation.

    After spending most of that time apart, we are now discussing reconciliation and were at a loss regarding to how to go about it, since our previous experience in couples therapy — after my husband’s previous emotional affair with a different co-worker — was very hurtful.

    Although my husband is not willing to try couples therapy again, he is willing to seek individual counselling. Any advice regarding how to proceed with concurrent, paralell therapies would be much appreciated. We have a young child with special needs so there is a lot at stake here.

  17. Over a year after the last one.... says:

    Thank you for this article.

    In our marriage of 5 years, my husband has had 3 affairs. I know that people will see that and gasp and wonder why I am still with him. I do wonder that, myself, sometimes. After every affair, my husband has tried to reassure me that the affair had nothing to do with him being unhappy with me or unhappy in our marriage. He sees it as a game, that if he can get a woman to want him it gives him some kind of a “high”. The last affair was over a year and a half ago. After that one, all walls in our marriage came down. He fessed up to various things over the years, gave me every email address and password he has ever had, and he sobbed and sobbed because of how terrible he felt about it. We both decided we needed councelling. The only thing is that we have no money. At the moment we are having to live at my in-laws house. I know that councellors cost money.
    I have severe trust issues now and completely relate to this article (especially about the trust issues and how certain words or behaviors trigger my brain to go off in tangents about what he is doing behind my back). He swears that he has been 100% faithful to me. But it is SO hard for me to believe. Granted, I have all his passwords to email and forum accounts, but last night I came across an email a woman sent him that said “Best PM in a long time ; ) ” So I asked him about it . His response is to get defensive and he yells at me for snooping and looking for reasons to get angry at him. He ends up wanting to drop all conversation which leaves me wondering what he’s “really” doing behind my back. So, I told him last night that we need the councelling. If anything to help us communicate. Because I can’t, I just CAN’T live life always wondering what he’s doing behind my back and him getting defensive when I ask questions. Again, he swears that there is nothing at all going on. And I really do want to trust him.
    So, I have decided that we need the marriage councelling. Somehow we are going to have to come up with money for it. Our marriage is too important to me to toss it away when it can be healed with help from a councelor.
    I will save this article though and tell ask my husband to read it.
    Thanks again!

  18. Carla T says:

    I am the offender. I actually moved out of the house I shared with my husband about 7 months ago. The affair had gome on for about 8 months until his wife found out about six weeks ago. There has been no contact since that time. After atttending a divorce group at a local church, I was very moved. I came home and read my Bible for the first time in almost two years. My husband and I (we are in a waiting period for the divorce to be final) communicate daily since we have shared custody of our son. I sent a message to him yesterday to tell him that I want us to go to marriage counseling. I truely believe that God can heal our marriage, but my husband has to be willing to work on it. The hardest part for both of us will be forgiveness – he of me, and me of myself. I want to share the article with him. It is a wonderful explanation of so many things. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  19. Karen says:

    I would like to thank you for writing your article. My ex started an affair 6 years ago around the time I was pregnant with our 2nd child. It has been a painful couple of years after. But there is a rainbow at the end…if anything, I have found myself again. And now my ex is coming to spend more time with me and the children. I am not sure if we will reconcile (though I am open to it) but I have rediscovered the gift of ME. I have realised that I am loved by God no matter what. I’ve also learnt and am still learning to trust God and leave things in His hands…and that it is ok to not have all the answers.
    I agree that if the other party does not want to see a counsellor, the offended party should still go and deal with issue of esteem etc. Find your own goals and vision. Do things to discover your independence (within safe limits). Be present with your children, friends and family. A good counsellor helped me sort through my issues and my pain and boundaries. They’re still there and they are a part of me and that’s ok. I also had a spiritual counsellor in a priest who was an excellent listener and positive person. I’ve now also found a career coach. If children are involved, it is even more important to stablise ourselves so that we can be there for them.
    God be with you!

  20. Steve says:

    So, I’ve noticed for the past year or so, Lee Jagers doesn’t post a response.
    Are you still responding to these posts?

    I am the offender, we are in counseling, however I could use a second opinion.
    If you do still respond, please let me know.

  21. leejagers says:

    Yes, Steve, I do respond to comments, but often those writing in response to this particular post are very personal. So I respond with personal e-mails instead. More often than not, I like to respond openly like this one. I do appreciate everyone’s comments.

  22. Brian says:

    Hi Lee,

    My spouse has been having an affair for approximately 9 months now. We have an almost-two year old son, and basically since she moved out about 8 months ago, we have very little contact except on Sunday nights when we exchange our son (all other exchanges are done thru daycare).

    The other man is a “trust-fund” guy. He is a drunk, only works during the summer months… and vacations during the winter (she has gone on a couple vacations with him). I am in a state that requires counseling before the divorce can be final… I requested it months ago, but she continues to delay, deny, etc.

    How do I approach the session? At this point, I’m not real hopeful on reconciliation… from the beginning, I’ve tried to do what is best for all of us (my wife included), but I seem to be spinning my wheels and her “we should both move on and be happy” stance is not changing.


  23. leejagers says:

    I hope my responses sent to you privately via e-mail are helpful.

  24. Brian says:

    Very helpful, Lee! I still feel like there is nothing I can do at this point to change anything. She has to come to realize that she doesn’t want this life for herself. I can only do what is best for my son and me now.

    Thank you.

  25. Wade says:

    God’s timing is amazing! I am the offender and confessed everything to my wife 9 years ago before I was to be baptized. My wife had been a Christian for 6 years at this point. She has had an incredibly dysfunctional family, and I certainly have not helped matters. She forgave me and tried to move on with our married life. This past fall she fell into a deep clinical depression. We started her in counseling which has been tremendous….now the work is beginning. A few weeks ago the dam broke loose and she shared how angry she was, still, and how she has been trying to swallow it and force the closure of it all. She is finally trying to heal. She is unsure how she thinks we will ultimately fair, but says she doesn’t want think about ending the marriage.

    I love her down to the very fiber of my being. I am reliving the pain of the pain that I inflicted. I am so disgusted with the man that I was. The problem, the new creation that I am in Christ is housed in the same flesh that committed repeated adultery. I am scared and sickened. We have two wonderful daughters who don’t deserve a broken home. They also don’t deserve a lie, which my wife has admitted she has been living as far as her affections and intimacy with me. I am overrun with guilt and sorrow. My faith is that God is teaching me patience, deeper sharing, and eventually a relationship that makes our current one pale by comparison. Getting to that point is going to be hard.

    Thank you for the article. It has given me hope, which I have been losing. I would greatly appreciate an email of encouragement. I want to share unbridled, pure love with my wife. I am overwhelmed at the moment with the Hell that I created for her.

    Thank you,

  26. Vera says:

    Hi Lee,

    Your article has been most helpful. My husband has told me a few weeks ago about his affair with one of our friends. The affair had ended and we are both very willing to rebuild our relationship. At this point we have moved past the anger, have managed to be open about what had happened, and found we have been closer than before as a result of us dealing with the situation.
    What I find difficult is that my husband does not see he has done anything wrong. He does not recognise he broke my trust, and I fear he will not be able to show any remorse. For him, our relationship pre-affair was such that it seems to justify his actions in his view. He does not even recognise he had other options but ot have an affair (he was very anti-counselling back then).
    I feel this is going to be a sticky point for me in the future as I do not see how trust can be restablished without remorse.
    Do you have any thoughts?
    Thank you

  27. Larry says:

    My situation does not involve an affair but a breach of trust, nonetheless, and a pattern of offending my wife sexually due to involvement in pornography. My wife has been deeply offended and has suffered silently for a large part of our 25 years of marriage. She finally found the courage to confront me. I am committed to restoring the marriage and believe that it can be stronger than before because of more open and honest communication now that I have admitted to problems with pornography and am seriously seeking to deal with it.

    She has a hard time believing that she can ever be physically intimate with me again. I know that it will take time for her to heal and for me to regain her trust. I am willing to wait.

    It has been 6 months since she has confronted me. I am doing what I can to build intimacy on an emotional, spiritual, and intellectual level, which I realize now is the foundation for physical intimacy. I don’t want to rush this process, but are there any practical steps that we can take to help rebuild physical intimacy?

  28. Christy says:

    Thank you for writing this. Do you still comment? I recently was told by my husband and sister that they have been having an affair for the past few months. My parents want my to divorce him and they want my sister out of their life entirely. Throughout all this pain I’ve dealt with, I am still insistent upon the Christian viewpoint that forgiveness is necessary. Also, my parents are Christian, yet seem to have this notion that divorce in the face of adultery is almost recommended, rather than just allowed. I was trying to find some way, either biblical, or not, to describe how I feel that attempted reconciliation is better than just walking away from my marriage. However, they are making me feel as though I am crazy for believing this. (They especially think because it was an affair with my sister it is somehow worse than other affairs. I do feel more betrayed because it was by two people I loved and trusted, but I don’t necessarily believe the act in an of itself is somehow worse.) Please tell me your take on this. Am I crazy?

  29. Lynn says:

    Awesome writing & advise, to keep it short, my ex husband & I were together for 14yrs when he had an affair & I walked out devastated, taking our children with me. I dealt with it in the wrong way seeking another man’s love & affection to spite him, which I also got married to because the “other woman” moved in with my ex not long after I left. I soon realised that I couldnt live with another man and left as I was still very much in love with my ex husband, he on the other side started making contact with me by inviting me to visit him without his “lover” finding out, I was stupid and fell for this, he promised me the world & said we should reconcile, for the second time he betrayed me by telling me he wants to be with her rather than me, I was destroyed again. I was alone for a long time trying to heal from this whole ordeal, another very decent & loving man came in to my life, we got married after a year and had a child after two years of marraige, all this time I was still partly in love with my ex, everytime he came to fetch the children with his “lover” I felt hurt & betrayed all over again. His lover moved out after a few years, once again for the 3rd time he made it obvious to me that he wants to see me & send time with me, the fool that I was, left my lovely husband to be with my ex again, we have now been together again for 7yrs but I had nothing but heartache from him, he stays in contact with some of his “lovers” friends & she also tried to contact him via Facebook, he says Im being rediculious, they are only friends. He knows how I feel & promised we can seek help but he never does anything about it, saying I have to “get over it” and that I betrayed him with the man I met after I left him, all the blame is always on me & he says his affair was my fault because I “didnt look after my man”. He often mention his “lover” when we have an argument or brings up his fantastic past with her and his mates. I dont trust him and know he is in “secret” contact with her via email and denies this. I have been called so many “names” by him since we got back together because of my several marraiges to other men after our divorce, he says I can not be respected & is trailer trash, this man has ruined my entire life & I am blaming myself for it, I cant do this anymore, even our children has suffered because of all this, they all grown up & dont live with us. I am moving out for the final and last time now, he is trying again to sweet talk me to stay, HELP me please, I cant compete with his ex “lover” anymore and is afraid that this man will talk me in to staying again!!! I NEED HELP. Please tell me to get out and stay out.

  30. Dan says:

    My wife and I are pretty much high school sweethearts I guess you could say. Before we were married or even engaged she cheated on me, had a one night stand with just some guy. There was alcohol involved but she invited the guy overa and drank, kissed and God knows what else before the sex. She denied any wrongdoing for a long time. Last year before I had to leave for some training (I’m in the military), she decided to confess that she cheated on me back then. I guess I always knew but she had never said it. Going on nine years I’m finally dealing with it, its unbearable for me. We’ve gotten married had a child, moved all over the country. I’m having trouble dealing with the anger, hate, resentment she has caused and I don’t know if I can recover from this. We have agreed to seek counseling but I don’t know what to do in the meantime.

  31. The information is most useful. It is sometimes hard to keep track with all the recalls out there. Your site is another good source that I will include and check from now on for updates. Keep up the hard work.

  32. Dianne says:

    10 days ago I learned that my husband of 22 years has been having a homosexual affair for 6 years (on and of as best as I can understand). I am in deep mourning. We have been in counseling for several months because there were obvious relational issues in our marriage prior to this admission. Our daughter is getting married in 6 days and I have to host a huge event. My husband insisted that we tell our children – she does not want him near her now – how will that work when it’s time to walk down the aisle? Why now? why not next week? He says it is over. I don’t understand any of this. I clean when I get stressed/upset – I have even dusted my lightbulbs. I also garden – I have pruned everything down to a nub. We are sleeping in separate rooms right now. I also suffer from bipolar disorder and I am in close contact with my therapist and psychiatrist as well as our marriage counselor. I was also raised in a home that was abusive in many ways and suffer from PTSD. This has caused me a huge set back – I have not had to take anti anxiety meds in years and and now find myself having 2-4 panic attacks each day. I am trying to be cordial and kind to my husband when I am in his presence but have found myself needing to leave the room/space where he is just for space. I know that God is here and real but I am angry with Him right now too. I am attending worship but dissolve into tears. I have been hospitalized twice in the past for depression (related to bipolar) and I do not want to find myself in that place. I still have a teenager at home and I need to be here to be a mom. I am willing to work on reconciliation but I am also doing research as to what it would take to live autonomously as I have been a stay at home mom and nanny for over 20 years and have no college degree. I am looking into getting a degree in early childhood ed since my experience and passion lie in that area. I feel a bit guilty about planning this but am being open with my spouse about my intention. I want to fix this if we can but I fear for my future if it fails.

  33. Tara says:

    I just read your paper and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. My husband had an emotional affair with a woman I had never heard of. We have been together for 17 years, married for 12. We have children. I caught him cheating and tried to confront his lover, but she got scared and changed her phone number and also cut off all contact with him. So I don’t have the satisfaction of feeling like the chosen one. I feel like the leftover. By the way, the other woman was married with children, too.

    We are having a hard time finding quality Christian marriage counseling in our area. It has to be Bible-based or nothing. I don’t want worldly views contaminating our minds anymore. Do you have any resources? Also, I’m afraid that my husband is staying with me out of a sense of duty. How do I know he truly wants me? He is a people-pleaser and a salesman. He knows how to say the right things.

  34. Keira says:

    Last summer I had an affair. for some reason i never felt i get enough sex in the relationship. In previous relationships when i felt down i always treated sex as pick me up. Because i felt unloved by my husband i went into a deppression in the beggining of summer. In July i ran away and went to turkey for a week. I met a person there and the last night we had sex. After i came back i lied that nothing happened but then after in a councelling session with pastor i confessed. My husband hasnt had sex with me for the past 6 months. I’ve devoted myself back to God and was managing fine being nice to simon without sex even though it was so hard. We went away for a weekend for valentines day and we finnaly had sex but i ‘ve asked him today where do we stand with sex and he sais it’s still not easy for him. I cant pretend that everything is fine anymore!!!!!!! I cant have coudles and not think about sex. What do i do with myself?????

  35. Muy Gordo says:

    The article needs to be revised and published again, but with the betrayor/betrayer being female, as well.

  36. Angie says:

    I am the offender. It was about 3 years into our marriage and we were having a difficult time. I knew in my mind he loved me, but when he would be out late at night and sometimes unable to be reached, it raised a question in me. The once always happy to hear from me turned to short conversations that appeared that I was a bother. I questioned in my mind what was going on with him. I did not set out to have an affair. It was very brief and only once, however I did not tell my husband until 13 years later. The lies and deceit throughout the years has caused such overwhelming pain for him. I didn’t want to tell him as I knew he would be so terribly hurt, but I was killing myself trying to keep it to myself. He initially was like “we will get through this”. never wanted me out of his sight, not because of a trust issue but just didn’t want to be apart. From prior posts sex was not something the victim wanted, but he wanted it more than ever. Even if I didn’t want to, I felt obligated to. How could I tell him no ever, knowing what I did. I do love him immeasurably, but now he is in a state of rage. He feels his life was in vain. He has never asked for anything for himself but a faithful wife and he couldn’t get that. He is vengeful against the other party and I just don’t know what to do. He goes back in forth and he wants to be with me, but he doesn’t. He consistently says he loves me. I am now in counseling to deal with some of the underlying reasons why this happened in the first place. We initially started out in couples therapy where this secret came out. We went to a few more sessions, but then they stopped. He needs help to deal with the rage, but he feels he doesn’t. This whole thing has consumed him and it is destroying his very being and threatening to ruin not only our marriage but the well-being of our 2 children. They are hearing the arguing. I don’t want them to live like this. I want my marriage. At times he wants it and at times, he just wants me gone. Right now he is so mad, I know he wants me out. I just don’t know what to do. Please offer some help.

    • leejagers says:

      Hi ALDS, If there’s any way to get back into therapy as a couple, I would recommend it. If you let me know what city you live in ( I might be able to suggest some professionals who are equipped to deal with this problem. It’s definitely a “couples problem” because it involves so much trust, forgiveness, and rebuilding of intimacy — none of which can be done alone. Please respond to my e-mail rather than the blog for the sake of your privacy. Regards, Dr. J.

      Dr. Lee Jagers Director of Counseling Services Dallas Theological Seminary 3909 Swiss Avenue Dallas, Texas 75204 214-382-3902 e-mail: Blog:

  37. John says:

    i’m the offender and i love my wife dearly. it was a short term affair of only a few months and only one meeting but i was not the one to tell my wife it was happening and it has destroyed her. we had a troubled time in the begining of the relationship due to me being a compulsive lyer. after treatment and lots of trust building we have been better than ever for years. we resently had some stressfull times and without planning to i started this affair and after the first meeting i said we could never do that again but we where still flirting and i’m almost happy that its over cause the level of guilt i have felt is like nothing i’ve felt before. but i dont want to end my marriage and due to the other trouble we had my wife wants answers i dont know to even be able to try and work it out she want to know things like what was the decision that made it ok and after i knew it was wrong why did i keep talking to her ….. and i feel like it was because she made me feel attractive and i told my wife this but as for the decision i have no idea it wasn’t planned and just kinda happened. i need help i love my wife more than i can ever express and hate myself now more than i ever thought possible.

    • leejagers says:

      Hi John, Good to feel repentant, but don’t beat up on yourself. If you let me know what city you live in or near (use my personal e-mail address for privacy I might be able to recommend some good counselors for you to go to. I recommend the two of you going together. Regards, Dr. J.

      Dr. Lee Jagers Director of Counseling Services Dallas Theological Seminary 3909 Swiss Avenue Dallas, Texas 75204 214-382-3902 e-mail: Blog:

  38. Didi says:

    My husband of 14years had an affair with my sister about10 years ago. My sister had been living with us and he took advantage of the situation. My sister was recently married and a lot of old feelings of anger and rage have resurfaced. I didn’t realize how much this affected me she now has some who has chosen her while I remain in a marriage with some we both shared. My husband does not want to rehash these old feelings with me but they are there . I sometimes feel like I should have left the marriage the relationship I have with sister is distant. Neither of them shared intimate details of the affair. The only thing they agree to is oral sex. I have trouble kissing my husband to date and I don’t feel comfortable having intercourse with him. I always question myself. As I approach 40 I feel as if I have not fully lived and have yet to experience love on an unconditional level. I not sure how I should proceed with these feelings that have newly resurfaced.

    • leejagers says:

      Hi Didi, A lot of this seems so unfair, doesn’t it. Sounds like you’re not going to have much success working through your feelings with your husband. Too volatile and too raw. But you need to work them through so you can function more objectively and pro-actively in your relationship with him. Therefore, I’d recommend that you find a counselor in your area who is sensitive to women’s issues and who also holds a high value on marriage and reconciliation as well as personal growth. If you send me your location, I might be able to recommend some good counselors near you. Use my e-mail address or rather than the public blog. Regards, Lee Jagers

      Dr. Lee Jagers Director of Counseling Services Dallas Theological Seminary 3909 Swiss Avenue Dallas, Texas 75204 214-382-3902 e-mail: Blog:

  39. Donna says:

    I recently discovered my husband of 30 years had been continuing an affair that was supposed to have stopped over three years ago. He work also connected with a woman he had affair with over 18 years ago during this same time frame of three years ago. I found a secret email account and emails from both women. The most recent from the woman of 18 years ago was dated January 2010. She was basically a one night stand according to the wording of the emails. She poured out her love for him but understood if he chose to work things out with me. All the while he was still cavorting with the woman I was told it was over with. He works with this current person of interest and my husband and I have had a “come to Jesus” moment. I believe he is sincere about working things out but after all the lies and betrayals to the nth degree I will be honest in saying it’s going to be very tough. He says he will look for a different job with a different agency in a different city and he has agreed to everything I’ve asked of him to fix this situation. I feel that I have really forgiven him for his betrayals but I’m not interested in being a martyr if he chooses to stray again. I would rather put all the ugliness behind me and move on. Like I said, he sounds very sincere but I thought it was over before also. Any words of wisdom? Thank you.

  40. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this article. We will have been married 20 years this coming June. I just found out 4 weeks ago that my husband cheated on me with my best friend 8 years ago, after we lost our baby at 24 weeks of pregnancy. They worked together and it happened once, after which he left his job (a family business) and they cut all contact. We’ve been brutally honest about what happened, he has been repentant and taken full responsiblity. I even understand and accept that what was happening with me at the time, because of the loss of the baby and my emotional withdrawl from him, contributed to his vulnerability. And I feel like we have connected emotionally and spiritually in a way that we may never even have been connected before this came out. But it still hurts so much and I don’t know how to truly forgive him. I love him, and I’m committed to our marriage, but how does one get past this hurt?

    • leejagers says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      You have experienced a lot of loss . . . a child, the security of your husband’s fidelity, loss of your best friend, eight years of living on top of the “secret”, etc. That takes time to grieve, but time alone won’t heal. You have also put your finger on a key ingredient to healing, namely forgiveness. But forgiveness takes not only the initial decision to let go of your unforgiveness but a long process of resolving the associated pain(s). After a sword is removed, it still leaves a scar and a lot of pain to adjust to. I think you still need to answer personal questions like “How can I know if a relationship is as trustworthy as it seems?” and “How do I restore trust?” and “How can I allow myself to be vulnerable again without feeling like I’m making a fool of myself?” If you’d like the names of some counselors in your area who can help you work through this, let me know where you live. My private e-mail address is
      Dr. J.

  41. IT support blog…

    […]Reconciling a Marriage After an Affair « J. Lee Jagers, PhD, ThM, LPC[…]…

  42. Pamela Herrera says:

    I had an affair 10 1/2 yr. ago. My husband and I have been married 20 yr. now and it has been a long forgiving process.
    When we have a bad day or if I catch my husband looking at a women for longer than just a glance; he brings up my past like if it happened yesterday. He brings up every detail that I shared with him for closure.
    When he brings this up and excuses me of causing a miserable life for him I feel like I did the act in the present.
    We are in the Ministry and this is very hard to deal with. I’m not sure if we will ever have a normal married life. 😦

    • leejagers says:

      Unfortunately, time alone will not bring about forgiveness, you have to work at it. The goal is to extend grace to one another in such a way that each of you grow spiritually, emotionally and relationally. The thing that makes that tough is that wounds hurt and our natural reaction to pain is to protect and defend ourselves. No defensive behavior contribute positively to the intimacy of the relationship. Jesus can serve as our ultimate model of how his scars were transformed into his glory. For the two of you to work toward your scars turning into glory, you’ll need some good counseling or teamwork with another couple who’s been through it. If you’d like to let me know your geographical location, I might know of some good counselors in your area to suggest. In the meantime, try talking together to find ways to extend grace to one another. My private e-mail address is
      Dr. J.

      J. Lee Jagers, PhD, ThM
      Director of Counseling Services
      214-336-6281 (mobile)
      214-841-3795 (fax)

  43. Patrick says:

    I stumbled upon this article and it was a Godsend. My wife and I have been married for almost 19 years and have 4 wonderful daughters that I love very much. I did not have an affair with another woman, but have allowed my self over the last 4-5 years to get emotionally caught up with women on social networking sites. I also develops a very bad drinking problem. We have been seperated now for 4 months, and I wanted a divorce more than anything, not only from her but also from her controlling over-bearing parents that lead the church that we both attended. We have been in contact and are looking to start going to marriage counselling. I know that I have done a great deal of damage to my marriage and am extremely ashamed of my behavior and want to reconcile with her and my family. However, her Father calls me all the time and says that I “must go through” him first if I am to be back with his daugther, and has told me that I am no longer the spiritual covering over my household. I have been told that if this is to work out that I MUST submit myself to her Father and he will dictate to me how I will live my life. I have a meeting on Sunday with my wife and another couple that we both repsect to discuss my beahvior opening so that we can begin to move on and heal our family. He Father is very controlling and she many times chooses him over me. Any advice on how to not only begin the healing process with my wife, but maybe, also on how to get her Father to back off. Thank you again for a very good article. I have never really looked at marriage the way you explained it and it was a refreshing view…”God’s purpose for marriage is not gratification, nor experiance of love, nor sense of well being, rather it is for sanctification, or becoming more Christ-like.”

  44. Lee Jagers says:

    Hi Patrick,
    Sounds like the issue that needs to be healed is one that never got completed, that of “leaving and cleaving.” When you get married, you two become the architect of your new entity. Boundaries becomes important. She is not being a good manager of the boundaries of your marriage if she is choosing her father over you. Neither are you being a good manager if you choose other affections (like alcohol or women). A good book on this topic is “Boundaries in Marriage” by Cloud and Townsend. The question is not whether you are the head of the family . . . you ARE. The better question is: How can you become an effective head rather than a weak one.

    May this situation provide opportunities for your growth and reconciliation such that you increasingly take on characteristics of Jesus.

    Kind Regards,
    Dr. J.

  45. Jackie says:

    Dear Dr. Jagers,

    A month ago I discovered my husband of only 4 months has been in a relationship with a woman in a different state. The state from which we live in prior to moving. He has had a relationship with her the entire time we have been dating, engaged and married 1.5 year. Apparently she was in the dark about me too and did not have a clue he got married to me. I have been cheated in the past, but this is different now because I am married. In the past I completely shut the person out of my life. I made it clear to my husband adultery was the only grounds for divorce. He agreed because he says his ex-wife cheated on him then left him. He has been very apologetic, but has not completely repented since he has not told me the whole truth, which I happen to uncover a couple days ago. He wants to wash it away with “I’m sorry’s” and ” truly love only you”. Your paper is very clear and helped me understand his position and my anger and rage I feel inside. I feel like I don’t even know him. I don’t trust him. He deceived me the entire time we have been together. I do love him and will give him one last chance to repent and show me he can be honest as we seek out counseling at our church. I hope I am doing the right thing. My best friend tells me to run like hell because he exemplifies the type of man that is controlling and would hurt me if I was to leave him. From the beginning I was adamant about living under Gods law of marriage and family and he agreed 100%. What really worries me is that for 5 months we have attended married couples bible study every Wednesdays at church and regardless of becoming convicted he continued to betray me up until I found him out. Am I being naive to think he’s not the monster my friend predicts he can turn into?

    Thank you in advance for your response.


  46. phlonx says:

    My husband had affair with his ex-coworker. He had been laid off and had been talking to her daily without my knowledge. I let him go over to her house and watch football games together and the second visit they made out. Our marriage was at a stale place, we have been married for seven years and together for ten, we have a four year old together. They kept their relationship going on and off and finally he left me for her for a brief time. I lost it. He eventually came back to me and we went through three counseling sessions together. I know I love him but it’s a daily struggle to forgive him. It has been five months now and I am struggling most days. I want so badly to move on in pur marriage but everyday I think about leaving him but it’s my dedication to God that keeps me here in this marriage. I don’t know what to do. Please help!

    • leejagers says:

      Thanks for reaching out. If you let me know your location, I might be able to recommend some good counseling nearby. It’s a tough situation to want change when the change requires cooperation with another person. You can use my private e-mail address
      Kind regards,
      Dr. Lee Jagers

      J. Lee Jagers, PhD, ThM
      Director of Counseling Services
      214-336-6281 (mobile)
      214-841-3795 (fax)

  47. mintbeck says:

    I just found found out Friday my wife has been having an affair for the last month. I found out by opening a laptop we share and seeing her Facebook profile, I coincidentally opened her messages and saw a conversation between her and another. They repeatedly say they love each other and she repeatedly tells this person she is going to tell me soon.

    When I confront her, she tells me we rushed into marriage (8months) and that she wants out. The next day I asked if she would speak to our pastor, she agrees an he comes over. I leave the room and after 45 mins she is sorry and wants to stay together.

    I’m staying with friends right now and she’s staying with family while we sort through everything. I’m back and forth on whether or not to leave or to reconcile. I have so much anger in my heart and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive and trust her. I’m staying in the word and reading about others have handled the situation.

    • leejagers says:

      Hi Michael,
      I am so sorry to hear of your deep pain of rejected love. Although I don’t know much of your situation, only what you have shared in your comment, I would encourage you to keep a spirit of reconciliation as your top priority. I say this mainly because it’s one of God’s top priorities (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). You stand to grow in the Lord as you share with Him the experience of this suffering (Philippians 3:10). You can be assured that He understands your suffering and is able to help (Hebrews 2:18).

      If you would like me to recommend some counselors in your area, let me know where you live, and I’ll give it a try.

      Dr. J.

      J. Lee Jagers, PhD, ThM
      Director of Counseling Services, Dallas Theological Seminary
      214-336-6281 (mobile)
      214-841-3795 (fax)

  48. tlp says:

    I’m so glad that I found this. I’m the offender. I am racked with guilt and have not confessed to my husband. Just typing this makes me sick! We have been married for 11 years. The affair was short lived only a month or so. I ended it because I knew it was so, so wrong. Its been a year since it all happened.

    My husband has struggled with a porn addiction problem throughout our marriage. It’s played a major role in the deterioration of our intimacy. It’s not an excuse for my actions, and I’m fully able to admit my failure. I was so angry over the porn and lying, that it clouded my ability to see the good in him.

    I want our relationship to be right.. I’m seeking the lord to be right with him. I do not want to hurt my husband with this information, but I feel our relationship will never be right if I do not confess. I’m so disgusted with my actions and burdened in a way I can not describe… And above all, I have been humbled by my assumption that I would never do such a thing. Any helpful words would be so great.

    • mintbeck says:

      I believe it’s possible to reconcile. Pursuing God is the best thing to do right now. Counseling will surely be necessary as well. Additionally, my wife and I learned a lot about one another by reading “The Five Love Languages” together.

    • leejagers says:

      Very important to deal solidly with the issue of repentance (study Psalm 51) but do so without beating yourself up. If you send me your personal e-mail address and your geographic location, I can recommend a counselor to guide the process.
      Dr. J.

      J. Lee Jagers, PhD, ThM
      Director of Counseling Services

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you for sharing this. It is hard to let go of the hurt when you have been betrayed, and part of that is because you feel like if you forgive and move past it, the other person won’t really understand how badly you’ve been hurt and it could possibly happen again. Your remorse is a comfort to me, I know my husband has been broken over his own infidelity, and he has said the same things you have. I can’t say what will happen in your marriage, but I will say that I was angry about being lied to (I didn’t find out for 8 years) It won’t be easy, but I think it’s best to confess, or it will always be between you creating a wall. After finding out (just this past January) I’m still here (we just had our 20th anniversary) It hasn’t been easy, but I have thrown myself at the Lord’s feet. He has made it clear His desire is for me to stay and forgive, and I know He wouldn’t ask of me what is impossible, with His strength upholding me! I will say to you what I told my husband (which wasn’t easy in the face of my own hurt, but still the truth) If you have repented before God, then He has truly forgiven you, He does not condemn you and has not forsaken you. I pray He will give you wisdom in how to proceed bring healing to your marriage.

  49. Here’s an excerpt from a man’s e-mail sent to me after we had a few exchanges privately. “One night while searching the internet for stories siumilar to mine and seeking advice from people like you, I came across a website and it recommended the book, Broken Heart on Hold: Survivng Separation, by Linda W. Brooks. She writes about her story in which she and her husband were separated for three years before finally reconciling. It is a very spiritual book and she talks about how she leaned on God to get her through her struggles for so many years. this book has brought me closer to Him, and I have given myself to him. I have never been much of a spiritual person, but this book really touched me and has given me hope.”

  50. Casey says:

    I wish I could find a therapist in my town with the same ideals and principles as the one we go to listens but really doesn’t give advice and after just going through my wife getting drunk and cheating two days ago we really need someone to go to to see if we can save our marriage.

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  57. maria luke says:

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