No bride or groom heads down the aisle with a plan to make marriage difficult, BUT we all know—marriage can be hard. Two different backgrounds and communications styles. Two conflicting views on how to handle stress. The stress that shows up like an uninvited, hungry guest at your front door.
You don’t go looking for ways to damage your marriage. Neither does your spouse. But you both seek out ways to cope. Cope with the new pressures, the new joys—hopefully in healthy ways. And then one day it happens.
Dishonesty zaps the oxygen from the room.
When you learn your spouse betrayed you, you descend quickly into a tailspin.
You feel shocked, anger, numb, disbelief, fear (that’s a big one), and a sense of your world falling away.
I know. I felt all that and more.
And I thought it was my fault.
Please listen to me, the affair, pornography addiction, cheating, flirting with others, is NOT YOUR FAULT.
You didn’t cause this. Even if you know there are struggles in your marriage; you did not force your spouse to betray you. Your spouse made that choice on his own.
Did you think, “How did this happen?”
Each act of infidelity–yes, that’s what this is—starts innocently. One man who had an affair describes it this way:
“Patrick” had a hugely successful computer software business. And he had recently opened a men’s clothing store in our town (“just for kicks”). I was eager to hear how it was going—especially his new venture.
But Patrick didn’t want to talk about suits and ties and dress shirts. Something was clearly heavy on his mind.
“I don’t want to talk clothing,” he said. And after a few silent moments, he cut to the chase. “I’m having an affair,” he said, his eyes glazing with a tear.
“Does ‘Sandra’ know?” I asked.
“She has no idea,” he replied.
Slowly Patrick unpacked the story. The woman was a colleague at work. Bright, articulate, beautiful, and in an unhappy marriage. But Patrick still loved his wife and his kids. And, in his heart, he really wanted to do the right thing.
Caution: Don’t deceive yourself. You aren’t above temptation.
I remember an incident in one job, where a co-worker innocently hugged me after helping him solve a sticky problem. Immediately, I felt uncomfortable. The best thing I did was tell my husband about the interaction. My husband asked me to talk to the coworker the next day to establish clear relational boundaries. What an awkward, difficult conversation! But this honesty created a healthy barrier in the workplace.
The betrayal in my marriage didn’t just tiptoe in gently and privately. It was a world-crashing-down, other-people-know betrayal. My husband’s employer discovered his hidden pornography addiction. His job was in jeopardy, and his confession of this horrible situation sent me down a dark tunnel into depression but, ultimately, recovery.
If your spouse has betrayed you, here are three things that will damage your relationship.
Talk about the betrayal publicly.
Social media and public disclosures cause more damage to your marriage. You may want to shout it from the rooftops in your anger, but resist the temptation. This behavior will hurt you, your children, your spouse, your family, and even your friends. Don’t be vindictive or spiteful. You won’t feel better; you’ll cause more harm and damage your reputation as well.
Have more sex.
Either with your spouse or someone else. This betrayal wasn’t because you weren’t sexy enough, had sufficient sex, or anything related to sex. It was a decision by your spouse to betray your marriage and break trust. While it can be reasonable to want to provide more sex to keep your spouse from cheating, it won’t. And you won’t feel good about yourself. Why would you want to engage in sexual intimacy with someone you don’t trust who has wounded you at your core? Respect yourself, your marriage, and your spouse and skip it for now. Oh, and having an affair to “get back at” your spouse is stupid. Heaping these burning coals onto your marriage may create the collapse. Plus, you are using another human being to wound your spouse. Talk about disrespectful actions!
Use words as weapons.
As angry and hurt as you are, don’t resort to vengeful, spiteful words. Bite your tongue and resist the temptation to spar verbally. Yes, your spouse broke your trust. It will take time to rebuild it. You probably don’t believe a word your spouse says. I get that. It’s normal. But, the uncontrolled tongue will singe an already smoldering marriage. If you desire restoration, then hold your tongue. Speak the truth, but find ways to be gracious, kind, and even compassionate with your spouse, especially if the infidelity breaks them. God is greater than this betrayal. He’ll heal you and your marriage if you allow Him to work.
While you may want to do all of the above, and many others, don’t give in to those instincts that damage your marriage. There are better ways to cope with the initial discovery and the following days.
What are three healthy ways to handle your spouse’s betrayal?
Acknowledge the pain and grief you experience.
You’ve been betrayed. Call it what it is. Don’t shrink back from these emotions. If you hope to heal, you must deal with each one as they come. Expect to feel a bit crazy and emotional or unemotional. You may feel nothing, which is also a symptom of betrayal. Some who’ve recovered from betrayal say they experienced PTSD-like symptoms.
Don’t wait. Talk to a trusted friend, a pastor, a counselor who specializes in sexual issues, or a coach. The worst thing you can do is keep it inside. Preferably, you talk through the disclosure, your emotions, and next steps with a third party. You need someone not emotionally connected to your marriage in any way to help you process. Also, talk with someone you know is spiritually mature. You need to hear God’s truth.
Be open to healing.
That might sound crazy at first, but consider that your marriage is not over. It might be; it might not be. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a separation period where both of you can work on processing what’s happened and seek help to work toward restoration. Dr. Robert Weiss advises, “This doesn’t mean that you and your cheating spouse need to sleep in the same bed or even under the same roof. In fact, a bit of time apart might benefit you both, giving you some much-needed space in which to think.” Betrayal must be dealt with honestly and openly if you hope to heal.
Being betrayed damages your marriage. But it doesn’t have to murder your marriage.
God is greater than betrayal. Many will tell you to walk away, but I hope you’ll take some time to think, pray, and process.
My husband and I are living the best years of our marriage—more than ten years after he admitted his addiction. Living a real, 100%-no-hiding, all-in marriage is better than what we had before the pain. But we got help. And we dug in and did the work. Like training for the Olympics, it was complicated, but standing on the medal stand is worth it.
If you’ve been betrayed, get help now, whether your spouse is ready or not.
As one who’s been there, I’d love to help. The best thing I did was make that first phone call.
The healing path is available. Though it will take time and hard work, the result is worth it. Do something today. You can choose denial or choose to overcome.