Every day someone finds out that his or her spouse had an affair. It is life changing and relationship changing in every way imaginable.
Everyday that person has the agonizing task of deciding whether to stay and make the marriage work or to end the marriage. The truth is restoring a marriage after an affair is hard. But God is in the business of healing things that are broken and putting them back together better than they were in their original form.
Our marriage was definitely not at its best before the affairs. After the affairs came to light no one would have blamed me for leaving. But something in me said to stay. Something in me said that this error in judgment from my husband was a symptom of a bigger problem and if we could work on the problem and fix the foundation we could have something better.
Honest. Probably three days in from Clint’s affair he was in quite a bad place after confessing and ending his affair. And he kept asking me, “What are you going to do? What are you going to do?” And as I thought about it I knew that what I really wanted wasn’t a family torn apart it was a family intact. But…not just intact. If we were completely destroyed by this why would we go and build our marriage back up to the way it was? Wouldn’t we build it back up to be all that it could be? Wouldn’t we give all of this debris over to God and see what he could make out of it? So my response was, “I want this marriage to work. I want to stay. I hope you stay. But I won’t stay married the way we were. We have to do it right this time.”
So, eventually that is what we set out to do. We sought counseling and read and prayed individually and together. We had dozens of friends and family praying for us. And as our hearts began to heal we began doing the hard work of figuring out what our “new” marriage needed to look like.
1) My spouse will fail me. No one is perfect. We are all human. And when we marry we marry an individual who is different from us in many ways. They value different things than we do. Their personalities dictate that they will respond to circumstances differently than we will. And that’s okay. We have to be prepared for failure and disappointment. It would be great if our spouse wouldn’t hurt us in any way. But if we go into our marriages with the expectation that our imperfect, human spouse who doesn’t do things the same way we do might just end up hurting or disappointing us at some point we are more apt and our hearts are more prepared to forgive the offense. And, our spouse’s need us to be forgivers.
2) I can’t control my spouse. I cannot control anyone. Except myself. I have absolutely no control over someone else’s attitude, behavior or choices. Some call this the ABC’s of Controlling. These three things encompass most anything that we would like to be able to control about our spouse. It should also be a reminder to us of the very things we do have control over within ourselves. I have control over my attitude, my behavior, and my choices. I am responsible for my, and only my, attitude, behavior, and choices. This is important to remember because ultimately, through my own choices and attitude, I do have the ability to gently win over my spouse (1 Peter 3:1-2).
3) We need boundaries. This is something I knew. And something I tried to get Clint to see as well. He knew it to a degree too but he made more allowances for himself. It wasn’t unheard of for us to have conversations where I expressed concern over how he handled some interaction at work (at the time of his first two affairs he and I worked together at our church) and he would almost always respond with defense for himself in that he was helping people, he was being personable, he was being available, he was doing his job. No job, no person, no ministry is worth putting your marriage security at risk. Some people treat boundaries like one of those things that you need only if you’ve proved you can’t control yourself. That’s simply not the case. We all need them. They are a safety net. They are built-in accountability. And your marriage needs them.
4) My spouse needs me to meet his or her needs. One of the first things we realized when Clint finally confessed was that neither one of us was meeting the other’s needs. We weren’t understanding or caring about what each other’s love languages were. We were living an existence that sounded very much like, “You do this for me and then I’ll do this for you.” That’s just indicative of two people who don’t feel their needs are being met and are doing everything to try to get their own needs met through manipulation and passive aggressive speak. Clint’s love language is affirmation. He wasn’t getting anything from me at home at that point in our marriage except nagging. I was very disappointed and frustrated with him, our marriage and our life. I was constantly trying to get him see that and do better and be different. And at work or church he was getting…affirmation. He was constantly being told how nice and handsome and funny he was. We all have needs. We are going to search out ways for them to get met. It’s imperative that we know, understand, and appreciate what our spouse’s needs are and then set about the hard work of meeting them so that our spouse isn’t going and getting them met somewhere else.
Phew…it’s a lot of work building a marriage back up from the rubble. Believe me, I had more people than I can count suggest that it would just be better and easier to leave. I mean, I had the right, biblically didn’t I? And our culture definitely tells us that we are crazy for staying. That we are telling our spouses that we condone their behavior. That we are doormats for not kicking them to the curb.
We truly believe that God says different. Time and time again God shows us that we don’t have to be perfect. That he loves us even when we fail. That he wants a relationship with us. And what a blessing it is when we have opportunity to live that grace out in our human relationships.
We don’t know what you or marriage might be going through today but can we encourage you that if you are praying about a direction to go, that staying and working on your marriage is good? It can feel hard and frustrating when you are walking through it. But it is good. When we follow God and his leading and his will we will be met with that truth time and time again.
We can stay. And God can restore.
Paul and Lori Say: What we love about Alicia and Clint is the fact that the affairs have not defined their life. They share openly for the benefit of others, but they are more than a couple who survived affairs. Their blog is excellent, with great advice well beyond affair prevention and recovery.
If you have committed adultery we strongly recommend Alecia’s 5 Musts To Heal Your Marriage If You Cheated article.