Sunday, March 20, 2016

Are You Weak for Staying?

One common feeling that hurt spouses have when they discover an affair and decide to stay to rebuild with their spouse is they feel they are being weak. Weak because on the face of it, society would suggest that if you don't have the strength to toss them out or leave them after such a betrayal, you are too weak to do what needs to be done. You are accepting their behavior.

Added to the fact that many hurt spouses already have a self-esteem attack due to the affair, such feelings can magnify that effect. They feel that giving the unfaithful spouse a "pass" by forgiving them gives the unfaithful spouse no "punishment" for what happened. They get to have "fun" while the hurt spouse suffers.

The problem with that perspective is it doesn't paint the whole picture. It only describes one path a rebuilding attempt can take. Certainly it can be a bad perspective if that is what is going on, but it doesn't define all rebuilding situations.

So what really makes a hurt spouse weak or strong?


What makes a hurt spouse weak has nothing to do with staying or leaving. It has everything to do with whether the hurt spouse hides from reality to preserve a fantasy, or faces the hard choices and seeks to deal with it in a constructive way to resolve the problems whether or not they stay or leave.

Before we break that down, first we must make an important distinction. For rebuilding to work, both the hurt spouse and the unfaithful spouse have to be strong. Much of what I'm about to say applies to the unfaithful spouse as well, but on the other side of the coin. So in addressing the hurt spouse on this issue is not to indicate the unfaithful spouse gets a free ride. As a matter of fact, if the hurt spouse follows the following perspectives, he or she will require the unfaithful spouse to be strong as well if rebuilding is to be successful. In other words, just because the hurt spouse is strong in the following ways does not mean the rebuilding will be successful. That requires the unfaithful spouse to be equally, if not more so, strong.

In what ways is a hurt spouse strong or weak in rebuilding?


1. A hurt spouse is strong when they refuse to accept blame for the affair.


Having an affair was a decision of the unfaithful spouse and in most cases, their affair partner. The hurt spouse was totally left out of it and had nothing to do with them making that decision. The unfaithful spouse, and in most cases the affair partner, are 100% responsible for taking that action and need to own it.

"But what if the hurt spouse is a horrible spouse, doesn't respect me, doesn't seem to love me, or even abuses me?"

First, if real physical and emotional abuse is going on, first thing you need to do is contact your local social services and find out what support and help you can get to leave the spouse. That is the correct response to such abuse. Having an affair is a weak response as well as further destructive to the unfaithful spouse as well. The old childhood saying, "Two wrongs don't make a right" applies here. I can understand the need to be loved, but first you have to take yourself and any children out of danger. Resolve that before you dive into another relationship.

The fact is that while an unfaithful spouse may feel justified in having an affair because their spouse is (fill in the blank) in our marriage, it is not a solution to any real or perceived problems in the marriage. Rather it is like throwing gasoline onto a fire. It only complicates or makes the problems worse. It is a running away from facing the reality of those problems by indulging in a fantasy life.

In short, having an affair is rarely, if ever, a solution to any marital problem. It is always a wrong choice.

This is why a strong hurt spouse will refuse to accept blame for the affair. The unfaithful spouse may say, "I had an affair because you never tell me I'm pretty and look down on me." Whether there is any validity to their feelings in whatever they say or not in what motivated them, the decision to violate their marital vows and bond with the hurt spouse is the path they chose to deal with it, not the hurt spouse's.

How do hurt spouses accept blame for the affair? Primarily through accepting any blameshifting from the unfaithful spouse or doing it to themselves. In the grieving process this is known as the bargaining stage, right after denial and anger. The motivation to accept some or all of the blame is often encouraged by society at large. "Well, if he had taken better care of her, she wouldn't have run off with that man." It may have been a message communicated from your parents during childhood by word and/or deed.

Indeed, hurt spouses often think to themselves, "If he had an affair because he wasn't getting enough sex from me, if I start having more sex with him, he won't stray." Sounds logical but it doesn't work that way. Sounds appealing to the hurt spouse because if true, then they see an "easy" way to fix the problem.

But that is the problem. It fails to address the real problem which is with the unfaithful spouse's failure to respond to their issues in a constructive manner. Instead, it sweeps those real issues under the rug and attempts to fix the disease by treating a symptom of a different problem. Consequently, it allows the unfaithful spouse to also be weak by not facing their real problems and it all stays under the rug--enabled by the hurt spouse--festering until the next episode of "Who wants to have an affair?" rears its ugly head again.

A strong spouse will realize the problems in a marriage are an issue to deal with, but that the unfaithful spouse's decision to deal with them by having an affair was a wrong and destructive choice they made. The hurt spouse will not accept the blame for the unfaithful spouse deciding to have an affair.

2. A strong hurt spouse will honestly evaluate their own participation in marital problems and work to address them.


Doing so isn't an admission that a hurt spouse is to blame for the unfaithful spouse's affair. Rather, if the unfaithful spouse is going to do an honest evaluation of their issues and decision to have an affair, among other things, it will be one-sided improvement of the marital relationship if the hurt spouse does not cooperate in that process.

Using an affair as an excuse to hide from the demons of the hurt spouse as it relates to the relationship is a road to rebuilding failure. Just because an affair is a really big fire in the relationship-house does not justify ignoring the smaller fires which can also threaten a marriage.

For example, let's say a spouse is hiding from their better-half some financial purchases and/or often does not consult them on purchases of significance. That is a non-transparent relationship trust issue that can destroy a marriage as well. Then the other spouse ends up having an affair, maybe even citing the lack of trust and disrespect by the secretive financial dealings as a reason the affair happened.

The hurt spouse would be correct that the financial secrecy issue did not "cause" the unfaithful spouse to have an affair. The hurt spouse would be wrong to say because of that, they should ignore that fire and focus only and exclusively on the infidelity fire before the rest is addressed.

Let's qualify that a little. When a hurt spouse first discovers an affair is happening or happened, it often puts them into the the emotional "intensive care unit." The shock of discovering it and the emotional fallout can be massive, and they will not be able to focus on much else than the infidelity for weeks to come. To use our analogy above, a firefighting team would focus on the biggest part of a fire first. Then they work down to putting out the smaller fires.

A strong hurt spouse will not hide from the fires they have created in the relationship just because the unfaithful spouse's fire is bigger. Indeed, maybe not right at first, but if the hurt spouse does not join the unfaithful spouse in evaluating the whole marital picture whether it played any direct or indirect motivation in where the marriage ended up at currently, any rebuilding effort will fall flat. The whole marriage is being rebuilt, not just renovating a room.

A strong hurt spouse, while demanding the unfaithful spouse will not rug sweep, will refuse to do so themselves and instead, pull the rug up and deal with whatever is under it.

"But what if I fix all my part of the marital problems and he doesn't fix his and we end up divorced anyway? Haven't I done all that for nothing?"

To ask that, assumes that improving one's relational skills and themselves is a waste if it doesn't save their current relationship. It should be obvious that whatever improvements a hurt spouse make to themselves are going to carry over into the rest of their life and any future relationships. While one short-term goal of working on one's marriage and fixing their part in any problems is to save and make the current marriage work, if it doesn't, the effort itself is of value to the hurt spouse personally. It makes them a stronger person, and aids in being more successful in future relationships. That isn't a waste, it should be a way of life.

3. A strong hurt spouse will place the responsibility for healing the wounds of the affair on the unfaithful spouse.


One of the big reasons I believe our own marriage rebuilding was so successful is because I did this at the very beginning. I'd not read any books that told me to do this, it just seemed natural and obvious to me.

Within the first week after I discovered the affair and we decided to rebuild, I told my wife, "My healing from this will be in direct proportion to your healing." This didn't mean I didn't have any part to play in my own healing--there are attitudes and behaviors I could have done to make her efforts ineffective. It did mean if she didn't heal herself, there was no way I could heal from what she did.

It should be obvious why this is so. The bottom line as it relates to what an affair does to the marriage is it creates a lack of trust in the hurt spouse as it concerns the unfaithful spouse. Trust is what makes love possible. It is the oil of a healthy marital relationship.

But trust is a fragile thing. It is so easily broken in seconds, but takes months and years to rebuild. The fact is the unfaithful spouse is the one who destroyed that trust and love-bond, they are the only one who can repair it by being faithful, loving, transparent, and trustworthy in all areas as it concerns the relationship. It is impossible for the hurt spouse to rebuild that trust within themselves because it is based upon an experience of being able to trust the unfaithful spouse. If the unfaithful spouse doesn't provide that foundation due to secrecy, non-transparency, remaining emotionally closed to them, the hurt spouse has no way to generate trust out of thin air.

One of the craziest things an unfaithful spouse can say to a hurt spouse, especially within the first year or two of rebuilding and longer if the unfaithful spouse has done nothing to rebuild that trust, is to say, "Why can't you trust me?" Often said when a piece of incriminating evidence is discovered by the hurt spouse. The answer should be obvious. It is because the unfaithful spouse has failed to or yet to rebuild that trust again.

Without the unfaithful spouse working hard to rebuild that trust by addressing head-on their own short-comings and failures, especially as it relates to the affair, it is impossible for the hurt spouse to heal and for the relationship to heal. If the marriage is going to be saved, it starts with the unfaithful spouse doing what they need to do to heal themselves, as I've laid out in "Healing Steps for the Unfaithful Spouse" on this blog-site.

For this reason, the strong hurt spouse will both not accept blame for the affair, nor for fixing the direct damage it has done to the marriage. It is the primary responsibility of the unfaithful spouse to repair that damage in a way that enables the hurt spouse to also begin healing and addressing their issues.

Hurt spouses, this means you cannot fix the unfaithful spouse. If they refuse to heal the cancer they caused, you cannot make them do it.

4. A strong hurt spouse will give the unfaithful spouse motivation to heal instead of viewing it as a punishment.


It isn't usually a matter of the unfaithful spouse plotting and conniving to hurt their spouse. There are some that do, but most often it was a matter of opportunity meeting inner self-based desires that countered rational decisions and assessing the consequences of those actions. In the heat of a moment, a person can find all kinds of ways to justify why they should have something they desperately want, even if internally they know it is wrong.

In most cases, not all, the unfaithful spouse is sick and needs healing rather than a criminal that needs punishing. Even in the other cases, it could be said their punishment should be motivation for healing rather than to seek revenge and to destroy them.

Which is easier? To endure the pain of cleaning out a wound so it can heal, or to be scolded and left to rot? For the hurt spouse, it is obviously an easier route to avoid assisting in the cleaning the rot out is to leave rather than staying and helping. For the unfaithful spouse, it is easier to ignore it and hope it heals on its own in time, because to even touch it creates a lot of pain, not to mention taking a cloth and antiseptic, and scrubbing it clean.

One of the most painful things a hurt spouse can do to and for the unfaithful spouse is to create an environment that motivates the unfaithful spouse to go through the struggle of cleaning out their wounds and healing them.

Providing them the promise of your love and support for them to heal themselves is not saying to them, "What you did isn't that bad, I'm okay with it," but that hurt spouse is providing them motivation to do the right thing both for themselves and for the hurt spouse. A promised reward for going through the pain of healing themselves.

Indeed, if this is combined with the other strong points, it continues to keep the ball in their court to heal. The hurt spouse is simply on the sidelines cheering them on. Of course, this is assuming the hurt spouse still wants their spouse to be healed and for the marriage to survive, that they still love them and want what is best for them.

A strong hurt spouse will not be a punisher, but desire the redemption of the unfaithful spouse and act accordingly.

5. A strong hurt spouse will not be an enabler, but a loving partner.


This means two things.

One, if the unfaithful spouse is cooperative, the hurt spouse will reward and encourage the unfaithful spouse's efforts to heal and celebrate their victories in healing.

Two, if the unfaithful spouse is not cooperative, the hurt spouse will provide corresponding consequences that encourage the unfaithful spouse to change directions and begin to heal, the opposite of enabling. By "corresponding consequences" I mean, as discussed in "Healing Steps for the Hurt Spouse - Uncooperative Unfaithful Spouse" article, that for each wrong direction they take, the hurt spouse responses in kind. That includes up to if they continue the affair after adequate time has passed to stop, that the hurt spouse be willing to leave and if necessary, divorce.

"But I love my spouse! I don't want to leave him? I want to save our marriage."

If one loves a person, they want what is best for that person. That includes refusing to participate with them in behaviors destructive to them and oneself, and any family. It is selfish and unloving to enable their acceptance of having an affair because they "know she won't leave me."

Even the father in Jesus' parable of the "Prodigal Son," didn't refuse to give his son his inheritance even though he knew it was the wrong thing to do. The father let the son leave. He didn't force him to stay. Was it unloving of the father to do that, or should he have refused and locked the son up in his room so he couldn't escape? Even though it broke the father's heart, he knew his son had to go through the pain of losing it all before he'd come to appreciate what was important.

Likewise, when a spouse has an affair, whether they intend for it to happen or not, it is a call to end the marriage. If physical intercourse is involved, it is the equivalent of divorcing and remarrying the affair partner. No matter the intentions, the practical outcome of an affair is to damage and tear apart their current marriage. To respond in kind is in essence to acknowledge that damage, that they refuse to take the steps to heal it, and accept their call for a divorce because mentally and physically, they've already divorced the hurt spouse.

A weak hurt spouse will either be too focused on their own pain to be an encouragement to the unfaithful spouse to heal, and/or make the tough decisions to respond in kind whether it is due to a lack of transparency or not discontinuing the affair. It takes a strong person to decide to leave when they so desperately wanted the marriage to succeed. It also takes a strong person to accept the unfaithful spouse's efforts and successes in healing despite the pain they caused the hurt spouse. A weak person ignores and hides from either route, but takes the route of least resistance.

A Hurt Spouse is not necessarily weak by staying to rebuild a marriage destroyed by infidelity.


Are we getting the picture here? Staying to rebuild in and of itself doesn't make one weak, nor does leaving make one, by default, strong. It isn't a matter of whether the hurt spouse is "letting them get away with it" or not. That only indicates a misconception that what they did was good for them. Like getting sick enough in the head that they would accept an affair that is destructive to them and their marriage is a good thing they "got away with." Like the hurt spouse is thinking, "I never got to do that! No fair."

The reality is more that the hurt spouse is attempting to keep them from stabbing themselves and their spouse because they are sick and need healing and redemption. Running away from that task is easier, weak, and selfish if all it boils down to is avoiding the pain of healing.

Rather, the hurt spouse is strong when they face the reality of what is going on, painful as that may be, and seek to find a way to heal themselves through either encouraging their spouse to heal with them, or to heal without them, because the hurt spouse can't stay bonded to someone who continues to bond with another and expect to heal either the unfaithful spouse or themselves.

If you're staying in a relationship and healing is happening for both spouses in the wake of an affair, it is because you are both being strong enough to face the damage and work to repair it. Likewise, if you're leaving a relationship because the other spouse would not be strong enough to face their shortcomings, you are still being strong, doing what is ultimately in the best interest of both by not enabling and participating in their destructive behavior.

Being weak is hiding, ignoring, and sweeping under the rug the core issues of each person in the relationship that are contributing to the breakdown of the marriage. No one can ignore a cancer for long. They either attempt to heal it or they die. Simple as that. Ignoring marital problems, especially infidelity, by either spouse, will kill the marriage and any other relationships if not dealt with.

Now, go out and be strong.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Evaluating the Why

I've dealt with the "why" question before in How Could He Have Done This to Me? article. Hurt spouses often want to know why their unfaithful spouse cheated on them. I've talked about this in my book as well.

As we've noted before, there is no answer to the question of "why" that an unfaithful spouse can give that will cause the hurt spouse to say, "Oh, I see. That makes sense. I can see why you did it."

This is compounded by the fact that often an unfaithful spouse doesn't know why they did it. While sometimes there are identifiable motivating factors that led them down that path, rarely does an unfaithful spouse understand themselves enough to identify why they chose that path.

The decision to have an affair is usually made based on emotions and desires, not rational, logical thought processes. If it is the latter, you have a psychopath on your hands. Consequently, few are the unfaithful spouses who sat down one day thinking they weren't happy in their marriage so they decided to seek out an affair partner. Rather, they are drawn into it emotionally, step by step, until desire takes over and reason is thrown to the wind. Damn the consequences. Few unfaithful spouses have rationally evaluated why they had an affair, other than justifications they may have come up with once it was underway.

One might conclude from that, then, that seeking out a why is a pointless exercise. If most unfaithful spouses don't have a clue why, and no answer would satisfy a hurt spouse, then why seek for a why?

We don't need to know the why to justify the affair or to make sense of a senseless act. We need to find out the why in order to heal both spouses from the damage of an affair.


It's like when your car breaks down. The first thing you want to verify is why it broke. What broke. So you'll know what needs fixing and take preventative steps to keep it from breaking again if need be. You don't want to know why it isn't working because you need closure or make sense of the car's motivation and reasons it decided to stop working. You don't need to know why so you can justify why the car broke down, decide who is to blame for it doing so. The goal is to diagnose and fix it.

There are two levels of why an affair happens that need to be understood to diagnose so you'll know what needs to be addressed for healing in both spouses.

1. The Unfaithful Spouse's Choices


Some angry hurt spouses put the reason the unfaithful spouse cheated is due to a selfish and uncaring attitude that it is all about me, me me! Indeed, for most people interacting with a person in the middle of an affair, that seems to be the case. While understandable that a hurt spouse would feel that way, it isn't so much the underlying principle that is wrong as it is the judgmental assigning of motives to an entire group of people. Makes it easy to "diagnose" when it is all due to one solitary reason.

But there is one overarching reason why an unfaithful spouse has an affair.

Desire met opportunity and the spouse was tempted to fulfill a "need" the desire created in an inappropriate manner, and they gave into it.


Was selfishness involved in that process. Most surely. Was uncaring an issue here? It would be hard to classify such an act as caring to the hurt spouse and the family, so yes. But that doesn't really tell us why. We can all be selfish and uncaring at times. Often in small ways, occasionally in bigger ways, so we're only speaking in degrees of selfishness.

Saying it was selfishness translates into saying they did it because that's who they are. You can't fix stupid, so there is nothing further to discuss. In essence, they are saying the degree of brokenness is so great the engine is trashed and only good enough to be thrown away. It is a diagnoses of why they are abandoning the person, not a diagnoses intended to address the cause of the breakdown and heal it if possible.

No, if you get to a real why, you get to what needs to be dealt with. Moving it from a wrong motivation to an objective evaluation of what happened brings the focus on understanding it enough to know what the medicine needs to be.

It should be noted that a lot of unfaithful spouses want to accept the why as being "I acted like a selfish and uncaring person." Because that means they don't have to dig any further. It means all the unfaithful spouse has to do is to start being more caring and less selfish, which can often be done for a period of time. But if it never goes any further than that, it ends up being as superficial as the diagnosis, and the unfaithful spouse will not make the real changes they need to avoid another round with an affair partner.

Admitting that the unfaithful spouse was tempted and gave into that temptation implies two major conditions.

One, the unfaithful spouse exhibited weaknesses and poor choices that led to giving into a temptation.


Identifying what those are and how they led the unfaithful spouse into giving into an affair will identify what areas of the unfaithful spouse needs work and what boundaries they need to hold firmly to in order to not go down that road again.

By way of example, since it is in the book, Lenita and I identified what her weaknesses were and what temptations she had that led her to cross one boundary after another until she was so tempted to cross the final sexual boundaries in her affairs that she stopped resisting. By so doing, we applied solutions to address her weaknesses and what boundaries she needed to hold fast to in order to avoid that level of temptation again, and flee from it if it comes again instead of running to meet it.

Two, knowing the cause, you can find a solution.


Identifying, for instance, that Lenita was attracted to men's attention, that she has a weakness in that area, she is more fully able to both guard her mind from thinking or caring about wanting that attention, and avoid situations that would led itself to that attention. She had been doing and saying things to encourage men to notice and appreciate her. Now she knows she can't encourage that kind of attention without consequences.

Just saying someone is selfish does not give a direction on how to fix it. It is too general. Rather, you want to know what selfish actions specifically led to allowing an affair to happen. When a couple focuses on what is wrong with what happened rather than on what is wrong with each other, then direction for healing can be evaluated.

By the way, you can fix stupid. It happens every day. If that were true, none of us would be fixable.

2. Evaluating the Needs of the Unfaithful Spouse


This is where some hurt spouses will tend to push back. They fear that in identifying the unfaithful spouse's needs, we are blaming the hurt spouse for the affair. It doesn't help that society often takes that view as well. I've had more than one person talk to me as if the affair happened because I wasn't doing my part as a husband.

That is an erroneous conclusion as will be made clear as we go. But we need to discuss the issue of blame in general as it relates to infidelity so we're all on the same page.

Blame Isn't a Seesaw


Too often, we view blame as a seesaw: the more you can blame one person, the less blame the other person carries. So the hurt spouse may feel anything identified as a need is something they failed to fulfill, making them to blame for the affair, therefore reducing the blame and responsibility on the unfaithful spouse. But it doesn't work that way.

Blame and guilt is more of merry-go-round. If you get it going fast enough, everyone will fall off. Whose to blame for it? Depends on how many and who were pushing. If only one person, then only one person's fault. If four, then it is all four's fault for the event. Among the four maybe one or two pushed harder or longer than the others, and so bear a greater degree of the blame.

Sometimes I'm asked who's fault was it for the affair, my wife's or her affair partner's? What percent goes to her and him? 50%/50%? No, that is a seesaw way of looking at it. They both decided to do it, even if enticed into it, so both are 100% to blame, except in cases where the affair partner was deceived by the unfaithful spouse as to their marital status.

"So, if I failed to meet my spouse's need that led him to have an affair, then aren't I to blame for the affair as well?"

No. True, you may have contributed to their temptation, but you can only be to blame for your decisions and that which you have direct control over. Not meeting a valid need may mean you are to blame in part for the condition of your relationship. But you cannot control whether your spouse has an affair or not. That is a decision they made unknown to you. They bear the full blame for that action. Any contribution you made to the negative condition of the relationship did not force them to have an affair. They had more ethical,  honorable, and effective options available to them to respond to marital problems.

I've only see a couple instances when I would lay part of the blame for the affair on the hurt spouse. In both instances it involved the hurt spouse introducing another sexual partner into the relationship via a threesome, resulting in an affair between the other two. Does the fact they did that relieve the unfaithful spouse from blame? No. They are still 100% to blame. They could have said no to the threesome. They could have said no to an affair. Just because the hurt spouse is in part to blame doesn't lessen the unfaithful spouse's blame for the affair. Both pushed the merry-go-round.

Keep in mind what we said earlier. We're not seeking who is to blame in order to point fingers, but to identify what needs fixing. If the generator belt in your car starts squeaking, but you blame the power steering belt, you'll never fix the squeak no matter how many times you change out the power steering belt or the pump. Same here. If the unfaithful spouse decided to allow an affair because they enjoyed the attention too much, it will do little good to focus on getting the hurt spouse to wash the dishes more often. History will likely repeat itself.

That understanding leads us to more objectively examine another truth.

All Affairs are Driven by Unmet Needs


I'm not prone to making near absolute statements. There is almost always an exception somewhere. In this case, such exceptions would be very rare, so I feel safe in stating it this way.

Again, some hurt spouses will not agree, but that is because they tend to have the following incomplete definition of a "need": something needed for one's survival or wellbeing. Therefore they interpret the above statement as saying all affairs are based upon needs that need filling. Generally assuming it is needs the hurt spouse has failed to meet, thus they are to blame. If you think that, go back to the last section and re-read it.

Needs, as I'm using them here, are more broadly understood. Needs can be classified in the following categories.

  • A valid need that is realistic.
  • A perceived need that is realistic.
  • A valid need that is unrealistic.
  • A perceived need that is unrealistic.

Let's break that down.

A need can be a valid or perceived need. A valid need is a need required to be met for survival or one's well being. Food is an obvious example. A vacation might be as well for an overworked employee.

A perceived need is a desire for a non-valid need elevated to the level of a need as perceived by that person. These tend to be called addictions. "I need chocolate!" would be one benign example. It's not that the person really needs it to survive, but they want it so bad that it becomes, in their eyes, equivalent to a valid need.

Also, a need can be realistic or unrealistic to meet. It is realistic to meet the need for food in most cases. Our days are numbered if we don't. It is realistic to expect the boss to give us a week's vacation when we've earned it. Same with perceived needs. It is realistic to expect to obtain some chocolate at the store in most cases without too much cash, effort, or ethical violations.

A need can also be unrealistic to be met. Dinning at the most expensive restaurant in town when funds are limited may be unrealistic to meet. In most cases, it would be unrealistic to expect your boss to give you a 6 month paid vacation no matter how much you felt you needed it. A failing heart may not find a replacement in time; if there are none available, it would be unrealistic to expect one or to kill someone to get it.

More common, however, perceived needs can be unrealistic. Cocaine is unrealistic because you have to break the law to obtain it. If you didn't have the money for chocolate, so you shoplifted a bar, you've stepped into an unreasonable means of meeting that perceived need.

I'd add a fifth category: when meeting either kind of need is impossible. It's a silly example, but gets the point across: you have a perceived need to fly like Superman. Impossible while on Earth.

Any one particular unfaithful spouse will have most all of these. We all do. When it comes to affairs, a very high percentage of them are driven by unrealistic perceived needs. Every once in a while you'll run across an affair that blossomed from an unmet, realistic, valid need, but those are rare.

This is complicated by the reality that these needs tend to overlap at times, which is why some unfaithful spouses will say, "It's because you didn't ____________." In reality, though, that only played a minor role.

To illustrate, I'll use our example.

My wife had a valid need that we all have: to be loved, desired, and wanted. I met that need in her when we married in 1982. According to her, while I've not always effectively showed it, she felt I didn't fulfill that valid desire, even during the affair.

But due to her childhood, being ignored and made to not feel wanted, she developed a perceived need for attention. At first, I met this need too. Then as we had children, they met that need. By the time our youngest was headed into his senior year of high school, she feared feeling lonely in part because I tended to be wrapped up in my world and she in hers.

Add onto that her weight loss, and the attention she was able to attract from men by being flirty, her perceived need for attention grew into attention from men. It then became unreasonable, because she was advertising something she originally didn't intend to give.

Likewise, for me, it became impossible for me to meet her upgraded need. I could have given her all the attention she could want and it wouldn't have changed anything because by that point, she knew I wanted, desired, and loved her for over 28 years. My attention couldn't generate in her the same excitement and infatuation that another man's could, because mine was old hat.

Eventually, someone took it further than flirting. Gradually, it generated in her more perceived needs that were unrealistic to meet, right up to wanting sex with someone other than me for the experience.

We traced in her how a valid need was expanded into a perceived need, then into an unrealistic to meet perceived need and impossible for me to meet need that could only be met by other men. She now knows where her weaknesses are and what to avoid in order not to find herself headed down that road again.

So getting to the why in order to address the problem in the end involves evaluating the root needs that drove it: valid and perceived, realistic and unrealistic or impossible to fulfill needs. Once you've identified the root needs that drove the decision to allow an affair to take place, only then can they be addressed and healed.

That's why all affairs are driven by the need of the unfaithful spouse, and the majority of those are unrealistic to meet perceived needs. None of which blames the hurt spouse, nor let's the unfaithful spouse off the hook of responsibility. But it does show you how to fix it.


I've Not Forgotten

For readers of this blog, you may have noticed I've been absent the last three months. It's not that I'm dead or have been locked away in prison. Nor have I decided not to write anymore post.

So what's up and what can you expect?

November I took an intentional break due to a writing project I'd hoped to make some headway with. I did make some progress on it before life got in the way. A combination of things really. My Parkinson's symptoms didn't help at times. I also did not just a fair amount of house cleaning in my wife's business, but spent a good hunk of time getting her more officially set up, do the bookkeeping and getting that caught up. Add into that the holidays, two weekend trips, getting using employees in her business set up, and the extra paperwork due by today (1/31/15, done!), and I simply didn't have enough time and/or energy to finish another blog post. I started one earlier in January, and will try to finish that soon.

My goal is to post at least two articles a month. Obviously, if I finish the unfinished one, I'll only have one this month. Unless you count this one.

So I've not forgotten this blog and will work to get out articles as I'm able.

This might be a good time to request, if I've not covered it yet, a topic you'd like to see on this blog. Put them in the comment section of this post.

Now, off to see if I can finish that article.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Key to Rebuilding: Love

The driving force behind most marital relationships is love. It is the most often stated reason given why two people commit themselves to one another in marriage.

It shouldn't be too surprising, then, to realize it is also the driving force of a successful rebuilding of a marriage after infidelity. The inability to love one another and communicate that to one another may be the single determining factor of whether a couple successfully rebuilds.

Let's back up a minute and unpack that concept.

We know there are several things that need to happen for rebuilding to be successful. On the unfaithful spouse's side, they need to be transparent, maintaining no contact with the affair partner(s), working to correct their vulnerabilities to temptations that led them down this path, and their part in any marital difficulties that increased those vulnerabilities. For the hurt spouse, they must successfully deal with the emotions and fear created by the betrayal, and work though the stages of grief to reach acceptance.

So why is love a key?


We make decisions based primarily on emotion. Yes, reason is not absent in the process. When it comes down to a battle between emotion and reason, however, emotion wins out 99% of the time. No, humans are not Vulcans.

This is why affairs happen in the first place. In most all affairs, the love of a particular feeling drives them to ignore all reason not to do it. The consequences of losing their marriage, lives with their children, job, the respect of others, hurting those they say they love, doesn't even factor into the decision.

Often that love for a feeling an unfaithful spouse has is transfered to the one who is giving them that feeling. So they believe they love their affair partner, when the truth is they love how their affair partner makes them feel.

Doing the things mentioned above that a couple has to do in order to rebuild is not fun work. It is usually a struggle for both spouses to accomplish those tasks. If you don't feel passionate love for your spouse, you will have little motivation to do the things you need to do to rebuild. You'll ask yourself, "What am I rebuilding to? Is it worth it?" Without the love, the answer is usually no.

With a strong sense of love for each other communicated and felt, however, you'll have motivation to face the hard task of rebuilding. You'll feel the struggle is worth it and both spouses will find the motivation to not only rebuild, but to invest 100% of themselves into the relationship.

Love is a key because without it, a couple is unlikely to deal with, do, and to move beyond the devastation of the affair.

Unfortunately, this is often overlooked for several reasons.


1. Obviously the presence of the affair is a big hit to the love balance.


Willard Hartley in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, discusses the idea of the love bank. In short, feelings of love for another person come from them meeting important needs that say "I love you" to a person. When that happens, it makes a deposit into your love bank. Likewise, actions or words that say "I don't love you" make withdraws. Feelings of love for someone comes when their deposits exceed withdrawals and the balance builds up to a point causing you to think, "I love him."

An affair is most certainly a huge withdrawal in a hurt spouses love balance. No matter the reasons for the affair or intentions of the unfaithful spouse, such an act says to the hurt spouse, "I don't love you." No spouse in their right mind is going to feel warm fuzzy love when they learn their spouse has had an affair.

Some couples have a huge balance, and the hit, while large, doesn't reduce the balance to zero. Other couples where the love has waned over the years might see their balance go to near zero. Others with a low balance, the affair may send the it into the negative, and they may feel no love whatsoever.

Fact is, after discovering an affair, the hurt spouse certainly won't be feeling much love from or for the unfaithful spouse. Likewise, even if an unfaithful spouse doesn't want to lose their marriage, they often can't flip a switch about how they feel concerning the affair partner.

2. The hurt spouse starts in the emotional ICU, and all marital issues tend to take a back seat.


In the first weeks of discovering an affair, the hurt spouse will be in emotional trauma. All thoughts, resources, and activities are consumed with the fallout of what has happened. The issues surrounding the affair tend to take front and center stage to the exclusion of all else, including what may seem as unrelated marital issues, like love.

I've heard hurt spouses say something along the lines of, "Until the affair issues have been addressed, I won't work on the marriage."

There is a reason for that. As long as their is doubt about the future of the relationship, a person isn't likely to invest in it. Asking a hurt spouse to address love at this point is akin to telling them, "Go ahead. Stick your hand back in the fire. I promise it won't hurt this time."

While a hurt spouse will need some time to recover from the shock and initial fallout upon discovering an affair, it is also true they cannot wait for all the issues surrounding an affair to be dealt with before they address the lack of love resulting from the affair. It will take years to fully deal with the affair issues. If the hurt spouse waits that long, it is not likely they'll have a marriage to save by that point. To go through years of rebuilding requires a sense of love to motivate that rebuilding.

3. The myth that love is an uncontrollable feeling.


Romance novels foster the idea that love just randomly happens, and we don't have a say in whether it shows up to the party or not. It is either present or it isn't, and there is nothing we can do to change it.

Indeed, this idea is often the fuel for the fire of an affair. When "chemistry" kicks in between two people, they feel a draw to each other that seems to come from nowhere. An unfaithful spouse, looking for a justification for what they want, will often take such feelings of love as evidence they don't love their spouse any longer, because they may not have felt like they do with the affair partner for a long time. So obviously the winds of love have picked a new "life-long" partner.

Because of that, either spouse or both may dismiss the idea that they can somehow generate feelings of love for their spouse. It sounds silly to them, like suggesting we could adjust Earth's orbit around the Sun.

As I talk about in my article on love, however, the passionate, romantic feelings of love are based upon someone meeting your love needs, whatever those might be. They are usually different for men and women. In a new romantic relationship, the "chemistry" seems to just happen when two people simultaneously meet each other's love needs. The synergy created when two people stumble upon this event with another creates the illusion of "falling in love" as if Cupid shot his arrows randomly.

Truth is, the same thing can be created purposefully by intentionally meeting each other's love needs. First you have to find out what they are, then invest time with each other in order to meet them. As deposits into the love bank exceed withdrawals, the balance will grow to the point you both feel in love.

Likewise, for the unfaithful spouse, "falling" out of love with the affair partner happens intentionally by reversing that process. Actively shut down thoughts about them. Don't spend time with them in your head recalling what you miss or fantasizing about seeing them again. Triggers happen and thoughts will pop in, but you don't have to think on them or focus on them. By not spending time in person or in your head, the love balance with the affair partner will be whittled away, especially once you begin to see the damage their relationship with you has caused.

More info than I can share here is in Willard Hartley's book, His Needs, Her Needs. You can also find a more involved discussion in my article on love.

In the end, how well a couple is able to renew the feelings of love for one another after an affair will determine the likelihood of their success in rebuilding. A couple who wants to rebuild their marriage cannot afford to overlook this important factor. It can make or break the relationship.

Where is your love balance at? Are you willing to address its lack?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Should I decide to Leave?

In my book, I wrote a chapter titled, "Should I Leave or Stay?" Many hurt spouses are faced with that question and I wanted to offer some points for them to consider in making that decision.

While what I wrote there I still believe and support, I've become more aware of additional issues that I failed to address. This post will be an additional list of considerations, keeping in mind what I said in the original article: you know your situation and you are the only one who can decide when you're done.

The "Default" Position


One poster on the forum we frequent made the statement that divorce should be the default position a hurt spouse should have upon discovering infidelity in their spouse, and reconciliation only a viable option if the unfaithful spouse does all they should do.

In reality, there is some truth to that. When a spouse has sex outside the marriage, they've committed adultery. If you're a Christian, Jesus made it clear that committing adultery in effect meant the offending spouse had divorced you and remarried the affair partner. (Mark 10:11-12) Biologically, having sex with someone else, no matter what protections may have been used, is saying you're committing yourself to having a family with that person, as that is the natural outcome of sex if not otherwise hindered. Those whose affairs have inadvertently produced a child know this all too well. Sex does create a marital bond.

"But my spouse didn't have sex." Or so he says, anyway, which may or may not be true. You can't know for sure he didn't. But assuming he's telling the truth, did he divorce you? In many cases, yes. If he fantasized about it, if he found himself wishing he could, he committed adultery as if he'd actually done it. (Mat 5:28)

So upon discovering an affair, generally a biological divorce has already happened, along with a spiritual divorce, and frequently an emotional one as well if romantic love was involved. Only the outward social and legal aspects of marriage remain intact.

The question then is more along the lines of should we bring the social and legal into line with the reality, or hope that the reality can be healed to match the social and legal statuses?

One woman on our forum decided to divorce her husband on discovery day. She didn't want to lose him, but wanted to reflect that reality and see if he could in effect win her back. Not sure how that went, but is one option that makes some sense, if you can afford it and doesn't negatively affect one's kids' lives

The reality is, however, that on discovery day a hurt spouse may not know whether their unfaithful spouse will do what is necessary to heal. The only real way to know is give them a chance to try. Not everyone is ready to give up on their marriage as a default option. If by "default" one means to start divorce proceedings on discovery day before considering the situation, I don't think that is a good route in most cases.

The hurt spouse has time on their side. Rather I'd suggest that the default option is to keep divorce as a viable option on the table. Plan for that possibility financially and legally. Be ready to pull the plug should the situation warrant it. But I don't think for most people automatically pulling that trigger on discovery day is the best option.

What is the best option in your situation, I can't say. You might should pull that trigger on discovery day. Only you can know when. I just don't think it should be the default as in immediate route to take without giving yourself time to evaluate it.

Because of that . . .

The Default Route is to Give Yourself Three Months


There are several reasons for this.

  • You can discover whether rebuilding has a chance.
  • Gives you time to get off the emotional roller coaster, avoiding a knee-jerk decision you may later regret.
  • The divorce option is always there. Waiting won't cause you to lose it.
  • You'll need about that much time, at a minimum, to plan for a graceful exit should that be the decision you make. Waiting doesn't mean not making plans for a divorce, whether you use it or not. It just means you're waiting that long to make a final decision.
  • Gives the hurt spouse time to evaluate the situation and get more objective input from therapist, spiritual leaders, and close friends.
  • Takes the pressure off to make an immediate decision.

There are a certain number of hurt spouses who don't think waiting is a good idea. Almost without exception, these tend to be people who decided to wait based on advice they received, then after two or three years they call it quits and divorce. These hurt spouses, understandably, feel like they wasted two or three years of living in a horrible relationship and wished they had divorced him on discovery day.

We might point out that we're suggesting three months, not three years. Obviously they waited too long to come to that conclusion. But hindsight is always 20/20 vision. Most hurt spouses should be able to determine if their spouse will take the right attitude and actions in three months that will give rebuilding a chance. That's why we've listed the "Healing Steps for the Unfaithful Spouse" article. Both to guide unfaithful spouses in what it takes to rebuild, and to give hurt spouses a picture of what an unfaithful spouse who stands a chance of rising to the occasion looks like.

Also, it rarely works to generalize based on an individual's experience, whether it is myself who has had a positive experience rebuilding or those who have watched rebuilding go from bad to worse until a fiery death occurred. Personalities, circumstances, and other contributing issues are too complex to suggest everyone should divorce on discovery day, don't wait.

That said, their experience does highlight a real risk in waiting even three months. Some unfaithful spouses are experts at psychological manipulation. They can gaslight with the best of them. Given the chance, they could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. Give them three months and they can have the hurt spouse believing it was their fault, that they are the victim here, and they will never stray again without proving it by their attitudes and actions. Some hurt spouses are more susceptible to that as well.

If a hurt spouse knows this is likely to be the case, they need to factor it into their decision. If his mind control is too hard to resist, indeed, run now, not later. At a minimum, a hurt spouse in such a situation needs to not believe a single word of "I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Only focus on whether he is making the required changes. Any hiding, refusal to discuss the affair, attitude of "what you don't know won't hurt you," is evidence that your final decision will be to say "bye bye."

If you've reached three months without coming to a firm decision one way or the other, that in and of itself is an indication of a rebuilding problem. Use your judgment, but evaluate your inability to decide. Is it because the unfaithful spouse isn't following through on being transparent and honest?

I'm not talking about whether you trust him or not. If you do in three months you either deserve the Hurt Spouse of the Year Award, or you're deluding yourself. But you should be able to measure whether his actions and attitudes are making the rebuilding of trust a real possibility or not. You simply go down the list I mentioned above and check off what he is doing, then based on that make your decision. Leave emotions and promises out of it. If every hurt spouse did that, more of them would save themselves a lot of heartache.

Even with all that, it is possible to be so convinced he's on the right path, only to discover he's still at it months or years later, maybe never quit. That is a real risk to choosing to rebuild, or even waiting to divorce. Some people are that convincing and hesitation means a lost chance to exit an emotionally abusive relationship.

Even with that, in general, most will benefit from giving themselves at least three months to process a decision. Unless you are in a physically or emotionally abusive situation, waiting will not hurt. The only warning I'd give is if he's not doing what he should in three months, another year or three is not likely to change that. Don't take three years of living in Hell before you decide to leave.

Final Thoughts


Allow me to reemphasize. No one situation is going to match another. What works for one couple won't for another. You can do everything right, and still find yourself cheated on again. Rebuilding has risks. Divorce has its own risks as well. It is up to you to evaluate those and decide what risk to take. All a blog like this or any forum can do is give you general principles to consider. It is up to you to apply them.

If your marriage sucked and you see the affair as your exit, by all means call up the lawyer on discovery day and get that ball rolling. Ignore the above advice. I can't know what is best for your situation. No one can. Hopefully this and the previous article will provide some help in making that decision, however. It is not an easy one to make.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Can Trust be Rebuilt? Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began by laying out two foundational concepts in rebuilding trust after marital infidelity: whether rebuilding trust is possible (yes, it is) and setting realistic trust expectations to rebuild to.

In part 2, we want to look at the remaining concepts in determining if trust can be rebuilt in your situation.

3. The commitment of the unfaithful spouse.

This is likely the biggest key to rebuilding and the main reason it tends to not happen. Why? Because often the unfaithful spouse is not fully committed to go through the painful task of accepting responsibility and rebuilding trust. Yet, an important truth must be kept in mind:

The unfaithful spouse is the one that destroyed the hurt spouse's trust; only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild it.


An unfaithful spouse reading this may be thinking, "But, she ignored my needs," or "Well, he ignored me, never showed he loved me." Or name whatever reason you may have given for the decision to cheat that you feel cast the burden of rebuilding upon the hurt spouse.

While I would make a difference between your responsibility in the decision to cheat and both of your contributions to the difficulties in the marriage, let's assume for the moment that is true. Your spouse's actions toward you caused you to be susceptible to the temptation to cheat, and you did.

It still doesn't change the fact that it is the actions of the unfaithful spouse's cheating that has violated the marital bond of trust. Maybe the hurt spouse has violated the unfaithful spouse's trust in other areas, like finances. In those areas, only the hurt spouse can rebuild that trust for the unfaithful spouse so affected. But in marital infidelity, unless your spouse has also cheated on the unfaithful spouse, making you both a hurt and unfaithful spouse, only the unfaithful spouse can rebuild the trust they broke.

Until the unfaithful spouse is ready to accept responsibility for their decision to break their vows, and is ready to do what it takes to rebuild that trust, there is nothing the hurt spouse can do to "get over it," "forgive you," and begin trusting the unfaithful spouse again.

It is the responsibility of the unfaithful spouse to provide an open, honest, transparent, secure, and loving environment that can allow the hurt spouse to work though the stages of grief and come to a place they are able to trust once again. Any blame shifting, avoidance of the topic, deception, or secrets mean this is not happening, and indicates that the unfaithful spouse isn't committed to rebuilding the trust they destroyed.

4. It takes time.

This is important for both spouses to realize and acknowledge. The old saying, "Trust takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy" is valid.

Different people give a new person a certain amount of trust. Usually enough to handle whatever process the relationship requires. As you gain a history with that person, your level of trust with them will either go up or down. Years of trust building can fall apart by discovering one instance of deception. The more intimate the relationship, the more the deception hurts.

For instance, when you check out at your grocery store, you're trusting that the cashier, who you may not know, is competent to ring up your bill correctly and handle the transaction. You'll gladly put your groceries on the belt and trust them to get it right. Even more true in the days when the cashier entered all the prices by hand. But if you find a mistake, or suspect they are trying to pull one over on you, your trust level with that person tanks.

When that happens, it will take many episodes of getting it right and being honest with you before you can feel comfortable trusting them again with your grocery bill.

If true with a minor event like processing your grocery bill, how much more so with an intimate relationship where broken trust creates so much more pain and damage. It is going to take a lot of the hurt spouse catching the unfaithful spouse being honest and trustworthy in years, not merely weeks or even months, to rebuild that trust back to a working level.

Don't expect to rebuild trust within a year, even two. 


For the unfaithful spouse, this feeds into the last point. You've got to realize your spouse will not be able to trust you for the next few years. As time goes by and you're being fully honest and transparent with them, you'll regain that trust. But make no mistake, to rebuild trust means you are in it for the long haul.

Keep in mind, because the hurt spouse doesn't trust the unfaithful spouse, even two years after discovery day with a perfect track record, it doesn't mean the hurt spouse is unable or unwilling to forgive the unfaithful spouse. It means the hurt spouse isn't yet comfortable giving that level of trust. Be patient, and know going into it that it could take that long or longer.

For the hurt spouse, know that the likelihood your trust in your spouse will be restored to a working level within two years or less is slim. For some, that can happen if the unfaithful spouse recovers flawlessly and the hurt spouse is of a particular personality type, but those are the exceptions, not the norm. The hurt spouse must not put any artificial time limits on healing or rebuilding trust.

For both spouses, not having that trust can be frustrating. It can hinder intimacy and love.

Be patient with each other. Rebuilding trust will take a lot of time. Don't expect immediate results. You'll be tossing in the towel if you do.

5. Transparency

This word is used a lot as one thing the unfaithful spouse needs to do. I've devoted a whole article to that topic.

Take a moment to read it or bookmark it for later. Here is the gist of that article.

Most associate transparency with the unfaithful spouse giving the hurt spouse unfettered access to all forms of social communication: cell phone, email, social sites like Facebook, etc. It also means being fully honest, especially about anything related to the affair(s). It means no longer keeping secrets. The more honest the unfaithful spouse is, especially about things the hurt spouse is highly unlikely to ever know otherwise, the easier it is for the hurt spouse to rebuild trust.

Transparency is required even in areas not related to the affair(s).


This is because a loss of trust in one area affects one's trust level in other areas.

For example, if an unfaithful spouse doesn't tell their spouse about a purchase of clothing, that can be a problem for the hurt spouse. Not because they don't want you to have any clothes, but because it is a secret that you felt necessary to hide from them. If you'll keep secrets about that, they will fear you'll keep secrets about the affair as well, or your current activities.

Any deception in any area can hinder the rebuilding of trust. The more open and honest an unfaithful spouse is, the faster trust can be rebuilt. The hurt spouse needs to consistently discover the unfaithful spouse being honest and open. Any lie, secret, or deceit will do damage.

6. Trust on loan.

The reality is that the hurt spouse will not be able to trust the unfaithful spouse for some time. That creates an immediate problem for a hurt spouse wishing to rebuild.

Staying in the married relationship requires a certain amount of trust in order to function. Without it, you can't stay married. When a hurt spouse agrees to rebuild or give themselves time to decide whether to rebuild or not, it means they are putting a certain amount of trust in the unfaithful spouse that they simply don't have.

This is because no matter how good the hurt spouse looks over the unfaithful spouse's shoulder, they know they can't see and know it all. They can't be on 24-hour surveillance. The unfaithful spouse can obtain a secret cell phone, setup secret email accounts, Facebook accounts, etc. Knowing how they were discovered, they may get better at covering their tracks.

Even if the unfaithful spouse isn't doing these things and is being perfectly transparent and honest, the hurt spouse has no way of knowing that the above isn't going on. To stay married to the unfaithful spouse requires that the hurt spouse trust the unfaithful spouse to not do that when they have no basis upon which to trust they aren't.

This puts the hurt spouse into the position of trusting someone to not hurt them again with no basis for that trust other than the word of the unfaithful spouse, which has been proven untrustworthy. So what is a hurt spouse to do until they have rebuilt to a working trust?

Trust on Loan


The concept is simple. In order for rebuilding to go forward, the hurt spouse has to give some trust which they don't have. So the hurt spouse gives them that trust as a loan, expecting to be paid back by continued honesty and openness. Any deceit or new revelations puts that loan at risk of default and potentially ends the relationship. At some undefined point, when enough trust has been rebuilt, it can be declared paid in full. The unfaithful spouse is no longer living on borrowed trust, but has earned it back.

This accomplishes three things.

One, the hurt spouse doesn't feel like they are telling the unfaithful spouse, "I trust you" by staying to rebuild, which would be a lie.

Two, it squarely puts the issue of rebuilding trust in the unfaithful spouse's hands where it belongs. The hurt spouse has made it clear that paying off that loan depends upon the unfaithful spouse's honesty and openness over the next few years. Whether you stay married or not rests in the actions of the unfaithful spouse.

Three, it gives the unfaithful spouse room to rebuild. It is their second chance to repair the damage and save the marriage. It also gives them room to "hang themselves" as well.

Trust but verify.


A healthy relationship is not one where each spouse feels a need to police the other. We should be able to trust that our spouse isn't secretly chatting intimately with others behind our back. We don't want a relationship where we feel a need to be checking our spouse's texts, emails, Facebook messages all the time.

Well, guess what? In the days and months after discovering an affair, the relationship is not healthy. If the hurt spouse is going to rebuild, it requires that they be free to check these communications at will. Giving trust on loan says they don't trust you yet.

Think of it this way. When a bank loans you money, they generally make provisions to check your credit history, and to recheck it as needed, and to request updated financial information on a regular basis, to make sure you have the means to pay the loan back.

In essence, the hurt spouse has to have the means to ensure that the loan is getting paid back, that you are making payments in the form of continued honesty and openness. They need to catch you being good.

As that trust loan gets paid off, the hurt spouse will feel a need less and less to do that kind of checking. As the relationship heals and becomes healthier, the hurt spouse will no longer feel the need to check these areas. That is one of the ways you can tell if that trust loan is getting paid off or not.

In the initial month or so after discovery day, the hurt spouse will likely feel a need to check these things daily. For more than a solid month, I reviewed my wife's calls on our bill to make sure she had stopped communicating with the affair partner. In the next five months, I checked them regularly, but no longer daily. By the time a year had passed, I'd go more than a month without feeling the need to check anything. Now, after three years, I rarely check anything. If I do, it is usually just a random spot inspection to make sure she is still on track and nothing new is cropping up without me realizing it.

Some unfaithful spouses feel this kind of thing is a violation of their privacy. They sometimes feel a need to have at least one private area.  If this is your feeling, then rebuilding will not work for you. Best to end it now and find someone who will allow you that luxury.

A healthy marriage is a transparent marriage.


This doesn't mean one spouse is constantly checking up on the other, but that no secrets are kept from each other and each is able at any time, if they feel a need, to check their spouse's email, cell phone, Facebook messages. Constant checking does indicate a marriage in danger. Constant ability to access each other's means of communication indicates a couple who trust each other and have nothing to hide. Big difference.

Such constant checking in the early days of rebuilding is necessary because the marriage is in danger, isn't healthy, and is the only way the hurt spouse can give that trust on loan. The other option is to end the marriage. But if progress is being made, the amount of checking will drop.

Just don't expect that you should be able to ever lock your spouse out of any means of communication with others. Any such action says you have something to hide, even if done years after the affair has become a distant memory.

Those are the main concepts a couple will need to consider in whether they can rebuild trust after infidelity. 

If a couple feels they can commit to rebuilding trust, knowing the above, and follow through on it, they stand a good chance at succeeding.

It is much easier to start over with someone new. We often give a certain level of trust to a new person, and as long as they are transparent, it is easier to build to a reasonable trust level that can maintain marital intimacy than to rebuild after someone has deceived you.

But often a couple will feel that giving rebuilding try worth the potential risks because of the potential benefits of success. Whether that be due to love, kids, or a long history of investment into each other, some will feel the work and potential failure worth the rewards of salvaging the relationship.

Hopefully these two articles will give you the means to evaluate whether the risk is too great or not in your situation; whether trust can be rebuilt in your broken marriage or not.

Are their any concepts I missed?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Can Trust Be Rebuilt? Part 1

This is a big question most hurt spouses try to answer after discovering their spouses' marital betrayal. And a very important question to answer. A healthy marriage relationship is founded on mutual trust. To truly be intimate and "one flesh" requires feeling secure with each other.

An affair destroys that trust and security.


In my book, Healing Infidelity, I liken it to a hurricane wiping a house off its foundation. It is gone, destroyed, the trust meter reads 0%.

Without trust, you can't have a healthy and vibrant marriage. So determining whether or not you can rebuild trust in large part plays into your decision on whether to rebuild, continue to rebuild, or cut your losses.

How do you determine whether trust can be rebuild?


To answer that, we need to break it down into several concepts that need to be considered.

In truth, I can't answer that question for you. No one on the Internet can, to be truthful. The best route is to make you aware of what you are up against, then based on what you know of your situation, decide whether the risks verses benefits are worth it or not.

The following list is not in any order of importance.

1. Some suggest that it is near impossible to rebuild trust.

Probably the prime example of that is the Chump Lady, whose tag line says, "Leave a cheater, gain a life." On her blog's About page, she clearly believes there is little to no chance of rebuilding trust once cheating has happened:

Chump Lady is not a site optimistic about reconciliation. I liken reconciliation to a unicorn, a mythical creature I want to believe in, but which is seldom seen. This emphatically is NOT a site to save your marriage — this is a site about saving your sanity.

She also admits there that this conclusion is based upon her own experience in being married to what she terms a "serial cheater" who showed little remorse or attempts to stop his affair habit. Like me, she is not a therapist who has seen a lot of cases and worked intimately with a wide variety of couples going through this.

Chump Lady, meet your unicorn. I'm a hurt spouse whose wife for seven months had emotional affairs with several people online, and two local emotional and physical affair partners. As of writing this, three years and four months after discovery day, I trust my wife and am happily married to her, and love her as much as I ever have. I'm not a mythical creature.

Though I recognize that I'm in the minority, I know I'm not the only one. I've read about others and have met others in my situation. We're not so mythical as some would lead us to believe.

I'll be quick to add, however, that Chump Lady does speak to a need that I also often see: hurt spouses who should have left their marriage long ago, due to several factors, and need that support to take the only remaining steps left to find healing and happiness. There are many who are sacrificing their sanity in a vain attempt to save their marriage.

I'm in no way going to the other extreme and claiming that everyone can or should save their marriage. Most every couple could save their marriage, if they both did everything they need to do to accomplish it. But I'm not naive enough to believe a whole lot will do it. As Jesus said, Moses allowed for divorce due to our hardness of heart. Many unfaithful spouses will not stop their affairs. Many unfaithful spouses will not repent, will not stop keeping secrets from their spouse, will continue to commit adultery.

Hardness of heart by one or both spouses will prevent any chance of rebuilding trust, any chance of saving the marriage. It is pointless to try for very long in the face of continued disrespect by one spouse for the other. Too many sacrifice their marital dreams by staying married to someone they don't trust and never will for the sake of the children or finances.

Divorce is a reality, and in many of these cases, the least of all evils.


But the truth is that rebuilding of trust can happen. I'm not going to lie and say it is easy. The odds are against you. There are many more ways it can go wrong than right. But there are enough who have done it to know that it is possible.

Willard Hartley in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, makes the statement that the standard success rate of long-term successful rebuilding of marriages after infidelity by traditional counseling methods is 40%. With his method, that success rate went up to 60%.

Even at 40%, that success rate is far from mythical. That is a substantial number of couples who are able to rebuild trust in their relationship following an affair. It is a disservice to discourage people from trying as much as it is to encourage people who should leave a marriage to stick with it.

It is all too easy for people who had a negative experience in rebuilding, especially if they did stick with it much longer than they should have, to project their experience onto everyone and make absolute pronouncements that rebuilding trust and a marriage after an affair is mythical.

Likewise, while I believe my success is repeatable by other couples committed to rebuilding, I have no illusions that most will be able to duplicate what I did. There are too many variables and circumstances to make any general sweeping statements either way.

So what are some of those variables?

2. Resetting Trust Expectations

The truth of the matter is in any relationship, but especially in a marital one, the more intimacy you develop, the greater the risk of betrayal. You are in one sense giving them a knife, turning your back to them, and asking them to shave off the hair on your back. At that point you are vulnerable. They could shove the knife into your chest and you'd be seriously injured, if not dead. But you trust them not to do that, so you give them the knife. That's the relationship between trust and intimacy. You can't have one without the other.

This very real risk is present in every marriage. However, we don't usually stand at the alter and say "I do" believing it will ever happen to "us". "He loves me too much to ever do that." We always believe what we have is special. We are unique. It happens to other people, but not us. The longer the marriage goes on with no sign of infidelity, the more confident we become that it will never happen to me.

This is what I call blind trust. It is simply inconceivable to either spouse that the other would ever seriously consider cheating on them, much less following through with it. On a scale of 1 to 100%, blind trust is about as close to 100% as you can get, like 99.9%.

After 29 years of marriage to a wife I'd always known to be faithful, I had every reason to believe it would never happen to me. We were both Christians with strong moral values. We both loved one another. Though we weren't perfect in showing it all the time, we both were happily married.

Five months before her affairs started, on our 28th wedding anniversary I asked her the question I always asked every year, "Are you happy married to me? What do we need to improve?" We both acknowledged our love for each other and our happiness with the marriage.

My trust level with her was so blind that even up until I read her words that she was having sex with another man, the thought she was having an affair never once entered my mind, despite all the red flags I'd seen. Most of which I didn't think anything about because I didn't believe she'd do that.

I'm not saying that when you marry, you shouldn't expect faithfulness from your spouse. Don't misunderstand me. But if my trust in her had been more realistic, the red flags my gut was sending out would have caused me to investigate sooner and potentially ended it quicker. Potentially before she'd had sex with anyone.

Blind trust on both our parts also allowed us to cross boundaries we shouldn't have crossed, because we erroneously believed, "I would never do that." We believed we were practically immune from ever cheating. So much so that my wife played with fire, and then got burned. And me along with her.

That level of trust in any marriage is not only unrealistic, it is unhealthy. We need to fear the fire enough that we don't stick our hands into it.

I mention this because there is a very real truth in rebuilding trust that some take to be a negative. That is the following:

You'll never get back the level of trust you had before discovery day.


This is because for many couples, their trust level was unrealistic to begin with. Not the expectation of trust, but the perfection of your spouse to never break that trust in any way.

We've already discussed blind trust. Now let's define a couple more terms.

Realistic trust: A level of trust based on expectations and commitment, but taking into account human frailty. Because we are human and not perfect, no one can be trusted 100%. No one should trust themselves to that level.

Working trust: A level of trust that enables a couple to establish an intimate relationship that produces a happy and sustainable marriage.

Now let's illustrate the dynamic. I'm going to use some arbitrary numbers for levels of trust. I'm not saying this is accurate or measurable in this way. I'm only using them to illustrate the concept.

The following levels of trust could be illustrated with the following percentages:

Blind trust = 99.9% or more.

Realistic trust = 90% to 95%

Working trust = 80% or higher.

Most couples before an affair tend to be near that 100% mark. Once an affair hits and is discovered, the trust level sinks to anywhere from 0% to 30% depending on circumstances.

Rebuilding that trust in order to save the marriage only needs to reach that 80% mark. It is reasonable to believe it can get back into the 90s. But the facade has been broken. You can never get back to 99.9% trust level, nor should you. The affair has made it painfully clear that it can happen to you. You are not unique. Neither you nor your spouse are immune to temptation.

One step in being able to successfully rebuild trust is for both spouses to adjust their expectations on trust to a more reasonable level. One that expects the other spouse to be trustworthy, but is not so blind to human imperfections that we play with fire or ignore it when our spouse is doing so.

From here on out, the possibility that it could happen again is a distinct reality. That realistic trust needs to be there to keep each of you on your toes. Indeed, if it had been that way before the affair, there is a good chance either of you would have stopped it in time, or not even allowed it to get started.

Successful rebuilding is not dependent upon rebuilding back to a near 100% blind trust.


The remaining concepts we'll look at next time in part 2.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Healing Infidelity Through Forgiveness

This is a chapter excerpt from our book, Healing Infidelity: How to Build a Vibrant Marriage After an Affair. You'll find not only other helpful articles in that book, but our story of how my wife entered the affairs, how I found out, and how we successfully rebuilt.


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Forgiveness is one of the often difficult steps that a person hurt by the infidelity of a spouse can take. In part because the betrayal of the unfaithful partner is a deep hurt. The trust is placed in one's spouse, the commitment made to each other and to God, leaves us open to that deep hurt. The more on guard we are, the less likely someone's betrayal of our trust will hurt us. The less intimate the relationship between two people, the more walls and defenses we put up to guard against such attacks.

But we don't expect such attacks from those who love us. The risk one takes when one loves another and is intimate with him is that any hurts go deep. They strike us at our very core and affect our self-esteem and identity. So it is no wonder that when such a deep hurt has been inflicted upon someone, that they find it difficult to forgive. Yet, for full healing to take place, that is exactly what needs to happen. So let's look at the process of forgiveness in relation to the hurt inflicted by the infidelity of one's spouse.

First, let's define what forgiveness is. Webster defines it: "To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty." The two ingredients, in this context, are an offense committed against you and the release from punishment for it.

There are some who speak of "earning forgiveness." This is a contradictory statement. One cannot earn forgiveness, for by its very definition it is an act of mercy. For example, if I owe a debt to a creditor, and they decide to forgive me that debt, that means I don't need to pay it back. If I earn that money back and pay the debt off, then there is no need to forgive me the debt. One can't earn forgiveness. As soon as you do, it is no longer forgiveness by definition.

What I believe people really mean by that statement isn't conditions upon which a spouse will forgive the unfaithful spouse, but the conditions upon which the unfaithful spouse can receive that forgiveness and benefit from it for saving the marriage. We'll examine that in a minute, but in this case the unfaithful spouse doesn't "earn" it, it is what he needs to do to apply the forgiveness to themselves.

For example, let's say you need to hammer in a nail, but you don't have a hammer or anything that will work for one. But your good friend holds out a hammer for you to use. In reaching out your hand and taking that hammer, have you "earned" that use of the hammer? Of course not. Neither is doing the actions to receive forgiveness earning it. It is simply holding out your hand.

Likewise, that the spouse has to do those things to receive forgiveness doesn't have any bearing on whether the hurt spouse forgives or not. We examine why below, but just as God stands always ready to forgive, so are we called to do, no matter what the offender does or doesn't do.

There are some natural conclusions that can be drawn from this understanding that we'll address as we go through this information. But first, it may be helpful to address what forgiveness is not.

One, forgiveness is not a denial of the wrongness or hurt that an action brought about. Notice the above definition. It says, "treat the offender as not guilty." It doesn't say the offender isn't guilty, but you are going to treat him as not guilty by way of not punishing him. In truth, it acknowledges that you do have a right to punish him because of his offense. If you didn't, there would be no point to forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of mercy on your part, not a denial of the offense itself.

Two, forgiveness does not mean the offender will not be punished. What it means is you are not going to do the punishing! A sin like adultery hurts the adulterer as much, if not more, than the hurt spouse. That may seem contradictory as we tend to think, "He had the fun at my expense!" But adultery isn't a sin because it is fun to do. It is a sin because it causes some very serious damage to one's soul and life. That is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body."

Three, forgiveness does not erase the consequences of the offense. As mentioned above, by showing mercy and forgiving the offender, it only means you will not add your punishment to the natural consequences he will endure. Take the example of King David. He committed adultery and murder to cover up his sin. Psalm 51 is an example of what true repentance is about. According to the Scriptures, God forgave David. But he still had consequences due to that sin. The baby that resulted from that sin died. His sons ended up fighting and dividing the kingdom, even rebelling against David. David suffered the consequences of his sin. So will the unfaithful partner suffer for their sins, even though God and you forgive them.

But by this point, one might ask, why is it necessary to forgive to heal? Isn't part of healing that justice is served? Shouldn't he know I'm not going to put up with this behavior? Won't forgiving the offender be sending the message, "I'm not offended or hurt"?

There is a difference between not putting up with a behavior, and the message of forgiveness. As noted above, forgiveness does not negate the consequences of his actions. One of those consequences, if he persists in his sin, is the loss of his spouse. Forgiveness is not a "Get out of jail free" card, rather it is both an opportunity for the offender to change his behavior before worse consequences set in, and the release of the offended from their own sins.

If the offended spouse were to mitigate the consequences of the sin, and not merely forgive, then that would be sending the wrong signal. It is one thing to say, "I'm not going to beat you over the head with this offense you've committed against me for the rest of our lives," but quite another to say, "I will stay by your side and support you, no matter how often you have an affair." One can forgive the spouse for his infidelity even while separating from him because the spouse refuses to give up his infidelity. This allows you to forgive, but not enable his sin by erasing the negative consequences of it.

But forgiveness is more about you than about the offender. It is his opportunity to repent and make right the wrongs he's committed against you. But you can no more control his responses to your forgiveness than you could prevent him from cheating on you. All you really have under your control is yourself. Forgiveness is absolutely necessary for the healing of the offended much more than it is about healing for the offender.

For one who will not forgive is also one who is not forgiven for his own sins. Jesus states this clearly in the parable of the servant who owed his master so much money, there was no way he could ever pay it off even if he worked for the rest of his life. The master forgave the servant the debt. But the servant, either not accepting that he'd been forgiven or too selfish himself, refused to forgive someone who owed him a small amount of money, and had him thrown into prison. The master, upon hearing this, reinstated the money the ungrateful servant had been forgiven because he refused to forgive. Jesus' conclusion to the parable was, "Thus also My heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive each one his brother their trespasses, from your hearts." (Mat 18:35 EMTV).

Jesus also states this clearly in the Lord's Prayer, when we ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." By refusing to forgive, we cut off the grace for our own forgiveness from God. This is because forgiveness is like a river of running water. For the river to flow for you, it must flow for those down the line. That is in part why in the early Church, the prescription for baptizing someone was, if at all possible, to do so in running water. Sins are washed away by the flow of grace. Stop the flow, and you have stagnant water that grows stale and dirty.

It should be noted that this is not so much God saying, "What? You won't forgive? Well, then, I'll show you!" No, God is always ready to forgive. But what happens is if you cannot forgive others, it demonstrates you are unable to receive the forgiveness that God offers. It is like you have the faucet open and water is coming out, and you are drinking it, but the moment someone else wants that water from you, you shut it off so they cannot get any. But then, neither can you get any. So in your refusal to give someone your forgiveness, you cut it off for yourself as well.

It is for this reason that when the woman caught in adultery was put before Jesus by the Pharisees, attempting to trap Jesus, He replied that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Because they had sins that needed forgiveness, they either forgave her or stood condemned themselves. They all forgave her, and so did Jesus. (John 8:3-11)

Therefore, forgiving is necessary for your own healing, but it is also necessary for the healing of the marriage, if there is to be a chance for that to happen. Forgiveness takes the bitterness and hate off your shoulders for what the other person did to you. If you are going to rebuild the marriage, one key component of that rebuilding is to release yourself from the anger and hate for what they did to you. As long as that is festering, it will not be possible to restore the relationship.

This is why God Himself forgives us in order to restore our relationship with Him. If God was not willing to forgive, there would be no hope for us but death. But because He is willing, there is hope for eternal life with Him. So it is for the spouse. If a spouse remains bitter and hateful to the other, rebuilding will be impossible and the marriage will suffer. Healing will not take place.

For these reasons, it is necessary for the hurt spouse to heal within themselves, and for the marriage to be healed, as well as releasing the unfaithful spouse to have opportunity to heal, that we must seek to forgive the individuals in the affair.

Even the affair partner. You need to forgive them for your own healing. For the bitterness and hate it can generate will poison your spirit and will carry over to the unfaithful spouse. The affair partner is an easy target since you are not reconciling with him, and you hope to never see or speak to him. But the unfaithful spouse and the affair partner, in most all cases, willingly participated together, even if one seduced the other or took advantage of the other's weakness. Hate for the affair partner will transfer to the unfaithful spouse by the fact that he or she joined with him against you. So even harboring unforgiveness toward the affair partner while forgiving the unfaithful spouse will block rebuilding efforts.

This is often seen when the inability to forgive results in the hurt spouse's obsessions over the affair partner, seeking revenge on him, or wanting to punish him. It puts the focus on the affair partner and the wrongs he committed against you and the marriage, instead of on the marriage and working with your unfaithful spouse to heal it. The best way to focus on the marriage and its healing is to forgive the affair partner and then take them off the radar screen.

What about forgiving yourself? Sometimes you see an unfaithful spouse talk about their difficulty in forgiving themselves for what they did. But you can't really forgive yourself. You didn't commit the offense against yourself, but against the hurt spouse and God, as well as the affair partner. What most people who ask this are really concerned about is being able to receive forgiveness. They face their guilt, and have trouble believing that anyone really forgives them for that act. They don't accept that their spouse has forgiven them, or that God forgives them. That can result in shame which causes a "death spiral" affect of encouraging the unfaithful spouse to repeat the unfaithfulness. The only way out of that cycle is to come to a place of accepting forgiveness.

There are two aspects of forgiveness as it relates to infidelity that need to be kept in mind. One, that forgiveness is a process and not a one-time event. Most people will not be ready to forgive upon discovering the affair. Most must go through the stages of grief as it pertains to their loss, and the stages of denial and anger don't lend themselves to an attitude of being ready to forgive. The pain is too fresh and the hurt still being processed to expect an immediate forgiveness. Some can do that, but it is also true that some may short-circuit the grieving process by forgiving too quickly, and in effect end up failing to deal with their anger and hurt. There can be an initial desire to forgive, while not yet knowing all that it entails.

That leads to the other part of the process. We can often think we've forgiven, but then a new layer is peeled back and we must continue to apply forgiveness. We may be faced with the details of what we had forgiven, whereas previously it was generic actions, and feel the hurt once again. Fresh hurt should remind us of our commitment to forgive and applying that fresh each time to release the bitterness and hate it would engender, and the depression that can trip up rebuilding a marriage.

Two, that forgiveness is only effective in healing the marriage if the unfaithful spouse accepts and allows it to change him and the situation. For the problem has never been whether God will or can forgive us for our sins. No, it has always been about whether we are able to accept His forgiveness. For as long as we are not, His forgiveness does us no good.

That is why God gives the following conditions for His forgiveness to be active in healing us in 2 Chronicles 7:14, and therefore what the unfaithful spouse needs to do for the hurt spouse's forgiveness to be effective in healing the marriage:

Humility – if we do not lower ourselves before God, if we think we know better than He does how to live our life, our pride will prevent us from receiving His forgiveness. Indeed, the one key to why most people cannot receive forgiveness nor give forgiveness is their own pride. Pride says, "I don't need your forgiveness, I'm right," to God, and to those we've offended, "My rights have been violated, and I will be given what is due me in retribution." If the unfaithful spouse maintains an attitude of pride and not owning their responsibility in the affair, no forgiveness will be received by the unfaithful spouse.

Pray – if we do not ask, due to that pride, if we do not make request for forgiveness, it shows our unbelief that the offended is or can forgive us. It means you don't believe the forgiver when he says, "I forgive you for what you did to me." So you refuse to even ask for it.

Seek my face – if we do not face the one we've offended and look them in the eye, if we refuse to face the guilt in our lives and desire mercy for what we've done, if we avoid him, don't want to talk about it, ignore him, then we cannot receive his forgiveness and have it be active in healing us and the marriage.

Turn from your wicked ways – if the unfaithful spouse refuses to stop the affair by making no further contact with the affair partner(s), is more concerned about the feelings of the affair partner than he is about his own spouse, if he continues the affair or returns to it, and does not stop doing that which is hurting his spouse and destroying their marriage, the hurt spouse can forgive all he wants, but it will do no good for healing of the marriage. To not stop is to say, in pride, "I am not wrong. I want to do this, my way."

If these things are done, however, we are promised that God will forgive our sins and heal our land. If the hurt spouse is able to get to the point of offering forgiveness to the unfaithful spouse, unless the unfaithful spouse is doing the above, he will not be helped by his spouse's forgiveness nor will he and the marriage be healed.

Forgiveness is not an option if the goal is healing of the hurt spouse, the unfaithful spouse, and the marriage itself. While the hurt spouse may not be ready to forgive immediately, it does have to happen at some point in the healing process for the relationship to be restored as it should be. Additionally, the unfaithful partner needs to do the things necessary to receive that forgiveness or they put their own healing and that of the marriage in jeopardy.

Jesus stated it clearly: Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times." (Mat 18:21-22 EMTV)

To heal, we must forgive and accept forgiveness. It is not an option if the goal is to heal.