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.


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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Serial Cheaters

The term serial cheater gets thrown around a good bit. Often I think people misuse the term. How do you know if someone qualifies as a serial cheater, and if they do, how can it be handled?

What is a Serial Cheater?

I've searched, but not found an official definition. So I've compiled one by adapting the definition of a serial killer. The standard definition of a serial killer is:

A serial killer is, traditionally, a person who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time (a "cooling off period") between the murders.

My adaption would read:

A serial cheater is a person who has committed acts of marital infidelity--against a person they are bonded to physically and/or emotionally--with three or more people separated by time-gaps between each one.

This would differ from a cheating spree where a person commits infidelity with three or more in rapid succession, or from mass cheating where affairs happen concurrently.

There is a little more gray area, however. When someone is murdered, the fact the victim died is pretty black and white. He either is or he isn't. While the definition of cheating is fairly well held, there are a lot more variations. There are boundaries one can cross that tend to lead to cheating but in and of themselves are not.

I'll use a personal example. I frequently had lunch with a female coworker for a period of time. Neither of us wanted to eat alone. Frequently it would just be me and her at a restaurant.

Strictly speaking, we were crossing a boundary that often leads to cheating. Yet, we never discussed any marital problems, or anything about sex, or ever went any further with the relationship other than being friends who worked together and ate lunch together often. I never cheated, but a third party might have decided we were cheating because so many in that situation easily fall into it.

So even though I have a definition, people could differ about whether a particular person fits this definition based on their understanding of what cheating is.

Why Do We Need to Label People with the Term?

It shouldn't be for the sake of labeling someone, rather to know how to treat and help the unfaithful spouse. There are different types of cheating and the type of solutions that will address it will vary.

One night stand
Online chats, text or video
Phone/chat sex
Sharing photos or other intimate things online
Phone/Skype emotional relationship
Physical, sexual play
Multiple affairs
Serial Cheaters

The motivation for serial killers easily applies to serial cheating:

The motivation for serial killing is usually based on psychological gratification. Most of the killings involve sexual contact with the victim, but the FBI states that motives for serial murder include "anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking".

Let's look at the FBI motives in more detail.


Anger derives from feeling your "rights" have been violated. What one considers their rights comes from how they were raised, their own experiences, as well as expectations that have developed as they grew up. Often these are informed by parental influence. It derives from the violation of one's sense of righteousness.

In terms of serial cheating, ongoing anger with one's spouse could be prompting a serial cheater to continued cheating. Whenever things aren't going exactly as they'd like, their response to dealing with it is anger, and then lashing back in a passive-aggressive manner by cheating on their spouse. It becomes the means to sooth the anger in them.

If this is the motivation, learning new responses to anger via anger management help can break them out of their cycle of destructive response patterns.


There are several types of thrills that could fall under this motivation. In all cases, it involves a person succumbing to the temptation of an addictive thrill, and repeating it enough until it becomes a psychological addiction. Following are three of the common thrills.

The "new relationship" thrill is well documented. Otherwise known  as infatuation. Often mistaken for "true love," given time the excitement dies off, and the serial cheater becomes vulnerable to the next opportunity when "chemistry" shoots the thrill-factor red-lining again. Then it's onto the next person that provides that thrill.

Another common thrill is the sexual thrill. Often, especially men, the serial cheater is addicted to getting the next sexual high. The longer they have sex with someone, like their spouse, the more "ho hum" it becomes. Due to the Coolidge Effect, a new sexual partner can provide a sexual high that the long-time partner can't hope to compete with. Someone addicted to this thrill will always need a new partner if they hope to get the sexual high they crave.

Some serial cheaters are addicted to the sense of power provided by the affair. One, the desire, and often manipulation of the affair partner to keep them on the hook. Two, the power over their spouse based upon pulling off an affair behind their backs. The thrill of secrecy gives the serial cheater a sense of power over their spouse who is kept in the dark. Knowledge is power. To get away with it without being caught provides its own sense of superiority.

The solution in this case will require extensive help to break the addictive pattern, establish boundaries, manage temptations, and restructure one's thinking patterns and life to find alternate means of satisfaction.

Financial Gain

For cheating, the most obvious financial gain is prostitution or the porn industry. A popular motivation for women, but affecting many men as well. Selling one's body and getting paid for it can fuel continued cheating for a spouse desiring that money.

But that isn't the only way. Some people seek out affairs, especially with a person who has some disposable income, in order to get financial help from them. They've discovered that when someone is deep in infatuation, they will "loan" money more readily, or flat out give it away for a perceived need. The affair partner will buy them things, take them out to eat, and lavish other gifts, often without asking.

Serial cheating in this case can also be long cheating sprees and/or mass cheating. The more they can juggle, the more money they can get. The solution to heal this type of cheating is a reordering of priorities, and learning how to adequately take care of financial needs through legitimate means.

Attention Seeking

This one is a bigger factor in serial cheating than it is in serial murders. Even non-serial cheating often starts with this desire. Based upon a low self-esteem, such people find the interest and desire of others for them exhilarating. It could be listed as another type of thrill mentioned above.

Such a serial cheater craves the affirmation of others that they are worth something. To have someone admire their body, pursue them, thus indicating that they can sexually attract someone, is affirming to their self-worth. The spouse's affirmation is often insufficient because they have been that way for maybe several years. It is old news. However, the continual stream of new people who find them desirable is exciting.

The end result of frequent flirting and encouraging this type of relationship with people is some are going to take the flirter up on it. Not only is someone saying they want the flirter, but they are ready to do it with them. It creates a more intense attention-seeking response from the cheater, making an affair hard to resist and inevitable. If you play with fire, you will eventually get burned.

The route to healing this type of serial cheating is through building a stronger self-esteem, establishing firm relationship boundaries, and seeing the need for attention as a negative impact upon their life and desire to change that thinking pattern with help.

Not All Cheaters are Serial Cheaters

Some people sling the label "serial cheater" around too freely. There are two dangers to doing so.

One, the diagnosis of a stranger on the Internet based upon little information can label someone in such a way they don't believe there is hope for themselves. Someone who has cheated once, or even twice, doesn't fit the profile of a serial cheater as defined here. I'd also include multiple on-line emotional affairs grouped into a limited time period as not being a serial cheater. It might classify them as having had a cheating spree, but not necessarily serial. But I often hear someone labeled as a serial cheater because they cheated twice, often with the same affair partner.

Two, even if the label applies, its use can denote to the cheater that their situation is hopeless. A serial cheater is just who they are, so they might as well go with the flow. Many of them have given up fighting it a long time ago if it has been chronic. The label confirms in their mind that they are hopeless, so why even try to do something about it?

If the label applies, they need to realize they can change. With a lot of work and dedication, they can break out of the serial pattern of behavior if they seek out help and dedicate themselves to the process.

If the label doesn't apply, applying it can cause someone who isn't one yet to become one by giving up and accepting the meaning of the label as who they are.

While one can talk about serial cheating in general as I've done here--to help someone realize they need to get serious help--it is best to leave the diagnosis of specific individuals to qualified therapists and psychologist. It is too risky to become responsible for contributing to someone's lack of healing through applying defining labels that do little to help the other person.

How would you define serial cheating?