Dear Brian and Anne,
I was reading your article about building trust again after an affair. It is really helping me; I have just discovered that my husband had an emotional affair with his colleague.
We talked about it and my husband apologised and promised it will not happen again. My problem is that my husband is expecting me to act as if nothing happened and I don’t feel that he understands the extent of the damage he has caused to the trust I had for him.
He does not want to discuss what happened. Every time I try to discuss the affair trying to understand the reason why it happened he becomes angry and says if I cant trust him I should trust GOD and stop digging graves because the affair is in the past and we should leave it there.
Sometimes I feel strong and believe that we are moving forward and there are days when I feel angry and insecure and sometimes I just burst out and cry. I can’t talk about this with him, with my family or with friends. I feel I am becoming the victim of his choices. I really need help.
We went to our minister for counselling and he prayed for us but if we can’t touch the topic at home in order to ensure that it does not happen again, and see what we can do differently, we are pretending to each other that things are fine or they will automatically be fine.
How do I approach this? This is disturbing me even at work. I call him many times a day, not because I want to, but to check on him. If he does not pick up the phone I get stressed.
All your feelings are normal for someone who has been betrayed. It is not adequate for your husband to say he is sorry, and it won't happen again. In my work with couples, the fact that this was only an emotional affair makes no difference. The intimacy in your marriage has still been betrayed, and you will go through all of the things any person healing from a sexual betrayal will feel.
The first 3 months after disclosure are generally characterized by numbness, intense grief and shock. It is ridiculous for him to think this is in the past. This is like saying to someone who has been hospitalized with multiple fractures from a car accident, “forget about it, your injuries happened yesterday.”
You still have the injuries!!! They are not healed yet. There is nothing "past" about this affair for you. And really it is not past for him either. He needs to discover why this happened and what’s going to be different to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, otherwise there is a high probability of a reoccurrence down the road.
If will-power, a promise or renewing the wedding vows was enough to ensure faithfulness, the affair would not have happened in the first place. Then the first promise (on your wedding day) would’ve worked. After all, when people exchange wedding vows, I do not believe they are thinking, “well I’ll just say these words, but I don’t mean them. At some later date if I want to have an affair, I’ll go ahead.”
If he does not want to discuss the affair or allow you to have answers, you will never heal properly. You will be like that injured person if they're never treated. You will never be able to walk again. Him telling you that you should trust God is nothing more than manipulation. You can tell your husband that refusing to deal with this affair, is like if you both had just killed someone in your living room and have now thrown the dead corpse in the closet and locked the door. I don't care if you can't see it. Sooner or later (probably sooner) it will start stinking up the place. You have to do a complete spring cleaning of your marriage.
I don't know where you live and what resources you have access to, but you need to read books about affairs, and talk to others who have been through similar experiences. Not every marriage can be saved.
Perhaps you could share this article with your husband, maybe it will help him to understand why you need to talk about his affair.
You could also share this article with him, which proves via research why talking about the affair will give your marriage the greatest chance of success.
He may give many reasons why he does not want to discuss the affair, but the real reason is because it is hard for him to face his giant mistake. He is also afraid to tell you the whole truth about the affair, because he thinks if he does it will hurt you more. What he doesn't realize is that he can't hurt you more, unless of course he continues to withhold the truth. The thing that hurts the most about affairs is the lies. The only thing that hurts more than the affair, is more deceit, the unwillingness to be totally open and honest.
One of the biggest mistakes spouse’s who’ve had affairs make is attempting to “protect” their spouse by minimizing or avoiding the truth. They somehow think to themselves that if you knew the whole truth it will be too painful for you. What they don’t realize is that you have already been hurt to the maximum level possible. The only way he can hurt you worse is by lying (withholding relevant information is a form of lying) after he claims to tell the truth.
In our work helping people to heal from affairs, we find this is one of the biggest problems. Whether it’s 1 year later, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years or more … eventually the whole truth slips out or is discovered, and now the problem that is almost impossible to heal from is not the affair, it’s why did you lie to me after you claimed to be telling the truth? There attempt to “protect” you feels like 10 additional knives in your back after the original knife, the affair.
On the contrary if they answer your questions truthfully from the start, the answers are bittersweet. Sure it hurts, but for many it hurts a whole lot less than their imagination.
I’m not suggesting unfaithful spouse’s should unload all the gory details of the affair without being asked. The hurt spouse needs to be in control of this process, but what you need to know you need to know, and have a right to know. Some betrayed spouses don't want to know the details. That's fine too. It's whatever YOU need to heal.
The faithful spouse does have a responsibility in all this. We need to check our motives for asking questions. If it’s anything less than to help us heal, we shouldn’t ask. Any truth divulged in such question asking is totally off limits to be thrown back at our spouse angrily later. Quite the contrary, we need to encourage honesty by positively reinforcing or rewarding that honest. To understand that better, this article can be very helpful.
Helpful Insights on Rebuilding a Marriage
Many times, when my husband truthfully answered my questions it was painful. I can remember listening with silent tears running down my cheeks. I would hold in my response, and eventually say “thank you for being honest.”
How do you know when you’re getting truthful answers? When sometimes the answer is not what you want to hear.
An example of this from our own lives was actually when I had started to write our book. One of the goals I had in writing the book was helping couples prevent affairs. So I asked Brian, what could someone have said to you, what could you have done, that would’ve prevented you from having an affair?
Brian knew the answer I WANTED to hear was that if he had known how much pain his affair would cause me he wouldn’t have done it. However he said,
“Anne, I would love to give you the answer I know you want to hear, but I cannot give you that answer, because it simply wouldn’t be true. Knowing how painful the affair was going to be for you would not have prevented me from having an affair, because at the time of the affair, I was simply not thinking of you at all.”
The difficult thing about healing from affairs is that in many ways the perpetrator must turn around and become the healer. If the affair is never dealt with properly, if you don't discover as a couple the real reasons why this happened and what will be different in your lives and marriage in the future to ensure it doesn't happen again, then it will happen again. If will-power, good intentions and prayers were enough to keep people free from affairs, we wouldn't be having a problem.
Since your husband is using the “God” approach on you, I suggest using the “God” approach back on him. Tell your husband that in Hosea 4:6 the bible says "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge."
You need all the knowledge, wisdom and support you can get, to make it through this difficult time in your life.
If he refuses to discuss his affair, you have no knowledge.
Many couples find healing from affairs without outside input or guidance too difficult. This is where attending a weekend especially designed to help couples heal from affairs can make all the difference. Your marriage and your life is worth it. What price can you really put on healing? To find out more about our Healing From Affairs Weekend click here.
There is nothing wrong with you wanting to check up on your husband until trust can be re-established in your marriage. It would be naïve of you to just believe his words right now. He must earn back your trust through his proven behaviour. A willingness to answer your questions is one way. A willingness to be accountable for his time is another.
Many unfaithful spouses complain about their betrayed spouse’s need for accountability. God forbid there should be any negative consequences felt by them for their behaviour!! They must realize that this is not how the rest of your marriage is going to be for the rest of your lives together, but for a period of time extra accountability is appropriate. There are consequences for their actions. A person who engages in an extramarital affair has lost their right to complete privacy regarding phone bills, time and spending, until they have earned back trust in the relationship, and it takes as long as it takes.
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