It’s a cliche to say “it could happen to anyone”, but I do believe that’s true. While affairs may be more likely to happen in relationships that are distant, that have unresolved conflict, or that have tension sexually, they’re not confined to those relationships. A while ago I wrote how emotional affairs especially can pop up at work, or anywhere men and women naturally spend extended time together. Sometimes people in even good marriages do terrible things.
I remember being stunned when a neighbour of mine announced that her husband was leaving her for another woman. This was a family that did everything together–skiing trips, volunteer work. They had even taken a sabbatical and taken their kids sailing around the world! They were “Family”. Yet the husband met somebody at work, and devastated his wife and his kids in the process.
I have seen affairs happen after couples have put a lot of work into their relationships, and I have seen affairs when the relationship was already a mess. It isn’t always straightforward.
And so today I’d like to talk to the women who find themselves devastated because they’ve discovered their husband’s infidelity (and even if you’re not there, please read along, because chances are all of us know someone who will walk through this one day).
1. Surround Yourself with Help
You’re going to be devastated when your husband confesses he’s having an affair. Sometimes we don’t want to tell anyone because we’re hoping it will all go away; he’ll wake up and realize what a mistake he’s making, and then we can just go forward like nothing happened. Don’t do that. You really need some help. You need someone to talk with, and someone to pray with, and someone who will support you in your feelings.
When you feel sad and betrayed, you tend to want to go to your husband with those feelings because he’s usually the one you talk to about important things. Find someone else. You need to get some perspective.
2. Realize That Just Because Your Husband Is Having an Affair NOW, Your Marriage is Not Necessarily Over
Here’s the most important thing: while Jesus allowed divorce in the case of infidelity, he did not command it. And I know many couples who have survived affairs and emerged strong from it (I won’t say they’ve emerged better, because I don’t believe that; but I do think that God brought good out of the situation and helped them cling together).
One couple I know ended up separating for a year and a half. He needed some time to get his head on straight, and once he did, he realized he didn’t want to lose his family–he chose his wife over the “other woman”. It took several years for his wife to trust him again, but she was eventually able to. That was over fourteen years ago now, and they’re doing great.
Sometimes, too, affairs haven’t even been consummated. Maybe he’s announced that he’s “in love” with someone, and doesn’t know what to do. Physical affairs often begin as emotional affairs, and if he feels “in love”, he may think he needs to confess. But that doesn’t mean that he will necessarily act on it.
That’s why it’s important to look at the individual situation. Is your husband following Christ? Is he open to the Holy Spirit? Is this out of character for him, or is it another in a long line of affairs? Does he check out every woman and make comments about women’s appearance, or has he generally stayed faithful in mind and body beforehand?
Sometimes an affair will signal the end of the marriage, especially if a guy never really has been fully faithful. But other times it’s a mistake that he’s made, and he’s really confused, and really hurting, and it won’t mean that the marriage is over. So do not despair!
3. Take Stock of Your Anger
Now it’s time to deal with the anger that you’re feeling. In some cases, it’s not the affair that leads to the divorce; it’s the anger of the other partner. He confesses, and a big part of him wants the marriage to work, even if he can’t bring himself to say that because he’s so confused. But in her anger she pushes him away and decides that she can never trust him again.
Anger is real. Anger is even justified, I believe, when someone has betrayed you like that. But don’t make decisions in your anger, and, as much as possible, try not to push him away because of your anger. Talk to someone else about your anger. Try to work through it with a mentor. Anger is not a good partner for making decisions.
4. Focus on the Children
When you’re both confused and hurt, the thing that it’s easy to talk about is the affair itself. How could he do this? Why her? Is she better than me?
While there is a time and a place for that, it’s often better to work through the whys and the hows of the affair after you’ve made the decision whether or not you’re going to stay together.
So let’s talk about something on which you have common ground, and which can rescue the relationship: namely, the children. I wrote a post a while back on what to say to a friend who is contemplating leaving her husband. And I suggested that you steer clear of taking about the affair, because the unfaithful spouse can always justify that in his or her mind. So focus on the kids instead. Do we really want to do this to the kids? Do we want to put them through this?
Talk about what you’d like for the kids, and how you’d like them to grow up. And then perhaps it will be easier for him to choose to stay.
5. Don’t Be a Doormat
Finally, don’t be a doormat. While some women react in anger, others do the opposite, essentially saying, “I’ll do anything as long as you stay.” That’s not healthy for the relationship, and it’s likely to backfire, for one simple reason: you can’t respect a doormat. In order for him to stay, he has to want to be with you. He isn’t going to want to be with someone he can’t respect.
The best book I have ever read on this subject is Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson. It walks through how to save a marriage when only one partner wants it saved, usually because the other partner is having an affair. And he goes through the feelings that you’ll experience, shows you how to run to God with your issues, how to find your own pride and your own identity once again as you turn to God in prayer, and shows the most successful route for saving a marriage. He believes that entails allowing the wayward spouse to experience the full consequences of his actions. So rather than lying over and taking whatever he brings in his confusion, you draw clear boundaries. I highly recommend it.
I get emails every week from women who have discovered their husbands are having affairs. Some of these are online relationships; some are at work; some are at church. Some of the scenarios I read and think, “that doesn’t sound like there’s much hope (outside of a miracle)”. This is a pattern for him (and often extended even before the wedding). But others I read and think, “that could be rebuilt”.
If you ever hear that devastating news, I just pray that you will find yourself someone to talk to, read the book, and then pray about what course you will pursue. Reconciliation, if possible, is usually the best option, for you and your kids. But it is not always the best option. And whichever route God leads you through, He will always be there to carry you.
UPDATE: A reader rightly pointed out that I should have had a sixth point, namely, pray! Of course! So sorry. I assumed it throughout the points, but I should have been more up front. But prayer is so needful, especially in these hard times. This is one of those things that you can’t logically think through or logically figure out what to do, because there’s so much going on you can’t see. You need God to work–not just on your husband, but also on you to give you strength to do what’s necessary, in whatever direction. So pray! God will show up.
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