Today’s question is one I often hear different variations of–how do I get my husband to forgive me? Maybe you need forgiveness for cheating, or for debt, or for something else big. Here’s one woman’s conundrum:
My marriage is down the drain and mostly it is my fault. My excessive spending and taking loans (which have now amounted to [a significant debt]) without consulting my husband has created a big rift between us that seems unrepairable due to the fact he doesn’t think I will changed.
I must admit that the first time he found out, he tried to forgive, but I did It again and this time he has had it. I no it is going to take time to pay all this debt off but I don’t want to loose my family (we have a 3yr old girl) and my husband because of my selfish actions.
I feel like I am getting depressed by the unhappy environment because we barely talk only when necessary. How do I regain his trust in me and our marriage? This was surely not what I had envisioned for my marriage.
Here’s another one:
Last year my husband was traveling a lot for business and we were having some various marriage problems at the same time. I developed feelings for a neighbor, and we ended up having an affair. I broke it off after a few weeks, but my husband knows, and he’s having a hard time forgiving me. He’s not leaving me because of the kids, but he doesn’t talk to me unless he needs to. I feel so stupid and mad at myself and ashamed for what I did, but no amount of apologizing seems to do any good. What else can I try?
Both these questions have the same root: a wife has done something really horrible and broken her husband’s trust. Now how can she get her husband to forgive her?
Here are a few thoughts:
1. Apologies are Best Expressed in Actions, Not in Words
Saying “I’m sorry” is absolutely necessary when you’ve messed up and you need your husband’s forgiveness. But that’s only the beginning.
What your spouse really wants to know is that you are committed to never having this happen again.
So what can you do to show your spouse that you are changing? In the case of an affair, can you suggest moving or switching jobs if it will take you away from the guy? Can you ask your husband if he will share email accounts or Facebook accounts with you so that he never has to worry about what you’re doing? Can you give him your cell phone and give it up for a while?
In the case of money, can you cut up your credit cards and hand them over? Can you download a spending app on your cell phone that you can share with him to show him where the money is going? Can you consult a debt specialist about the best way to pay off the debt, and then make a plan and share it with your husband, with specific goals that you can show him that you have met? Can you figure out how you can take on the responsibility to pay off the debt, and not leave it all to him? Can you get a part-time job? Start cooking more efficiently and spending less on groceries? Have a massive yard sale?
In other words, putting yourself in a situation where you are accountable and transparent to him, and where he can see that you are serious, will often go much further than a simple apology.
2. Give Him Time to Be Angry
Your husband is really hurt. His trust is broken. You, on the other hand, are desperate to know that your marriage is going to be repaired. And it’s very hard to stand in that limbo time, when your husband is trying to work through his feelings. You’ve already worked through yours; you’re sorry, and you want things back to normal again. You want to put this behind you.
But you need to give him time to grieve. That is his right, and he needs to see that you have changed. That takes time.
In this period of limbo, throw yourself on God. Spend more time on prayer. Read your Bible a lot. Join a women’s Bible study. Find some people who can help support you and who you can talk to while your husband is working through his issues. That way you don’t have to crowd your husband and put pressure on him.
3. Truly Repent
Remember that not only have you sinned against your husband; you’ve also sinned against God. Work through your repentance with God. Read Psalm 51 on a daily basis for a time, and pray through it. Develop some true humility. That will help you work this through.
And as you’re doing that, you’ll be able to accept God’s forgiveness, which is very freeing. No, perhaps your husband hasn’t let it go yet. But you can feel restored by God, and He can help you move forward with that new humility and that new gentleness that comes from recognizing that you are fallible.
4. Do Random Nice Things
It’s tempting when he stops talking to you or when he reacts in anger to act similarly in return. Don’t. Simply be nice. I don’t mean be luvey-duvey; sending him love notes in his lunch is not appropriate, as much as you may want to do this. You can’t force the romance back. But you can get up early and make his coffee before he leaves for work, without demanding a thank you. You can take the car in for an oil change without him having to prompt you. You can buy his mom a birthday card so he doesn’t have to, and leave it for him to sign. You can just simply BE NICE.
You don’t have to announce that you’ve done these things–”did you like me getting coffee for you this morning?”. You can just do them. And gradually, as you treat him well, with respect, you may notice a thawing.
5. Work on Your Friendship
Conversation often returns before the real expressions of love, and that’s to be expected. You only start rebuilding trust one level at a time. Once you are conversing again, and you’re able to be in the same room again, start doing things as friends that don’t require a screen. Get out of the house this summer and go on hikes, or bike rides. Play golf. Do a puzzle. Anything! Just find things that you can do together that are low stress that aren’t necessarily romantic. That way you’re not forcing a relationship; you’re forging a new one.
6. Allow Room for Anger
You may think that several months have gone by, and things are progressing, so he shouldn’t be angry anymore. But it’s often just as you are starting to talk that his anger starts really surfacing. Now he may have a lot of questions–what did you do with that guy? Tell me in detail! What were you thinking when you spent all that money? etc. etc.
When he starts demanding answers, don’t say, “I’ve said I’m sorry! What else can I say? You seem to want to punish me indefinitely!” That may be natural, but he does need time to get his questions out. I’d advise answering them as honestly and succinctly (you don’t need to go into a lot of detail) as you can.
Also, avoid the impulse to defend yourself. “I wouldn’t have had the affair if you had shown some interest in me!” Or “If you hadn’t spent so much time on video games maybe I wouldn’t have felt so lonely!” Those are real issues, and do need to be dealt with. But leave them for another time, or bring them up with a counselor. For now, let him express his anger. Once you have talked about his issues, you can say, “I don’t ever want to be tempted in this way again. Can we talk about how to build our relationship so that neither of us ever strays?” Then you can mention some of your issues–video games, for instance. But leave this until after he has had a chance to deal with his anger.
6. See a Counselor
Finally, when major trust has been broken it’s often a good idea to sit down with a third party and talk things through, especially if your husband has a lot of questions, and you providing answers doesn’t seem to be satisfying him. Sometimes allowing your husband to ask you these questions with a third party present can help you figure out how much to share, and can help put limits on how many questions he could/should ask.
7. Decide What to Tell the Children
I’m a big advocate in not keeping secrets. Children pick up on things anyway, and when they know there is tension in the house, but they don’t know why, they tend to assume that they are the cause of it. Telling your children what you did, at an age appropriate level, is likely a good idea. If you had an affair, for instance, you could tell a young child that Mommy did something that hurt Daddy. That way you’re letting the child know that you are the cause of the tension. If they’re teens, it’s likely a good idea just to be honest. They’ll find out one day anyway. Before you tell the kids anything, of course, talk to your husband about it. Say, “this is what I’d like to tell the children.” But my advice is always to be honest.
During the period of time when your husband is distant from you, it’s tempting to get your emotional needs met from the kids. You’re heartbroken, so you pull them closer. Don’t do this. It’s not emotionally healthy for them. If you have emotional needs, seek out a friend, not your kids.
If your husband sees you accepting responsibility in front of the kids, and not trying to sugar coat things, that will also go further in showing him that you are serious about your apology.
If you’ve messed up your marriage, the road back can be very long. But so many marriages have found themselves even stronger several years down the road because they have worked through these issues, and they’ve learned better communication techniques and put in place more boundaries. So don’t despair!
And ladies, if any of you have ever walked through something similar, and you now find your marriage stronger, can you leave a comment? That will reassure so many of my readers. And if you have any other thoughts, please leave them in the comments, too!