How do you rebuild if you’ve cheated on your husband?
Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and today’s is from a woman wondering how to restore a marriage when she was the one that damaged it. Often we talk on this blog about what to do when your husband has had an affair–but sometimes it’s the woman who has strayed!
A reader writes:
Betrayals are not only men- driven. I did cheat on my husband and I won’t excuse here with his depression, tough character, me taking over all of the duties with kids and the house. I did turn into friendship and later affair with another guy. Then told my husband. And this ruined everythig and for a year now we’re trying to glue it together. Unfortunately with his reactions and deepened depression now it seems that fidelity was the only thing he loved in me. We’ve tried church help (marriage retreat- didn’t work very well), couples counseling (therapist switched to individual after three session seeing how much there is to work on, especially on my husband’s side), I’ve cut contact with the guy, came back to seeing my girlfriends that I completely forgot about and I try hard to save not even the marriage but the man I love. No idea how long will it last, but as my friend put it- you should never give up. And don’t be mistaken- I seemed a perfect wife (working mom, organizer of the house and vacations and pretty much everything, I did not like sex, and I was unable to discuss it), and – oh boy- I am working for the catholic church! Again, all by best to you from the other side of the ocean and simply thank You for committing your life to helping others.
Great question! I have written a number of posts on emotional affairs–here’s one:
And today, since I’m in Australia and trying to schedule posts ahead of time, I’m going to rerun a post I wrote a number of years ago on how to regain trust after you’ve had an affair.
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 Grieve
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.
7. 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.
8. 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 don’t necessarily need to say “I had an affair”, but 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 you’re trying to get your husband to forgive 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, and help your husband to forgive you faster.
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–fogiveness is possible!
And ladies, if any of you have ever walked through something similar, and had to get forgiveness from your husband, 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 on how to encourage your husband to forgive you, please leave them in the comments, too!