After the Affair
While the world is waiting to hear how much of the Ashley Madison leak is real, there are thousands of couples that are squirming in their seats. Some are tempted to sift through the email addresses just in case there is something they didn’t know about their spouse. Some have felt the pain of betrayal before and are looking for one more piece of evidence to push them into action. Some have done the hard work to heal and can’t decide if they should keep looking forward or risk looking a fool. Some… are wondering if they are finally caught. Whether they ever got on Ashley’s website or not, they are wondering if their name somehow appeared in the digital “book” of adultery.
It’s amazing to think that people would want to get caught but when that much energy goes into keeping secrets and covering evidence, a person can get sloppy. I see it all the time. People don’t usually start off wanting to see their marriage fall apart. The beginning somehow traces back to one tiny, subtle voice that says something like “I deserve this.”
It doesn’t take much. Feeling unseen, under-appreciated, taken for granted- it all builds to a point where a person feels entitled to that one look, that private log-in, that lingering conversation. We should all have a booming alarm in our mind as soon as those thoughts show up. The Ashley Madison event doesn’t so much concern me that people will be caught, that will eventually happen no matter what. People may not get caught this time, but they always do. My thoughts are on those that are wondering if there is hope from the pain of betrayal and the pain of being the betrayer.
I have seen healing come from a broken marriage. I have seen couples go on to rebuild a marriage that is vulnerable, intimate, and in some cases better than before. Although they would never recommend it and wish it were never part of their story, couples can and do heal. Often, though, I am asked by those betrayed, how do I know if it’s worth the energy to rebuild the relationship. Here are a few variables that must be present.
- Both individuals must be open, honest, and ready to do the hard work. There is no room for second guesses here. The betrayer must be all in, or they will continue inflict wounding on their spouse. The betrayed spouse must also be willing to show up. Most of the time, they are the one that carries the most risk in the beginning.
- There can be no time limit put on recovery work. On average, it takes 3-4 years of weekly or bi-weekly counseling to find a couple back in a better place. There is no rush to rebuilding the heart. There will be ups, downs, and re-opening wounds. Like any other death, grief never goes away, it just changes over time.
- Each person will sacrifice much. Just to name a couple, the betrayer must be willing to follow strict rules set up and agreed upon by their spouse. As much as this feels like a parent-child relationship, it is crucial to rebuilding trust again. Every marriage needs rules, and when a big one like loyalty has been broken, you must be willing to go back to the beginning and show you can go to the grocery store by yourself without going somewhere else. The betrayed spouse sacrifices the right to need extra details about the affair that they think would make them feel better. These details are not productive and lead to obsession and paranoia.
Finally, much like the world of addiction, there is hope found in the broken pieces from hitting bottom. It is there that we all see ourselves for who we are. Hope can be found in opening your eyes to see your life unmanageable and you powerless to fix it on your own. There is maturity is recognizing a need for someone bigger than yourself. We will all mess up, every time, on our own. Reach out to someone else for help, or take the bigger step to reach out to a God that loves you despite the number of people you have hurt or failed, including yourself.
Don’t wait to have someone else make your sin public. Far more couples make it when a dishonest person begins to choose honesty before it is too late. For more, see 12 Steps that lead to an Affair/Protecting Your Marriage From an Affair that also include ways you can begin to protect your marriage today.