Marriage is beautiful, but it is hard. Marriage after infidelity is even harder. If two people love each other enough to work through that infidelity, it can be beautiful again. But it will undoubtedly take time. The wounds of infidelity are deep, and the victim of the adultery will need time to mend and eventually forgive. The adulterer will need time to reflect on their mistakes, and show the remorse necessary for forgiveness to occur.
It could take months. It could take years. It could take decades. The pacing of the progress after an affair will vary from marriage to marriage.
Let’s say you’ve done the work with your spouse, gotten to a place of forgiveness and trust, and are looking to the future through optimistic lenses. What can you expect? What should you be wary of? What can you be proactive about? All doesn’t have to be lost after a partner chooses to cheat. It can be repaired, but only through continuous and diligent hard work from both parties of the marriage. Any married couple should continue to work on their relationship, but those that have experienced infidelity should take that work even more seriously.
Counseling, counseling, and more counseling
With all of the information that we have access to as a culture, we tend to ask for help less and less. There are plenty of websites that can tell us what to do after a marriage is rocked by adultery, so why go see a professional that will use a lot of the same tactics? Because that professional is trained to give objective advice. Not only are they able to give objective guidance, but they can provide a form of accountability to both of the individuals involved. At every appointment, they can hold both parties of the marriage to a standard of respect and non-judgment.
This is no doubt an essential tool directly after infidelity has occurred, but it may be even important years after the initial affair. The more time that passes, the more you will need reminders and suggestions to deal with the aftermath of the situation. If you and your partner think that you’ve “gotten over the hump” and can take it from there, you may be opening yourself up to a potential downfall. Your therapist has put a practice in place that your marriage has trusted to sustain itself for some time. By pulling the plug on that consistent source of non-judgmental advice and guidance, you may find yourself settling back into the old themes of distrust and resentment. This is not to say that you can’t make it if you’re not seeking help from a therapist; it is just pointing out what a tremendous resource that objective point of view can be to your relationship.
Be aware of your distrust
If you are the person that was wronged in the affair, no one will blame you if you have the nagging thought of “what if it’s still going on?” It’s natural. It’s a defense mechanism to your scorned heart.
But if you and your partner have worked to a place where you have forgiven them and they have shown their remorse, you have to be acutely aware of that nagging question in the back of your mind. It will show up from time to time, but you need to do your best to negotiate your way out of it. If years have passed and you’ve both accepted the terms of your marriage and what has occurred, you can’t live your life waiting for them to screw up. As hard as it is, you need to trust them with everything. You need to be open and vulnerable and everything else that love requires. By closing yourself off and questioning their every move, your relationship is no healthier than it was at the time of the affair.
They may be unfaithful again. They may repeat the same offense as they have before. That’s on them. You can’t control their actions. You can, however, show them love, respect, and appreciation. You can show them that you trust them. If they take advantage of it, then that’s just the type of person they are. If you don’t think you can get to a place of genuine trust and faith in your relationship, then you have one option…leave. You won’t find peace in your marriage if you’re constantly worried about what your spouse might do behind your back.
Consciously check in with your partner
Be intentional about checking in with your husband or wife’s level of happiness within the marriage. It’s a very real possibility that someone may have cheated because they were miserable with the circumstances of the relationship at that time. On top of that, the person who was cheated on will certainly be unhappy with the state of the marriage after the affair occurs.
To avoid future affairs and deceit, have honest conversations every 6 months or every year that take inventory of each other’s satisfaction in the relationship. The last thing you want is to wait 5 years and then ask each other if you’re happy. Time usually puts distance between partners in any relationship; two partners that have been affected by infidelity will undoubtedly drift even further apart over time if feelings and emotions go unchecked. Think of it as a State of the Union address, but for your marriage.
They say that time heals all, but it’s not a given. Any time that is spent together after an emotional or physical affair needs to be handled with care. Don’t let time pass and hope that things will smooth themselves out. Take hold of that time and use it as wisely as possible with your husband or wife. Just because you have worked past the initial blow of adultery, don’t be fooled into thinking that you are in the clear. See a counselor, be hyper-aware of your emotions (both positive and negative) as time passes, and check in with each other on a timely basis. Consistent and intentional action towards bettering your relationship is non-negotiable for every marriage; one inflicted with infidelity needs this work more than ever.