By Jesse Masson
Few things are more damaging for a person than finding out a spouse is no longer the person they believed them to be.
In fact, infidelity (sexual or emotional) in the marriage sends such a shock wave through one’s perception of truth that it now requires a re-analysis of what’s believable.
When someone is the recipient of this kind of betrayal, their pain is shadowed by shame, embarrassment, and anger. They’re uncertain about what they believe and feel everything in life now demands evidence.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]Reconstructing a marriage isn’t going to be quick like a jet ski, but more like an ocean liner—slow to redirect, but once set, can stay the course amidst some heavy storms.[/epq-quote]They may even find themselves checking their spouse’s whereabouts during the day because they can no longer trust the assumed daily routine.
Trust can’t be forced to rebuild a marriage impacted by infidelity. It must be earned back.
When—not if—you, as a church leader, find yourself meeting with a couple in the wake of infidelity, here are five aspects of marriage recovery to emphasize as you encourage them toward healing.
1. Honest and open communication
It was dishonesty that broke trust in the relationship. That will have to change immediately with the truth—and the whole truth.
This is important for two reasons. First, it’s the tendency for the betraying spouse to hide certain facts out of fear of causing further pain for the offended spouse. Second, spouses deserve to know everything about one another as partner in a covenant-marriage.
Because a response—whether honest or deceitful—requires trust in order to be accepted, the betrayer’s word may no longer carry much weight. The need for proof is a necessary step in trust recovery.
This may look like handing a phone over upon random requests to view search history or texts. It may require internet filters in place for home computers and mobile devices. Submitting to accountability with real people will be beneficial for the betrayer’s corrective behavior and the offended spouse’s peace of mind.
I can’t tell you how many offended spouses come into my office and explain to me how little effort their partner seems to put forth in a restoration process.
Likewise, the betraying spouse usually seems confused since they’re doing all the recommended things required for the retribution.
The effort is never about what task is being done, as much as how it’s being done. If the offending spouse’s efforts are reduced to a task list, the betrayed spouse will notice and feel as though their partner isn’t serious about regaining trust in the marriage.
Discouragement can lead to further frustrations in the marriage. Encourage both parties—if truly seeking reconciliation—to move forward and toward love.
This aspect is all about persevering. As I often tell couples in my office who are reeling from betrayal: “Reconstructing this marriage isn’t going to be quick like a jet ski, but more like an ocean liner—slow to redirect, but once set, can stay the course amidst some heavy storms.”
This can be frustrating as both spouses would like to have a quick recovery and re-installment of trust into the marriage. This is usually when I also tell them, “The quickest shortcut is to realize there is no shortcut.”
Many instances in marriage therapy have made this clear: The offended or betrayed spouse is the one who gets to decide when you are trustworthy again.
If I’m a compulsive liar, why should my wife have a quick-turned heart to trust me after I’ve proven myself for just a few weeks? It may take months or even years to restore trust in a marriage after it has been shattered. Experts say affair recovery can take anywhere between two to five years of constant effort.
It’s important for spouses to gauge how well the betrayer is performing the necessary steps, and if the offended spouse perceives those actions to be genuine and lovingly meeting the need for earning back trust.
As an unbiased, third party you can help sort out issues of hurt due to mistrust. Encourage the couple to invest in their marriage by working under the professional guidance of a counselor.
It’ll take hard work, perseverance, and an attitude of humility, but healing can happen.
JESSE MASSON (@JesseMasson) lives in Kansas City with his wife, Julie, and their three children. He works with MyCounselor.Online, a Christian counseling organization that offers in-office and video professional counseling.