Rebuilding Trust After an Affair

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It’s probably no surprise that rebuilding trust after an affair can be one of the biggest challenges that a couple ever faces. If you’ve found out recently (and that’s a relative term) that your spouse had an affair, you’re likely to have lots of questions and world full of emotions. In fact, thoughts of “rebuilding trust” may not even be on your radar. You may actually have some of these very common questions instead:

  • How can I ever trust again now that my spouse has betrayed me?

  • How do we make sure this doesn’t happen in the future?

  • What do I do with these crazy emotions?

  • Will I ever be able to forget what I know?

  • I know I need to forgive, but how?

First of all, I want you to know that my heart goes out to you. Nobody goes into marriage thinking that they might cheat on one another. And, no matter how bad things get, we just kind-of expect that they won’t get to the point of an affair.

Please know, that if the two of you are willing to put the work into recovery, you really can have a much stronger marriage than you’ve ever had before. And really, that’s the point. You wouldn’t want to have a marriage like you had in the past or even what it was like at your happiest moment. You want to move toward more commitment and closeness than ever before.

How Can I trust Again After an Affair?

The truth is, you have to trust again to have a successful marriage. Marriage is built on trust and while that trust has been broken through an affair, you must be able to trust your spouse again if you want to remain married.

Typically, just before an affair and for sometime afterward, the spouse who has been offended against is busy looking into the betrayer’s phone, email, internet browser, and any other place they can think of to try and confirm their fears. And while this might actually be how the affair was discovered, at some point, you simply can’t continue those behaviors. You will never be able to fully commit to your spouse while you’re taking on the role of private investigator.

Trust is hard and it takes time, but it has to occur for you to have a healthy marriage.

In the same way, the betraying spouse has to be willing to engage in behaviors that make him or her seem more trustworthy. And, for longer than they’d like, they must be willing to give up passwords to their electronic devices and possibly even completely shut off their social media for a while. By the way, other than top secret job related events you can’t talk about, there’s no reason that your spouse shouldn’t have access to your social media or your phone and email (yep, passwords included).

How Do I Know This Will Not Happen Again?

In all actuality, you can never know 100% without a doubt that your spouse will not cheat again. In fact, you couldn’t have known this when you two got married, you just didn’t have that ugly awareness at the time. You have to decide to take the risk of trusting again. That said, it’s definitely okay to know how to set rules, boundaries, and consequences when those boundaries are crossed, but you can’t really do anything to make sure that an affair will never happen again. Remember point one, you need to have a marriage better than one you’ve ever known before.

What do I do with these crazy emotions?

When an affair occurs in a marriage, the emotions for both the one who had the affair and the one that was betrayed are often intense and unpredictable. I’ve had couples tell me the emotions make them think that they or their spouse now has bipolar disorder. Here’s part of the reason for that.

There’s a grieving that comes when an affair is discovered. The person who had the affair might grieve for his or her actions, grieve the loss of the affair partner, or grieve the loss of time with their spouse. The person who was betrayed may grieve not seeing the signs earlier, the loss of trust, and the broken promises or vows. That grief can escalate if the affair partner was a friend or family member.

One of the best things you can do for those emotions is to get yourself in counseling so you can process those feelings. In fact, couples counseling can be quite helpful during this time as well. You may also try journaling which can be incredibly cathartic. Finally, you want to make sure that you are engaging in self-care by involving yourself in activities that are relaxing to you and distracting. You will think about the affair and the emotions that are wrapped up in it for quite some time, but you must also find ways to distract yourself with happier peaceful thoughts during this time.

Do I need to forget what happened to prove I trust my spouse?

No. Definitely not. And you shouldn’t. You don’t want to get to the place where you forget that your spouse had an affair. You now have a memory that will never go away. In fact, the spouse that cheated needs to understand that they have given you a memory that will never go away. The memory is part of the protective barrier that you can now put around your marriage to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

That being said, eventually, with focused work, you will be far less impacted by the affair as long as the affair truly is cut off. The memory will still be present, but you can both get to the place where you recognize that time as a difficult one that you have grown from. That memory can help you both to consistently turn toward one another in a way that you haven’t so far in your marriage.

I know I need to forgive, but how?

It can be so tough to forgive someone that has hurt you. What’s interesting about that is we actually only have to forgive those that hurt us. No hurt – no need for forgiveness. So, we know when Scripture commands us to forgive, it most certainly applies to those that have hurt us.

How do we know when we’ve forgiven one another? According to Eph. 4:32, it’s when we are kind and compassionate to others. That means we are not holding on to a grudge or looking for a reason to be offended. We’re giving up the right to “get justice” and instead choosing to act lovingly toward our partner.

Remember, if you’ve been through an affair, trust can be rebuilt. I encourage you to work toward this end if at all possible.

Blessings on you and your marriage!

Dr. Jessica

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