If you or your spouse hav recently found out about an affair, you likely have several questions that you desperately need answered. Here are some of the most popular questions I’ve heard regarding affairs and affair recovery.
What is an affair?
While “what is an affair,” isn’t one of the top ten questions that couples ask, it can be helpful to understand this term before we start answering the top questions that couples have.
Infidelity or an affair is the voluntary action of having a sexual relationship with someone other than your spouse. This may or may not include an emotional connection. But, an emotional connection only is just as dangerous (if not more so) than a physical affair with someone.
An emotional affair is a connection with someone that is characterized by sharing your thoughts, emotions, and dreams with someone other than the person you’re married to. While people often find some solace in not committing a sexual affair, emotional affairs are just as heavy for the spouse who has been betrayed.
1. Why do Christians cheat?
There can be several reasons that a Christian will cheat on their spouse. They may cheat because there has been a lack of sexual or non-sexual connection for quite some time, because of poor communication between the couple, unresolved conflict, unforgiveness for past hurts in the relationship, or unrealistic expectations in the marriage that has led to dissatisfaction.
No matter the reason though, if your spouse has cheated on you, your spouse has a sin problem. Statistically, around half of marriages in Christian and non-Christian relationships will have at least one partner that has had an affair.
Unfortunately, being a Christian doesn’t save you from temptation or from acting out in sinful ways. But keep reading because in a moment I’ll talk about ways you can safeguard your marriage from affairs.
2. How long does it take to recover after an affair?
Keep in mind that all we can offer is statistics, but each couple will recover at their own pace. This means that the “general rule” here may or may not apply to you. This is a guideline only!
Generally speaking, the recovery from the affair will take just about as long as the partner took to start and end the affair. For instance, if your spouse had a six month affair, it is highly likely that you’ll need a minimum of six months to recover from the affair. Recovery officially begins when the affair is over.
A couple of caveats: You should expect that a one-night stand will not take just one evening of “working through” of the affair. And, you can also rest easy knowing that a history of stepping out that lasted for several years with back and forth affairs, may take less time to heal. Even so, healing from long lasting affairs or stepping out isn’t something that you can be 100% sure about and the process can’t really be rushed.
3. My spouse is acting like everything is already better. What gives?
One of the more difficult parts of recovery is feeling like the spouse that stepped out is more quickly at a place of healing. This can cause the spouse that was betrayed to feel undervalued and unloved.
One of the reasons that the person who had the affair seems to heal more quickly than the betrayed is because they have dealt with the grief of their own sins for a little bit longer. For instance, many people who have stepped out on their marriage will talk about the relief that comes when the spouse finds out. For many, this is the first step in admitting their sin and seeking forgiveness.
The spouse that was betrayed has much further to go. The cheating spouse could think about the possible ramifications for several months before they were caught. This gives the cheating spouse the opportunity to think about how they might heal the relationship. The betrayed spouse, on the other hand, has to deal with the shock or realization that they had been betrayed. This can lead to questions about what other things the spouse has lied about. The betrayed spouse cannot begin processing what has happened until the moment they find out about the betrayal.
This means that if you’re the one who had the affair, you must give your spouse adequate time to heal from your betrayal and cannot expect that your spouse will not feel relief as quickly as you do.
4. Is it normal to feel like I’m “going crazy?”
Couples often ask if it’s normal to feel like they’re “going crazy.” In fact, I’ve heard many couples say that it feels like they have bipolar disorder after hearing about their spouse’s affair because of the way they suddenly experience rapid mood changes. And yes, it is normal.
There is a two-fold reason for these new mood changes. First, you have been through a traumatic event. Learning that your spouse has been unfaithful can be absolutely devastating. The trauma of the event can make it seem impossible to have any stability in your mood. And secondly, you are going through a process of grieving what you thought the relationship was. Many times, the betrayed spouse feels like they’ve not only been deceived about this other person, but that the entire relationship has been a lie.
You can expect your mood to change rapidly and often while you work through the grief and trauma of the affair.
5. how do I trust again after my spouse’s affair?
Begin by making a commitment to one another. This commitment should affirm that neither of you will ever have an affair from this day forward. This includes the emotional affairs that we mentioned earlier and any straying thoughts or fantasies about affairs. No pretending or role-playing with your spouse either. Get rid of all of those behaviors.
This is not a time to say, “I’ll try not to have an affair” or to use the excuse of, “nobody can make that promise with certainty.” This is a time to say, hands down, without reservation, “I will not have an affair.”
Next, promise not to keep secrets, especially those that are of a sexual nature. Infidelity can only happen in secrecy. Find a same-sex friend that shares your values to be an accountability partner for you. No more secrets!
Finally, set some limits for your interactions with opposite-sex friends. Don’t complain about your spouse or share intimate details with an opposite-sex friend. It is highly likely to have attractions for someone that you share this information with which is why its so important to keep these discussions out of your opposite-sex friendships. Furthermore, those complaints in general can keep you from seeing the positive or experiencing positive change. It’s best to only have these discussions with your spouse or with your spouse and a trusted counselor or coach who is committed to helping you recover.
Rebuilding the trust in your relationship is paramount to the health of your relationship. For tips how to do this, see this article.
6. Is it possible to be happily married after an affair?
I’ve got some great news for you! Research actually shows that couples who have been through the recovery process from an affair have a happier and more fulfilling relationship than those that have never been through an affair.
How can this be???
Well, for starters, I truly believe that when a couple is able to show the grace and forgiveness that is so representative of Christ’s character, we can’t help but feel a greater level of happiness in our relationship. Plus, I believe there’s a Biblical principle at play. Scripture tells us that what God joins together, man cannot separate. That includes the issues and problems we each bring to the marriage. With God’s help, marriages can definitely thrive after an affair.
Another reason is that couples that are willing to go through the hard work of affair recovery will find that they are gaining a much deeper understanding of one another than most couples ever have and they are placing safeguards and boundaries in the relationship that provides a higher level of protection and intimacy. Couples that work through affairs often find that one of the best byproducts of their work is their new ability to be completely honest and vulnerable with one another. After all, it’s that vulnerability that really creates intimacy.
Still not convinced though? It could be helpful to view some success stories so you’ll know hope really does exist for repairing the marriage and being much happier than you were before discovery of the affair.
7. How do we actually hear from the affair?
It can be incredibly helpful to seek a knowledgeable and caring therapist. Recovery takes a lot of work and dedication. A therapist can make sure that you are not getting into a cycle of conflict that keeps you from repairing the relationship. Make sure that you go to someone that is licensed and that is knowledgeable about working with couples through the process of affair recovery. Also, make sure that you understand your counselor’s role. Are they in favor of saving the marriage?
You don’t want to end up in the care of someone who is not willing to fight for your marriage with you. See this article with a list of questions to ask before you begin working with your next therapist.
Next, be ready to take a journey through forgiveness of multiple pains that each of you have felt in the relationship. This can be a difficult proposition for the one that was betrayed, but true recovery means that both of you will need to be honest about the past hurts in the relationship, and you must both be willing to work through apologies and forgiveness.
Finally, seek some spiritual guidance. A pastor that wants to stand with you or another Christian couple can be a great encouragement to you during this time of healing. Consider attending a Bible study together or going back to church if it’s been a while. Healing takes time, but there is nobody quite like the Holy Spirit, to provide the comfort that you’ll need during this time.
8. How long after the affair before we’re ready to have sex again?
Couples often wonder what it will look like practically to have sex again. One partner may want to quickly resume sexual activity while the other feels too hurt. Other times the couple will want to avoid sex, or they’ll want to quickly rush into honeymoon-type sex after discovery of the affair in hopes to quickly repair the relationship.
This is one of those areas where there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. For some couples, there is such a large emotional disconnect that sex feels emotionally painful for them. For other couples, soon after discovery, they are both ready to be intimate as often as possible. Neither one of these approaches are wrong.
The most important factor to consider is to not push your spouse to do something that they are uncomfortable with. Oxytocin, which is produced and released during sex, can bring a great amount of healing to the relationship. So, returning to sex can provide healing like nothing else during the affair recovery process.
Here’s the rest of the story:
Oxytocin isn’t really released if there is a lack of trust in the relationship. In other words, if so much hurt exists that the couple cannot trust one another or intimately connect, sex can actually do harm to the relationship by creating more of a barrier between the couple.
This is why it’s important to talk about how you each feel about sex and determine together (and possibly with a therapist) if a return to the sexual relationship will be helpful. For example, having sex because you’re afraid your spouse will cheat if you don’t, or having sex because you believe your spouse owes it to you because they slept with someone else are both really bad reasons for having sex. But, having sex because you feel distant and want to feel more connected, or having sex because you’re grateful that you guys are trying to figure out how to work on your relationship can be really great reasons to be intimate again.
Talk about it and if sex feels like a good decision, go ahead. And, if after sex you feel resentment or hurt, talk about it with one another and with a therapist that can help you sort out those feelings. A return to intimacy is absolutely possible. It just may take a little bit of work.
9. I’ve been told Christians can’t divorce. Is that true?
Technically, divorce is always an option. Nobody can force you to stay married. You really do have a choice.
That being said, divorce shouldn’t be your immediate go-to. After disclosure of an affair, you need time to process this information before rushing down to your nearest attorney to have divorce papers drawn up. Like I said in question #2, it takes time to heal from an affair and rushing into divorce could be a decision that you really regret later. Generally speaking, you should give yourself six months to a year of working on the relationship before deciding divorce is the only option.
So, give yourself some time to process and heal before you decide if you’re going to seek a divorce. And, while you do so, look to see if your spouse is repentant or if they tell you that they will be maintaining the relationship with the affair partner. This will definitely influence your decision regarding divorce.
Whatever you decide, if you think divorce might be the answer, I encourage you to seek out counseling, wise counsel from friends, direction from a spiritual leader in your life, and much personal prayer.
10. How do I know that my spouse won’t have another affair?
I really wish that there was a good answer to this or a specific set of behaviors to watch for during the recovery process to know for sure what the odds are of your spouse cheating again. Honestly though, as already stated, an affair points to a heart issue, not a behavioral issue.
This means that there is very little assurance that your spouse will never cheat again. You can certainly ask for that promise and try to assess your spouse’s commitment to that promise, but there still are no firm guarantees.
That’s actually one of the reasons that a couple should put boundaries around their relationship after an affair and should do the deep processing that’s needed to understand how the affair started. Counseling can really help with this part of the process.
Ultimately, trust will continue to build over time. But, if you cannot ever trust your spouse again or refuse to believe that your marriage can be saved, there is little chance of your marriage surviving. Part of rebuilding your marriage means starting to build trust in your spouse even though they betrayed you in the past.
If you and your spouse are currently working through an affair, see if counseling is the next right step for you.
Blessings on you and your marriage!