One of the biggest complaints that we hear over and over again is that the unfaithful spouse refuses to talk about the affair or answer any questions about it. It makes sense. No one wants to talk about their mistakes. No one wants to rehearse the details of their bad choices.
But if you are the unfaithful spouse, please understand how important it is for you and your spouse to engage in these difficult conversations about the affair.
Your spouse has just received a fatal blow. She was expecting loyalty, security, and exclusivity in your marriage. To receive the news that she is not your one and only is to receive the news of a death.
It is the death of trust. It’s the death of vows. It’s the death of certainty. It’s the death of the reality she thought she had. It’s the death of what she thought her future would be. There is no body to bury, but she is experiencing the death of a very real thing that she had prior to hearing of your infidelity.
Notice that it is not the death of love. Love is wounded. It now resides on a shaky foundation. But love can be saved and restored and rebuilt on a stronger foundation. If….
If you, the unfaithful spouse, take the necessary steps to repair wounded love.
You’re embarrassed and ashamed of what you did. You may even hate yourself for breaking your vows, for causing your spouse so much pain, for acting contrary to your own moral standards. And so you find it difficult to talk about the event that you know will keep causing both of you pain. That’s understandable.
However, this is a situation that only gets better after it gets “worse.” There won’t be any healing until you clean the wound. And that requires examining the wound. Spending time with it. Understanding it. It can be patched up and healed, but not until it is examined thoroughly by you and your spouse.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that bringing up the affair will be the nail in the coffin of your marriage. In reality the betrayed spouse needs to think about the affair and talk about the affair and particularly, to talk about the affair with the you. You are the only one who can answer her questions. Her mind is traumatized. She is trying to make sense of what she used to believe and what her reality now looks like. She will continue to be confused and emotional until you can provide her with answers.
The truth is, you can be the best resource that your hurt spouse has in the healing process. Yes, it will be one of the most difficult roles you will ever have to fill, but it is completely worth it. You will need to practice heroic levels of patience and gentleness as you seek to answer her questions in ways that help and don’t do more damage. Your spouse’s emotional state is quite fragile at this point. She is probably showing signs of PTSD as her brain tries to make sense of the betrayal.
You should answer her questions with care and concern, being very aware that she may have a variety of reactions to what you say. She may only be able to process part of what you say at a time, which means she will ask the same questions again later. This is normal. She isn’t trying to torment you with her questions. She is desperately searching for the answers she needs. Be thankful that she keeps coming back to you with her questions.
Be thankful that she is still seeking to engage with you. The engagement and conversations may not be going the way you wish they would, but at least the two of you are interacting. That’s the starting place. That’s what makes further healing possible, even if it doesn’t always look like it.
Check in each day with your hurting spouse. Ask her how she’s doing. Ask her if she needs anything from you. Approach her with the care and gentleness that you would if you could see physical injuries on her body after a devastating accident. The injuries to her mental and emotional health are just as devastating. Just as you would not leave your spouse wounded and bleeding on the side of the road after an accident, don’t leave her to mend herself now. Emotional wounds do not heal themselves by being left to themselves. They heal when they are addressed and attended to.
If there was ever a time in your life for you to be brave and do the right thing, this is it. It will require all of your fortitude, courage, and persistence to answer your spouse’s questions. It will require all of your courage to answer with honesty.
Just to be clear, talking with your spouse about the affair is not the time for you to vomit out every painful detail of every interaction you had with the affair partner. This isn’t about you relieving your conscience and getting it all off your chest. Instead, you want to allow her to take the lead regarding how much she believes she needs to know. This is about helping her feel better, not you.
Everything about this situation is complicated. Every interaction requires patience. There are no easy answers. But the couple who truly wants to reconcile and be restored will each put aside their own comfort and make the effort toward mending the relationship.
For the Betrayer, that looks like openly and honestly answering the questions of the betrayed spouse, even though he risks her anger. Even though he risks her judgment. Even though his words will initially cause her great pain. He will come to terms with the fact that the only way forward is to go through the messy middle. The only way to a happy ending is to honestly talk about the truth of what happened so the betrayed spouse can know what she is actually forgiving.
For the Faithful, that looks like holding her tongue when insults and berating comments are the only things she can think of to say. It looks like taking a deep breath, acting like a grown up, and patiently listening to her spouse’s answers. Even though it would feel better to lash out. Even though it would feel better to curl up in the fetal position and cry for the next week. Even though it would feel better to rage to friends and family about what an unfaithful jerk he’s been to you.
That’s not to say you can’t cry, or be angry, or talk with your friends and family. All of those things can be helpful. But choose your timing wisely. Choose your words wisely. This is a time for you to be brave and mature like never before. Even though you’ve been wronged, you still have a choice about how you will respond to the situation.
Complicated isn’t going away for a while. Try to get comfortable with complicated. The more honest, non-hostile conversations the two of you can have together, the more quickly you can work through the situation.
Unfaithful Spouse, do not believe the lie that you shouldn’t tell your spouse everything. Do not believe the lie that she can’t handle the truth. She can handle the truth. What she can’t handle is any more lies from you. Yes, she may need some professional guidance to sort through her emotions and feelings after hearing the truth, but she can handle it.
Don’t you deserve to be loved for who you really are, not just who you’ve convinced her you are?
Doesn’t she deserve to know who she’s really married to, not just be tricked into loving a made up image?
Set aside some time today to see what your spouse needs from you. Encourage her to ask you what she needs to know. Express your remorse for your actions and assure her that you are there to tell her everything she needs to know. Assure her of your love. Assure her of your commitment. There is much hope for any relationship that prioritizes honest communication.