Why Infidelity Does Not Have to Mean Divorce…

In her 2018 research regarding the demographics of infidelity, Wendy Wang informs readers that 20% of men and 13% of women report having sex with someone other than their spouse while married.  Whether this statistic seems high or low to you, it conveys the fact that infidelity impacts around one third of marriages in the United States. In many of these marriages, the infidelity can lead to divorce, but it does not have to.  The effort that is put into healing from infidelity can often result in a marriage that is stronger, healthier, and more satisfying than it has ever been. This article is not meant to minimize the pain and negative impact that infidelity can cause, but to instill hope.  It is important to focus on how this pain and agony can be transformed into something magnificent. 

After walking with many couples through this painful process, I have found that healing from infidelity, while keeping a marriage intact, often involves learning skills that may have not been fully practiced or utilized in the marriage.  The process of fighting for their marriage after an affair forces couples to master these skills.    

The first of these skills in the process of healing a marriage after infidelity is forgiveness.  Although this seems straightforward and obvious, there are often many layers of unforgiveness in a marriage that have not been resolved.  Developing the skill of forgiveness needs to first focus on the immediate hurt, but then encompass additional hurts that each spouse may be carrying with them.  In order to forgive one another, the couple must build an understanding of what happened. Understanding infidelity involves the painful process of asking and answering questions regarding the affair, with the end goal of building compassion and love towards one another.  Once the couple is good at forgiving one another for any hurt regarding the infidelity, they are able to continue to practice the skill of forgiveness in their marriage, stopping the build up of hurt and isolation.  

Another skill that is often not practiced enough in marriage, but is highlighted when infidelity happens, is taking responsibility for any wrong one might have done.  If spouses are not intentional about this there can be a negative pattern that develops where …Validate the other person’s pain, admitting that one is wrong, caring more about the other person than about “winning”

Building trust is often not a skill that couples pay attention to until that trust has been broken.  However, in any marriage intentionally building trust is vital. Building trust involves being open and honest, or worthy of trust, as well as choosing to trust.  As people, we automatically look for proof to substantiate our assumptions. If one is thinking and deciding that their spouse is being unfaithful, they will be hypersensitive to anything that might seem suspicious.  Conversely, if one is confident in the faithfulness of their spouse, despite past failures, they will be aware of ways in which their spouse if proving their faithfulness. Choosing trust builds a marriage that is free from suspicion and jealousy.  It may seem counter intuitive to think trust could be stronger after an affair has occurred, but the intentional effort put into earning trust and choosing trust after infidelity can actually strengthen the foundation of trust in a marriage.  

An additional aspect of healing from infidelity is learning to communicate feelings effectively. This is difficult because it involves first being able to identify what one is feeling, and then describing those feelings in words so that the other person can understand.  Effective communication also includes developing skills to learn how to listen and respond well to the attempts of someone trying to express themselves. This level of self-awareness and open communication is not something that we regularly practice. It takes intentional practice and effort to make it a regular pattern in a relationship.  However, when these skills are successfully developed and utilized, the individuals in a marriage feel heard, understood, and cherished. 

Effectively healing a marriage after infidelity also involves identifying negative patterns in the relationship, identifying vulnerabilities, inspecting boundaries, and ultimately identifying how to be emotionally present for one another.  These skills can continually be honed and practiced, enriching and strengthening the marriage. Yes, infidelity is painful and life shattering. Healing from infidelity takes time and intentional work. But the result of this effort has the potential to transform a marriage into something incredible.