"How do I know whether to end my marriage, or try to make it work after discovering infidelity?"
This is a question I was recently asked via email, and it's one I've been asked many times before.
I decided it would be best to answer this question on the blog because you may be trying to figure that out too.
After all, you have given years of your heart and life to this marriage. And for that reason, it deserves serious, thoughtful consideration.
Ending a marriage is a really difficult decision to make - even after infidelity.
I do think underlying the question, "How do I know whether to end my marriage, or try to make it work?" is another question:
Is there any hope for my marriage after discovering infidelity?
In this article, we'll look at what needs to happen in order to tip the odds of infidelity recovery success in your favor.
However, I do have to say something upfront:
The journey you will need to take to heal yourself and your marriage will not be easy.
But I do think you already know that, right?
Generally speaking, there are 3 things that must be successfully addressed in order to save your marriage after infidelity:
- Your personal recovery
- His personal recovery
- The renewal of an honest, loving marriage bond.
As you can see below, these components of recovery all work together.
So how will you know whether to end your marriage or save it after discovering infidelity?
Since every marriage and infidelity situation is unique, I'm going to give you some general guidelines to consider.
The following guidelines are part of successful marriage recovery after infidelity.
The more of these guidelines you can agree to and work together to achieve, the more likely your marriage will recover and become a loving marriage you treasure.
Let's look at what it takes to recover from infidelity:
1 | BOTH of you mutually agreed that you do not want to lose each other, or your marriage.
You are committed and ready to work on growing your marriage through the creation of a new relationship bond, while also working on personal healing.
You are willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen, even though sometimes you are not quite sure how to do it.
2 | All avenues of unfaithfulness have ended permanently and you agree that your future will be an exclusive, committed marriage.
You both agree on what this means, how this will happen, and that there is a total re-commitment to exclusivity.
(At some point you may want to make your new commitment official by having a vow renewal ceremony.)
Be assured that he will step up and do whatever it takes to keep you in his life if he truly wants to be with you.
That includes making personal changes to regain your trust and respect.
Do not proceed to work on your marriage until you are 100% certain that infidelity has ended.
3 | There is a willingness to have positive, healing conversations with each other by agreeing to the following guidelines.
Healing conversations have very specific conditions that you are both personally responsible for following.
To successfully achieve a positive, healing conversation, both of you will need to manage your emotional reactions to each other.
Sometimes that is so much easier said than done!
It takes a great deal of courage and honesty to have these necessary conversations.
It means the following:
You agree to avoid using negative communication as much as possible
- Avoid angry outbursts - take a time out instead. As often as needed.
- Avoid blame
- Avoid criticism
- Avoid name-calling
- Avoid yelling
- Avoid threats of divorce
- Take your negative thoughts and feelings to your journal, a support group, a counselor, or a trusted friend.
You agree to focus on conversations that promote emotional safety and connection by doing the following:
- Focus on acknowledging and owning your feelings
- Talk about, and ask for what you want and need from each other
- Focus on trying understand your spouse. You don't have to always agree but you do need to try to understand.
- Focus on respecting each other
- Listen, listen, listen, talk
- Pace your infidelity discussions to avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted.
- Set a limit to how long you have relationship talks. 20 or 30 minutes at a time is reasonable.
4 | Get answers to your questions regarding the details of what happened. You deserve to know what happened in your marriage.
Normally, during the early stage of recovery, this information can be difficult to get from him. He may be inclined to avoid answering your questions. He may minimize or deny what happened. He may withdraw.
Continue to use the above Healing Conversations guidelines to support the possibility of open, honest communication.
If getting to the truth continues to be a problem, consider having him take a polygraph.
This builds trust and creates a foundation of honesty - two things you MUST have in order to restore your marriage.
5 | Explore the meaning behind the affair and what lead to his decision to be unfaithful.
- What factors played into his choices?
- Why did he give himself permission to be unfaithful?
He may say he doesn't know why but that is not good enough.
You need to know where the vulnerabilities were within your marriage and within him.
There are so many reasons for one's decision to be unfaithful. It's important for both of you to understand what happened and why it happened.
The above are very general guidelines for repairing your marriage after infidelity. If you can achieve these, you are on the right track.
However, keep in mind that you have experienced a serious relationship trauma.
You will likely need additional help to achieve your goal of full marriage recovery.
My recommendation is that you find a marriage counselor who specializes in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, or EFT.
EFT marriage counseling has proven to be the most successful marriage counseling you can participate in.
Over 30 empirically validated studies show it to be the BEST marriage counseling.
"Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a short-term, systematic, and tested intervention to reduce distress in adult love relationships and create more secure attachment bonds." From the book, "Becoming An Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist" by Susan M. Johnson.
If you are not able to afford to see a couples therapist who specializes in EFT, an alternative would be to purchase the workbook, "An Emotionally Focused Workbook For Couples: The Two Of Us" by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald.
At the time this article was written, this workbook was available on Amazon.com.
While it is best to work with an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist, I understand that not everyone has the financial resources to do this.
Using the above workbook is better than trying to guess what to do to help your marriage.
When we started this discussion, we asked the question, "Can Your Marriage Survive Infidelity?"
Yes, it can.
But it depends on what you and your spouse do to repair and rebuild your emotional connection with each other.
This is not easy by any means.
You will need to learn how to deal with your own personal emotions and responses to him. It will require you to take a risk and reach out to him with love.
But if you still truly love each other and you are both invested in creating a SAFE emotional bond with each other, it may be worth it to try and save your marriage.
Here is a short video on affair recovery from Dr. Sue Johnson, a highly respected researcher and creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
Hope and Healing . . . Roberta Wands, M.A.