If There’s Been Infidelity…

Few things are more devastating or destructive to a marriage than infidelity.

It’s worse than the death of a spouse, because when a spouse dies, it’s not intentional, it’s not a betrayal, and you don’t keep running into them or dealing with them.

Infidelity…

  • Wrecks a dream.
  • Destroys trust.
  • Fractures a bond.
  • Taints communication.
  • Poisons the relationship.

It’s like a jet plane ramming into the twin towers of marriage, leaving massive destruction in its wake.

THE STATS

A July 2020 post in Psychology Today, titled “Infidelity: Figuring It Out,” gives the followings stats on infidelity:

  • 22% of married men admit to straying at least once.
  • 14% of married women admit to straying at least once.

And the rates are probably higher when you include emotional and sexual involvement apart from intercourse.

THE DEFINITION

When you think of infidelity, you typically think of someone having intercourse with someone other than their spouse/partner. But infidelity encompasses more than just intercourse outside of marriage.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines infidelity as: “The action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner.”

Any time a person turns to someone other than their spouse/partner to secretly meet their emotional and/or sexual needs, it can be viewed as infidelity.

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

Here are some things you need to know about infidelity…

Infidelity produces deep and excruciating pain.

There is no pain as intense as being betrayed by the person you exclusively trusted with your body and soul. As I said, it’s a pain greater than losing your spouse to death…because death is not an intentional choice against you.

Infidelity puts trust on life-support.

Trust is the lifeblood of any relationship. Without it, the relationship can’t survive. The revelation that your spouse has secretly turned to someone else for emotional and/or sexual satisfaction leaves trust in shambles and the hope of rebuilding trust questionable.

Some marriages cannot survive infidelity.

Though I have helped many couples work through infidelity and go on to build a strong marriage, some marriage cannot survive that kind of betrayal. Sometimes it’s because the spouse that cheated can’t do what it takes to rebuild trust, and sometimes it’s because the spouse that was betrayed can’t get past what happened and trust their spouse again. (More on this below.) Either way, not every couple survives infidelity. Perhaps this is why even the Bible lists infidelity as an acceptable reason for a marriage to end.

Some marriages can survive infidelity.

As I said above, I’ve helped many couples work through the pain of infidelity. It’s a long and difficult process, but if both spouses are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, the marriage can not only be saved…it can become stronger and better than ever.

Infidelity is a message about the spouses and their marriage.

I’m not excusing the infidelity. (I’ll get to that in a minute) But there was something going on with the individual spouses and the way they were relating to one another that set an environment conducive to infidelity. One of the keys to remaking a better marriage after the infidelity is to understand what was happening to create that environment and to work to change it.

Infidelity is a choice, and cannot be blamed on anything or anyone other than the person who chose to be unfaithful.

As I said above, infidelity cannot be excused. The unfaithful spouse could have chosen other options. They could have expressed their dissatisfaction with their spouse or the marriage. They could have confessed their temptation to stray and asked for help. The unfaithful spouse could have gone to counseling or insisted that the two of them go to marriage counseling. Ultimately, they could have ended the marriage if they were that unhappy. There are always choices other than betraying your spouse. The responsibility for the infidelity lies squarely on the shoulders of the one who chose to be unfaithful.

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO

Infidelity does not have to end a marriage. If both spouses are willing to commit to one another, seek counseling, and do the hard work, they can rebuild a new and better marriage.

With the help of a counselor, here’s what spouses need to do to work through infidelity…

Resist/Reject.

From the very outset, the unfaithful spouse must completely resist all impulses to contact the infidelity partner in any way. They must also reject all attempts for the infidelity partner to contact them. All contact between the two must be cut off for rebuilding to work. Realistically, this will not be easy for an unfaithful spouse. They have experienced something exciting and seemingly fulfilling with this other person, and even if they cut off all contact, they will still grieve the loss. This is hard for the betrayed spouse to watch, but it’s a natural part of the process.

Reveal.

Once the infidelity has come out into the open, every detail must be revealed.

When I’m helping couples recover from infidelity, I have one session in which the spouse who was betrayed can ask their spouse any and every question they feel necessary…even down to questions about the times, places, and types of sex they had. Admittedly, this is painful for both spouses, but the greatest pain has already been inflicted with the infidelity. If the trust is ever to be restored, there can be nothing hidden or secret. This type of revealing also helps the betrayed spouse eventually get past asking incessant questions that can eventually damage the recovery process.

Review.

Once every question has been asked and everything has been disclosed, then the couple needs to move on to reviewing their marriage…from the beginning to where things began to run off the rails.

Typically, there’s a subtle drift between spouses. Often, this drift begins with the onset of kids and career focus. Spouses begin to talk less and take each other for granted. Fatigue becomes a bigger factor. The sexual relationship is given less and less attention. Stressors and tensions slowly increase.

Whatever the reasons, spouses need to review the evolution (or devolution) of their marriage to understand what happened to set the stage for infidelity.

Rebuild.

Having done the review, the couple then must change the habits and structures that contributed to the weakening of their marriage. This may include…

  • Working on new communications skills and strategies.
  • Investing more in childcare or other systems so they can spend more time together.
  • Developing better conflict resolution skills.
  • Getting some individual counseling for personal issues that might be causing problems in the marriage.

Working through infidelity is hard, but just working through infidelity without doing the work of rebuilding a better marriage simply sets the stage for future failure.

A WORD OF WARNING

I believe it’s possible for a marriage to survive infidelity with counseling and hard work. But there are some couples who come to counseling to work through infidelity that don’t make it. When this happens, it’s typically for one of two reasons…

  • The spouse who was unfaithful can’t tolerate the scrutiny necessary to rebuild trust. For a while, the unfaithful spouse has to be totally open with their whereabouts, their cell phone, their social media passwords, etc. Their life has to be under a microscope for a while so that their spouse can rebuild trust. If they can’t tolerate this scrutiny, they won’t be able to rebuild.
  • The spouse who was betrayed can’t let go of the offense and move forward. When the unfaithful spouse has done everything they can to prove they’re trustworthy, the responsibility for moving forward then shifts to the spouse who was betrayed. The betrayed spouse then must choose to forgive, let go, and move forward. If the betrayed spouse can’t do that, the marriage probably won’t survive.

These two things can ultimately wreck a couple’s attempts to recover from infidelity.

A FINAL WORD

This is what I want you to understand…

If there’s been infidelity…it doesn’t have to be the end of the marriage.

That’s not to say that every marriage will survive infidelity, but they can, with counseling, hard work, and support. That’s both my goal and my prayer.

If You Can’t Get Over How They’ve Hurt You… (Part 1)

We all dream of a marriage where there’s lots of fun, good connection, deep understanding, frequent sex, abundant money, perfect kids, beautiful rainbows, and dancing unicorns.

But marriage can be as much a battleground as a playground at times because spouses will hurt each other from time to time. You can’t live with someone, day in and day out, and not…

  • Get your feelings hurt.
  • Feel devalued.
  • Be misunderstood.
  • Feel put down.
  • Be taken for granted.

Before we look at how to get past the hurt, we need to understand it.

UNINTENTIONAL HURT.

Most of the time, spouses hurt one another unintentionally. They don’t mean to inflict harm on one another. It just happens…like stubbing your toe or stepping on a Lego.

Most unintentional hurt comes from three basic differences between spouses:

Family of Origin.

We tend to underestimate how much our upbringing contributes to our marital hurt. For instance:

  • If you were raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of unacceptable anger, but your spouse was raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of lively discussion…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.
  • If you were raised in a family where both spouses jumped in to keep the house clean, but your spouse was raised in a family where one spouse was responsible for the house and the other for the outside…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.

Personality.

It’s funny how the personality we fell in love with often winds up being the personality we’re frustrated with. For instance:

  • If your personality is to be very structured and planned, but your spouse’s personality is to be very free-wheeling and spontaneous…you’re going to see your spouse as inconsiderate and hurtful at times.
  • If your personality is to be very private with most things, but your spouse’s personality is to be very open with most things…you’re going to butt heads and feel some hurt.

Stressors.

Both you and your spouse deal with different pressures and stressors in life. These pressures and stressors can easily leak out in your interactions with one another, causing unintentional hurts.

  • If your boss has been on your case with one demand after another, a request for help from your spouse might cause you to react with an icy, do-it-yourself tone of voice…leaving your spouse wounded.
  • If you’ve spent the day with kids clamoring for your attention and climbing all over you, your spouse’s sexual advance may be met with a cold, back-off-before-you-lose-that-hand kind of response…leaving your spouse rejected and hurt.

All of these are unintentional hurts, but they need to be talked through and worked out.

But what if the hurt is intentional?

INTENTIONAL HURT.

There may be times when spouses will hurt each other intentionally. Where unintentional hurt is like stubbing your toe, intentional hurt is like sticking out your foot to trip each other.

Intentional hurt typically occurs when we’re…

Trying to Defend Ourselves.

If we are feeling attacked, our automatic response is often to defend ourselves. For instance, if your spouse comes at you and wants to know why you haven’t unloaded the dishwasher, your first reaction might be to say “I’m sorry.” If they continue to press, your defensiveness goes up and you begin to make excuses for why you didn’t unload the dishwasher. But if your spouse continues to press, you might lash out in anger and say something like, “I’m not your servant! If you weren’t so busy staring at your phone you could do it yourself!” Though it was said in the heat of the moment, this was an intentional hurt inflicted on your spouse.

Trying to Get Even.

If our spouse has hurt us in some way (intentionally or unintentionally) we might react in such a way as to hurt them back. This is often done in a very passive-aggressive way.  For instance, suppose you’ve asked your spouse repeatedly to let you know when they’re on their way home from work, but they never seem to remember. You might try to get even by: not preparing dinner, going out with your friends and not letting them know when you’ll be back, or not picking up the phone when they’re trying to get in touch with you. These are all passive-aggressive attempts to get even with your spouse.

Trying to Get Our Needs Met…Apart From Our Spouse.

This category can involve getting involved in habits or hobbies our spouse does not enjoy. But mostly this refers to emotional and/or sexual infidelity. It’s when a spouse seeks to meet an emotional or sexual need with someone other than their spouse. Spouses who have done this will tell you they never intended it to happen. This can make it sound like the hurt they inflicted with their infidelity was unintentional. But somewhere they made an intentional choice to step outside of the marriage, making it an intentional hurt. (Note: we will have more to say on infidelity in a later post.)

As I said at the beginning of this post, spouses will hurt each other from time to time. Hopefully, it’s more unintentional than intentional, but it will happen. The quicker we can recognize when and why this happens, the easier it will be to fix and avoid it in the future.

But sometimes the hurt (big or small) will stick with us. We take it personally…to a fault. The hurt cuts so deep we can’t seem to forget it or get over it.

When this happens, what can we do? I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this post is already too long. So, you’ll need to check out the next Normal Marriage post to find out!

If You’re Attracted to Someone Else…

Let’s cut to the chase. There will be times when we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse. We don’t like to admit it, but it happens. We see someone and do a double-take. We’re with a group of people and find ourselves drawn to someone’s humor, personality, or interests.

This is normal and typically not a problem. But when that attraction gets out of hand, we start comparing this person’s positive traits to our spouse’s negative traits. We become more and more distant and dissatisfied with our spouse. This signals a move from normal attraction to fatal attraction, and we need to do something.

But before we can do something about an unhealthy attraction, we must understand it.

WHY ARE WE ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE?

In general, we are attracted to someone else when…

  • We see something we like. – Maybe we’re attracted to a certain look, style, or body shape. Perhaps we’re attracted to their personality or attitude. Maybe we’re attracted to the way they carry and conduct themselves. Whatever it is, we see something we like and we find it attractive.
  • The person is different from what we’re used to. We become so used to our spouse’s looks, behaviors, and attitudes that someone different feels refreshing and inviting.
  • Our relationship with our spouse is not going well. When our relationship with our spouse is stagnant or frustrating, it’s easier to be attracted to someone else. The attraction feels like a reaction for the other person, but it’s actually a reaction against our marriage’s current state.

WHEN IS BEING ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE A PROBLEM?

Normal attraction becomes a problem when…

  • We think about the other person when they’re not there.
  • Our thoughts about the other person are increasing.
  • We compare the other person to our spouse in a way that is negative toward our spouse.
  • We start fantasizing about the other person.

When we do these things regularly and increasingly, we move from a normal attraction to a hurtful attraction. It becomes an unhealthy affair of the mind, and it will hurt our relationship with our spouse.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO WHEN WE’RE ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE?

When we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse, there are three things we need to do:

Remember.

Here are some things we need to remember when we’re attracted to someone else:

  • The attraction is not a call to action.
  • Reality will never measure up to our fantasy.
  • Those attractive differences would eventually aggravate. (Just as they did with our spouse?)
  • We’re only seeing the good side of the person. There’s another side we’re not seeing.

Refocus.

When we find ourselves strongly attracted to someone other than our spouse, we need to refocus on…

  • All the things we like about our spouse…rather than the few things we don’t like.
  • The good times and history we’ve shared with our spouse.
  • Our family and friends, and how much they love us.
  • What we can do to make our relationship with our spouse better.

Remove.

If remembering and refocusing is not enough to short-circuit the attraction, we need to keep our distance from the other person. This can be awkward but, as much as possible, you need to distance yourself from them.

We will all find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse at times. Don’t let this attraction throw you or take you down the wrong roads. What’s the bottom line?

If you’re attracted to someone else…understand but don’t upgrade!