Among the fears some spouses have about marriage is the worry that their mate will cheat on them. It seems like one of the worst things you could learn. But it’s happened to couples out there who have come through, found healing, and even nurtured their relationship to a better place than it was in before. Still, no one wants to get that news.
And today’s question addresses just that — finding out your husband cheated. What now?
If you had asked me last week how I felt about my marriage, I would have said with confidence that we have a great marriage, one that was far stronger than most.
Then this weekend, my husband admitted to me that he had cheated on me several times during the first 5 years of our marriage. He made out with and/or received oral sex from several different women…. I’m just at a loss. I feel curiously numb, but my mind is spinning with thoughts of every kind.
My husband is extremely remorseful. I know all this happened before he got serious about his faith, and I still love him and I want to forgive him and find a way to work this out. He admitted his sins to our pastor and to his men’s bible study group a couple years ago. It seems it took him a long time to work up the courage to confess to me. He also said that for awhile he worried if telling me was actually a selfish thing for him to do, because it would make him feel better while inflicting serious pain on me. He said he wanted to protect me from that, but after continuing to pray he felt God saying he needed to tell me. So he did. Now that burden is off his shoulders, and I’m glad, but the hard part for me is only just beginning.
I know that if we’re going to have any chance at repairing our marriage we need to commit to doing it right. I am so overwhelmed though that I don’t even know where to start.
When I receive messages like this, where someone shares their personal heartbreak, I try to imagine how I would feel in their situation. Of course I can’t say for sure, but I imagine this news like a wall falling and crushing me under—something I thought had kept me secure suddenly becoming a weight on my chest that makes it hard for me to breathe. While I wouldn’t want to demolish the whole house, because so many beautiful memories and good things happened there, it would feel overwhelming, like there’s so much to repair.
All that said, I want to point out some positives (which don’t exist with everyone who gets news of their spouse’s infidelity):
- You say this happened before your husband got serious about his faith. Meaning that the deepening of his faith has had the effect of convicting and changing him.
- You learned about this from him, meaning he was willing (though delayed) to come clean.
- The infidelity has stopped. (I’m assuming that’s true based on his statements, but see point number two below.)
- Your husband is extremely remorseful.
- You believed you had a great marriage — which likely means you have a lot to build on.
- Your husband was very concerned about the effect this information would have on you.
- He listened to God’s nudging him toward honesty, even though there might be a personal price to pay.
But now what do you do? Well, those who recover from infidelity report similar processes for healing.
1. You need time and space to grieve.
Something has been lost, and it’s entirely understandable for you to grieve this betrayal.
Sometimes when an unfaithful spouse confesses, they feel like it’s over. They’ve finally dumped the weight of their guilt by fully confessing and can feel a sense of closure in that moment, but, as you point out, the road has only just begun for the wounded spouse.
Be clear with your husband that you are grieving and need to be given the opportunity to do so, even if it means that you are sad, angry, or withdrawn. It may be painful for him to feel shut out, but you need that own that grief and work through it unheeded.
2. If he wants your marriage to heal, his life is now an open book.
You get to ask questions, and he should answer them. If you want to know where he is, when he’ll be home, and who he’s with, he needs to tell you. If you ask to see his phone, he needs to hand it over. If you want his passwords to social media, that should be shared information.
To some unfaithful spouses, that feels unfair. But the wounded spouse feels thrown off-kilter, and they need to see evidence that the relationship is exclusive and secure. They need to know that no other inappropriate contact is happening and that the marriage takes priority.
That said, the wounded spouse shouldn’t make unfounded accusations and should be thoughtful in which questions to ask about the infidelity. If you ask your husband for specifics about someone he was with, and he complies and tells you, that’s in your brain now and isn’t likely to go away. Ask what you need to know to re-establish trust, but don’t ask questions you don’t need or want the answer to — hearing the sordid details isn’t likely to help you understand more and may make you, and him, simply feel worse.
3. You need to find out what was absent during those times.
Typically a spouse cheats because they feel something is missing. Now, to be clear, what could be missing is a compass of personal morality that has zero to do with the spouse cheated on. It could also be that he felt something missing in your relationship and failed to resolve it with you, instead selfishly choosing an extramarital outlet for those feelings.
Answering the question, “Why did you cheat?” can illuminate any areas of your relationship that you might want to work on to make sure your marriage is on solid ground. Maybe your marriage has already grown to the point that this would never happen again, but it’s worth asking.
And know there likely isn’t a simple answer to this question—there could be layers of reasons you have to work through, such as a poor misunderstanding of sex in marriage coupled with a porn background and work stress and this, that, and the other.
4. You should both foster your friendship and romance.
In the midst of dealing with all of these issues, you can begin to feel like all of your discussions with your husband are tense and painful. Clear away moments and evenings and outings when you just spend time with each other.
Take the issue of infidelity off the table for those times—not that it will go away completely, but save your expressions of hurt and problem-solving on that issue for other times. Commit to dating again, reminding yourselves why you fell in love and why your marriage is worth investing in.
5. You should aim for a return of intimacy.
Some wounded spouses don’t want to have sex for a long time after discovering infidelity, while others plunge into sexual intimacy in a longing to remind themselves of this physical bond. Neither way is unreasonable, but it seems to me that the wounded spouse should take the lead.
Yes, this can go on too long where it becomes a spiteful gatekeeping exercise that can tear the marriage down further, but most of the time it’s just that the wounded spouse needs to re-establish a sense of security to become vulnerable again in the marriage bed.
Take steps to move in that direction at the pace you need, knowing that the end goal is to become one in your marriage, including physically.
For many couples, all of these suggestions proceed more smoothly when overseen by a Christian counselor who can help you address your feelings, your relationship’s weaknesses, and your goals for the marriage.
You might need to visit a counselor alone at first, to work through your emotional pain. But conversations with your husband might also flow better with someone there to mediate and interpret and make wise suggestions on how to nurture your marriage.
Finally, although the following post doesn’t address your scenario, it includes links to relevant resources: Q&A with J: Can God Heal Any Marriage after Infidelity?
As for where to start, start in prayer. Then, if I were in your shoes, I’d make a phone call to a counselor and set up an appointment. I’d peruse the resources in that post. I’d ask my husband for certain promises and access to information. I’d do some self-care. I’d schedule a date night. I’d see the counselor. I’d keep praying.
The road isn’t easy, but you can reach a destination of healing, trust, and intimacy. Not simply again, but deeper than before.