Recovering from Infidelity Part I
Recovering From Infidelity: Part I
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
Dear Father Charles,
I recently found out that my husband has been cheating on me for a few months now. When I confronted him, he denied everything and got really angry. After we argued, he promised not to have any further contact with her. Since he made that promise, he continues to talk with her. I think I have also found more evidence of some cheating…. I have mixed feelings about my marriage, and I don’t know what to do. We have three young children. I would like to try to save the marriage for their sake. I am too embarrassed to consult my priest. I wonder if God is punishing me. I hope you can provide some direction.
- E-mail Respondent
I am sorry your life is filled with heartache and turmoil. Please know that your faith in God can be helpful to you during this very difficult time and that God is not punishing you. In addition, as long as there are no other serious forms of destructive behavior present in your marriage such as physical abuse, alcohol abuse, or chronic gambling, I support your efforts to save your marriage. Here are a few suggestions that I pray will prove helpful to you in your efforts to address the unsetting issues you’ve written to me about.
It’s not an Easy Process
As you struggle to try and reclaim your marriage, you should remember that many couples manage to survive infidelity. Admittedly, it is not an easy process, since trust between spouses has been seriously breached. Despite this, many couples who commit to a recovery process not only survive infidelity, but also state that their efforts to recover proved to strengthened their marital bond and cultivate increased oneness.
Find a Good Reason to Justify the Effort
It is also important for you to find a good reason to justify the effort. This is a vital first step because the recovery process may be one of the hardest tasks you and your spouse will accomplish in your lifetime. Identifying a good reason can give you the needed staying power to hang-in-there when circumstances look bleak and you are second guessing yourself. In your case, it appears you are considering trying to save your marriage for the sake of your three young children. Based on what our Holy Tradition teaches regarding children’s well-being, together with what research states, this can be a compelling and an admirable reason that I certainly would indorse.
Get Some Help
You will also need some help. As a result, I encourage you to consider consulting a marriage friendly therapist in your area who has experience working with marital conflict and infidelity. The following Web sites should prove helpful to you in your efforts to find the professional help you will need: www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com and www.aamft.org. Each site has a therapist locator which will help you identify skilled therapists in your area. Review the profiles carefully and begin making a list of qualified professionals whose profiles appeal to you.
Get Your Partner’s Buy-in
Once you've identified a few therapists that appear to possess the experience and skills you need, find an opportune time to respectfully broach this subject with your husband to obtain his buy-in. WARNING: Do not confront, criticize or attack. Simply approach him with a dispassionate, thoughtful, serious, prayerful demeanor and tell him that you believe you both have problems that require some professional help. Then ask him if he would be willing to get some professional help with you. At first, he might dismiss your suggestion. If he does, avoid becoming reactive. Simply repeat yourself and give him the space necessary to consider what you’ve suggested. If he consents to getting some help, show him the names of the therapists you have found and suggest that he review their profiles. You might also volunteer to arrange the initial consultation, with the understanding that he agrees with this protocol. Again, as you are attempting to reach some agreement, avoid slipping into an argument. Another argument will simply create more emotional distance between you and only exacerbate the issues and problems that exist.
If he Refuses
If he refuses to seek outside help, I suggest you make an appointment and go on your own. In your efforts to obtain the help you need, he may have a change-of-heart. So, keep the door open by periodically inviting him to attend therapy with you. Depending on the circumstances, at this juncture, you might concurrently seek legal counsel. This initiative is intended to simply provide you with a better understanding of the family laws in your State as they pertain to legal separation and divorce.
Consult Your Priest
When the time is right - preferably sooner rather than later - you should also consult your priest. I realize this suggestion may evoke some discomfort and embarrassment. However, please remember that priests are not in the habit of judging us and their invaluable counsel and support from a religious and spiritual perspective can prove to be an invaluable resource to you as you heal from the emotional and spiritual effects of this breach.
Read a Book
You might also consider reviewing a resource like Shirley Glass’ book, Not Just Friends. This book and others like it are available on www.Amazon.com. I have often suggested such resources to spouses and couples who were trying to recover from Infidelity. This type of reading material will help to normalize the emotional pain you may experience at a given point in the recovery process.
Like a Roller-coaster
Keep in mind that the process of recovery will at times seem like a roller-coaster ride that feels as though it will never end. Regardless of how difficult the journey, in the bleakest of times try to remember that the alternative is not any more attractive, i.e., divorce. Divorce may seem like an attractive alternative to the pain and emotional distress you will experience as you seek to recover. However, the pain and distress pales by comparison to the emotional scars that divorce leaves in its wake on all family members.
A Few Concluding Thoughts
Infidelity does not simply affect two spouses. Its debilitating affects extend far beyond the couple to the children, their extended families, friends, the couple’s church family and many other social networks. These affects are well documented and they are particularly difficult on children’s general well-being. Committing yourselves to the emotionally arduous process of recovery is a good and righteous effort that can potentially have a long lasting positive effect on all concerned: to God’s glory and your salvation.
If you have any questions, write me back. You shall remain in my humble prayers.