Infidelity is all too common in our modern world, and it’s enough to sink a marriage, even a strong one. The root of the word infidelity points to its awful power – it comes from the Latin word fides, meaning faith. It’s the same word people choose to name their trusty dog, Fido. And it’s where the U.S. Marines took their motto, Semper Fidelis, or “Always Faithful.”
Faith is an incredibly precious thing. When that faith, that trust, is broken, it is unanimously devastating to the recipient of betrayal. This makes it an incredibly difficult thing for a partnership to recover from, but it is absolutely vital to repair it if both parties hope to save their marriage. But, as the heartbreaker, what’s the best way to do it?
Be Mindful After Your Spouse Finds Out
First, beware of what you say and do in the first emotional days and weeks after your spouse learns of your infidelity. Both of you will be so angry, frightened, upset, accusatory and defensive that you simply can’t have an honest, calm conversation.
Your spouse may smash things, or throw them at you. This is not the time to try and explain things or make promises.
The best you can do during these first difficult days is to reassure your spouse that the affair is over (and, if you hope to preserve your marriage, it had better be over) and that you aren’t going to cheat again. Like a politician on the campaign trail, you have to stay “on message.”
Staying On Message
Perhaps you have cheated other times in the past. This is not the time to reveal that information. You may feel tempted to “get it all off your chest” and make a clean start. Great. But not right now. There will be time in the future to reveal past indiscretions if you decide to do so. Right now, just stick to your most recent infidelity, and keep reassuring your spouse that it’s over and won’t happen again.
You have to give your spouse time to cool off. And you also need time to cool off. Sometimes it’s best to separate – one of you sleeping in a different room or even moving out for a short time
Your spouse may want to know details about your cheating – who is this other person, what is their name, where do they live, where are they right now, and so on. If you’re feeling guilty and ashamed, you may feel like you simply have to volunteer all this information. But you don’t. Keep your confession simple – tell your partner that you cheated, but don’t go into the gory details or give too much information about the person with whom you cheated.
That can lead to ugly fights and confrontations. You don’t want your spouse going looking for this person.
Once you’ve survived this first, intense period, it’s time to start earnestly rebuilding your spouse’s trust. And it won’t be easy. You need to be serious about changing yourself, changing your habits and your life, and you need to communicate your seriousness to your spouse.
At times like this, it’s a good idea to see a marriage counselor or a therapist. A professional, objective person can act as a referee between the two of you. They will keep your discussions on topic and also keep both of you safe. Therapists are not cheap, but being willing to spend some money to save your marriage is an important part of showing your spouse how serious you are about mending what’s been broken.
It may be a good idea for you to see a therapist individually, too.
Be honest with yourself. Do you have difficulty being faithful to your spouse? Looking back over your life, do you see a pattern of infidelity in all or many of your relationships? If you do, that’s something to talk over with a therapist.
If your affair happened while you were traveling for work, for example, you will want to either ask your boss to let you change your job and not travel, or you’ll want to make a plan to protect yourself on future work trips. Let your spouse know that there are no sacred cows – you are willing to consider changing your job, or finding another one, in order to protect your marriage.
Being honest with ourselves is never easy, and a good therapist will help you do that, too. They will point out your evasions and rationalizations.
If you can’t go to a therapist for some reason, there are other community resources. Your local hospital or church may offer classes in anger management, depression, sexual or family issues. There are also 12-step recovery programs that focus on love or sex addiction, and which offer valuable help for free.
There are also recovery programs for the spouses of all sorts of addicts – you can let your partner know about them, but don’t push the issue. If you go to a marriage therapist, they can point you both in the right direction.
And Finally, the Whole Truth
Telling the truth is vital to regaining your spouse’s trust. After a few weeks or months, when the initial fury and frustration has faded, you will want to find a safe place and time to talk with your spouse about your cheating.
This idea will probably terrify you. But it is important to communicate with your spouse, no matter how hard it is. A therapist is a great person to have in the room with you during this kind of conversation.
You should write down some things you want to say to your spouse. Make a speech where you lay out the details you want to share, and remind them that you are serious about saving your marriage.
Do not feel like you have to spill your guts about every mistake you’ve made in your life. And don’t feel like you have to answer every question your spouse asks. You should answer any and all reasonable questions they ask.
They may ask if you are still cheating, or if you are still in contact with people you’ve cheated with in the past. Reassure them that you are not, and make sure that this is the truth. They may ask awkward questions about your sex life or whether you find them sexually attractive.
They may ask to know about all your past affairs. You must decide how much you are willing to answer and stick to it. Perhaps you will decide they can ask anything they want about any time in your life. Okay. But you might decide differently and rule your earlier relationships, before you met your spouse, as off limits. It’s important for you to be open and honest but without grovelling and giving up all your dignity.
It’s a very fine line, and that’s why a good therapist is so valuable. Finding one and getting the help you need is a great way to show your spouse that you are serious about staying together, and that you are serious about never cheating again.
Read my Mend the Marriage e-book to help guide you through what to do to help rebuild your marriage and even strengthen the connection, eventually. It’s everything you’ll ever need to get back on track and protect your marriage!