REBUILDING AFTER A WIFE’S AFFAIR
By Elfrieda Nikkel
Many couples walk down the aisle on their wedding day with hearts filled with hope, believing that they too will live happily ever after?
Oh yes, they are both aware that each of them has a few weaknesses but that will not be a problem given all the positive qualities they see in each other. During those first months or years of marriage, they have time to talk, spend time together and do a lot of fun things. All too often things begin to change when that first baby arrives or when the husband gets overly involved in becoming successful in his career, leaving his wife at home feeling lonely and unloved. In her loneliness, she may look outside the home for friendships to meet her needs, often resulting in having an affair.
Her search for love and companionship may be one reason for her having the affair. Another factor may be that she grew up in a home where she experienced one of her parents having an affair. She may also be vulnerable because of some unmet childhood needs like a lack of appreciation and love. Sometimes it may be that she and her husband are going through some stressful life experiences and the affair is a way of bringing a bright spot into her hopeless situation. The relationship might begin quite innocently where she is just looking for friendship but it quickly develops into an emotional involvement.
What happens next? It may be that her husband experiences her as withdrawing from him and so begins to suspect something is wrong with the marriage. Other signs may be a lack of intimacy and an increase in conflict between them. Often the husband may come across some evidence that points to the affair. At the same time, a wife may feel the guilt and pressure of keeping this new relationship a secret and will tell her husband about it. Bringing the affair into the open places the couple into a situation of decision-making as to the next steps. Do they want to stay together, divorce, or make a quick apology and just sweep it under the rug without addressing the real issues?
Choosing divorce may seem like a quick solution to deal with the husband’s feelings of anger and betrayal while allowing the wife to pursue her relationship with her new lover. However, that brings with it issues like, the staggering financial cost, angry children, visitation hassles, ex-spouse headaches, haunting guilt and all that comes with being a blended family. Staying in the marriage and allowing the affair to continue is a dead-end road. Here the real issues are not dealt with and the necessary changes are not made. It also sets the couple up for continued resentment and anger which can only end in desperation.
An important alternative to consider is to stay in the marriage and do the hard work of rebuilding. God who planned the marriage relationship is always ready to help in restoring a marriage after an affair and cares about those who are hurting. The Bible says:
He is waiting to be invited into the lives of broken people as we read in Revelations 3:20. ”Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.” When invited in, he brings peace, love, wisdom and strength to face each difficult task in rebuilding a marriage.
“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.
When choosing the alternative to stay in the marriage a couple must first look at what is the message of the affair? Or what was missing in the marriage for the wife that led her to get involved with another man. Even though she is guilty of having the affair, both need to take responsibility for their part in what happened. It may be that she felt alone and unloved. Or maybe she was looking to meet some childhood needs that she hoped would be met in her marriage. It is important to have this conversation so her husband hears from her what she was missing. A husband needs to take time to listen carefully to his wife to hear her disappointment, her longing for a loving, intimate relationship with open communication.
How a husband handles his wife’s affair can have a huge impact on the outcome. If he approaches his wife in humility and calmly shares with her the impact the affair has had on him while also admitting his shortcomings it may open her heart to reconciliation. Hearing his feelings of anger, pain and loss helps her to realize how she has hurt him and may give her a desire to come back to the marriage. If in an attempt to fast-forward the reconciliation the husband extends quick forgiveness without sharing his anger and pain, it may keep the couple from dealing with the deeper issues of the affair. Understanding how deeply she has hurt her husband can actually keep her from being unfaithful in the future if they decide to stay together. Acknowledging his shortcomings and committing to making changes will help to draw her back. It is important for them both to accept responsibility for what went wrong. On the other hand, giving his wife the freedom of choice to go with her new lover or to stay in the marriage may in fact draw her back to her husband if this is done in a kind and loving way.
After such an open and honest sharing of their feelings where the wife hears the pain and anger of her husband and he in humility accepts what she felt was missing in the marriage they may be ready to make a decision on their future. The next step could be for a husband, if he is ready, to invite his wife back so they can together work at rebuilding their relationship. Making a pledge to each other would help them in their commitment to this important task. This would need to be followed up by working on the issues that caused the affair, forgiving each other and showing love to each other. For the wife, it will be important to break off all contact with the person she had the affair with and return any gifts, mementos or reminders of the relationship. The husband may have questions that need to be answered about the affair.
An important focus for the couple is to rekindle the flame of love they had when they first got married. Choosing actions that make the other person feel special, cared for and cherished will be helpful. Focusing on the positive qualities in their spouse rather than on their weaknesses will also help in rebuilding the relationship. Since the lack of feeling loved is often part of the affair it will be helpful for the husband and wife to explore their favorite love language; words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service or physical touch (Gary Chapman). What actions make them feel loved?
God instituted marriage and when there is a breakdown in a relationship, he is ready to give strength and grace for the rebuilding. He can give a new love to both husband and wife as well as grace to forgive. Thus, inviting God to be part of the marriage is so important. Making a decision to put God first in the marriage and then seeking to meet the needs of the other person will be significant in building a strong marriage. Restoring trust is another important piece in the rebuilding of a marriage after an affair. Trust is earned a little step at a time through words and actions.
What if the wife is not willing to leave her new lover and the couple needs to face the pain of divorce? It may well be that she sees a bright future with her new lover but she must remember that she is taking with her into this new relationship all the personal issues that impacted her marriage and that once the romantic stage is over her needs, plus the new struggles resulting from the divorce will have to be addressed.
For the husband, there is life after the divorce. God wants to come alongside that grieving, hurting husband and help him rebuild his life without his wife. He longs to bring healing as we read in Psalms 147:3, “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” God can give the grace to forgive and also to help restore a friendly relationship with the now ex-wife so there can be a peaceful interaction between the two especially if there are children involved that will make ongoing contact necessary. God can be trusted to bring restoration as promised in Jeremiah 29:11-13,
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Even in a marriage broken by an affair God promises, “hope and a future.”