Marriage Talk Podcast Episode 80 focuses on “Recovery From An Affair.” Here, you’ll find additional written insights from Terry Lodico of Covenant Counseling in Midland, MI.
You may also download the free PDF file (with footnotes) by CLICKING HERE.
A Blueprint to Recover from an Affair
Terry Lodico LPC, NCC, M Div., MA
Affair recovery is difficult but not impossible. If a couple can commit to the process of healing before making a decision to divorce, there is hope for marriage recovery.
Factors for Success: Couples in conflict from an affair often want to know their chances for recovery. The following observed indicators predict success:
- A Spirit of Contrition: The unfaithful spouse’s engagement in self introspection that leads to contrition and brokenness is substantially important for recovery. This disposition is necessary for a commitment to growth, change and sensitivity to the hurting spouse. It is a spirit of honesty that gives hope to the hurting spouse and a willingness to consider rebuilding. If the offended spouse feels the partner’s grief and contrition, he/she has hope for genuine change. If the offender’s behavior changes, it becomes a catalyst to healing and trust building.
- A Spirit of Meekness: I have observed that the fastest recovery from an affair happens with couples who have a combination of a spirit of contrition on the part of the offender and a spirit of meekness on the part of the offended. Meekness is an attitude of kindness and gentleness toward someone who has been unjust. It is being patient without anger. It is a spirit of deference which is a person’s submissive choice to yield personal rights and interests for the sake of the need of another. It is the opposite of self-interest and self-assertive demand.
- A Philosophy/Theology of Forgiveness: The belief that forgiveness is to be practiced contributes to recovery. The more a person has experienced forgiveness and has forgiven others, makes forgiving more probably and true to heart. In addition, great success is found with those who have faith that God has forgiven them. Healing and trust building cannot progress when resentment stands in the way. Forgiveness resolves resentment.
- A Mature Sense of Value: A sense of value is like an emotional tank. If the tank is full, you feel a sense of self-respect, purpose, meaning and significance giving you vitality for life. If the tank empties, you begin to slide into a depressive state and you lose the emotional energy you need to fight for your marriage. Therefore, you need healthy sources of affirmation to fill the tank and establish acceptance of your imperfect self. If you gained much of this affirmation from your spouse, you have lost your source and the emotional tank drains. If you have other sources creating emotional energy, such as by surrounding yourself with family and friends that love you, the loss is minimized and you have the strength to keep investing in your marriage recovery and rebound from the devastating affair. Your value or inner self definition must be established beyond the opinion or behavior of your spouse.
- An offended spouse’s loss of confidence in his/her value is evident in such questions as, “What is wrong with me?” “Why did you do this to me?”
- The Scripture points to “love” as an empowering and enduring means to sustain a strong sense of value. This includes knowing you are loved by God and loved by special people in your life. Personal value is also derived through your expressed love and actions toward God and others. (See footnote on hierarchical self-esteem sources. )
- For an offended spouse, a boundary statement to bolster and protect one’s self-esteem is, “I respect myself apart from my partner’s disloyalty. For a person of Spiritual faith, a good boundary statement is, “I respect myself and believe in God’s purpose for me apart from my partner’s disloyalty.”
- A Decision to be Intentional: Couples who determine to do all the necessary work for recovery are more successful. In contrast, if one partner refuses to do the extra work to learn and practice new skills, nothing changes. The lack of commitment discourages the effort.
- Marriage Satisfaction: The couple’s history of marriage satisfaction gives hope for recovery and the reason to fight for recovery. The guilt and pain of unfaithfulness causes a loop of negative thoughts overshadowing the recall of positive experiences. It is therefore helpful for the couple to take time to look back and remember good days of the marriage.
Phases to Affair Recovery:
- Trauma Recovery Phase:
- The Goal: To stabilize further emotional volatility from the crisis.
- Reaction Management:
- For the offender, if the spouse says, “I want a divorce,” it often means “I’m hurting” rather than “I’m filing for divorce.”
- The couple will benefit from journaling their feelings. The offended spouse can write down the questions he/she would like answered from the offender. (See footnote for the type of questions that are helpful toward recovery.) Ask your partner to write out the answers and share them with you. The written answers help the hurting spouse begin to settle the relational reality between them and establish a bottom line of trust to build from. This also can help the offended spouse out of the obsessive trap where he/she finds oneself asking the same question over and over. The reason for this is because trust is destroyed, no answer satisfies and the same question is asked over and over hoping that eventually he/she will be convinced of the truth. This must be avoided. It discourages the offender’s effort to continue to be transparent and vulnerable.
- Enlist Support: Each partner needs individual support from others to fight loneliness and depression. The mental distress and self reproach make it difficult to give emotional energy to the partner.
- Talk about the Affair: Listening to each other and affirming understanding is critical. Avoid arguing and defensiveness, it brings communication to a halt. A marriage therapist can be most helpful to give guidance in this process.
- Avoid “The Fix it Blunder”: The offender may find it difficult to listen without trying to shortcut the process and move to fixing the problem. This happens because the discussion brings the pain of guilt and shame to consciousness; accordantly, the offender wants to fix it and move on. However, the “fix it Blunder” communicates a lack of concern to the offended spouse’s pain.” Two boundary statements that can help keep the offender from this trap are, “I will listen and allow my spouse to stay in the pain” and “I will not be responsible to heal the pain; however, I will be responsible to love by listening and acknowledging the pain with understanding.”
- Avoid “The Safeguarding Blunder”: Safeguarding is an attempt to hold back certain information to protect the spouse from further hurt when he/she has questions. It is often interpreted as lying, hedging or hiding the truth.
- Anger Management:
- To decide what is best to say, learn how to manage reaction and use wisdom to respond. Reacting is automatic and subconscious. Responding takes time to think. Anger is reactive, causing out of control communication and further damage to the relationship.
- For the offended spouse, write out instead of act out. The betrayal one feels is soothed by anger. Anger numbs pain, yet; the goal is to heal your hurt. Therefore, you must manage the anger enough to communicate the hurt, not cover it up with the anger. Writing your feelings gives you time to pause, contemplate and decide how to respond in a constructive way, expressing hurt rather than anger.
- Respond to your spouse’s anger with compassion. When a partner is angry, the anger is a secondary response triggered by such feelings as hurt, fear, helplessness, frustration, embarrassment, pain, betrayal and shame. When your partner expresses anger at you out of his/her pain, your natural reaction is hurt, rejection or pain causing an angry response. You can turn your anger into compassion by using a “counter statement” that directs you to discern and respond to the hurt behind the anger rather than react to the anger. The following is a counter statement you can memorize: “I feel anger coming at me. I’m OK, it is not about me. This is God’s or my reminder that there is a hurt or feeling behind the anger I need to understand in order to respond with love, care and grace.” 
 Psalm 34:18; 51:17
 How does a person develop a spirit of meekness? It is through humility, a mindset that I am no better than others (Galatians 6:1-2, Phil. 2:3). It is through giving up the right to be treated right so I have no expectations that would otherwise create resentment when others fail to meet my expectations (Eph. 4:2-3). More importantly, the Scripture teaches that meekness is a quality which God produces in the life of the believer. It is a virtue of God’s Spirit, demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5-8), and a fruit of the Holy Spirit that believers receive by trusting God for eternal life (Galatians 6:22-26).
Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3, Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:32, 2 Cor. 2:5-11
 Many virtues of character are included in meaningful love, such as being responsible for the care of your neighbor and being obedient to God. Therefore your character and potential maturity of character is foundational to your sense of value. You have value in what you are becoming. (See I Corinthians 13:1-13, John 15:12-17 and Luke 10:25-37)
 If you derive your self-esteem based on the self judgment of your behavior, seeing yourself as either good or successful verses bad or a failure, your sense of value fluctuates. This also happens if you base your self-esteem on how you perceive others as seeing you as good or bad, successful or a failure. If you view yourself as loved and as an investment of God, and you diligently pursue what you are capable of becoming, your self-esteem will be strong and enduring. A hierarchy of healthy self-esteem sources ranked from poor to better is as follows: 1. the self evaluation of one’s behavior and accomplishment, 2. the perceived evaluation of oneself by others and how well we please them, 3. one’s character, 4. pursuing one’s potential or God’s purpose, 5. loving and being loved and 6. by understanding who I am in Christ, an investment of God.
 The following questions are productive examples for recovery: “How do you understand that what you did affected my life?,” “What do you feel about what you did?,” “Do you want to be with me?,” “What have you learned about yourself that will help me know you will be loyal to me?” and “What are you willing to do to help me heal?”
 See Proverbs 15:1, 2; Galatians 6:1; See I Peter 3:1-5 to understand God’s principle to bring healing to a marriage when one spouse is disobedient.
 See Ephesians 4:29