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After an affair, a marriage heals

It’s been a little over a year now since my friend “Denise” (not her real name) discovered her husband’s longstanding infidelity. Married more than 20 years with children still at home, she experienced the betrayal like one might a hurricane.

But more than a year later, she and her husband are still standing. And they are doing it together.

Early on, Denise asked me to walk with her in this trial, and also gave me permission to anonymously share her story hoping it might help others. I first wrote about her and her husband last March. She told me then about the emotions she was experiencing. She shared with me something she had written in her journal: “I have never been so tested in my life. I just keep trying to stay focused on how I want this sad story to have a happy ending, especially for my children.”

She did stay focused and fought for her marriage. Thankfully, her husband decided to do the same. By August, when I wrote about Denise again, things had really turned a corner. Her husband, who had taken steps to end the affair and prove to her it was over and that he had changed, had been (and still is) consistent about counseling for himself and them.

So where are they now?

Wisely, and in contrast to what the popular culture often preaches, they both believe that she does not bear any responsibility for the affair. (After all, every married person has a flawed spouse who does not fully meet his or her needs — that’s the only kind of spouse there is!) But now, as she sees him committed to the marriage, she’s freer to enjoy pleasing him as a wife. And to ask in turn for what she needs from him as her husband.

She said that her marriage has new rhythms. He’s always enjoyed the outdoors and now she is joining him in many of those pursuits, including hiking and biking. She’s letting him know, much more vocally and consistently, that he is appreciated. He is more emotionally available to her. There is a better connection.

She said, “Betsy, I was able to tell him on his way out the door the other day, ‘I really am enjoying you’ — and it’s true!” Even the kids see a big difference in their marriage.

So, does she trust him? “Yes,” she told me. But she also knows she could be wrong. The healing continues.

A key for her has been not ruminating on the affair, or challenging him about it as she often did at the beginning. It’s difficult, she told me, but she’s making huge progress. He sees the progress, and so has real hope for a fully restored marriage in which it never comes up again.

She has learned a few things. Denise told me that early on she kept asking people: “What are the odds we are going to survive this?” Well, she said, she quickly realized that she could increase her chances by how she behaved, and by confronting, instead of being ruled by, the feelings of self-pity and humiliation that would come crowding in.

No doubt, she said, her Christian life has sustained her through it all.

Denise also shared with me that she is more careful now about whom she invests time in. While she kept the circle of those who knew about her husband’s affair small (wise girl), she saw some friends treat her marriage like something to be thrown away. So she’s more thoughtful now about who’s a part of her life, meaning those she lets influence her, on a day-to-day basis.

I asked Denise if she’s angry at her husband, not just about the betrayal but the time it’s taken to heal from it over the last year. Knowing Denise, I wasn’t surprised when she said, “No, because I’ve learned so much and grown so much. I’m a better mom, and we have a better marriage.” Is it all rosy? No. But another friend asked her recently: “Why are you putting yourself through this for this guy?” And blessedly, she told me, she was able to honestly respond: “Because it’s so worth it.”

Scripps Howard News Service

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