Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chapter 18 - Passing it On

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that when we are comforted by God, we are able to pass that comfort on to others.

Maybe I just notice it more because of what we have been through, but after the affair it seemed like I was surrounded by infidelity. People everywhere were cheating and being cheated on, and I was in a position to give advice and comfort.

Sometimes I had to keep silent because of our decision to be as discrete as possible about our own situation. But when I could, I talked about what we had learned.

I got an email from a woman who had read this blog. I can't repeat it in its entirety because it was sent in confidence. My reply does not give away any of her personal information, so I copy it here as an example of what I would tell anyone who found out their spouse was cheating and who wanted to make a go of putting it back together:

Dear _______,

Thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to you and your family in this very difficult and tumultuous time.

I am not a counselor or a professional and I cannot tell anyone what they should do when they discover an affair. I only know what helped me during a similar situation.

I understand how difficult it is to decide whether to stay in your marriage, and that is not a question that anyone else can answer for you. If you are anything like me, then in the immediate aftermath of discovering the affair you are not in the best frame of mind to make life-changing decisions. Give it some time. Commit to yourself that you will stay for 3 months, or 6 months, or whatever, and then re-evaluate. You may be calmer then and able to see things more clearly.

There were many encouraging things about your email. From what you have said it appears that your husband is sincere in his effort to rebuild. He is opening up his life to you, being honest about what has happened, and has grasped the concept of complete separation from his affair partner (even if that may not be possible in the immediate future). He has made a step toward counseling by participating in your teleconference. None of these things is a guarantee that your marriage will survive (nobody has a guarantee), but these are signs of a commitment without which it would hardly be possible.

It sounds like you gave him a choice, he made it, AND HE CHOSE YOU. I hope you can find a way to see past the pain and appreciate that fact.

When my wife and I were in this situation, these are the things that in my opinion enabled us to repair our marriage:

1. Counseling. She and I both had individual counseling and we went together to marital counseling. Neither you nor your husband can go through this process alone.

2. The book titled Torn Assunder. It helped us both understand very early in the process that what we wanted to do would be exteremely difficult, but it was possible, and it gave us hope. It helped my wife understand the pain she had caused and it helped me understand that I would have to get out of the victim mode at some point if we were going to make it.

3. Knowing that I could survive even if my marriage didn't. I had a good life before I met my wife. I will have a good life if we stop being married. I would miss her terribly if my marriage ended either by death or divorce, but I would be OK. Once I figured that out, I wasn't desparate. I was hopeful and I was willing to work hard to meet my goals, but my life did not depend on my marriage working.

4. Open communication. We talked a lot about the affair, about how it made me feel, about what I needed to re-develop trust, and about the pain she was going through when she made those decisions. We later were able to talk about what the weaknesses were in our marriage that made it more likely to have an affair. Do you need him to call you from work everyday and tell you that he loves you, so that you will be reassured and you are guaranteed that you will be on his mind? Tell him. Do you need him to call you 5 times a day? Tell him. We men don't figure that stuff out by ourselves.

5. Discretion. We opened up completely to our counsellor and to each other, but to no one else except our pastor and one or two very close same-sex friends (we agreed not to talk about our relationship with people of the opposite sex, and I bet you see the importance of that!). That way we did not have to deal with the judgment and gossip that often goes along with a situation like this. I had to fight the initial urge to go tell her family so that I could enjoy their sympathy and have the satisfation of getting the world on my side. I think If I had done that it would have made things a lot harder for us.

6. Faith. Quite frankly, if we had both not been Christians, I do not see how we possibly could have gotten past the situation. We may have survived, we might even have stayed together, but as it is God used the situation to create a more wonderful marriage than I would have ever thought possible. We haven't just kept our marriage alive; it is truly more wonderful than ever before. In other words, we are not just "surviving." Like the miracle when Jesus turned water into wine, he took something in our lives that wasn't much at all and turned it into something extraordinary.

These are some things that helped us. I hope you and your husband will find what will work for you. I do not know what to tell you about getting through the days ahead until the end of the school year. They will not be easy. But you and your husband are on the same team again. Talk it through together. Talk it through with a counsellor.

On counsellors, I would urge you and your husband again to go to counselling and to do some research first. Make sure the counsellor you choose is pro-marriage. There are (I have heard) counsellors who will tell you that the best thing to do is just get a divorce and go your separate ways, or that you each should do whatever makes you happy. Find one that will support the decision you each have made to do your best to rebuild your relationship, and one who will help you work toward that goal.

I will pray for you and your husband. God bless you both.


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