Chapter 19 - You can't fix each other
Someone asked this question in a comment:
How did your wife go about addressing the pain of the affair so that you would feel better in the end?
That's a great question, and difficult to answer.
You see, if I had just said, "You cheated, I'm hurting, and it's your job to make it better," I'd still be waiting. She couldn't make it stop hurting (no one could), no matter what she did or how hard she tried.
Now there were things she could -- and did -- do to help, but I "feel better" because of what I did, not because of what she did.
Let me explain. Before I was willing to re-engage and remain committed to the marriage, I had to believe that the affair was over and that she wanted it to stay over. By far, the most important factor in that was that I needed to be convinced that she understood how badly her decisions hurt me. For that, I needed her to apologize (she did) and I needed to see her remorse (I did). I saw her almost throw up from sobbing in agony over what she had done. It was real.
She tried to make it better by being loving to me, by changing behavior patterns (less flirty, conservative dress). While I appreciated these gestures, they didn't stop the pain.
Stopping the pain took time. A lot of time. And, I had to grow for the pain to stop. I had to stop playing the victim. I had to stop letting what other people think of me determine what I thought of me. These were things that my wife could not do. It was solely between me and God.
That isn't to say that if someone cheats, they are not responsible for the pain that they cause. They surely are and should do all they can to redress it. The pain is so awful, though, that you can't make up for it completely, you just can't. But if they want to try, they should apologize and express sincere remorse. They should change their behavior, stop the affair, cut off all contact with the affair partner, and be accountable for their time to earn trust.
But again, it won't be enough. At some point, the other party to the marriage has to let it go and just forgive. The pain gets better when you stop looking back and start looking forward, when you can again see the things in your spouse that attracted you to her in the first place and stop seeing her just as a cheater.
When I forgave my wife, it did much more for me than for her. I thought I was doing her a big favor, but the real benefactor was me. I didn't realize how heavy that grudge was until I stopped carrying it.
Don't look to your spouse to fix the pain. Give yourself time to hurt and to grieve, then let it go. It won't be immediate, or at least it wasn't for me. I let go little bits at a time, and as the pain decreased I was able to let go of more and more.
The affair does not control me and does not define me any more (nor does it her). I'll never forget it, but now when I'm reminded of the affair it doesn't bum me out for days on end. I think, "Wow, that was painful." And that's it.