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Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist. For his daily Gospel-based relationship insights please join this Facebook group. To submit a question for Jonathan, click here. This is the first in a series of articles on “healing from infidelity” to be run weekly on Meridian Magazine this month.
Your world’s been upended. Most likely, you believed (or at least hoped) that your spouse was reserving the romantic and sexual sides of themselves for you and your marriage, only to discover that that’s not true. He or she wasn’t true to you. There was a secret physical and/or emotional relationship which violated the exclusivity of your marriage. No matter how far it went, you feel betrayed.
Many people in your shoes find themselves looking at the door. After all, if you can’t trust your spouse, how can there be a relationship? On the other hand, can you walk away from your years together, your life together, and the family you’ve made together?
It’s a tough choice. How can you know if you should be done?
The Real Questions to Ask
Fortunately, there are guidelines to help you find your footing and know how to proceed. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the affair over? Remember, the Lord said that “he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive. But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:25-26).
- Is your spouse being humble and accountable? Are they manifesting a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20) by taking full ownership, without shifting blame?
- Are they working to earn back your trust? Are they honest and transparent? Are they being faithful now?
- Are they willing to endure your hurt and anger? Don’t spare your spouse from your hurt and your anger. Don’t be mean or contentious, but let them feel the consequences of their actions and how much they’ve wounded you. Remember, God said that “inasmuch as they sinned thy might be chastened, that they might repent” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:27)
- Are you willing to go through the process of letting go of anger, hate, and hurt? Elder H. Burke Peterson taught that “Forgiveness of others for wrongs—imaginary or real—often does more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. That person who has not forgiven a wrong or an injury has not yet tasted of one of the sublime enjoyments of life. The human soul seldom reaches such heights of strength or nobility as when it removes all resentments and forgives error or malice. No one can be classed as a true follower of the Savior who is not in the process of removing from his heart and mind every feeling of ill will, bitterness, hatred, envy, or jealousy toward another.” (Removing the Poison of an Unforgiving Spirit, October 1983 General Conference). It’s worth noting that forgiveness and trust are two different things. We should freely forgive, but trust must be earned.
- Are you willing to let them earn back your trust? Don’t give it freely. Don’t let your guard down or be vulnerable without reason. But if your spouse shows true repentance and earns trust, are you willing to give it. As George MacDonald said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”
If you answered yes to these questions, your marriage can be saved.
What If You Answered “No?”
Perhaps your spouse is acting defensively instead of taking full accountability. Maybe you’re not sure if you’re willing to let them earn your trust, or if you’re willing to let go of anger and hurt. It could be that your spouse tells you the affair is over, but you’re not sure that it is (or that it won’t happen again). There may still be hope. Sometimes spouses need help to let go of pride and to be humble. Sometimes it takes work to cut through your pain and the instinct to put your walls up. It always takes time to release pain, and if your spouse is to earn back your trust, it takes time. However, if lies and betrayal are for certain still occurring and your spouse isn’t going to stop, there’s no reason to continue
So What Now?
In over a decade of marriage therapy work, I’ve seen countless couples in your situation. I’ve got the experience and I’ve done the research. I know how to help your marriage survive, recover, and thrive (if that’s what you want). I know how to help you heal and move on (if that’s what you want). Let me help you explore the next steps.
I’ve got a free class for Meridian readers that you and your spouse need to see. “How to Heal from Infidelity” is designed to answer your most pressing questions and give you the tools to move forward. In this 60 minute live presentation, followed by an anonymous Q&A, we’ll explore:
- What is betrayal trauma? How do individuals and marriages recover?
- How does betrayal trauma affect relationships?
- How do affairs happen?
- How can you keep them from happening ever again?
- Can trust be restored? How?
- Can your marriage ever be more than just “okay” after this? How?
The answers to these questions will determine where you go from here. I’m so sorry for your heartache. As noted, I’ve more to say on the subject and have prepared a complimentary online class for Meridian Magazine readers. If you need more support, please be there.
Jonathan Decker is a licensed family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. His wife Alicia is the CEO. He offers online relationship courses, along with in-person and online therapy sessions. For daily Gospel relationship insights, join his Facebook group Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist.