Imagine racing home early after a hectic day at work, to start a nice dinner and unwind with your spouse. Instead of finding the house empty, your spouse’s car is there, along with the one you don’t recognize. As you walk into the most disturbing view, of your spouse in the act of unfaithfulness!
Well, if you are part of the group that knows the pain an affair brings then you know it’s not always that obvious to find your spouse being unfaithful.
In fact, it can feel more like detective work. You become obsessed with collecting facts, evidence and creating a timeline for the day you will approach the unacceptable behavior.
All the while your spouse is getting suspicious and more secretive, which in turn makes you all the more desperate to validate your suspicions.
Finally, everything blows up. The truth finally comes out and tears never seem to stop.
Congratulations, you have joined the ranks of the largest, but never envied groups in America.
So, now what?
To begin sorting out the mess you are in the middle of, you will need to take a few steps back. (and a few good deep breaths). Once you have gotten the initial shock out of the way, you have to decide if forgiveness is something you can or WANT to do.
Forgiving an unfaithful husband will require acknowledgment, acceptance, and action.
The process of forgiveness is messy, and will often have you sliding back and forth between feelings. The stages of grief are not something you work through and then you are good, but rather are a process you will yo-yo through at your own pace.
First up, acknowledgment.
Before anything is done you will have to do the hardest part, making your husband aware that you know about his decisions to be unfaithful.
To bring to light what has been done in darkness is the hardest, most awkward, and gut-punching conversation to start. But it has to be done.
If you are one of the few who has the offense brought to your attention then you are halfway there!
In order to thrive again, you will need to first let yourself be the hot mess and have the pity party.
Because you are hurt, broken, and have had your foundation completely shattered.
All too often we as women tend to bottle things. Suppressing them until they explode resulting in hurtful words that cut deeper than we intend.
To avoid the explosion and deal with an affair, you have to be honest with where you are at mentally and emotionally.
If you are a parent then you know when your child gets hurt you ask them “where does it hurt the most?” in an effort to pinpoint the problem right away, right?
Well, as a mom/aunt/friend/sister/woman you need to display that same concern, but for yourself. So ask yourself “how am I doing?” or “where am I at with handling this?”.
Because not to be cheesy, but you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Second is acceptance
No, this does not mean you have to accept the affair. No this does not mean you have to accept your spouse back. No, this does mean you have permission to immediately go to divorce mindset.
This means accepting what happened. Plain and simple.
What happened happened. There is no going back. No redos.
Acceptance is often the hardest because we tend to assume it means acceptance (aka approval) of the action but that couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Instead, we have to accept this is happening. Accept that you didn’t deserve this. Accept your life has changed drastically and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed because you don’t have a plan.
Accept that you didn’t do anything to bring this behavior upon yourself.
Shifting the focus from the offender to yourself, and how you will handle the situation will make all the difference on the path to healing and forgiveness.
Finally taking action
An apology without action leaves you standing still, just like acceptance without action leaves you stagnant.
Before moving any further let’s take a look at the pitfalls the “normal” response to an unfaithful spouse has.
Okay, let’s take a look at how most women approach unfaithfulness so we can see why it’s doing more damage than good.
You find out your husband has been unfaithful and the deed has been addressed. You want to forgive and forget for the sake of the kids, or work, or your reputation as a happy couple.
So marriage vows are quoted again like a magic fix-all chant. “For better, for worse” is thrown in your face when reaching out for advice. Only leaving you all the more frustrated.
Slowly resentment seems in. At first appearing as a snippy response here and there.
Time passes and you start dreading evenings when you are both in the house doing the after-work routine. You stop asking for help and instead adopt an “I will do it better on my own” kind of mentality.
Before you know it you are irritated at every word spoken by your husband. The way they talk, try to joke with you as nothing happened is just fingernails on the chalkboard.
So what does this have to do with anything?
Well, it doesn’t have or NEED to be that way. Surviving isn’t how anyone should live.
While I am not giving you the go-ahead to leave your spouse or saying to stay, there is a middle ground. And only you know what action you require to forgive.
A little-known truth is that forgiveness doesn’t mean lack boundaries. Instead, forgiveness means you have accepted and want to move because dwelling is doing more harm than good.
How forgiveness starts with action
Taking the action you need to find peace with the situation is how you start forgiving.
Boundary setting is the action step most often overlooked. Music, movies, and most advice will lead you to think swearing off men and focusing on “self-care” is the only way to respond.
What a misguided mindset it brings! Because it leaves you living in the resentment phase, never moving forward.
Remember in the acknowledgment phase you allowed yourself the time to be all about self-care and pampering while you check-in with yourself. Well, now it’s time to shift the focus from your wounds to setting boundaries.
This will be for yourself and anyone involved in the situation. Spouses, kids, friends, or family will all need to give their boundaries and roles moving forward.
For the sake of not sounding like a control freak let’s look at a healthy boundary setting example:
● Spouses are not to bring any significant other around until divorce is finalized
● No bad-mouthing the other spouse will be done in front of the kids
● The blame game is not acceptable- even for the hurt party because it only causes more pain
● Family is allowed their opinions but no in front of the kids
● Mutual friends are not owed the details, but instead should be given a minimal response
● Not texting back immediately or being friends on social media are okay
Boundaries are a necessity when navigating interaction. Remember this is not something you have had training on, so it’s okay to revise boundaries as needed.
Bringing it all home
Learning to accept a wrong done to you is hard. Especially when the deed is something as personal and private as unfaithfulness. After sharing your story the voices that chime in with similar experiences are surprisingly high!
Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to ask for help, as long as the advice is taken with a grain of salt.
For the majority, the path to forgiveness starts with the acknowledgment of the deed, accepting what happened, and taking action to overcome the offense when dealing with an unfaithful spouse to make room for forgiveness.