It’s never easy to find out that your spouse has been cheating.
Whether you discover a series of texts on your husband’s phone, you get a phone call at work from the irate wife of the man she claims your wife is having an affair with, or you find condoms in your spouse’s briefcase, you are devastated. Hot with anger at the sense of betrayal, and torn between murderous thoughts and tossing his/her clothes out on the front lawn, your head is spinning.
What do you do with the information? How should you respond? Is there hope for your marriage? Do you even care?
First comes the confrontation. Take a deep breath…lots of them. Run around the block. Talk to a trusted confidant who will support you and give appropriate responses. At this point, you don’t need anyone to make you angrier or more hurt than you already are. You don’t need anyone to stir up the fire; you need someone who will validate your pain and help you think through things as calmly as possible.
When you are thinking a little clearer, when you and your spouse are alone [NOT in front of the children] state the facts. Avoid accusing, blasting, attacking. “I got a phone call today from Sally Jones. She said you are having an affair with her husband.” OR “I found these in your brief case” [display condoms]. OR I found a string of “sexts” to your boss on your phone.
Then ask an open question, “What’s going on?”
Your spouse will likely be defensive, or turn the tables on you. “Why were you in my briefcase? What were you doing looking through my phone?” He/she will likely deny anything is going on. If that is the case, keep your cool and stay focused on the topic. “Please tell me about the sexts. Yes, there are other issues we need to talk about, but right now, I am asking about the communications with your boss.”
If they refuse to answer and continue to turn the tables on you, and you are reasonably certain that you are correct, be firm and insist that they come clean. “Did you have sex with __________? Are you seeing someone else? Obviously there is something going on and we need to talk about it.”
If your spouse does admit to it, but minimizes it by saying it was a one night stand, or it was a mistake, or blames you to justify it, understand that it may take a while for the truth to come completely out in the open.
At this point, it’s vital to get some counseling. A strong therapist will be able to minimize the lying, defensiveness, projection and blaming. He or she will recognize that there must be some repentance on the part of the offending spouse and forgiveness on the part of the offended party. The therapist will help you figure out where the problem started while withholding blame, encouraging each person to take responsibility for repairing the relationship and working toward making it stronger.
Understand that right or wrong, the person most likely felt a deficit of some sort in the relationship and needs to be able to communicate that. Clearly there was a lack of communication or understanding of critical aspects of the relationship. Keep an open, non-judgmental approach to fixing the marriage.
Yes, you have been betrayed. Yes, your spouse made a choice to step outside of your marriage. You need validation, understanding and time to move beyond the anger. You need room to ask questions and understand. Your spouse needs to admit his/her responsibility in this and be humble enough to bear that responsibility and be patient with your concerns and the rebuilding of trust. Chances are, the offending spouse will want it to be fixed quickly and move on because they feel terrible and want to get beyond the feelings of guilt.
Healing a relationship takes time. Rebuilding trust takes time. You need time to heal.
Your spouse will need your grace, by allowing them time to change and be trusted again. There is no prescribed time frame. It can take months or years to accomplish this. Even though it’s a long difficult journey, it is possible to make your marriage stronger than ever.
[In part 2 of this article, you can find techniques and strategies for healing.]