This week I received a question, as I often do, through our Have A Question page. However, this time the one asking asked not to share the whole question as she didn’t want anyone to guess the identities of the people in question. So, I’m going to try and paraphrase, hopefully hitting the important pieces of information.
In short, 6 years ago, she had an affair. Her husband is aware of it, and they chose to move on together. He has never brought it up, never made her feel bad because of it, he truly seems to have forgiven her. However, now she’s having trouble moving past the guilt, she doesn’t feel like he trusts her, and now she’s starting to not trust him. To add to the difficulty, they have a new family friend who is younger, attractive and female, and they seem to be getting along a little too well, talking, texting, etc.. He says this new woman is not interested in him, but that he can’t help noticing that she’s attractive. She’s feeling like she might lose him, she feels like he’s drifting away, and some part of her feels she deserves it.
That’s what I got from the message anyways. Hopefully I’ve conveyed the critical parts, as I had no contact info to double check with. Now, as she herself admits, this may require therapy to all dig out, but she’s asking for any insight, so I thought I’d do my best as a layperson. Here are my thoughts:
Forgiveness must be accepted for healing to begin
While it seems her husband has forgiven her, I don’t think she ever forgave herself. This is very common problem, not only from an affair, but in any kind of sexual sin. When you don’t accept forgiveness though, it goes two ways. Because it means that you don’t believe the other person has forgiven you, or that you aren’t worthy of it. She had said in her email that she believes her husband only stuck around because of their child, despite lacking any evidence to substantiate that. This again is a normal response when you don’t feel worthy of forgiveness. You make up reasons why other people might be behaving like they forgive you, because the reality just doesn’t like likely.
So, I think the first thing you need to do is to accept forgiveness. Perhaps you need to start the healing process over again by apologizing. We teach our kids this simple formula:
I’m sorry for [blank]. Will you forgive me?
It works for adults too.
But, that’s only step one. The next step is to accept forgiveness. Accept it from your husband, and accept it from God. Often these go hand in hand. If you can’t accept forgiveness from God, who you know has an everlasting and eternal love, then accepting forgiveness from a human is going to be near impossible.
I’ve had so many clients struggle with forgiveness, I wrote a devotional, called Seeking Forgiveness, to help them through it. In 13 days, they go through the Bible, seeing what forgiveness looks like from a biblical perspective. How to ask for it, how to accept it, how to move past the guilt and learn to find joy again. I’ve gotten a few emails from clients who said they were crying from joy while writing to me to say how much it helped them. If you’re struggling to accept forgiveness, I suggest checking it out.
Untrustworthy people perceive others as untrustworthy
I see this all the time in the business world. Clients who think their business partners are going to cheat them, because they’re planning to cheat them first. They write iron-clad contracts and destroy relationships in an effort to protect themselves, because they themselves would do anything to get ahead.
It happens in marriage too, spouses grow suspicious, when they themselves are acting inappropriately. I hear from many spouses how their husband or wife has started accusing them of things and later they find out their husband or wife is having an affair, or addicted to porn.
But, this also happens when you believe yourself to be untrustworthy. This lack of forgiveness I mentioned above, I believe is making this woman feel like she can’t be trusted. She never gave herself the chance to earn back trust in herself, and so, of course, she’s suspicious of her husband. Now, I’m not saying he’s not acting inappropriately, I don’t know. All I have is one side of the story, but I do recognize in her writings an underlying sense of misplaced mistrust. She doesn’t trust herself, so how can she trust him?
Communication is required for healing
Lastly, I don’t get the sense that they’re communicating about their struggles. It seems this affair happened 6 years ago and was never really addressed. I get the impression that it was just swept aside and a decision was made to move on. But, sometimes you need to talk about the difficult things, to understand why it happened so that you can protect against it happening again. Affairs are rarely one-sided, and generally both spouses have something to learn from the experience.
And now, it sounds like their communication is still fairly shallow. It’s no wonder she feels him drifting away. People don’t drift together, they only drift apart. Moving together takes work, takes communication, it takes trust and vulnerability. All of which you can’t really start to work on without first addressing the issue of forgiveness.
So, that’s my take: work on forgiveness first, then you can start healing. Trust will come. In the mean time, work on communicating, on deeper levels. It will be hard, but if you need help getting started, you can check out Anonymous Marriage Coaching and I’d be happy to coach you through it.