Cheating will destroy trust, but it's possible to rebuild.
By Joy Keys
I remember getting in my car. I am driving. All I can hear is the sound of my tires and my own voice saying over and over, “I can’t breathe … please, God do not make me do this … I can’t do this … I can’t breathe … I can’t breathe.”
Surely this is not happening. This is marriage number two. I had it right this time. I love him. He is my happily ever after. I don’t know how I did not see this coming. Who are we? How did we get here?
It felt like an out of body experience, but I couldn’t get out of my body. My thoughts were scattered but organized. My pain was overwhelming but I was numb. This was surely my payback. God was paying me back for screwing up my first marriage. Is this some kind of sick joke?
If I think about those first few minutes my chest still tightens. My heart rate increases and I start to feel panic slowly take root. It is overwhelming. Trust was ripped out of my firm grip. I had ahold of it once. I had control once. When did I relax enough to let go of it? When did I lose my grip?
I thought losing trust in him was hard, but the really hard part was that I had lost trust in myself.
Had I missed the signs? Had I ignored the obvious? It took so long for the two of us to trust each other in the beginning, so I am not sure when we no longer trusted each other. I can’t remember a time when the communication stopped, but the truth was it had. We were no longer one. He had made that clear.
For the sake of this article and time, you should know that healing and forgiveness came via a great counselor and hours of intentional, hard, painful, gut-wrenching communication.
It is easy to think that once you are forgiven, you can just move forward. Do not confuse forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness is a gift, or an olive branch. You must work to regain trust in a relationship. You must work to regain trust in yourself. Rebuilding trust is not optional. It will take large amounts of patience and perseverance.
Here are a few tips to help in the process.
1. Be open and honest.
We do not need every detail, but your wife needs to know your intentions are to allow her to be a part of your entire day. It is important to not continue living two different lives. It is equally important to be honest with yourself. No more secrets on either side can be allowed.
2. Admit struggle and defeat.
Being able to admit you are struggling or made a mistake is vital for both you and your wife. It proves you are being open and honest. It keeps your wife from imagining the worst is happening again when she knows you will be battling temptations. Accept from her that she too will now struggle with things she never did before.
3. Get a male accountability partner.
Have the tough conversations of what you each want to know and can handle hearing from each other. Knowing if your wife does not want to hear or cannot handle hearing certain things you need to discuss is important. Then find a guy friend and ask for accountability.
When you meet with this person to discuss your struggles you can take the burden off your spouse. Then you can let your wife know when you have met with your accountability partner and give her the opportunity to ask anything she may want to know about the meeting. This too is healthy for both sides.
However, women usually have very close relationships of the same sex who will hold them accountable. If she does not, encourage her to find an older woman who would mentor her and meet these needs. Sometimes an older person is a good choice because they have had life experiences ahead of where you are going.
If you can find a couple who has restored their marriage, you could ask the couple to mentor you both. That is a win for both couples.
4. Ease back into normal.
After an affair, “normal” can be more stressful for her than you might realize. Things may have felt normal before the affair was exposed, so when they return to normal this can be a terrifying place. So pay attention to not fall back into the same routines you had before the affair. This is where communication is so very vital.
5. Embrace the awkward.
Rebuilding trust and restoring a marriage is awkward, so you might as well embrace it. For the first year there will be many awkward moments. Moments of being with old friends for the first time, first holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and memories from the past (good and bad) that sneaks up on you and can make for some unexpected emotions.
You can’t become healthy or learn to communicate by escaping the awkward. You need to just take a deep breath and walk through it together. Each experience will get easier as you go through them.
6. Give your friends and family a pass.
People who may not have known, or people who were right there when it happened may still not find the appropriate words in all circumstances. Give them a pass. If you can lighten the mood with tasteful humor, try that. If you cannot lighten the mood, then change the subject. Keep conversations on topics that are moving forward with your future in mind, not focused on the past.
7. Excuse yourself or your wife with moments to breathe.
It is normal to be overwhelmed at times. Go take a time out. Give yourself permission to grieve the past even though you are beyond it. The scars are tender for a while. Give yourself a few minutes to mourn, but do not allow yourself to stay in it.
8. Don’t forget to laugh.
Laughter is the best medicine when you need relief. Not everything is funny, but if you can give each other a reason to smile or laugh every day it will soon feel easier to get through the hard days. There will soon be more memories of laughter than tears.
9. Always believe your spouse has your best interests at heart.
I leave you with the most important of all. Treat your spouse as if they always have your best interests in mind. If you stay positive and believe the best of your spouse, they will want to meet those expectations. Cheer them on when they get it right and ask for what you need from them when they fall short.
Rebuilding trust is so imperative to making your relationship into a strong one that can withstand the storms of life. Take these tips and infuse them into your relationship to help build back what was lost. It took many days to destroy the marriage and it will take many days to repair the marriage. Continue to be intentional and willing to have the hard conversations and soon you will see real progress.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.