How To Save Your Marriage After An Affair

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How To Save A Marriage After An Affair

Things don't have to end.

"If you know anyone whose marriage has been affected by an extramarital affair, raise your hand." If you asked this question to any group of adults, what percentage do you think would raise their hands? My guess is 100 percent.

It’s a fact of life in the modern world. Surveys differ as to the exact percentage, but Bill Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs, is on target when he states that 60 percent of American marriages are affected by an extramarital affair sometime in the course of the marriage.

RELATED: The Harsh Reality Of Cheating On The One You Love

Before learning how to save your marriage, it's best to understand extramarital affairs. We've sorted them into three large categories with several subcategories.

  • The Short-Lived Affair lasts from one night to several months and is primarily about sex. Subcategories included Revenge Affairs, Affairs of Opportunity (at the right place at the right time to do the wrong thing), Self-Esteem Booster Affairs, and more.
  • The Permission Affair has become more prevalent with the graying of morality. It was once called Swinging, later Wife-Swapping, and now its participants just call it “The Lifestyle.”
  • The Relationship Affair is the most difficult to overcome. It typically starts as friendship that evolves into shared emotions and eventually shared bodies. The reason it is tougher to overcome is because those in Relationship Affairs usually are in love with each other.

That’s why so many of these affairs lead to divorce, no matter how strongly you tell the person that s/he is sinning and no matter how hard the offended spouse tries to save the marriage. If you’ve ever tried to help a person madly in love with someone other than his or her spouse, you know the frustration.

It’s true that the cheated spouse may divorce the cheating spouse and find a different path for the future. However, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if there were a way to rescue the straying spouse, heal the hurts, and guide husband and wife back to a marriage of love and commitment?

Though we in the “marriage business” usually don’t proclaim this little jewel from the rooftops, if a marriage survives an affair it will be stronger and more loving than it was before the affair. However, learning how to save your marriage when one spouse is in love with someone else usually isn’t accomplished by pointing the adulterer to scripture, logic, or consequences.

So what do you do to save these marriages? Based on experience (75 percent success rate in saving these marriages over the last decade), we suggest the following:

1. Believe that an affair is not necessarily the end of a marriage.

It may well be, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t give up. Keep praying and keep doing the right things, no matter how hopeless it may seem at the moment.

RELATED: I Had An Affair — And It Saved My Marriage

2. Don’t beg, cajole, or attempt to manipulate the adulterer.

S/he is already emotionally on edge; emotional actions from you exacerbate the situation. Be firm and calm. (This is especially important for the offended spouse NOT to do.)

3. Don’t try to convince him/her that the lover is a bad person or primarily responsible for the affair.

That might work in a Short-Lived Affair. It always causes a person in a Relationship Affair to develop an “us against the world” union with the lover.

4. Drag out any divorce proceedings as long as possible.

The intense emotions involved with being “madly in love” last anywhere from six to thirty-six months. Though the straying spouse may become angry and try to manipulate the offended spouse into divorce, the abandoned spouse should be strong, endure the other’s wrath, and drag it out as long as possible. There is a very real possibility that the abandoning spouse will eventually lose the intensity of desire to be with the lover.

5. The abandoned spouse should demonstrate his/her ability to survive and prosper without the abandoning spouse.

S/he must concentrate on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This accomplishes two things: 1) The abandoned spouse needs this for him/ herself; 2) The abandoned spouse becomes more attractive when strong and self-sufficient.

6. The abandoned spouse needs an attorney that will protect his or her rights, finances, and the like.

Though this may sound vengeful, this attorney should make the divorce as painful as possible — financially and otherwise — to the abandoning spouse. Expect that spouse to react with anger. However, making sin have strong negative consequences is the right thing to do.

7. Convince the straying spouse to take one last action before ending the marriage.

Sometimes the abandoned spouse does this by offering a concession such as “I’ll give on this point in the divorce if you do this.” Sometimes a friend or even the person’s child may convince him or her that for conscience-sake, they should do one more thing to see if there is any hope.

In the words of Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never give up."

RELATED: The Surprising Reason People Cheat (And Why It's Happening Now More Than Ever Before)

Joe Beam is an internationally-respected marriage and relationship expert, in addition to being a sought-after inspirational speaker and best-selling author. He founded LovePath International, an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples, and serves as its president.