Scott and Jill wondered if affair recovery was possible for them.
Scott had an affair. In fact, Scott had multiple affairs over several years.
He felt guilty and unworthy about his affairs. He knew that he had hurt his wife deeply.
But, he also felt alive, wanted and desired when he was with the other women.
Scott wanted affair recovery, but wasn’t sure his wife would ever trust him again. It seemed like when he tried to change and tell her he was sorry, it just wasn’t enough.
He felt rejected and upset that his efforts to change went unnoticed. Sometimes he would wonder if it was really worth it to keep trying to win his wife back.
Jill was devastated. She felt extremely betrayed. She wasn’t sure that she wanted affair recovery, especially right at first.
Jill would picture Scott and the other women together. She felt unattractive and rejected.
She also felt angry at Scott. Very angry.
Sometimes she would blame herself. She would wonder what she did wrong to make Scott stray.
Jill also sometimes wondered why this was happening to her. Hadn’t she been faithful? Wasn’t God supposed to protect her from something like this?
Jill sometimes fantasized about being with other men through all this. Sometimes it was to get revenge against Scott. Other times it was just to feel wanted and attractive.
She didn’t act on these thoughts, but they made her feel very guilty.
So, what were Scott and Jill to do? How could they get affair recovery?
Note: Scott and Jill are a composite of couples I have worked with. Their names and any identifying features have been changed to maintain their privacy.
5 Steps to Affair Recovery
Scott and Jill were able to achieve recovery after the affair.
Here are the 5 steps that they took to make it happen.
Step 1 – Start with Integrity
To reach affair recovery, Scott had to commit to being a man of his word. He had to be trustworthy not just in the big things (like being sexually faithful to Jill), but in the little things.
Scott, for example, would often “forget” to take the trash out, even though he said he would.
This always upset Jill, but after the affair, Jill was furiouswhen Scott would forget.
Jill and Scott didn’t understand why Jill got so mad at first. Jill’s But, when we talked about it, it made sense.
The biggest injury after an affair is betrayal. Having your trust broken.
So, any time Scott didn’t keep his word, even in small things, it would bring up all the pain of the affair.
Once they both understood this, Scott committed to following through when he made a promise. He wasn’t perfect, but he apologized when he messed up.
Jill also was able to put things in better perspective. She saw that forgetting to take out the trash was not the same as having another affair. She was able to forgive him more easily and start to see some changes that she wanted.
Jill was starting to trust him. Just a little bit.
Jill also had to commit to having more integrity. She had suspected that things were going wrong for some time, but hadn’t had the strength to bring them up.
She also needed to commit to working on the marriage and being faithful to Scott, even when he hadn’t been faithful to her.
Step 2 – Understand the Difference Between Forgiveness, Faith and Trust
After the affair, Scott really wanted Jill to forgive him and trust him again.
In fact, he asked for her forgiveness and trust over and over again. “Don’t you trust me!? What else can I do?! How many times can I say I’m sorry!?”
Jill would respond “I want to, but I just can’t yet.”
“How long will it take?” asked Scott.
“I don’t know.” Jill responded.
These kinds of exchanges left both of them feeling hopeless and frustrated.
When we talked more, we realized a big part of the problem.
Scott and Jill both thought that forgiveness and trust were the same thing.
In other words, if Jill forgave Scott, she would have to trust him to be faithful to her in the future.
This sounds good to Scott (or whoever had the affair), but it’s very scary for Jill (or whoever did not have the affair).
Here are some definitions that they found very helpful.
Forgiveness means to stop trying to punish the person for what they did.
It’s allowing God (or the universe or whatever you believe in) to be responsible for punishment.
It’s taking yourself out of the position of judge, jury and executioner.
In other words, when Jill was thinking of having her own affair to “get back” at Scott, she was not in a forgiveness mindset.
Forgiveness is a gift. It’s given freely to another person.
And, when you do give it, you find freedom for yourself.
You stop seeking revenge and start looking for peace.
You can give forgiveness at any time. It can happen very quickly. It takes effort, and often prayers for help, but it can be done.
The Tree of Trust
Trust on the other hand, is not a gift.
Trust must be earned. And it must be earned over time.
The big question that Jill was asking after the affair was: “Can I trust Scott to be faithful to me?”
Building trust is like growing an apple tree.
It starts with just a small seed. The seed is faith. Faith is a belief in something.
Jill can have faith that Scott will change and be faithful to her.
Scott can have faith that he will stay faithful to Jill.
Both need faith to start the journey. That faith can start very small. And usually it’s smaller for the Jill’s than the Scott’s.
But, that faith is just the seed. Scott has to prove to Jill over time that he will be faithful to her.
That means Scott has to follow through on small and big things that he commits to do.
That might include no contact with the affair person (or people). It might include checking text messages and emails. It might include calling each other at specific times.
Exactly how this will look will vary from couple to couple.
Scott at first didn’t like this idea. He would ask “Can’t she just trust me?”
The answer to that is: NO!
Jill can have faith, but not trust. She can forgive, but not trust. Not yet.
Scott has to be willing to let his promises, big and small, be verified because he broke such a serious promise.
And, those promises need extra verification when it comes to contact with the opposite sex.
The apple tree takes time to grow. Trust is the fruit. It comes after attention, effort and follow through.
There’s no exact time frame to this either.
In general, the smaller the offense, the less time it will take to rebuild trust.
In other words, if you just burned a few branches of the trust tree, it can grow back pretty quickly.
But, if you chopped that thing down and burned it through multiple affairs, it’s going to take longer for it to grow back.
Scott started to be more patient, and to have faith that he could get Jill’s trust back.
Jill was able to forgive Scott, establish procedures to verify Scott’s promises, and started to have faith that Scott could be a man that she could trust and love again one day.
Step 3 After the Affair – Let Yourself Grieve
An affair is a major loss, and it’s normal to go through what’s called a grieving process after the affair.
We’ll start with Jill’s grieving.
When Scott finally told Jill about the affair, he actually felt relieved. He was “getting it off his chest.”
Jill, however, felt like she had been hit by a truck. This is when her grieving process really began.
The grieving process has 5 typical steps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
You can read more about the physical symptoms of the grieving process here.
Jill’s Grieving in Affair Recovery
At first, Jill didn’t want to believe that something so terrible had happened. She told herself “this can’t be real.”
Jill also felt angry. Very angry. Scott had betrayed her. Had betrayed her trust. Had put her at physical risk through the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases.
Jill was mad, and rightfully so.
But, at times she would also blame herself. She would say thing like “if only I would have appreciated him more, maybe he wouldn’t have had an affair.”
She was also depressed at times. It was hard to get out of bed and face her husband. She didn’t want to face people at work or church after the affair.
Jill wondered why God hadn’t protected her from something like this. She had been the faithful one. Didn’t she deserve better?
Jill also had nightmares about Scott being with other women. She became paranoid at times, wondering where he was and what he was doing. She found herself constantly wanting to check on him and his whereabouts.
Jill would sometimes beat herself up for feeling all of these things. But, she learned that all of these feelings were normal. That they would come and they would go.
Eventually she got to a place where she could accept that the affair had happened, and start looking for a new normal. A place of peace.
Understanding this process helped Jill forgive Scott and have faith for him to start earning back trust again.
Scott’s Grieving After the Affair
Sometimes we forget that the person who had the affair has some grieving to do.
Scott felt very guilty about his affair. He felt the loss of the love and trust of his wife and his children.
But, Scott also had to grieve the loss of his “affair person.”
Sometimes, the person person having the affair, like Scott, feels more alive than ever during the affair.
Scott felt more attractive than he had in years.
Scott felt alive. He felt energized. He knew it was wrong, but it was also very exciting.
Scott had lived in denial for some time. He thought that he could have both a loving and stable relationship with his wife, and an exciting sexual relationship with someone else.
Scott felt angry with himself for having the affair. But, he also felt angry at Jill when she didn’t seem to trust him fast enough.
In his mind, Scott was never going to have an affair again. It was over between him and the other women. He was committed to this and felt it very deeply.
So, he was frustrated when Jill wanted to check his emails and calls.
But, he remembered that the tree of trust had to grow back, and they worked out a system that worked for them.
Scott sometimes went to a place where he blamed his wife for his affair. But, we worked on helping him recognize that no one forced him to be unfaithful.
He recognized that it was childish to blame his wife for his actions, and eventually stopped doing this and took responsibility (part of having integrity).
Scott definitely went into bargaining mode with Jill, the kids and with God. He wanted to try to win back everyone’s trust as fast as possible. He was willing to “do anything” to get his relationship “back to where it was.”
Eventually, Scott had to realize that the tree of trust had to grow back over time. There were no quick fixes.
Scott’s Turning Point
One day, Scott said to Jill “I am going to be trustworthy whether you trust me or not.”
That was the attitude and comment that started to earn Jill’s trust back more than anything else.
Scott realized he couldn’t just change for Jill. If he was only changing for her, once she was “back” or trusting him again, Jill knew he might just go back to his old ways.
He had to change for something bigger. Something deeper. For Scott, it was a commitment to be the type of man that he, his wife and his kids could be proud of.
Scott felt depressed sometimes. It was hard work trying to win back his wife and children.
But, his deep commitment to being a better man kept him going through the tough times of earning back Jill’s (and the kids’) trust.
Over time, Scott and Jill were able to trust each other again. In fact, they were able to develop a better, more intimate connection than ever.
And, it wasn’t all hard work.
Affair Recovery Step 4 – Start Playing Again
After an affair, it’s normal to think that you don’t really know your spouse.
And, that’s probably true.
Scott had been hiding his affair, but also much more of his life from Jill.
Jill had suspected something had been wrong for quite a while. But, she decided not to say anything about it.
Here’s the thing.
Affairs rarely happen when husband and wife are deeply connected to each other mentally, emotionally, spiritually and sexually.
So, while Scott and Jill did quite a bit of hard work to rebuild trust after the affair, they also made time for play.
They both enjoyed cooking, so they started to cook together once a week.
Jill had always wanted to learn to dance, so they took a dance class together.
They both liked Steve Carrell, so they would watch his movies and shows together.
They started to hold hands and touch again.
And, they made time for each other each day to just talk and catch up for the day.
They let each other know the ups and downs of work, child care, traffic and other “small talk” things.
They started to be friends again.
Once a week, they also took time to have a date together.
This gave them more time to talk.
At first, they didn’t really know what to talk about.
I gave them a few questions to get started. They were able to take it from there.
So, while affair recovery does take work, it also takes play.
Don’t forget to have fun with your spouse!
Step 5 in Affair Recovery – Get Mentoring
After the affair, Scott and Jill were both, well, a mess.
They didn’t know what to do or where to turn.
They got some advice from friends and family.
Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t.
What finally helped Scott and Jill reach affair recovery and turn things around was getting help.
And not just any help. The right help.
Mentoring provides new ideas and accountability.
After reading this article, you probably have some new ideas that you didn’t have before!
But, you’ve probably read a lot of things in the past that you haven’t really acted on.
Or, you acted on them, but in a way that didn’t get you the results that you wanted.
Besides new ideas, mentoring provides accountability and guidance in how to apply the principles that work in affair recovery.
When looking for a mentor, you want someone who:
- Cares deeply about you and your marriage
- Has experience helping people in affair recovery
- Is able to offer you support in a way that works for you
I work with a select number of male clients to help them save their marriage, avoid divorce, and become a hero to their wife and children.
I work with men who are currently in couples therapy, as well as men whose wives do not want to do couples therapy.
I help married men become spiritually, mentally, emotionally and sexually strong.
Strong in a way that you respect yourself and your wife equally. That you are a man who is on a mission in his life. A man who is master of his thoughts and emotions. Who uses sex as a way to connect deeply with his wife.
This strength is what gives you confidence in yourself.
That confidence and strength is what can attract your wife back to you, even after an affair.
If you are in the midst of affair recovery, I’d love to see if I can help.
Mike Frazier, MD