By Bev and Phil Haas
My wife and I are trying to get our marriage back to the way it was before an affair that occurred. We are currently separated, but we’re seeing each other on a regular basis and are dating again. I’m looking for insights that might help us.
No one is immune to an extramarital affair. Thinking this could never happen in your marriage is the first misstep many people make. The Bible reminds all of us of our vulnerability to temptation. (Even Jesus was tempted—see Matthew 4.)
Having sounded that warning, we want to refocus your goal. Rather than getting your marriage back to the way it was, instead aim for making your marriage better than before.
Understanding the Problem
Pretending that problems do not exist in your marriage will only widen the gap between you and your spouse. Many extramarital affairs start when a frustrated spouse turns to a coworker or friend of the opposite sex for support.
Dare to face the truth of your marital struggles. This can be your first big step toward making your marriage better. Usually something has gone awry in a marriage before a dissatisfied spouse steps across the line. To prompt your understanding, we’ll share some common factors that can lead to marital unfaithfulness: Men tend to turn to extramarital liaisons to build up their self-image or sexual self-esteem. Women are suspect to affairs to satisfy their longing for love, appreciation, and tenderness.
Beware of leaning on someone other than your spouse as a primary source for love and respect. Neglecting to talk openly with each other can also be a sign of trouble. If you only talk to your spouse about what we call “maintenance stuff,” you may be closing the door to deeper sharing. Every couple runs into communication rough spots, but it’s important not to build walls. Unresolved conflict leads to isolation and leaves you vulnerable.
Think of the last time you and your spouse enjoyed a date or a weekend getaway together. As the old adage goes, “Couples that play together stay together.” If packed schedules with work and home responsibilities are crowding out fun and friendship with your spouse, you must make more time for each other. The more time you spend away from your spouse, the greater temptation to drift in your relationship.
Maybe your problem is none of the above. Our point is to avoid denying that a problem existed before the affair. On the surface, it may appear that one’s behavior is the problem, and that a promise “to change” is the solution. Without getting to the real problem, spouses are destined to continue feeling as though something is wrong, but neither will understand what. They will limp along, wondering why their relationship is so tentative and distant.
Building a Hedge
Once an affair has happened, trust will be difficult—but not impossible—to restore. A question you need to answer together is, “How do we intend to protect our relationship now?” We suggest that you become proactive and build a hedge around your marriage.
What are hedges? Hedges are boundaries. You probably haven’t spent much time thinking about them. We’re referring to a mutually protective fence that will allow your marriage to thrive like never before. Spend time talking about safeguards for your marriage. Having a hedge around your marriage will help you both deal with the past and build a better future.
Begin by drawing your lines together. Clearly state and agree on your boundaries. You probably want to avoid after-work get-togethers, hugging a coworker, or sharing a ride with a person of the opposite sex. Remember life before marriage? If you were raised in a typical church setting, it’s likely that a student minister encouraged you to set and maintain your sexual boundaries. You knew premarital sex was wrong, but sometimes you might have gotten as close to the line as you could without crossing it. Sometimes it’s easy to want to push boundary lines in marriage too.
Once you draw your lines, commit to staying far away from them. And pray together for hearts that desire to honor God and your spouse. Hedges can keep you out of compromising situations.
If both of you are willing to talk about the real problem (possibly with a counselor) and build a hedge around your marriage and allow God to help you rebuild your marriage (see Psalm 127:1), we believe that you can have a better marriage than before the affair.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.