We can close our eyes to it. We can try to forget that it's there. We can make every attempt to eliminate its impact. However, try as we might, we cannot ignore the past. For some, the past is a blessing. For others it contains only memories of pain. And for others, the past holds a dark secret. Extramarital affairs may have ended in the past, but unless they are shared and dealt with, they will continue to impact the present and threaten the future.
Although your spouse may currently be unaware of what has happened, your marriage is still suffering the very real ramifications as a result. There exists some elusive wall in your intimacy. Neither of you can quite put your finger on it, but both of you know it is there. Your marriage is being robbed of all that God intends for it by concealing this sin against your spouse. Though it may seem to be working fine, it stands in great need of repair. If you have had an extramarital affair, you must be the one to initiate the repair process.
To repair the damage that has been done to your marriage, you must first understand the nature of an affair. All affairs are not the same and for that reason you should have different expectations regarding the response and healing that is needed. A "one-night stand", though a very serious sin, is often easier to forgive than an extended emotionally romantic affair. In the latter, there is deep personal relationship, which indicates an even deeper betrayal of the marriage covenant. An affair should never be treated lightly, regardless of its duration. However, the degree of pain, betrayal and devastation can vary. No matter the nature of the affair, though, you must eventually share this with your spouse if you are to reach true oneness.
Desiring honesty and oneness is wonderful. However, knowing how to go about sharing this sin from your past can be difficult. How can you make sense of it all? How can you know what actions to take? Look at the course of action detailed below.
There is one point that must be highlighted prior to moving on to the "how to" section. Involving a third party should seriously be considered. Whether it is a pastor, a counselor, or a trusted and mature Christian couple, both you and your spouse may need someone else to guide you and provide a good and godly perspective. Discuss this with whomever you go to when you seek godly counsel and come up with a plan.
1. Deal first with God
Agree with God
- Marriage is the only appropriate place for romantic intimacy to occur.
- Your extramarital romantic intimacy was/is sin.
Seek forgiveness from God
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. (from David's confession of his affair with Bathsheba) Psalm 51:3-4
- God freely grants forgiveness to a truly broken and repentant heart
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
- Once you've received his forgiveness, your sins are never again counted against you
2. Deal next with Yourself
- While God's forgiveness is glorious, your spouse may not be able to respond as God does
- A restored relationship may take a very long time
- As you prepare to share this sin with your spouse, understand that they will be hurt. Avoid the natural tendency to defend yourself. A broken covenant hurts everyone involved. The one who broke it is bound to receive great blame and criticism. This is an unfortunate but necessary consequence of the sin.
- The road you are about to enter is a long one. One where you may not be trusted. One where your spouse may be suspicious, questioning and distant. As unwanted as this is, it is necessary. You will need to earn those back. This will take longer than you want. You must prepare yourself to allow those to develop in your spouse's timing, not yours. (We'll look at this in some detail later under Steps You Must Take.)
3. Sharing an Affair with Your Spouse
- Pray for your spouse and your marriage
- Seek godly counsel.
- Determine the proper place and time.
- Explain why you are sharing this now and haven't before.
- Give the big picture, not the details.
- Be prepared, though, to answer detailed questions.
- 4. Ask for forgiveness for the impact your past has had on your marriage.
- Offer to discuss boundaries that will rebuild trust
- Don't expect immediate results. Recovery can be slow.
- Understand that trust must be rebuilt.
- Obtain an accountability partner.
Remember, that having an affair is a betrayal of a sacred promise. Your spouse's response can vary between any combination of surprise, anger, depression, bitterness, desire for revenge and marital or physical isolation. Healing can be a long process possibly involving counseling with a third party. The exact combination of these depends on your spouse and your specific situation.
Regardless of how your spouse responds, you must commit to the success of your marriage. While the power to continue the marriage has now passed into the hands of your spouse, your desire and resolve must be steadfast. Here are some keys to help you substantiate your commitment to your spouse.
Steps you must take
Cut off all contact
- There can exist NO relationship or personal contact between you and the other person involved in the affair. Absolutely none! Extreme action may be necessary to accomplish this. It may even include changing jobs or moving to another state. Once this step is taken, no level of contact should be re-established.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:30
Set your priorities
- Faithfully pursue your relationship with God. This cannot be overstated. You will need God's continued grace to remain steadfast in your commitment to your marriage. You will continue to grow in integrity and character as you grow in your relationship with God.
- Faithfully pursue your relationship with your spouse. Your marriage is the most important human relationship God has given you. Resist the temptation to prioritize your children, your work, or even your ministry above your spouse. Your spouse's place in your heart must never be questioned.
- The actual affair, in addition to the time that has passed from then to now, has built a wall between you and your spouse. While the affair was a large contributor, the time added to the wall one brick at a time. Therefore, taking that wall down will occur one brick at a time, as the days, weeks and months pass. Resist the temptation to become impatient.
- Answer questions your spouse has. They may want to know exactly what you have been doing at work all day. They may want a minute-by-minute report. With great humility, reply with honesty and grace. Don't always wait to be asked. Readily share the details of your day. This will reassure your spouse that you are committed to an open relationship and to their accountability.
- Begin a "No Secrets Policy" – commit to answering all of your spouse's questions. Other areas of your life that you may not have spoken of in much detail should be opened up to create a relationship environment of trust and vulnerability.
- Obtain an accountability partner. This can be someone more mature than you in the faith or another Christian at your level of maturity. The point is to develop a transparent relationship. Your accountability partner should have access to ask you anything, at anytime. You should call them if ever you are tempted to sin, either in your thoughts or in your body.
Sometimes, the right thing is difficult. Sometimes, it seems impossible. And sometimes, the right thing has significant consequences. Such is the case in confessing an affair to your spouse. We cannot promise its ease. We cannot guarantee a certain conclusion. All we can say with certainty is this - it is right and it is obedient to the commands of God.
As you take action in confessing an affair, place your trust in the forgiving God who has set aside your sin and chooses to remember it no more. Pursue him like never before. Rely upon him for your strength and comfort. Pray for his blessing.
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