FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How do I Come Clean?

with Dave Carder | April 23, 2009
Play Pause

You’ve had an affair. Now what? On today’s broadcast, Dave Carder, author of Torn Asunder and pastor at Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, CA, gives advice on coming clean after an affair. Don’t miss it.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • You’ve had an affair. Now what? On today’s broadcast, Dave Carder, author of Torn Asunder and pastor at Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, CA, gives advice on coming clean after an affair. Don’t miss it.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You’ve had an affair. Now what?

MP3 Download Transcript

How do I Come Clean?

With Dave Carder
April 23, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Dave: That marriage will struggle for years, and that anger will leak out on that marriage over decades, and he will always feel like he's in a one-down position to her, and she's got him, so to speak, anytime she wants to remind him, "Well, you're the one that committed adultery."  So we've got to let that spouse work through that anger, and here is the rule of thumb – she gets as long to work through the hurt and the anger as you did to get involved in staying in the affair.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 23rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  When a marriage has been rocked by an affair, how do you drain the anger?  How do you rebuild the trust?  We're going to talk about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  Before we dive into what we're going to talk about today, we have heard from a lot of listeners this week who have gotten in touch with us to say, "All right, we'll do it.  We're going to attend one of your Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and it's been fun; been exciting to hear from folks who are calling in to take advantage of the special offer that we are making to FamilyLife Today listeners. 

When you register for one of our upcoming conferences between now and the end of April, and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you sign up for one registration at the regular price, and your second registration is free.  And we've had a lot of folks calling us.  Some of the conferences are starting to fill up, but we are encouraged that you're going to join us for one of these fun, romantic weekend getaways, and if you haven't called or gone to our website,, now is the time to do it.

If you register online at, and you want to take advantage of this special offer, all you need to do is type my name, "Bob," in the keycode box on the registration form.  You will automatically be identified as a FamilyLife Today listener, and you'll qualify for the special offer.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, if you have any questions about the conference, if you want to know when it's coming to a location near where you live, just give us a call.  We can get you registered over the phone, but make sure you mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today and you want to take advantage of this special offer.  And, again, you sign up for one registration at the regular price, and your second registration is free.

The website,  Our phone number, 1-800-FLTODAY, and we do hope to hear from you and hope you enjoy your weekend getaway as a couple at one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  And, you know, in a way, what we're talking about this week ties in with the Weekend to Remember conference.  We've been talking about infidelity and adultery.  Dr. Dave Carder has been joining us this week.  Dave, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Well, thanks so much.

Bob: Dave is a counselor, an author, he's on the staff at the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California, and you've written on the subject of infidelity and coached couples on coming back from an affair. 

One of the things you said earlier this week is that 40 percent of married couples in churches today have had an affair by the time they reach their …

Dave: Fortieth birthday.

Dennis: Wow.  And so, Bob, if you have someone who has been married about 20 years, they have to be listening to these broadcasts and asking your question.

Bob: Yeah.

Dennis: "Is it my husband?"

Bob: "Is it happening now?  Has it happened in the past, and I just don't anything about it?"

Dennis: Yeah, "Has my spouse been faithful?"  And we have, I believe, one of our nation's experts on this subject, Dave Carder, with us to help.  He has written a book called "Torn Asunder."  He's served as an assistant pastor at First E Free Church in Fullerton, California; his wife, Ronnie, live in Southern California; have four children and a couple of grandchildren, another one on the way.  We're still here at day 4, and that child hasn't arrived yet – the grandchild.

Today what I want to focus on is the process of redemption, restoration, healing, rebuilding of trust.  In fact, we're going to take the next couple of days and do that, because I don't want to leave our listeners, Dave, just in the throes of this trap.  I want to help them out of the trap and help them reestablish their marriage relationship and the trust. 

And I guess the question is – can we recover from the wound of an affair?  And to kind of put it in layman's language, I'm going to read Proverbs 6:27-29 – "Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?  Can one go out upon hot coals and his feet not be burned?  So he goes into his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent."  And I think the question is – can you recover, as a burn victim, from an affair?

Bob: And, Dave, as you've worked with couples, the answer to that question is you can, but it's not – you can't throw a switch and make it happen, right?

Dave: That's right.  It will take some time, and it also takes a realization of what our marital history has been prior to the affair.  I think that is critical.  If you're in a good marriage that's gone through an affair due to all kinds of contributing circumstances and environmental things and issues and everything else, you will stand a better chance of recovering.  But if you've been in a poor marriage, it's going to be very difficult to salvage it.  We talked about that, I think, on Tuesday.

Bob: Well, you've got all the trust issues and all the emotional wound issues to deal with, but you've also got all of the marital dysfunction that was present in the first place.  You're trying to fix that.  So it's just – we're talking about major surgery – we're talking about heart surgery versus resetting a broken arm.

Dave: Oh, an affair is not the time to build good history for the first time in a marriage.  It's very difficult.

Bob: Let me go back to what I was talking about at the beginning of today's program.  The wife or the husband who has listened over the last few days and says, "You know, I'm wondering.  I've noticed something between my wife and a guy at church, and I don't want to go to my wife and say, 'I suspect you're having an affair,' but I also don't want to just sit here and not ask any questions and wind up finding out that she is."  Do I need to call a private detective?  What do I do?

Dave: Well, I think the first thing I would suggest to a spouse is don't go in an accusatory fashion, don't go blaming somebody or accusing somebody of having an affair, but you should go with the idea of learning what is it about this person that appears to be so attractive to you.  And just talking about it – and put the attraction in a common level, not something way out there as sinful, et cetera, at this point.  I might just be a friendliness between the two of them.  But you should explore it.

I oftentimes tell the spouses, if you don't know the truth, and if your spouse was having an affair, and it would make a difference in your behavior towards them, including your sexual involvement with them, then you ought to pursue the truth no matter where it leads you.

Dennis: So you would recommend a detective?

Dave: Oh, absolutely.  We do that all the time.  You need to find out the truth.  Truth is what sets people free.  It's on truth that you can base responses and behaviors.  If you are just waiting for something to show itself, you might wait an awful long time.

Bob: But, you know, if I hired a private detective, and I'm wrong, I mean, all of a sudden, now, we've got real – we've got other sets of issues in my marriage because my husband is going to find – my wife is going to find out that I hired somebody, and "What were you doing?"  "Well, I thought you might be having an affair."  "You thought I was having" – you know, how it happens.

Dave: Most private investigators won't take a case unless there's some pretty good documentation of things that are going on – including cell phone situations, unexplainable bills, hotel travel trips, purchases – all those kind – they need to see the evidence that would suggest that first.

Dennis: What you're talking about are signs that an affair is occurring.  What are the signs that a spouse may overlook?  You know, we're kind of assuming that an affair is occurring, but what about just to the spouse who is listening to this broadcast going, "I don't assume my husband or my wife is having an affair."  And yet they may be gullible.  They may be overlooking some of the signs you talk about.

Dave: Well, the two biggest changes are change of mood and tolerance for intolerable behavior in the marriage.  So if your spouse suddenly has a change of mood where they're positive, they're outgoing, their depression has gone away, they're excited about life, and you can't find any explainable cause for it, that would be a big red flag.

The second thing is, if they can tolerate untolerable behavior or behavior that in the past created all kinds of problems and difficulties for you all the way from a rebellious child to a grieving or caring for a parent, an elderly parent – if suddenly they can tolerate all the kind of stuff more easily, then you need to think in terms of that your spouse might be having an affair – where is this energy coming from?

Dennis: Dave, as I've heard you talk about this, you say that wives often deny – and they see the signs, they look at these evidences.  Maybe they even have some cell phone bills, some receipts that look awfully suspicious, but they deny it.  Why do they do that?

Dave: Well, no one wants to believe their spouse is having an affair, because it makes you feel very vulnerable suddenly, especially on the part of the wife who might have small children at home or maybe doesn't have a career.  It's like her whole life is suddenly threatened.  And the husband, if he suspects his wife is having an affair, suddenly he is incapable, he's not man enough to be all that his wife needs.  So it's an attack upon his person, suddenly, to admit that his wife might be having an affair.

So it's against human nature to believe something like that – surely, I'm good enough or I'm attractive enough or I'm whatever enough to keep my spouse faithful.

Dennis: So what do you say to that person?  Wake up?

Dave: Well, I think they ought to get counsel.  I think they ought to take what evidence they might have to somebody that they trust and say, "Here is what I know; here is what I suspect; what do you think?"

Bob: Are you talking about a pastor?  A mature Christian friend?

Dave: A mature Christian friend, an older person, maybe a counselor that they trust or have been to in the past.

Dennis: But not just anybody – because, Dave, in the church today there's a lot of immaturity, a lot of ungodly counsel that is offered, and Psalm 1 talks about walking in the counsel of the godly, because you're dealing with something here that demands the wisdom of Solomon, and you need to go to someone who is experienced, who knows what they're talking about, and who can provide godly counsel.

Bob: You know, what happens in a marriage to reveal an affair – either a person gets found out, or on their own initiative they 'fess up.  Now, let's say it's a husband in this case who has got the evidence.  Who hired the private detective, or he listened in on a phone call, or he found an e-mail or something happened, and he sits down and says, "What's going on here?" and the evidence is there.  There may be denial at first, but ultimately it gets to the point where somebody says, "Yeah, that's been happening."  What happens next?

Dave: An explosion, and it's going to be very tough right then.  But they need to get some help, for the most part – somebody who can bring some encouragement to them and confidence to them, and in the counseling process that I use, and I learned this from some other folks who were very kind when I was first getting started in this field – the affair is not the most important thing.  We want to take a look back at the marriage.  What kind of history do you guys bring to this infidelity?  And everybody always wants to know – can we make it?  Can we recover?  Is our marriage strong enough to handle this?

So that's why we go back and take a look at that marriage process and that marital history first – to see if it's strong enough to sustain this couple in this time.

Bob: So a couple comes to you and says, "I just found out that my wife has been having an affair.  She's just admitted it to me, and we need help," and you're saying the first thing you look at is not the affair.  You look back and say what kind of marriage was this in the first place?

Dave: Well, if they're going to see a counselor, that counselor needs to bring a lot of structure to this process.  This is not an open-ended, discuss-as-you-like-to-discuss when you come to the sessions.  What do you want to talk about today?  It's none of that kind of stuff.  The structure is necessary to contain the anger, the hostility, the hurt, and the pain.

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: The workbook that you put together is that kind of structure.

Dave: It is.

Bob: I mean, that's why you put it together so that a counselor, a pastor, can either lead a couple through that material or it can be self-guiding but, boy, it takes a lot of maturity on the part of a couple that's in the midst of this to kind of work through the workbook on their own, doesn't it?

Dave: Well, it does and, oftentimes, though, the spouse will suddenly wake up to what they're doing, and they will confess it, and they will want to stay in the marriage, and that workbook can be very helpful just to the two of them.  But – the thing I do want to say, first of all, about that explosive time – lots of guys – I'm going to address this to the men – if you find out that your wife is having an affair, oftentimes the rage and the anger are very dangerous.  Women might say they would like to kill somebody, but men would have a tendency to do it more often than women.

Bob: You're talking about physical violence.

Dave: Physical violence.

Dennis: And you're talking about in the husband at that point.

Dave: In the husband at this point – men are more violent than women in responding to an infidelity.

Dennis: That really leads me to a process question at this point.  Let's say you do suspect, or you have hard evidence that your spouse is having an affair, and let's say it's the husband who is having the affair at this point.  How would you coach the wife in terms of setting up the confrontation?  Because you're now saying that the actual confrontation of the truth of the affair can bring about a huge explosive emotional reaction.  Doesn't there need to be some protection built into the process for how a woman would confront her husband at the point of an affair?

Dave: Well, in the best-case scenario you're right, Dennis.  There should be a couple of his friends there, maybe, with her that she's presented the evidence to, and they also agree that this needs to happen, this confrontation needs to take place.  It's frightening to me whenever it happens in the counseling room.  I've done this gobs of times.  I mean, there is no deodorant on earth that will keep you dry in an experience like this, I promise.  The tension is just so high.

Dennis: You're saying frightened, I mean, you're wondering if there is going to physical …

Dave: Well, the screaming, the yelling, the name-calling, the swearing – all kinds of things just explode in this situation.

Bob: The level of emotional pain brought on by an adulterous affair may be the most profound level of emotional pain we can experience.

Dave: Oh, it's betrayal.  It gets very difficult at that crossover right there. 

Dennis: But the infidel has to understand and has to give the other person time to process what they've been told.

Dave: Exactly.  Now, see, Dennis, lots of pastors at that point say to the wife, "You know, he just told the truth.  You've got to forgive him.  You've got to go on, and look at the guy, he's brokenhearted.  He wants to stay back in the marriage." 

But if she doesn't have an opportunity to work through all of her feelings, that marriage will struggle for years, and that anger will leak out on that marriage over decades, and he will always feel like he's in a one-down position to her, and she's got him, so to speak.  Anytime she wants to remind him, "Well, you're the one that committed adultery."  So we've got to let that spouse work through that anger, and here is the rule of thumb – she gets as long to work through the hurt and the anger as you did to get involved in staying in the affair.  So if you've got a two-year affair going on, from the start to the disclosure process, your wife gets two years to work through it as well.

Dennis: See, most men, and Bob and I have talked about this before – most men want to pull the dump truck lever, dump the load and get on with life.

Dave: Get over it, that's right.

Bob: We can compartmentalize – as men, we can kind of seal that area off, and that's done with.  But wives can't compartmentalize like that.  They need time and process and space and some opportunity, as you said, to let the emotions surface and to deal with them biblically.

Dave: And you need to bring that whole story to the light, because if you keep a secret, your wife is not involved in that story, then you have a little secret compartment in your head you can go back to anytime to fantasize about that will always be better than your marriage ever could be.

Bob: So if you're in a situation where you've confessed or where you've been found out and somebody is pressing and saying, "I want to know everything that happened, I want to know every time, I want to know the details," you're saying full disclosure?

Dave: Go, absolutely.  She has a right to know how you broke the contract, when you broke the contract, who you broke the contract with, and she has a right to determine if she wants to come back to the contract or the marriage.  And that's the only way forgiveness will ever happen.  How can you forgive somebody if you don't know what they've done?  So full forgiveness requires full disclosure.  Cleansing requires openness.

Dennis: And as the details come out, one of the things you say in your book, and I think this is a profound statement – that in order for healing to occur in the marriage, the infidel, the one who has been unfaithful, the covenant-breaker, must understand the agony, the grief, the hurt, and what that has done to his or her spouse.  Why is that so important?

Dave: Because you can only forgive what you feel like your spouse understands they've done to you.  So if the spouse says, "I was wrong, I did it, forgive me," et cetera, and doesn't really identify how his behavior impacted you as the wife, then there won't be any real cleansing, and you'll always be trying to get him to understand.

Now, see, that's what Joseph did with his brothers.  He did everything to them that had been done to him with the idea of helping them understand what their behavior did to him, and then he could forgive them freely, and he wept with them and let them go free and blessed to them, and the relationship was better than it had ever been in the past.

Dennis: You're really talking about a reality of admitting what the sin has done to you personally, and so that the forgiveness is based upon reality. 

Dave: It is.

Dennis: It's not a quick fix-it and, Dave, I have to say I really like your rule of thumb – if the affair took two years, the process of healing and restoration should take two years in the person who has been wounded.

I think that brings a sense of – well, it gives freedom to the spouse who has been wounded, to be able to take the time to process this and work it through and not feel like they are unforgiving just because they have emotions of being betrayed. 

Bob: We've all seen the devastation that can come to a city or a structure from an earthquake – or all of us watched the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers, 9/11 of 2001.  When that happens, that explosion is like what happens when there is a confession in a marriage that infidelity, that adultery has taken place.  Now there's got to be a process to clear away the rubble and, in some cases, to begin rebuilding the structures that were destroyed. 

You live in Southern California, you've seen them rebuilding freeways that have been destroyed by earthquakes.  Most couples don't know where to start after the earthquake has taken place, Dennis, I think probably one of the best places to start is by deciding to rebuild.  You've got to decide, and then getting a guidebook to help you walk through the process of rebuilding.

Dennis: Well, I think we're speaking right now to men and women who are in affairs, and they have to decide to rebuild, which means they have to confess.

Dave: Can I interrupt here?  I think they do have to decide to rebuild, but I do think they have to decide to forgive first before they make the decision to rebuild the marriage, and they have to rebuild respect before they can rebuild their marriage, and they have to rebuild trust before they can rebuild their marriage, and some people bring a history of infidelity or a personal history of molestation, for instance, to the table.  That makes it very difficult to forgive, to rebuild respect, to rebuild trust again.  And after those issues have been dealt with, then they can begin to really concentrate on putting that marriage together.  It is very difficult for some individuals to do that.

Bob: Yeah, but I think what our listeners have heard us say all this week is that even though it's difficult, this is the right thing to do.  This is what God would have you do.  This is what the Bible calls us to – forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration – that's the message of the Gospel.  God has reconciled with us, He has forgiven us for our transgressions, and we are to be imitators of Christ and to forgive others and to work towards reconciliation. 

So we'd encourage couples – get copies of your book and your workbook, "Torn Asunder."  We've got those in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can find out more online at  Get to one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We've had thousands of couples already go through the weekend with us – a fun, romantic weekend getaway.  You laugh a lot, you learn a lot, you get a chance to connect and communicate as a couple, and whether a couple is coming with issues like this that they need to work on in their marriage or they're just coming for a marriage tuneup, it's a worthwhile investment in your marriage to attend a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.

And, in fact, right now for FamilyLife Today listeners, it's even more worthwhile.  We're making a special offer to our listeners.  Contact us before the end of the month and register for a conference, and if you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, when you buy one registration, we'll give you a second registration free.  So if you buy one for yourself, your spouse comes along at no cost, and it's good to have your spouse come along.

You can register online at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to register.  If you're online, type my name, "Bob," in the keycode box on the registration form.  That will identify you as a FamilyLife Today listener, and you'll be able to take advantage of this special offer.  Or call 1-800-358 6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  We can answer any questions you have about the conference, we can get you registered over the phone and, again, if you identify yourself as a listener to FamilyLife Today, you buy one registration at the regular price, and the second registration is free.  The website,, the toll-free number, 1-800-FLTODAY.

Now, tomorrow we want to talk about what can feel like very risky business – forgiveness and learning how to rebuild trust all the time wondering if your heart is going to be broken again.  We'll talk about that tomorrow with our guest, Dave Carder.  I hope you can be back with us for it as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you.  However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website.  If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.