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“My Spouse is Having an Affair”: Dave Carder

with Dave Carder | January 24, 2023
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"My spouse is having an affair. What do I do now?" Affairs expert Dave Carder walks through searing betrayal, what you need to know, and what to do next.

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“My spouse is having an affair. What do I do now?” Affairs expert Dave Carder walks through searing betrayal, what you need to know, and what to do next.

“My Spouse is Having an Affair”: Dave Carder

With Dave Carder
|
January 24, 2023
| Download Transcript PDF

Dave Wilson: So, you remember the day we were called to one of our good friend’s houses, because they had just found out his wife had an affair.

Ann: Oh, yes. It was awful.

Dave Wilson: We met with them within hours of the discovery, and it was just so dark.

Ann: It was horrible.

Dave Wilson: I just, you know, felt like, “There’s no chance.”

Ann: Five kids.

Dave Wilson: Yes, and God saved the marriage!

Ann: Yes.

Dave Wilson: And we literally, three days ago, were at one of their sons’ weddings.

Isn’t that great!?

Dave Wilson: And, you know, we looked at each other and thought, “What if they had chosen to divorce? This whole day—”

Ann: “—would look different!”

Dave Wilson: Really different.

Dave Carder: Yes. Oh, it would be very different.

Ann: Yes.

Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave Wilson: So, we’ve got Dave Carder back with us. Dave has written about affairs—Torn Asunder and Anatomy of an Affair. I don’t know; how many books have you written, Dave?

Dave Carder: Five or six.

Dave Wilson: Five or six.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: But they keep being republished.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: Because they’re that good, and people need help, because affairs and adultery and this kind of thing is pretty commonplace. It always has been. Do you know what the statistics are now?

Dave Carder: There’s a lot of research in the field, but until recently, within the last six or seven years, it’s all been about frequency stuff: how many—what percentages of people acknowledge it—and many of them are online surveys, so there’s some skepticism about those numbers; but, basically, it’s pretty safe to say about half of the population acknowledges some type of marital infidelity.

And there used to be quite a gap between men and women. We used to see numbers around the lower 60s to mid-60s for men, percentages, and maybe in the 40s for women. But I would tell you, anecdotally and experientially, that they’re just pretty much equal right now.

Ann: Really?

Dave Carder: Women have a lot to lose if they have an affair. Men don’t forgive as easily in this area as women do.

Ann: Really?

Dave Carder: Yes. They feel so inadequate. It’s such a threat to their manhood and everything. Women have probably been more conditioned to forgive. You know, up until 1990—up until then—you had two choices: you swept it under the rug, or you got a divorce. There was no treatment! Treating adultery was an oxymoron. It was impossible.  “Who ever thought of that?!” type of thing. But that’s all beginning to change. We have a couple of really great researchers in the field, continuing to expose ideas, etc.

Dave Wilson: You’ve written about this and, also, worked at a church—

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: —for almost four decades—

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: —helping therapists and having peer therapy.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: Are the stats different in the church world than outside?

Dave Carder: I wouldn’t say they’re much different at all.

Dave Wilson: Really?

Dave Carder: I’ll give you some documentation for that. Back in ’88, we started collecting data on pastors. Over 10 years, 1988-1998, basically, about 10-12% of them actually acknowledged that they had committed adultery in their marriage. But the interesting statistic was 14 additional percent of 4,000 respondents said they had lied on the survey. So, if you take that 14% and the 14 or so percent beforehand, you’re up close to 30%. And actually, just given the nature of research like that, we would speculate it would be close to 40. And there have been frequency surveys that do document 40% of pastors.

Ann: Wow!

Dave Carder: So, if you’ve got pastors doing that, you just extrapolate down to the parishioners in the pew, and it’s just terribly frequent.

Ann: Dave, we have had individuals come up to us often, who have said, “Hey, I cheated on my husband or wife years ago. Now, it’s been 10 or 15 years. I’m guilt-ridden, because it’s eating me away.”

Dave Carder: Yes, yes.

Ann: “Should I tell my spouse? And now, it will become all this big deal.”

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: So, what would you say to that? Don’t you think we’ve had that often?

Dave Wilson: Certainly.

Dave Carder: Oh, you do! All the time, all the time. The issue is, if you want to work through it, you’ll have to disclose it. In the book, Torn Asunder, there’s a chart that talks about that.

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Dave Carder: And if you process it, but you don’t disclose it, then you really kind of forfeit the opportunity for it to impact the marriage in a good way.

Ann: And you think it could impact the marriage in a good way?

Dave Carder: Oh, I definitely think so. One of the things you can always say to a spouse who’s been betrayed like that is, “You know, it took a lot of courage to belly up to the bar. So, let’s start working on it. What was going on back there when that occurred.” And we’ll figure it out. Of course, it is upsetting. Of course, kids become disillusioned with their dad or their mom in the process. But the truth sets people free. There is no getting around that.

Ann: Yes.

Dave Carder: You’re not free now, and you won’t be free until you work through it.

Dave Wilson: I want to help couples today who have, maybe, been there.

Ann: Yes.

Dave Wilson: And they’re feeling like what I felt with our friends.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: “Even God can’t save this marriage.” God can!

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: And God does!

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: How? What steps does a couple need to take?

Dave Carder: Okay. To the degree that the spouse who’s been betrayed can forgive, to that degree they can start rebuilding respect for their spouse. And to the degree they rebuild respect for their spouse, they can start rebuilding trust. And to the degree they rebuild trust, they can rebuild love. So, it goes forgiveness, respect, trust, and love. There’s no trust if you don’t respect.

But some people have a very difficult time forgiving. Forgiving is a learned response pattern. You can train people to forgive. So, if they have so many injuries, they just can’t let go of something, it’s going to be very difficult. I always tell my couples in that first session, “You know, don’t stay married after adultery, if your spouse can’t forgive you. To live with somebody who can’t forgive you is hellacious. Every day, they make you pay. On the other hand, neither of you want to have a spouse stay married to you out of duty or obligation. That is a horrible way to go through life.”

Ann: But what happens if that person who’s been offended is just so angry.

Dave Carder: Of course, they’ll be angry.

Ann: and they can’t get over their anger for a while? Should they separate, or should they stay there?

Dave Carder: Sometimes, separation is good, because seeing the person visually just triggers you all the time. So, we often will do structured separation to help that couple calm down, get the anxiety down, get the hypervigilance down, and everything else. Anxiety blocks affect. It does in all of us. That’s a saying in the field. So, we’ve got to get them to a point that they can begin to process: “What was going on back at the time that the affair happened?” But it doesn’t take a long time—

Dave Wilson: Yes, that’s the question: how long?

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: —generally, does it take?

Dave Carder: Well, I see couples for 12-14 weeks, one hour per week; but I do that, basically, only if they agree to invest twenty minutes every other day in their recovery; each one of them. So, that way, the wife will contribute an hour each week to this marriage; the husband contributes an hour each week to this marriage; and I contribute an hour. And I’m not going to contribute an hour, if they’re not going to.

Ann: What does that look like? Just their counseling?

Dave Carder: No, no! No, no.

Ann: They’re doing homework?

Dave Carder: Homework. They’ll be doing homework at home, contributing to their own recovery.

Ann: An example of homework?

Dave Carder: This couple is going to be talking about stuff. Finding out about affairs generates more conversation in most marriages than has occurred in the last 20 years.

Ann: Wow!

Dave Carder: So, we’re going to try to control that talking, because it’s not just about the affair. Every week has a theme: the first week is biographical, second week is family of origin, third week is marital style, fourth week is preparation for forgiveness, fifth week is betrayal letter stuff; the sixth week is reestablishment of trust, the next week is five reattachment exercises. I mean, it just goes on and on and on, okay? So, the point is, it has to be structured.

You cannot see a couple who’s gone through infidelity and tell them, “Why don’t you start dating each other? Why don’t you start going—?” That is a brawl in the restaurant [Laughter] if you do that kind of stuff. There’s a place for starting to date, but not at the beginning of when you’ve been betrayed. Betrayal is the most painful emotion known to man! Most of us, when we choose a spouse, the thought enters our mind—especially for women, I think more than men, but it does even with men: “I want to make sure he or she’s not going to do this to me.”

Now, if you come out of a broken home due to adultery, you’re even more hypervigilant about that situation! If you’ve been betrayed by a broken engagement, or by a boyfriend who had relationships with other girls while he was with you, you just can’t hardly get your arms around it, it’s so painful.

Dave Wilson: Yes, and I came out of a broken home when I was a little boy. I don’t even remember this, but my older siblings told me my dad would take me on trips with his girlfriends, on vacation, when he was still married to my mom. So, when Ann and I got married, it was just what you said,

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: I had this vigilant passion that, “This is not going to happen in our family!”

Dave Carder: Yes, yes.

Dave Wilson: And it would tend to be like I was going to focus it on her as much as on me.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: So, there were all these protections we put in our marriage. That’s pretty common?

Dave Carder: That’s right. And sometimes, it becomes control.

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Dave Carder: Now, remember, let’s just say you grew up in a family where there was not a lot of connection. Here comes this guy along, and he is very vigilant. Actually, control can feel like care.

Ann: Oh, yes.

Dave Carder: It feels like, “He cares for me. He doesn’t want me to go out. He doesn’t want me to do this or that.” But actually, it will become suffocation. It will lead to your desire to leave; to step outside the marriage. So, we’re not talking about controlling your spouse in this situation; but there is that tendency to do that.

Ann: Well, I thought it was interesting, I asked Dave this morning as we were getting ready—

Dave Carder: Yes?

Ann: I think you asked me, Dave, “What’s one of the fears that you’ve had in our marriage?” Or maybe I asked you, I don’t remember—

Dave Wilson: It was only a couple of hours ago, so, you know— [Laughter] 

How could we remember that?!

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: But I said, “I think a spouse having an affair—you having an affair—would be my greatest fear in marriage.” And you said that wasn’t for you. And I think, Dave, you even mentioned, it’s more fearful for a woman, generally speaking, than a husband.

Dave Carder: Yes, it is. They have more at stake in broken relationships and everything else.

Dave Wilson: I mean, I obviously would—every guy would—have that fear. I just, still to this day, trust you.

Ann: He just trusts me.

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Ann: That’s nice.

Dave Wilson: I’m not saying it couldn’t, but it’s just like I never—that was way down. That would be Number 100.

Ann: Hmm.

Dave Wilson: I’ve got all kinds of other fears about your life, but not that!

Dave Carder: Like bankrupting you.

[At the same time] Dave Wilson: How much money you spend—[Laughter]

Dave Wilson: Where the credit card is at, you know?!

Dave Carder: Yes, yes.

Dave Wilson: No, but that wasn’t it.

Ann: Yes.

Dave Wilson: You know, Dave, as you were talking about that 12-14 weeks, you know, I read in Torn Asunder that you say most recovery takes as long as the affair took.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: So, if it was an 18-month affair, you’re going to be 18 months or two years before—

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: Is that sort of how it goes?

Dave Carder: Yes; there are several things that happen. That 12- to 14-week period will help you process the affair.

Dave Wilson: But you’ve got to dig at the root, don’t you?

Dave Carder: You do!

Ann: And you need a therapist, you would say?

Dave Carder: That or maybe even a Christian couple who’ve been through it before, or maybe a peer counselor who’s had some experience. That’s why I wrote the workbook; the workbook was the last thing I wrote, because people were asking for materials, like, “What do you actually do in a session with somebody like this?”

Dave Wilson: Yes, and as we get back to, “Okay, can this marriage be saved?”

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: You’ve done this for four decades.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: Have you seen marriages that are better because they did the work?

Ann: They made it?

Dave Carder: There’s research to substantiate that. Higher levels of marital satisfaction are found in couples who recover from adultery than in any other form of a marital therapy. But understand, you hit rock bottom!

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Dave Carder: Many of them don’t make it, okay?

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Dave Carder: I don’t see the couples who get on the back of a Harley and ride off with a boyfriend or girlfriend, okay? I only see people who want to save it, for the most part.

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Ann: I’m thinking of the couples we know that have worked hard.

 

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: They have put in the work; they’ve gone so deep, and they know one another.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: So much better.

Dave Carder: Yes, yes.

Ann: And I look at them thinking, “Wow, you guys!” I never had imagined that they could be this good.

Dave Carder: Yes; they become the envy of all their friends.

Ann: Yes!

Dave Carder: They do, exactly!

I see couples 12-14 weeks. That stabilizes the marriage, okay? They’ve learned a lot; they’ve answered the question, “Is there enough left to save?” That’s a huge question! But they’re still going to be working through this. They’re not going to be done in 14 weeks. The first-year anniversary of disclosure is always a terrible experience. So, we talk about, after the stabilization of the marriage in the 12-14 weeks, then comes the grief part. That’s where, sometimes, you’ll just break into tears, because of how close you came to losing everything. Then, there will be times that you’ll just have the greatest ecstasy going with yourselves that you saved it. And many of those kinds of grief experiences will surface around holidays, when you visually take in all that’s happening that could have been lost.

It will take you a couple of years. By the second anniversary, though, you’ll be talking about your affair in a very, very different way. And you’ll be using your affair, according to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, in other people’s lives who desperately need what you have been through, because parents won’t talk about this! So, every generation has to go through it. Every generation has to go find their own way in this field.

Dave Wilson: What’s powerful about that is that God rescues.

Ann: Yes.

Dave Carder: Yes!

Dave Wilson: And, like you said, in 2 Corinthians, He comforts us so that we can comfort others with the comfort that we’ve received.

Dave Carder: Yes, yes!

Dave Wilson: You never think—I mean, you don’t know our story, but Ann and I almost lost our marriage; not because of an affair, but just because I’m an idiot, basically. I was addicted to my ministry. I was—you say it in your book, and you’ve already said it on our broadcast; I wasn’t being tender.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: I wasn’t being attentive. I was running away from our marriage, and [I] almost lost it. And in that moment, I thought, “I’ll never let anybody hear this story. This will be our secret.”

Dave Carder: Yes!

Dave Wilson: If we make it.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: And we made it! And now it’s our ministry.

Dave Carder: Yes, yes.

Dave Wilson: It’s like the center of what we do. That’s what happens, even with affairs?

Dave Carder: Yes, in fact, I actually tell my couples—they do what we call a final project. It’s a paper they write. The longest paper I’ve ever gotten is 68 pages.

Dave Wilson: What!?

Ann: Oh!

Dave Carder: Okay. Four chapters; they’re all four chapters. So, anyway, I tell them, “You’re going to use this in several ways. One of the ways is, it’s going to be a journal of your recovery. If you’ve ever done journaling, you can’t believe some of the journals you wrote 15-20 years ago. You were ‘feeling like this’ and ‘going through that.’ So, it will be your journal. Secondly, I promise, you don’t even have to pray about it, God will bring a couple to you that needs your help. You will talk to your spouse and get permission, and you’re going to hand them this paper you wrote and say, ‘Read this, and see what you think. If we can help you, we’ll walk with you in it, okay?’”

“And the third thing you’re going to do is, you’re going to invite your kids over for dinner when they’re seriously dating or engaged, and you’ll say, “We’re going to tell you part of our story that we don’t know that will help prevent this from happening to you.”

Ann: Ugh.

Dave Carder: Of course, the wife! The wife’s just panicking: “I’m not going to share this!” And they call me on the phone. I used to tell couples: “If that goes bad—if that conversation goes bad—you write me. I will write you a check for all you ever paid me.”

Ann: Wow.

Dave Carder: “I’ll give it all back to you.”

Dave Wilson: Really?

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: That couple that we talked about—she had the affair; five kids. Years later—their kids didn’t know it, [because] they were fairly young.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: So, they didn’t share anything.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: Years later, they were on a family trip; on vacation, eating dinner. She decided, “I’m going to tell our boys what I did.”

Dave Carder: Beautiful!! Beautiful!

 

Ann: She was so nervous!

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: We were all praying for her. This was a big step!

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: Because you’re afraid, like, “Will they reject me?”

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: She said, “But my husband, the way he has clung to Jesus, the way he has loved me, forgiven me, supported me—” They’ve had a lot to work through. But I remember when she got home. We were in small group together, and she told all of us. She said, “It was one of the most beautiful nights that I can imagine.”

Dave Carder: Exactly! You fear losing respect. What happens is, respect goes through the roof!

Ann: It’s amazing!

Dave Carder: It goes through the roof!

Ann: Yes, and they gave them an opportunity: “Ask us any questions.” Their respect for their dad grew. And then, what I remember is, she said, “And then, one day, weeks later, I heard one of our sons, who was dating a girl, tell her about it. He said, “My parents are pretty remarkable.”

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: “That they could make it through. It just says so much about their walk with God and their love for one another and their commitment.”

Dave Carder: Yes, yes.

Ann: I was like, “This is unbelievable!” That’s an “only God” story.

Dave Carder: Yes. I didn’t know how else to encourage them to do it except, “I’ll give you a refund if it doesn’t work.”

Ann: That is so great!

Dave Carder: I have never had a taker!

Ann: You haven’t?

Dave Carder: Never! I’ve had them call me, crying so much on the phone after doing it, that they can’t hardly talk because they’re just so thrilled with it and the relief that it brings. Remember, the truth sets people free!

Ann: Yes.

Dave Carder: Whether it’s 20 years ago or whatever, you know?

Ann: Well, I’m thinking of the listener who’s in it right now.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Ann: Like, they just discovered their husband or wife has cheated or had an affair, and they don’t know what to do. What’s their first step?

Dave Carder: Line up support for yourself, because you can’t, probably, do this on your own. I did a video series called “Restore Us,” trying to help with some of these. There are some facts and information and things like that; and if you listen, that will be encouraging to you, but it is so painful, you need to have somebody walk through it with you, probably. Because talking to your spouse, who either betrayed you or you’re so angry at because of your involvement with the affair partner, they don’t have the answers.

Ann: Right.

Dave Carder: The problem is, you get mixed up with two questions: you start focusing on, “Why did you do this!?” and you start focusing on, “What did you do?!”

Ann: Yes.

Dave Carder: All the details!

Well, what are you going to do with all that stuff? Now, I do think that, by the time you recover from an affair, the betrayed party has a right to know an equal amount of the story that the perpetrator does. There needs to be a balance in the marriage. If the spouse who has the affair clams up and won’t share, I would tell you, “They won’t make it.”

Ann: Wow!

Dave Carder: Yes, because this is an equality. Betrayal has to be moving to equal—well, why not call it “equilibrium—where we both know about the story in an equal amount.

Dave Wilson: I remember asking my dad—he would probably have been—he was remarried, and he came up to see me. I was starting this church in Michigan, and he was in Florida. He came up, an airline pilot.

Ann: So, you were in your thirties, probably.

Dave Wilson: I was mid-thirties, probably. We probably had two little boys at the time.

Ann: Yes.

Dave Wilson: Anyway, we’re driving to a band rehearsal. He was a drummer.

Dave Carder: Oh!

Dave Wilson: And I became a guitar guy—a bass guy—probably because of my dad. So, he’s driving with me. I’m driving, and he’s in the passenger seat, and we’re driving to watch a rehearsal for our church band. It was sort of a cool moment. You know, it’s like, “I’m doing what he did, in some ways.” And I’ll never forget—you know, we never talked about the divorce.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: I mean, it was just untouchable, but I’m driving, and I just turned to him and said, “Hey, Dad, did you ever regret the divorce.” Dave, before I finished my sentence, he yells back, “Blank, yes!” Like he thought about this every day since. I was sort of shocked, and I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because I wasn’t there for you. You know, I missed your whole life. You missed me. I could have been there.” Almost like, “If I could have done it again and rewind this thing—”

You know, he had affairs, but I think he was looking back going, “The pain that I have felt and that I caused you, I could have avoided if I had stayed and tried to figure it out.”

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dave Carder on FamilyLife Today. Dave Wilson is going to end our conversation with some good news in just a minute, but first, Dave Carder has written a book called, Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them. We’d love to send you a copy as our “thanks” when you partner financially with FamilyLife. You’ll help more families hear conversations just like today’s; conversations that point to the hope found in Christ. You can give at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”

Alright, here’s Dave Wilson with some good news as our conversation wraps up today:

Dave Wilson: Well, I mean, the good news, as we wrap this up is, God can meet you.

Dave Carder: He can! He will!

Dave Wilson: I mean, I know there are couples listening right now, and it’s fresh and new.

Ann: Yes.

Dave Wilson: And they’re thinking, “There’s no hope,” just what we thought about our friends. And as you shared, Dave, it’s like, “Wow! They did exactly that.” They actually separated for a while.

Dave Carder: Yes.

Dave Wilson: Because she wasn’t repentant. But she went to therapy, dug deep. He went to therapy, dug deep. They came back together, talked it through. Again, this is over several years.

Ann: And their friends—all of us—surrounded them.

Dave Wilson: We were walking beside them. Everything you just said, we did; and I just want to say to a couple that’s lost hope: don’t give up! Don’t give up yet. God can meet you. Your story could be their story; your legacy could be their legacy. I mean, literally, sitting at this wedding two days ago, I took a picture of them as they walked in together, and I’m going to send it to them and say, “I took this picture, because I thought, ‘What if you weren’t together right now? This day doesn’t happen.’”

Dave Carder: There are a lot of good stories like that. I’ve heard a few of those myself.

Dave Wilson: Yes.

Shelby: How do we protect our marriages in a world that tries to pull us apart? Well, tomorrow on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson talk with John and Deborah Fileta, where they break down three main areas of needed protection and share invaluable advice from their own marriage. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

 

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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Episodes in this Series

FamilyLife Today
The Anatomy of an Affair: Dave Carder
with Dave Carder January 23, 2023
Counselor Dave Carder, author of The Anatomy of An Affair, explains how attractions and addictions develop -- and how to guard your marriage against them.
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