This article follows on from the previous blog post: What to do when your spouse has an affair.
**Please note: this article is intended for couples who wish to rebuild their marriage after an affair has ended. If your spouse is still having an affair, or you are wishing to separate, this article is not the one for you.**
If you’re reading this article, I can assume you’ve made it through the affair, and have decided to give your spouse and your marriage another chance. Good on you. This is not an easy decision to make.
Just remember that this is your decision, and your decision only. Plenty of people may be wanting to give you their two cents about what you should or should not be doing right now. If they do, throw it right back to them. They are not in this marriage. They are not emotionally involved. They have no right.
OK, deep breath. Let’s get straight to it: how to rebuild your marriage so that it can be even stronger than before. This is not going to be easy, I’ll tell you now. But with effort and time, you will get there. Follow these six steps to get back on the path to a happy, healthy marriage.
1. Before reconnecting can begin, your spouse must have ended ALL contact with the ‘other party’.
The first thing that must happen before any reconnecting can start is that your spouse must end ALL contact with the person they had the affair with. There is no way you are going to be able to move on knowing that the two are still in touch – no matter how much your spouse says it’s over.
Ending contact may be difficult, especially if the third person is in close proximity, such as a work colleague or neighbour. However, if your spouse really wants to make things work with you, they will find a way to cease all contact with this person. You should not have to ask twice.
If your spouse tries to tell you that ending contact is not necessary or makes excuses, this is a sign that they are not really over their affair. Don’t put up with this: it’s you or them. Period.
2. In order to heal, you both need to be prepared to accept responsibility for what went wrong in your marriage.
Like I said last week, your spouse’s affair is not your fault. They made this choice and need to accept responsibility for this. But what you both need to be prepared to acknowledge is any ways in which you contributed to your unresolved marital problems. It is time to work through exactly what went wrong in your marriage.
The key to this is that you both need to be willing to talk openly and honestly about your feelings, without any blame being pointed at one another. Accept responsibility for your actions, and explain reasons behind these which your spouse may not have been aware of, without making excuses.
Only once you have talked these problems through in a calm environment can you start moving forward and finding solutions, rather than staying stuck in a blame game which will get you nowhere.
3. From this point on, be completely honest with each other.
From here on, there are no more lies or deceit. As much as the truth can hurt, nothing can hurt you more now than the affair already has. There’s no point building a house on an unstable foundation.
Remember, your spouse wants to rebuild this marriage as well, so take anything they say as constructive feedback which is designed to help strengthen your connection rather than weaken it.
As much as you can yourself, try to frame any comments that could potentially hurt your spouse in the gentlest way possible.
4. Spend as much quality time together as possible, and account for any time apart.
Right now is the time for you and your spouse to be giving each other your undivided attention. Your neglected marriage needs to be fed and nurtured in order to grow, and the best way to achieve this is to spend as much quality time with your spouse as possible.
Cancel any unnecessary appointments or social events, so you can fully devote your free time to working on re-bonding with your spouse.
It is very important that at this time you and your spouse account for any time you have apart. For after learning that your spouse has been cheating behind your back, you may find yourself being very suspicious of their every move when they are away – and rightly so!
It is going to be a struggle learning to trust your spouse again, but keeping each other updated on your whereabouts when you are apart is an active way that will help you to do this.
Again, your spouse should completely understand and respect your need for this.
5. Re-learn how to meet each other’s emotional needs.
After going through this really difficult patch in your marriage, I’m guessing you both have some needs that have been neglected for some time – needs that can only be met through your spouse’s love.
Reconnecting emotionally is going to be hard. Really hard. But the good news is, you’ve made it this far, and it can only go up from here.
The first step is for you and your spouse to let each other know that despite everything that has happened in your relationship, you still love each other.
Think back to your marriage vows.
“I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live”.
Now I know that your vows will have varied from these. But I’m going to go ahead and assume that they shared some of the same messages: to love unconditionally, to support, to respect, and to cherish one another. I’m also sure that on your wedding day, you knew exactly how to love, support, respect and cherish your spouse.
It’s time to relearn how to do this.
One activity you might find helpful is writing down with your spouse all the things you love about each other, and giving these to one another to read. In doing this, you are reminding each other of the strong connection you share, and allowing you to see yourself through their eyes.
Part of reconnecting emotionally is also relearning how to express your love physically. Take this as slow as you need to. Start with a touch on the hand or a hug. It may have been some time since you have felt each other’s touch, and it will take time for you to get comfortable again.
This is all normal, and it will get easier. Don’t give up if it doesn’t feel right straight away.
6. What happened in the past, stays in the past.
You’ve talked everything through as much as possible, expressed and explored all of your feelings, and have come up with ways to move forward. It is now time for you and your spouse to agree to leave it all behind you.
Your spouse is going to have to live with their feelings of guilt about the affair for the rest of their life. But what is really going to hold back your marriage is if you are constantly reminding them of this guilt and using it as a defence for any less-than-positive behaviour of your own.
Punishing your spouse forever is not going to change what happened. It is not going to make you feel better. But what it will do is greatly diminish the quality of your marriage. If you aren’t able to give your spouse a true new beginning, they are not going to be able to grow and make changes for the better.
This goes for any of the other problems which occurred in your marriage before or during the affair. Pour everything out of the box, sort through it, leave behind the broken bits, and place the treasured parts back in with care. It’s time for a fresh start.
I really hope that this guide helps you to regain the love in your marriage. You are taking a very brave step, and I’m sure that with time and nourishment your relationship will again grow strong.
Brooke Ryan, Author
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