Marriage Infidelity: Bringing up the past

The Question:

In 2004 I cheated on my wife. I know that I broke our vows. After I told my wife what I had done, I asked her for forgiveness. She forgave me and I promised her that I'd never cheat again. But, every time we have any argument, she brings up the past. We have been separated for several months now and I'm trying to keep my faith strong but I feel like I'm losing the battle. (This question has been edited so I can concentrate on one issue only.)

- HW from Whitley City, Ky.


The Answer
Part 1: No short cuts
Part 2: Solutions

No short cuts (Part 1)

Cheating in a marriage is a very serious breach of your promises to both God and your spouse and I'm glad you recognize it. Healing a marriage which has taken such a hit is difficult on both sides and I'm also glad you and your wife decided to try. Perhaps you both need a little help in how to process the forgiveness which you asked for and she says she gave.

I think a mistake that couples often make in getting over infidelity is what I will call the "Done Deal Summit." There is a big serious conversation (very painful on both sides) in which confession is made, forgiveness is begged, forgiveness is given and then there is agreement to never speak about this again. (Sometimes that part is more assumed than actually spoken.) This is very unrealistic.

True, the person who did the cheating doesn't want the past dredged up over and over because then there is a replay of guilt and after all, doesn't forgiveness mean "forgive and FORGET"?

The person who was cheated on experienced such trauma that they never want to hear those difficult things again. BUT they have a very hard time actually moving on because trust was violated. Even if they don't say anything, they are still thinking about it. Because they aren't really over it, little jabs about the past keep erupting into the marriage.


Solutions (Part 2)

What is the solution? Both parties can contribute to a healing process that acknowledges what the other needs to truly move on. For instance, the offender needs to say "I'm so sorry" more than once. It needs to be said in many ways and as often as necessary to reestablish the trust which was broken.

Here's an example of how this might go. The husband and wife are having coffee one Saturday morning about a month after the big "Done Deal Summit." The person who cheated says; "Honey, I know you forgave me for the stupid thing I did but I want to tell you one more time how sorry I am. I can't believe I jeopardized our marriage because it means so much to me. I feel so grateful that you gave me another chance."

The other spouse counters with: "Thanks for telling me that. I truly want to get past this but I'll admit that I'm struggling with it. Sometimes it all replays over in my head. Why don't we pray about this together and ask God's grace for both of us."

Other scenarios and conversations over the next months and even years need to be played out until the incident is so far in the past that it has lost all its emotional punch. Remember that when things keep resurfacing it is because they have not been adequately handled. There needs to be a safe way to process feelings which contributes positively to the marriage. If needed, a counselor can help teach a couple those safe methods.

Since you didn't give up on your marriage even after cheating, why give up when the healing process is so hard? Separating may bring some initial relief from arguing but in the long term, since the issues are never handled, they sit in your lives and serve to poison the future. Don't let that happen when God is there to bring you a "future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)

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