After an affair, there are no guarantees that your marriage will be restored. However, you improve the chances by showing consistent effort to help your spouse heal.
Putting in the necessary work is one of the critically important responsibilities you must undertake to save your marriage.
You can start with seeking to understand the depth of your spouse’s hurt.
Experiencing shame can make understanding the depth of your spouse’s hurt difficult.
Why? — Shame causes you to feel deeply flawed and dysfunctional by nature.
In other words, you view yourself as an unfaithful person — instead of — a person who made the choice to be unfaithful.
Wrapped up in shame is how you appear to others, and how you feel about yourself. It doesn’t leave much room to feel anything for your spouse — it’s all about you.
It makes sense — shame will cause you to feel you’re not worthy of connection, love, or forgiveness.
“I’m a horrible person. Why would my partner forgive me? I sabotage every relationship. What’s wrong with me?”
Shame makes it about you as a person, and not your actions.
And until you are acutely aware of your partner’s hurt, and recognize the weight of your actions, your marriage will continue to suffer. Unintentionally, you create a distance that leaves your spouse feeling emotionally abandoned.
Your spouse needs you to plug into his or her pain. Connecting with it is to face the seriousness of his or her heartache.
I get it, the distance feels safe.
The distance shields you from your partner’s anger.
The distance also gives rise to your partner’s insecurities.
On the other hand, a healthy dose of guilt helps you recognize that the affair has damaged your marriage. Guilt is about your actions, not only about you.
Guilt doesn’t feel good. But it can be useful.
Guilt encourages empathy. It allows you to feel remorse, and concern for the ways your spouse has been affected by the affair.
Guilt and shame can be equally painful. The important difference is that guilt allows you to recognize the negative impact of your behavior.
Focusing on your spouse’s hurt is a catalyst for taking responsibility, seeking forgiveness, and doing what it takes to save your marriage.
Saving Your Marriage…
First, accept full responsibility. And explain why you are accepting full responsibility. “I made a commitment to be faithful to you, and I failed to do that…”
Show your partner you are willing to be vulnerable, and admit how your actions have impacted him or her.
Second, honor the fact that your spouse is responding from a place of hurt. Unfaithful partners tend to emotionally detach when their partner reacts with intense emotions.
He or she is wounded; their sense of safety has been threatened.
Reminding yourself, “I have a lot to do with why they are reacting in this way,” is a step towards more compassion, and less defensiveness.
Third, focus on your spouse’s pain. It’s necessary. Attend to your spouse’s wounds, as much as he or she will allow.
Use guilt constructively to understand the far-reaching impact of the affair.
Repairing your marriage after an affair is not for the faint of heart. There are no guarantees your spouse will be willing to reconcile.
Whatever the outcome, your intentional, and thoughtful actions will help more than harm.
Don’t squander the opportunity to prove you want the marriage to work.
It may not lead to the outcome you desire. But you will come to know yourself as someone who made a mistake, owned up to it, and took the steps necessary to restore your partner’s faith in you.
Check out this infographic that explains the distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt seeks forgiveness and repair; shame avoids and moves you towards further disconnection.