-- Question for John --
I have been with my husband for six years. For the past two years we have been very unhappy. It’s been like a wall has grown between us. We have had ongoing issues that we avoided addressing — except in fights. In addition, it turns out he had been cheating on me for a year and continuously lied about it. I found bits of evidence, but each time I confronted him, he said that he was not seeing her. I finally caught him and he is now being honest about it.
Where do we go from here? How do we get past something like this? Can the marriage survive if we work on it with some help from an outside perspective?
He says that he really wants to work on our marriage — and that if whatever we try does not work, then at least we can’t say that we did not go down without fighting!
-- Answer from John --
Couples can move through infidelity if both parties are willing to work with it, learn from it and grow from it.
Getting good outside help is important. Find a counselor who works mainly with couples. Ask about their approach. Make sure they work with emotional reactivity, sexual intimacy, infidelity — and not just communication skills.
The affair, if approached skillfully by both of you, can be a powerful catalyst to tear down the wall that haunted your marriage. But each of you needs to face and deal with the deeper inner emotional elements that built the wall.
Avoidance will no longer suffice. It is finally time to face your fears. You will need to look at your own role in how the marriage got to where it is now — not just blame him.
The fighting, unhappiness, lying and cheating — and the avoidance — are interrelated. This is the opportunity to break through that wall and get to a deeper, more genuine and fulfilling level of intimate connection. It does take work. But it can be done if you are both ready to face fears and crack the wall.
It is a very good sign that he is motivated to do this. It would be ideal for the two of you to make a clear agreement on the work you will do. We suggest this includes getting weekly counseling as a couple, and possibly individually too, for a set length of time. Six months minimum.
Commit to a timeframe where neither of you can opt out. Put the ultimate question of whether you will stay together on hold — only ask it at the end of the time period.
A lot of healing and growing can happen if you let it. You now need to give your best effort to doing this work. So commit to focus on your personal part of it.
Also make other basic commitments that will hold in this time period — being honest, being monogamous, and whatever else is vital for you to stay and do this now.
During this period, you might also pursue intensive growth experiences, like workshops or a couples retreat.
As you start this journey, make sure the following conditions are met:
• You are both open to learning new ways to directly deal with difficult emotions.
• You are both willing to do whatever it takes to heal the wounds from the affair.
• You are both ready to face the inner fears that have held you back in intimacy.
• You are both prepared to increase your authenticity and kindness in communicating.
Meet those conditions, and you can make this journey a transformative one, where you each grow enormously as individuals. And you will emerge stronger as a couple, sharing solid trust and profound fulfillment.