Rebuilding Trust After an Affair

Affair recovery tips for Christians

Recovery from an affair and learning to trust again can be one of the biggest struggles that a couple ever faces. Questions arise like:

  • How can I ever trust again now that my spouse has betrayed me?
  • How do we make sure this doesn’t happen in the future?
  • What do I do with these crazy emotions?
  • Will I ever be able to forget what I know?
  • I know I need to forgive, but how?

First of all, I want you to know that my heart goes out to you. Nobody goes into marriage thinking that they might cheat on one another. And, no matter how bad things get, we just kind-of expect that they won’t get to the point of an affair.

Please know, that if the two of you are willing to put the work into recovery, you really can have a much stronger marriage than you’ve ever had before. And really, that’s the point. You wouldn’t want to have a marriage like you had in the past or even what it was like at your happiest moment. You want to move toward more commitment and closeness than ever before.

How Can I trust Again After an Affair?

The truth is, you have to trust again to have a successful marriage. Marriage is built on trust and while that trust has been broken through an affair, you must be able to trust your spouse again if you want to remain married.

Typically, just before an affair and for sometime afterward, the spouse who has been offended against is busy looking into the betrayer’s phone, email, internet browser, and any other place they can think of to try and confirm their fears. And while this might actually be how the affair was discovered, at some point, you simply can’t continue those behaviors. You will never be able to fully commit to your spouse while you’re taking on the role of private investigator.

Trust is hard and it takes time, but it has to occur for you to have a healthy marriage.

In the same way, the betraying spouse has to be willing to engage in behaviors that make him or her seem more trustworthy. And, for longer than they’d like, they must be willing to give up passwords to their electronic devices and possibly even completely shut off their social media for a while. By the way, other than top secret job related events you can’t talk about, there’s no reason that your spouse shouldn’t have access to your social media or your phone and email (yep, passwords included).

How Do I Know This Will Not Happen Again?

In all actuality, you can never know 100% without a doubt that your spouse will not cheat again. In fact, you couldn’t have known this when you two got married, you just didn’t have that ugly awareness at the time. You have to decide to trust even if your spouse does cheat again. It’s definitely okay to know how to set rules, boundaries, and consequences when those boundaries are crossed, but you can’t really do anything to make sure that an affair will never happen again. Remember point one, you need to have a marriage better than one you’ve ever known before.

What do I do with these crazy emotions?

When an affair occurs in a marriage, the emotions for both the one who had the affair and the one that was betrayed are often intense and unpredictable. I’ve had couples tell me the emotions make them think that they or their spouse now has bipolar disorder. Here’s part of the reason for that.

There’s a grieving that comes when an affair is discovered. The person who had the affair might grieve for his or her actions, grieve the loss of the affair partner, or grieve the loss of time with their spouse. The person who was betrayed may grieve not seeing the signs earlier, the loss of trust, and the broken promises or vows. That grief can escalate if the affair partner was a friend or family member.

One of the best things you can do for those emotions is to get yourself in counseling so you can process those feelings. In fact, couples counseling can be quite helpful during this time as well. You may also try journaling which can be incredibly cathartic. Finally, you want to make sure that you are engaging in self-care by involving yourself in activities that are relaxing to you and distracting. You will think about the affair and the emotions that are wrapped up in it for quite some time, but you must also find ways to distract yourself with happier peaceful thoughts during this time.

Will I able be able to forget what happened?

No. Definitely not. And you shouldn’t. You don’t want to get to the place where you forgot that your spouse had an affair. You now have a memory that will never go away. In fact, the spouse that cheated needs to understand that they have given you a memory that will never go away. The memory is part of the protective barrier that you can now put around your marriage to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

That being said, eventually, with focused work, you will be far less impacted by the affair as long as the affair truly is cut off. The memory will still be present, but you can both get to the place where you recognize that time as a difficult one that you have grown from. That memory can help you both to consistently turn toward one another in a way that you haven’t so far in your marriage.

I know I need to forgive, but how?

It can be so tough to forgive someone that has hurt you. What’s interesting about that is we actually only have to forgive those that hurt us. No hurt – no need for forgiveness. So, we know when Scripture commands us to forgive, it most certainly applies to those that have hurt us.

How do we know when we’ve forgiven one another? According to Eph. 4:32, it’s when we are kind and compassionate to others. That means we are not holding on to a grudge or looking for a reason to be offended. We’re giving up the right to “get justice” and instead choosing to act lovingly toward our partner.

Now, I’ll admit, it’s almost impossible to state in one paragraph how to actually forgive. For that reason, I’m releasing the steps to forgiveness on Friday’s blog (it would be way too long to combine these two). Edit: This content is now live right here –> Practicing forgiveness after an affair.

As always, I pray blessings on you and your marriage.

And remember, if you’ve been through an affair, trust can be rebuilt. I encourage you to work toward this end if at all possible.

By the way, I just shared this post on a blog link-up. You can read more blogs about marriage at that link-up site by visiting Messy Marriage.

Dr. Jessica McCleese is a wife, a licensed psychologist, and a sexual educator with specialized training in sex therapy who works with Christian couples looking to improve their marriages and their sex lives using biblically-based principles. Jessica serves on the advisory board for Millennials for Marriage, is an educator through the Christian Association of Sexual Educators, and a licensed psychologist at her private practice in Norfolk, VA. She has a unique ability to connect with others and lead them through practical steps they can take to see improvements in their marriage and currently serves people internationally through her work at BeFullyWell.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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19 thoughts on “Rebuilding Trust After an Affair

  1. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom.
    I also think that it is important to learn to trust your ability to handle an affair in the future – learn to trust your instincts and feel confident that you can handle it. You may not like it, may want to end the marriage but building up self-trust can also go a long way in the healing process too.

    • Absolutely, Nicki. So many people say they’d never stay if an affair happened (or happened again), but the truth is that couples really can make it through this process. It isn’t easy, but they really can end up stronger on the other end.

  2. So glad you covered this topic. Trust takes years to build, but only a moment to break. It is true in marriage and other relationships. You gave some great tools here for anyone struggling with this issue.

  3. I think counseling is so important for couples going through any sort of rough patch, but especially where one half of the couple has had affair. I think one of the worst things you can do is try to stuff your feelings; a qualified counselor can help you work through them in a way that is not destructive.

  4. “And remember, if you’ve been through an affair, trust can be rebuilt. I encourage you to work toward this end if at all possible.” . . . Love this! Too many folks are too quick to abandon their vows.

  5. Big, emotional topic to take on, Jessica. You did that well. I think outside help through counseling is very important in order to break those constantly checking up on and obsessing about their spouse behaviors. Either you build to trust again or you part. There is no halfway. It all has to be brought into the light to be dealt with and the offending spouse has a lot of work to do to rebuild that trust, which means being 100% transparent. I’m sure your words will comfort anyone dealing with this struggle.

    • Thank you for your comment Meghan. 100% transparency is absolutely essential. In fact, when the betrayed spouse does not get this it can be difficult for them to move toward healing. My hope certainly is that those that have been through this will be comforted with this blog and others like it.

  6. I often think that deciding to end a marriage is a knee jerk reaction. There are reasons why someone was unfulfilled & its best to look at both parties with a trained person. Not always easy to see other persons needs but that is needed for the marriage to heal from the infidelity & the hurt.

    • Absolutely! When both couples can understand their role in letting the marriage grow distant, they can have an incredibly strong marriage in the future.

    • A LOT of people feel that way. But, something about really loving your mate can cause you to stay and work through things. That being said, not everyone stays when an affair happens.

  7. I like to think of forgiveness as something we do for ourselves so that we can be released and move on, rather than something we do for the person we forgive. Thanks for sharing your insight and wisdom.