This is a call to action for all unfaithful spouses determined to reconcile and rebuild their marriages: take personal responsibility for your affair.
You had the affair. You cheated on your spouse. Your affair created the pain they’re experiencing right now and you may well be causing your spouse further pain and trauma. It’s up to you to take personal responsibility for your affair and effect healing in you and your spouse.
There may be well be hidden bodies in your relationship (my wife wrote about hidden bodies here: https://infidelityrecoveryuk.com/hidden-bodies). There’s probably going to be hidden bodies to which you attribute blame on your spouse. It doesn’t matter. I promise. You cheated. It’s as simple as that. Own it.
Note for the unfaithful: This post intends to send the message that you must take personal responsibility for your affair. This post is blunt and will say a few things that might make you feel uncomfortable. Please take this post in good faith that its sole intention is to help you and your spouse. I’ve been there. I’ve learned a lot of these lessons the hard way.
Note for the betrayed: This post intends to help your spouse support you and your healing. There are many reasons why your spouse may or may not be doing any or all of these things. This post may be their starting point. They may already be doing some of or all of these things. Please use this post as a means to start healing conversations.
Take personal responsibility to be open and honest during the disclosure
Key viewing: Reaching Ground Zero: The Importance of Full Disclosure (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZp_ux1JtP0)
Lying to your spouse is more than likely why you’re reading this post in the first place. Lying to your spouse about lying to your spouse is not going to help you or your spouse heal from your betrayal. I get it. It’s not easy to talk openly and candidly about betraying the person (or persons) we love. Similarly, it’s not pleasurable to look at the reasons why we behave as we did.
Stop it. Please. Stop lying to yourself and stop lying to your spouse. While you continue lying to your spouse you may as well be saying nothing at all. As long as you continue hiding the details about your affair your relationship will not heal.
Take responsibility to be empathetic towards your spouse
Key viewing: Empathy: A Game Change In Recovery (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXnWsx4mh5o)
Your spouse didn’t ask for this. Let that sink in for a moment. Your spouse did not ask for this. Your spouse didn’t ask to be betrayed and I doubt your spouse asked to feel hurt as they do. The affair is your responsibility. I promise you it’ll transform your recovery if you see your infidelity through your spouse’s shoes and engage with the feelings you’ve created (you can read more about empathy here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/empathy).
Please try and see your spouses’ pain rather than your own. I implore you to explore the impact your actions have had on your spouse and your loved ones rather than the impact it’s had on you. You probably don’t understand what it’s like to experience the trauma your spouse is going through but you can (and must!) develop healing behaviours that come from within, rather than out of duty. I’m embarrassed to say it’s taken me a lot of work and therapy to build those behaviours but it can be done.
Take personal responsibility to create safety in yourself and your marriage
You are probably not a safe person right now. You might think you are but I’m more than certain you aren’t. I thought I was before I had an affair and, regretfully, I thought I was when I admitted what I’d done. (Well, the parts of it I was willing to disclose in each conversation in any case.) Creating safety is a whole series of other posts that my wife and I will get to but please digest as much as you can about this.
Creating safety is an absolute must and effective healing won’t start until you’re a safe person for you and your spouse. Be a safe person for your spouse to be vulnerable and angry with. Create a safe environment in which your spouse can discuss their feelings and in which they ask questions. Create in safety in yourself with your actions as well as your words by doing the things you say you’ll do when you’re going to do it.
Take responsibility not to be defensive about your affair
Key viewing: What Defensiveness Does To The Betrayed Spouse (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkeZIwlsj_0)
I didn’t sleep with her. I remember doing this but I certainly don’t remember doing that. It wasn’t exactly like that. These are a few examples of the way in which I was defensive with my wife about my affair. It doesn’t help.
You might find as I did (not to my credit!) that an injured spouse may make a lot of assumptions about you and your behaviour during your affair. Some of them might be right (e.g. you were with your affair partner when your spouse says you were). A few might not be (e.g. you weren’t with your affair partner when your spouse says you were). Some might have a grain of truth with a hint of plausible deniability (e.g. you weren’t in X with your affair partner but you were in Y). It doesn’t matter. Above all, your spouse is hurt and that’s the important thing.
Stop, as Samuel says, defending the 10%. Similarly, stop defending anything else about your affair. I get it’s not easy to face a barrage of reasons why your behaviour has been so hurtful. It’s not easy, however, for your spouse to face constant reminders and hurtful thoughts about what you did either. It will transform your healing, therefore, to accept the truth about your behaviour and be humble enough to let the 10% go. It doesn’t really matter anyway.
Take personal responsibility to be willing and patient when discussing your affair
Key viewing: What It’s Costing the Unfaithful to Not Discuss the Infidelity (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjruBK8aLUY)
You need to talk about the affair. More importantly, your spouse will need to talk about your affair. You’re not going to enjoy it but, similarly, your spouse won’t enjoy it either.
In the early days of recovery, I’d often fall apart inside when I thought about the affair let alone discuss the details with my spouse. I’d spent my entire adult life, furthermore, avoiding my mistakes and avoiding taking any kind of personal responsibility for them. Consequently, I didn’t want to talk about it at all. I wanted it all to go away. I wanted to pretend it never happened. Guess what? Your spouse wants it to go away too. It’s not as simple as that though. They need the details (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyqxPQ30vpY). They need to process the pain they’re experiencing and you need to take personal responsibility for their pain.
Stop. Now. It might be logical (if you squint your eyes hard enough) and you might mean well (or you’ve at least convinced yourself you do). Do your spouse (and yourself) a favour and trust them a bit. You’re asking them to find and grab onto any shred of belief you won’t betray them again. You’re also asking them to stay with you while living with an excruciating amount of pain as well, so you might want to find empathy and live with some discomfort as well.
Take responsibility for getting healthy
Key viewing: Get Healthy For You (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_ApClnlZP4)
This list isn’t deliberately prioritised but this is amongst the most important. You need to support your spouse and you need to support yourself to do that.
Why you need to support your spouse is the obvious part but ask yourself some questions. What, for example, have you changed in yourself since you ended your affair? Which of the harmful, destructive behaviours that contributed to you having an affair in the first place have you reflected on and made a conscious effort to change? What have you changed in your life to make yourself a healthier person?
It takes time. I know. I’ve been there and I’m still there now. It isn’t a tick box exercise and there are heaps of hard yards to put in to even consider where to start, let alone where you need to go. There’s a whole host of resources out there to help you get the help you need at every stage of your recovery journey and I implore you to find them for the sake of your health, your spouse’s health and the health of your marriage. You might not think you deserve to be healthy (I didn’t!). It gets easier. You deserve to be healthy. Everybody deserves to be healthy.
Take personal responsibility for doing the work to reconcile your relationship
Key viewing: Why Won’t the Unfaithful Spouse Take Initiative in Recovery Work? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDR88ZMQ_ZE)
This is absolutely crucial for recovering your relationship. Recovery work is for you and your spouse, for sure. You, however, put yourself and your spouse in the grips of agonizing pain and you are responsible for taking the initiative to do the work to help you both heal. I did the exact opposite and I’ll always regret it. It hurts like heck that I piled so much more pain on my wife than I already had by forcing her to drag me over the lines in the early stages of recovery.
Step up for your spouse. Now. Take the initiative in your recovery and do everything you can to show your spouse you can be a safe, honest, trustworthy, transparent, accountable, remorseful spouse who’s dedicated to rebuilding yourself and your marriage. My wife and I found the First Steps Bootcamp on Affair Recovery (https://www.affairrecovery.com/surviving-infidelity/first-steps-bootcamp) incredibly useful when starting out on our own path to healing and I urge you to consider it.