Beginning the process of recovering from adultery.

By Dr. Dave Carder

In this interview, Dr. Dave Carder talks about the first steps a couple must take to begin the process of recovering from adultery. For more information regarding affairs and the recovery from them, read his book Torn Asunder: Recovering From Extramarital Affairs.

Should a person confess an affair to a spouse?

My usual answer is yes. The key ingredient to disclosing an affair is the concept that marriage is built on honesty. If you’ve had an affair, you’ve been dishonest; you’ve broken a covenant. And as a result the marriage has become skewed over the course of time to compensate for that dishonesty. A clear conscience is very important for two people who want to be intimate.

I would make exceptions if there is a chance of violence and sometimes if you’re talking about an infidelity that took place many years ago. In whatever situation you face, you should get counsel from a third party—preferably a pastor or a Christian counselor—to determine whether or not to disclose the adultery and then how to do it.

You’ve talked to enough husbands who have said, “Everything at home is pretty much okay right now. If I can just walk away from this thing clean, we can maintain the marriage. But if I open this up, I don’t know what type of mess I’m going to create.”

That’s true. You do lose control of the relationship when you disclose an affair. I often have people make lists of pros and cons for if they tell and if they don’t tell. When they work through that list, they usually come out seeing that it’s best if they tell.

What if you think your spouse is having an affair?

Usually a person in this situation begins to have a nagging suspicion that something is wrong. Shreds of evidence will turn up, such as mysterious phone calls on the monthly bill.

If you suspect your spouse is having an affair, you may need to gather some evidence. Then you need the courage to quit asking questions and make a statement. Say something like, “I believe you’re having an affair. I have evidence to prove it. I want you to tell me the truth. I’m big enough to handle it. Don’t continue to hide it.”

What happens, then, when the affair is disclosed?

When your spouse admits an affair, you have to deal with the emotions churning inside you. I encourage women, for example, to express those feelings. Do not stuff that anger because you feel you need to protect him or because he might run back to the other woman. You have every right to be angry with your spouse, and if you bury the anger it will leak out for years to come.

Can a relationship in this situation be re-established? Can a couple build trust again?

Most of those who work through the process will tell you, “Our marriage is better than we ever though it could be.”

I remember a couple named Tom and Sandy. Tom was convinced he should leave his wife and go with another woman. Finally he decided to end the affair, and he and his wife moved away. A few months later I received a letter from him saying, “While driving on the freeway today, I was motivated to pull over and write you this note. Sandy and I are enjoying our marriage together in a way we never thought possible. Last spring we celebrated our tenth year of being married, and we realize it is only getting better.”

It sounds like Tom and Sandy had to be very committed to rescuing their marriage.

I asked Tom and Sandy for at least eight months of fairly hard work. And it took even longer for Sandy to fully recover. But as they worked through the process, they began talking about things they’d never talked about before. Tom began to realize that all those reasons for keeping the affair going weren’t much good. He was becoming emotionally intimate and vulnerable with his spouse, and that hadn’t happened in years. He didn’t think it could occur again!