We know that the betrayal of an affair hurts, but the intensity of the pain, awkwardness of the subject, and crisis-nature of the disclosure often cause us to neglect asking, “What does an affair do that causes it to hurt so badly?” In this post, we will look at three things that an affair does which account for the level of pain it creates.
Shuffles Our Story
Affairs hide and lie. We live in ignorance. While we may not think things are “great,” we have no idea what is actually occurring in our life story. Innocently, we can live a lie for weeks, months, or years. When the facts come to light we look back on our life and don’t know what parts of our memories are true and what parts are fiction.
Before the facts came to light if someone asked you to tell your life story, you could (although it might be a time consuming request). Now you can’t. That is incredibly painful and disorienting. It makes you feel mentally, emotionally, and narratively naked. We make so many decisions based upon where our life going (tracing the direction of our story). When your story gets shuffled, the ability to make decision can feel paralyzed.
Confuses Our Vocabulary
I love you. I’m going to the gym. Every compliment. Every criticism. Every apology. Any reference to the future. Any reference to the past. What do they mean? What did they mean? Do they mean anything? Obviously I missed the message before and I don’t want to miss it again. Every word becomes a riddle.
It is painful to feel forced to live as a constant skeptic in one’s own house for the purpose of self-protection. This is the marital equivalent of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). When language is stripped of meaning, then the currency of relationships has its value removed. We can exchange words, but it doesn’t feel like any transaction is occurring.
Makes Trust Seem Naïve
Home is no longer “safe” for the reasons discussed above, and when home is not safe (a place of rest and replenishing) then the whole world feel more threatening. We begin to believe that only pain and bad news can be true. If I get good news and believe it, I am just being naïve like I was before.
This is the pain of lies. We don’t lie to make things sound worse than they are. So when lies have jolted our world, we begin to believe that everything is worse than we have been told. Common sense is something we gain on the other side of innocence. Now that we are “wordly wise” innocence (expressed partly as trust) it is hard to regain and often feared more than desired.
Where Do We Begin?
This picture sounds pretty bleak. It is. Hope enters a dark place when it returns after an affair. Anything that minimizes this fact gives false hope to the offender and places unwarranted pressure upon the betrayed. There is hope, but hope should not be used to minimize the damage.
So what should the offender do? These points are meant to correspond with the relational damage described above. They both assume that repentance towards God has already occurred and examining the lies and deceitful desires you bought into during the affair.
First, join your spouse where they are. You know what happened; they don’t. Do not speak with a confidence that assumes their world is as certain as yours.
Second, seek to understand their experience. Words will begin to have meaning from you understanding them not them understanding you. You should answer your spouse’s questions (with complete honesty), but trust will build from you understanding them not you giving facts to them.
Third, recognize and honor the faith and risk of trust. This honor will be expressed dispositionally through patience, refraining from self-pity, and not getting defensive. Your spouse will likely be repetitive as they put their story back together (like someone who is grieving). This process is the building of trust and you honor it by not making them walk it alone. You are receiving grace from one who bleeds as they give it. Honor the Jesus you see in them.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Adultery” post which address other facets of this subject.