This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin” seminar.
It goes without saying that when an affair occurs a married couple is not “on the same page.” But this is truer than our catch-phrase reveals.
Time Table One
As the news hits, the betrayed spouse goes from denial (This cannot really be what is happening. There has to be another explanation.) to anger (I cannot believe you did this to me.) to questioning (What did I do to make you stray? What made the other person more desirable than me?) to depression (I don’t think I can handle this.) to acceptance (I am going to have to chose what the rest of my life is going to look like.).
The rise and fall of these emotions is intense. The betrayed spouse’s emotions can ping pong between the first four experiences multiple time per hour. The fluctuation can be so physically intense that it is nauseating. Every picture and decoration in the house can trigger a new emotion. Any word in a conversation can seemingly change the direction of their heart.
Time Table Two
When the affair comes to light the betrayed spouse is usually surprised at how calm and nonchalant the offending spouse has been. What is often overlooked is that the offending spouse started on a similar emotional journey when the affair began and has been at the last stage for some time now (at least until the infidelity came to light).
When the affair began as an “inappropriate relationship” chances are the offending spouse experienced denial (No, that is person is not interested in me. This can’t really be happening.), anger (What am I thinking? This is stupid.), questioning (What if I get caught? Am I willing to risk it?), depression (in the form of shame after sexual encounters or telling the lover, “We can’t keep doing this?”), and then acceptance (a sense of normal settles in and its only emotionally intense when they almost get caught or something sparks their conscience to the choices being made).
So by the time the betrayed spouse finds out what it going on the betrayed spouse has been processing the shocking information for weeks, months, or even years. This accounts for the difference in response and is understandable (not acceptable) given the amount of time each person has had to process the infidelity.
What Do We Do?
You begin by acknowledging what each time table represents. Table one is a shock response to traumatic life-changing news. Table two is a picture of how the presence of sin slowly hardens our hearts. There is no way to quickly undo either response. Shock takes time to process regardless of whether we are ready to forgive. Hardness of heart does not wear off at the first penetration of light into our darkness.
Then you must each realize that your time table will distort your responses. Neither person “sees clearly.” This is why counseling is an important part of restoring a marriage broken by adultery. Both of you will be “it’s not like that” frequently in the coming days and weeks. Unless you are able to gain a shared accurate understanding of what has taken place and what needs to happen, then the sense of mistrust will multiply with each attempt to talk and you will likely conclude “we just can’t recover from this.”
Finally, you must realize that you will never have the same experience of the affair. Each of you had a radically different experience. What you should be able to agree on and experience the same is: the affair was evil and must be completely severed, the Gospel offers the power to change and comfort we each need, and a standard of future faithfulness and transparency.
It is by God’s grace through this kind of process that a couple can begin to live “on the same page” again. An affair causes a division that is larger than a series of sexual encounters. It will take more than an extended time of “being good” to bridge the gap. The patience the offending spouse shows is not an act of penance, but a recognition that their spouse is “catching up” (in addition to forgiving and healing personally). The betrayed spouse can benefit from understanding these things, because it often makes the offending spouse seem less callous or aloof.