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May 23, 2007
Column #1,343
Advance for May 25, 2007
"Staying Together" After Infidelity
by Mike McManus

Adultery is grounds for divorce.  But it is not a reason to divorce.

Infidelity, however, is a great evil which 91 percent of Americans consider wrong according to a Gallup Poll. Two of the Ten Commandments are about the issue:

- You shall not commit adultery.

- You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

Yet various studies suggest that over a lifetime perhaps half of all marriages have been broken by an affair by the husband, wife or both.

The question is how can a couple rebuild their marriage after infidelity? 

Dr. Stephen Judah, a psychologist who has counseled more than 1,000 patients whose marriages were shaken by adultery, helped 87 percent save their marriage. He's written a book with answers, "Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart."

He says the first essential step is for the offending spouse to reveal the affair, getting credit for being honest after a period of dishonesty:  "If the offending spouse doesn't disclose it, then the offended spouse must discover it, which exacerbates the offense." Better to take a step toward healing than to be discovered via suspicious credit charges, odd e-mails or a friend.

The disclosure is best be revealed in a controlled setting, with a therapist committed to helping heal the relationship. He/She can coach the offending spouse on what details are to be shared or withheld, who also helps each to restore hope, increasing their odds of success. 

Judah outlines five "essential disciplines" that are steps to recovery: SHARE, RECONCILE, REFINE, ENHANCE and ENVISION.

SHARE's goal is to understand and be understood. Each person takes turns as a presenter  sharing stories while the other is an empowerer, an active listener who summarizes what they have heard. "The offended spouse needs to be empowered to present their feelings." How? The offending spouse must listen without defending, and speak without offending. Each spouse must take responsibility and confess their part of the problem. Deep communication is crucial.

The RECONCILE phase transforms the negative into the positive by seeking solutions rather than polarizing arguments. Disclosing adultery causes wounds and trauma for both partners. However, the couple should continue living together to heal, save money and minimize  disruption. Children who wonder why mom is crying, should be told, "Your father and I are working through an adult problem," without revealing it.

"The key involves converting broken, negative, spontaneous thoughts into whole, positive and life-giving thoughts which give the benefit of doubt," Judah writes. An example:

"Broken: My partner had sex with another person.

"Whole: If we can figure out what pushed or pulled my partner into an affair, our own relationship may become more intimate."

REFINE: One's primary obligation is to one's spouse, not to the third party.  A major effort should be made to reconcile, seeing it through "till it mends or ends."

Some adulterers have difficulty choosing between an emotional bond with a third party and the weaker bond with a spouse. Judah helps such people refine their thinking about their character. Do they think of themselves as honest or dishonest, faithful or unfaithful, a promise keeper or promise breaker? Besides, he warns them, second and third marriages are more likely to end in divorce. 

A key step to ending the relationship with a third party is a "jointly written closure letter" that says, "I've decided to pursue reconciliation with my spouse and plan on being successful. I will not be initiating any contact with you and request that you not attempt to contact me."

Unfortunately, some form of relapse is likely. Even so, both spouses need to focus on and praise the best characteristics of each other. Never mention negative traits.

ENHANCE: Out of infidelity can come a better marriage.  If a couple once loved each other, they can experience love again. Scripture describes love as a decision: "Love is patient and kind," Paul wrote. Are you naturally patient, or is it an act of the will?  Judah writes, "Be strong and independent, and simultaneously sensitive and sacrificial."

Judah, director of the Columbus (OH) Marriage Coalition, notes that most people receive more driver's training than marriage training, recommends marriage mentoring and education to improve communication.  Learn to give your spouse five compliments for every complaint.

ENVISION: He asks couples, "If a miracle happened and you could create the future you desire, what would it look like?" Each spouse should help the other to achieve a "life of significance." When husband and wife share common goals, they should be pursued together, building a new, healthier marriage.

If a divorce is agreed upon, hire mediators, not lawyers, to work it out, always with the hope of reconciliation.


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