Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

How Does Trust Come Back After An Affair?

April 28, 2006

"My husband had this affair. I am normally a loving and forgiving person. I believed him when he said he wanted me and the marriage. He was willing to end his relationship with this other woman. He seemed so humble, contrite and decisive that I really believed him.

"Now I find he still sees her. He assures me nothing sexual takes place. I believed him so thoroughly the first time that I don't know what to believe. Either he doesn't know himself or else he is deceiving me. I am not ready to give up on my marriage but I am reluctant to give him my heart again. How do I handle this situation?"

You are right for being skeptical. Here are some ideas I find useful in evaluating the sincerity of your husband's resolve.

1. Expect complete humility and honesty. Get to the bottom of all the lies. Make him explain his motives, his actions, why the affair got started, what he was thinking, why the second deception once the affair was confessed, etc. His answers should be consistent and ring true. If new things come out or if facts don't jive, he is still trying to protect himself.

2. Expect him to give up his affair partner completely and irrevocably. Any more contact between them will destroy what fragile trust you are trying to nurture. Don't listen to any rationale that the two of them are friends and can scale back their relationship. If she is in his life, the potential is there to restart the affair. He must give her up.

3. Be cool and standoffish. It is up to him to put forth the effort and love to win you back. He can promise you the world but it is action that counts. Until he proves his commitment to you and your happiness, you don't know what his motives are. Love-making is symbolic of your willingness to give him your love. Don't be intimate with him until you are confident about his loyalty.

Waiting a while to test the credibility of his love doesn't mean you are being a sucker or stupid. All you are doing is giving him time to see how respectful, loving and loyal he is willing to be. You are the victim. You have been betrayed. He can't expect instant forgiveness until you have worked through your hurt, anger and loss of trust.

4. Expect him to go to counseling with you. Allow someone else to examine his thoughts and motives and see if his explanation remains consistent. His willingness to expose himself in a situation that demands complete honesty is a sign that he has nothing to hide. It is a price, among others, he is willing to pay to win back your love and trust.

Your whole marriage needs to be discussed. Now is the time to correct problems that may have interfered with your marital happiness. Whatever faults and weaknesses in your relationship, they do not justify an affair. Nevertheless, don't be too afraid or angry to listen to what your husband has to say.

5. His love must be constant. Trust will come back when you feel you are put first, when you are being loved wholeheartedly and when his love is trustworthy and dependable. If you experience love, then your worries about another affair will recede into the background. His love will bring back your trust.

In the panic of the moment, he will be doing anything and everything to get you back. True love will last beyond the crisis. That's why time is a part of the equation. His betrayal harmed the relationship grievously. He should be patient and give you time to reinvest faith in the relationship.

A husband who is defensive, self-centered and unwilling to give of himself will have difficulty restoring the relationship. Perhaps the affair exposed a man who is unwilling or incapable of giving love, even under the most extenuating circumstances. This is not the time for your marriage to settle back into pre-affair mediocrity. It has to be better than that.

6. Expect him to be patient with you. His willingness to listen to your emotions, your obsessional preoccupation, demands, and repetitive efforts to understand and process the affair. His willingness to do that shows he can be a part of the healing of the wound he caused.

7. Trust takes time. Be willing to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice and a gift. Trust is not. Trust is earned with time and actions. Studies have shown that it usually takes up to six-months or more to work through the pain and hurt of an affair. Each person is different but know that there is an ending to this painful period. It may not feel normal or natural to either of you, but this is a time when a one-sided relationship is the most that can be expected.

Trust and forgiveness comes when hurt and bad feelings have been resolved. The relationship can be restored to former levels of trust and security with no threat of another affair. The memory of the affair will still be there but the pain won’t be. The love you have for each other has stood a huge test and should be valued and protected more than ever.