Question: My husband had an affair with a close friend of mine over a year ago. We have since reconciled and our marriage is on track to better than it has ever been before, but I continue to be plagued by low self-esteem and self-doubt. Do you think I have truly forgiven him when I am still struggling with these issues?

Answer: Only God knows your heart, but we don’t believe your problems are necessarily rooted in an inability to forgive. It’s far more likely that you’ve simply failed to address the issues that led to the affair in the first place. Your husband’s infidelity was probably just a symptom of a subtler and more complicated ailment; and while we’re glad to know that your relationship has dramatically improved, we think it’s only fair to warn you that these improvements may prove to be superficial if you don’t make an effort to get to the heart of the matter.

Don't just "move on"

Once a problem is exposed and the associated negative activity has been brought to a halt — gambling, for instance or an affair or an addiction to pornography — many people tell themselves that all is well and everyone should simply move on. This can be misleading and dangerous. A profound or disturbing experience of some kind can alter a person’s negative behaviour, but this doesn’t mean that he or she will be equipped with healthier coping skills the next time trials or temptations arise. It’s easy to say that "time heals all wounds," but the fact of the matter is that very little healing can occur unless the distorted thought processes and root issues behind your husband’s adultery are found and treated. A paradigm shift has to take place at the heart of your marriage. Without that shift, you can become hopelessly trapped in an ongoing pattern of grief, anger or depression.

Two things to understand

Where your feelings of low self-esteem are concerned, we believe there are two things you need to bear in mind. First, the affair was not your fault. You could be extraordinarily beautiful, brilliant and accomplished in your role as a wife, and your husband could still choose the sin of adultery. On the other hand, you might be significantly below average in every area and your husband could still have decided to stay faithful to his wedding vows. In the final analysis, there’s an important sense in which his actions have nothing to do with you. Ultimately, they’re an expression of his own free will.

The second thing you need to remember is this: it usually takes two people to make a marriage more vulnerable to negative influences. You may think that this statement contradicts the first one, but it’s been our observation that both are true. It’s possible, for instance, that while the affair was not your fault, you have nevertheless fallen into a pattern of co-dependent behaviour. This is common among individuals who have been injured by infidelity. The more they are betrayed, the more they unknowingly find themselves attracted to people who betray. As a result, they unwittingly encourage further incidents of the same kind and develop a distorted self-image.

Speak to a counsellor

You can evaluate and address all of these potential problems with the help of a skilled Christian counsellor. We’d strongly suggest that you and your husband seek marital counselling together. You have a number of options in this regard: for example, you can go to weekly sessions or to a one-time brief intensive therapy program which is three to 10 days long. These can be life-changing and life-giving experiences. If you need assistance locating a qualified therapist, feel free to call Focus on the Family Canada’s Counselling Department. Our staff can provide you with a list of professional marriage and family specialists practicing in your area. They’d also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can reach them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

In the meantime, we’d like to recommend that you get a copy of Dave Carder’s book Torn Asunder and study it together. This resource is available through the ministry of Focus on the Family Canada and can be ordered by calling our offices or visiting our online store.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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