Healing the Wounds of Infidelity

Five steps to repairing the damage.

Colossians 3:13

by Louis and Melissa McBurney 

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In the ideal scenario, confessing to an affair results in repentance, forgiveness, and a resolve not to repeat the sin. But the forgiveness can be slow to appear, and the fears of reoccurrence very strong. Here are five keys to heal the wounds caused by infidelity. 

Genuine Remorse

As we hear from adulterers in counseling, we find that many try to minimize the significance of betraying their vows. Our secular culture reinforces the notion that just a “one-night stand” isn’t such a big deal. But that thinking is a dangerous deception. All adultery creates hurt and a huge barrier to ever trusting again. Not only was your marriage jeopardized, but any kind of casual attitude about the sinful choice also jeopardizes relationships with your family and God. While there can be repentance, grace, and forgiveness, they have a price.

Genuine Confession

Make no attempt to justify or minimize the sin. That helps rebuild the relationship and makes you aware of your vulnerability. You have a will and the power to make your choices. As a Christian, you also have the Holy Spirit to help you avoid giving in to the temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Develop Self-understanding

You said you don’t know why you had an affair. But if you honestly seek the truth and explore the underlying causes of your adulterous relationship, you’ll find answers. Often they lie in self doubts about being attractive or desired. At other times it may be a need for excitement and risk taking. There may be an impulsivity left over from adolescence. While there are many reasons that can contribute to adulterous behavior, they’re explanations, not excuses.

Spiritual Forgiveness Before God

We can understand Psalm 51 in which King David expressed his broken heart to God about his adultery with Bathsheba. He realized his sin was ultimately an affront to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (verse 4). Realizing the destructive spiritual consequences of adultery is essential to total restoration. David went on to plead, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (verse 10). And he does! Every time.

Set Firm Behavioral Boundaries

Don’t allow yourself to go into relationships and situations where you might be in danger. I (Louis) know when a woman is coming on to me in a seductive way—most men do! And I know I’m titillated by the flirtatious attention. I also know that’s a temptation I don’t need. I can flirt with that woman and expose myself to the excitement of her sensuality (and the risk of indulging in inappropriate touch or talk), or I can make sure I steer clear of her. Choose to set boundaries that will keep you from falling.

—Louis and Melissa McBurney are therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat, a Christian counseling center.

Copyright  2003 Christianity Today International. Originally appeared in Marriage Partnership.