I have sat with a number of couples at The Marriage Recovery Center in the past several weeks whose marriages have been decimated by deception.
“Why have you lied to me?” Lydia asked her husband through her tears.
“I didn’t want to hurt you,” Todd replied, though his answer did little to assuage her pain. Additionally, it was not wholly true.
I looked at Todd and asked if there were more to his story?
“What do you mean?” Todd asked, looking sincerely at his wife.
“Well,” I said, “while you may have been partially wanting to protect her, I suspect you were also trying to protect yourself. You have been hiding truth that would hurt her and you.”
“Sure,” he said squeamishly. “I didn’t want her to know about the affairs I’ve been having.”
“So I find out the truth bit by bit, never sure I’ve heard the whole story,” Lydia continued. “I don’t know what I can trust anymore.”
Deception not only erodes what is left of the trust, but fractures the history of the relationship. Lydia shared her story.
“I look back on our marriage now and know that all the while when you were telling me you loved me, you were also telling other women the same thing. What can I believe? I’ve seen emails where you shared love with others. Our whole marriage is a sham.”
“No, it really wasn’t,” Todd shouted. “I never really cared for those other women.”
“I can’t believe anything you’re telling me,” she said, looking away.
Such is the nature of interactions when deception and unfaithfulness are woven into a marriage. Trust is broken, faithfulness is shattered, and emotional pain is a constant reminder of what has happened. Discovering truth and learning to trust again is a huge challenge.
The couples who have sought my help want to heal, but face a daunting task. They want to move past the broken trust and live into healing. They have, largely, experienced “the breakdown that leads to the breakthrough.” But, how can healing be done?
First, there must be complete and total honesty. It is impossible to heal when truth emerges in drips and drabs. In fact, one can never know if they have obtained the truth if it doesn’t come out completely. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this issue. One dab of doubt spoils the entire fabric of integrity within the marriage.
Second, create a space for “therapeutic conversation” and healing. Couples must carefully navigate the path of having healing conversations about the issues, talking everything through, and taking breaks from the intense conversation as well. Couples who stay up all hours “hammering out” the issues make little headway. Weary and worn, couples who endure marathon meetings rarely make the progress they seek. Most need an expert marriage counselor and pastor to guide the conversations.
Third, allow for normal grieving. Couples must intersperse times of healing and grieving with therapeutic breaks. The violator must give ample room for the violated to have normal emotions. Additionally, they must allow for emotion to come out in less than therapeutic ways at times. While I don’t recommend a constant dose of “venting,” there must be some time to share raw emotion. Again, plan for these times and make allowances for these times.
Fourth, weave normalcy back into the marriage. Recovering couples not only plan for venting, but also plan for “breaks from sharing.” They must weave normalcy back into their marriage. They must see their marriage as larger than the current trauma. In other words, the trauma cannot define the entirety of their marriage. Take time to remember the good aspects of the marriage that are still there. Know that healing involves gradually enjoying each other again.
The Apostle Paul reminds us: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8)
Finally, create safeguards against relapse and grow stronger. Nothing helps a couple heal from broken promises and sordid secrets than an airtight Safety Plan to guide them. Couples must sit down and map out how they will create a safe marriage moving forward—the more detailed, the better. The plan must include such issues as ways of maintaining accountability, transparency, support and counseling. They must rebuild their marriage, quite literally, built on truth and trust.
We’d love to hear from you. What has helped you live a life of integrity? What has worked in your marriage to restore balance and healthy connection? Please send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: July 26, 2016