learning to love your spouse after an affair

I was reading an article over at Marriage 365 that Keelie recommended to me the other day and I got to thinking.  The article outlined four steps on the road to recovering from an affair.  I really appreciated the thoughts they outlined, but wanted to add one tweak.

The basic outline they established was

  1. forgive
  2. respect
  3. trust
  4. love

My main critique here, and it’s a small one because I really like the article, was the place “love” had in the outline.  I would place love at the top of the process for a few reasons.

Forgiveness without love?

In my understanding, forgiveness comes out of love.  A love that puts others first in the foundation for genuine forgiveness.  With its unifying power, love is the very motivation for reconciliation.  Perhaps I should back up and make a distinction in my understanding of what “love” even is.

“Love covers over a multitude of sins.” ~1 Peter 4:8

Love is a verb

I’ve emphasized for years that love is what you do. It’s not simply that feeling you get in your stomach, or the weakness in your knees.  It’s not less than that (see below), but it’s not only that either.  

Love has to be visible to be true love.  It is seen in your actions, your body language, your touch.  It is sacrifice, serving, and giving.  Love that is only felt and not seen is merely sentimental.  

Love is what you do.  But it’s not that alone.

Love is an emotion

I used to fight this, but I’ve come to realize the incredible importance of this aspect of love.  It is action, but it is feeling too. If you don’t have an emotional response to those you claim to love, something is wrong.  Love without emotion is obligational drudgery.  

When it comes to your spouse, there had better be some emotional fire.  There needs to be passion, desire, and romance.  It’s good to be googly eyed when you see him.  It’s good to get a little light-headed when she touches you.  

Be emotionally charged in your love.  But don’t be emotional only.

Maybe love is first AND last

So, perhaps I’ve convinced myself that the list isn’t entirely wrong on it’s placement of love.  If you mean love in the emotional sense – the warm fuzzies – then yes, it will likely be last.  When trust is breached and vows are broken, the warm fuzzies turn to cold shoulders.  And understandably so!  These feelings may not return quickly.  But they will return with time and commitment.

However, if you mean that visible, committed love that says, “I will choose to love this person in spite of how I feel right now,” then I believe that must come first.  This is that stubborn love that is born of commitment and refuses to abandon the object of that love.  

A new outline

My suggestion for those trying to recover from affair would be to commit to each other to work through all the difficulties ahead and to do so as a couple/team.  Begin with stubborn, visible love with the aim of restoring heart-felt emotional love.  

Maybe something like this:

  1. Committed Love
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Respect
  4. Trust
  5. Passionate Love

What are your thoughts on this view on love, or how to survive the difficult process of recovering from an affair?

coffee lovehopeadventureOnce you find yourself working towards that last step of Passionate Love, perhaps my article on Simple Pleasures can help you make some progress.


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7 Responses

  1. Good post, Austin! I think you’ve pretty well nailed the list, but… (don’t ya love those ‘buts’?) 😉

    Having walked through this firsthand in our marriage, and knowing what the entire process looks like from the inside, I would put forgiveness literally in between each and every one of the other items. As those ugly memories keep assaulting you day after day (and sometimes minute by minute), one learns really quick how to KEEP forgiving over and over until eventually it becomes a non-issue. While you’re in the thick of it all, and the emotions are running at extreme levels, one day you can feel like “I’ve got this whipped, I’m gonna be ok”, and the very next day you’re ready to hunt down the spouse’s affair partner and re-create a Picasso painting using their facial features. It really does swing from one extreme to the other, but as with all pendulums, as you and your spouse keep working on all the other items on the list, the pendulum swings get slower and shorter each time. Eventually you’ll find it at a complete standstill. That day is a WONDERFUL day, believe me.

    Thanks for adding your voice to this topic, I really appreciate it!

    1. Wow, great point, Jason! Thanks for the first-hand input. I admit I was writing theoretically, not from experience, so I really appreciate the perspective. I think you’re dead on. I think adding forgiveness as a daily process holds true for any conflict, and especially this situation. You have that first conscious decision to forgive, and then remind yourself everyday to keep forgiving them.

      Glad to have the feedback!

  2. Upon first reading your post, I disagreed with moving “love” to the top of the list. Speaking from experience (sadly), loving feelings return much later. I see your point about love being an action, not a feeling, and I agree.
    My steps of affair recovery would read :
    1. Commitment (to the relationship and the process)
    2. Patience (with myself and him)
    3. Hope (that good will come from the mess)
    4. Understanding (of his feelings and my own) which could also be described as Respect.
    5. Forgiveness

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that you went through that. 🙁 It is so hard to re-build after trust has been broken. When you look at love as an action and not just an emotion, it makes a difference. I think in your process, you showed love, but probably didn’t feel good things towards your spouse.

      Thank you for sharing your process. It is so helpful to hear how others have dealt with infidelity in their marriage.

  3. Yes! All of this! I don’t believe you can forgive without love. I agree that love must be woven through each of those steps. Thank you for these thoughts!

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