Repair and Restitution of the Relationship after an Affair
by D. Charles Williams, Ph.D
…an excerpt from WHAT’S DONE IN THE DARK: Affair-Proofing and Recovery from Infidelity: A Self-Help Guide for Couples (2017) (Amazon.com)
“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.”
This stage involves making repair attempts and restitution to a significant other. Making repair attempts offers the opportunity to heal what is broken by making amends in words and actions to someone whom we have wronged. It involves feeling grateful for having another chance and taking the initiative to make things right. This attitude facilitates the process of forgiveness and the willingness to be vulnerable again.
Making restitution is the act of giving back to one’s partner even more than is owed as a show of good faith toward restoring the relationship. It involves looking for opportunities to make a difference by putting them before ourselves or inconveniencing ourselves on behalf of our significant other. This may be a one-sided effort on the part of the betrayer without much, if any, response for a period of time, while the wounded partner tries to determine the sincerity and genuineness of the overtures.
Remember the things you did initially to make your spouse feel like he or she was the most important person in the world to you? Giving your time and attention and being available to them cultivated a greater desire on their part to be with you. Thoughtful overtures and remembering what was important to them enhanced your value in their eyes.
The process of rebuilding what was lost is a slow, arduous task that is not always initially welcomed by a hurt and angry spouse or partner. The ultimate test of sincerity for the offending spouse is how persistent he or she is in reestablishing the relationship, despite the lack of encouragement received.
Some examples of personal changes might include:
- Being open and honest about everything, regardless of your spouse’s reactions
- Doing what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it
- Being more flexible and open to learning new experiences
- Becoming more spiritually oriented or seeking God’s purpose for your life
- Realigning your values together as a couple
- Consciously becoming more interested and curious about looking honestly at your life, making changes for the better, getting rid of negative behaviors, and embracing a healthy life
- Reducing and eliminating bad habits that annoy or upset your spouse
- A renewed appreciation and attention to what is important to your significant other
- Managing attitudes and moods that offend and alienate others
- Making your spouse’s happiness more of a priority
- Complimenting more and criticizing less
- Striving to be less self-absorbed, more selfless, and grateful for others
Ben and Suzie were a young couple with two small children. When Suzie discovered that Ben had been having affairs with women he met at bars and conferences, she was devastated. She immediately sought help and decided to take a strong stand over his serial cheating by asking him to move out. During their separation, they each sought counseling and eventually began working together on restoring their marriage from his betrayals. Ben was grateful to have a chance to earn his marriage and family back. He was highly motivated to gain a deeper understanding of his insatiable need for the attention and affection of other women. They spent a year working on themselves and their marriage and were able reset expectations and repair the relationship. He worked on a wide range of personal changes, made restitution to his wife, and realized what and who was really important to him.
The Power of an Apology
If you have never been the kind of person who apologizes first, or even at all, this is a time to begin changing that fatal flaw. The unwillingness or inability to say, “I am sorry,” or “I was wrong,” is fundamentally a character flaw. It represents stubbornness, pride, and a lack of vulnerability. When we do not take responsibility for our actions, we show weakness, not strength. Expecting others to “get over it” will never help them heal from the hurt. Small overtures or just acting like nothing is wrong does not make it right. Sweeping things under the rug is only a prescription for deep resentment and the eventual emotional erosion of trust and closeness.
Research indicates that the person who apologizes first is actually the stronger person. They are viewed by others as more genuine and credible because while not being perfect, they are able to learn from their mistakes. They are also more easily forgiven, which allows trust to be rebuilt within the relationship sooner.
Take your time to thoroughly write your wishes and desires to repair your relationship with your spouse. Even if you have said these things in person, it is important for them to see it in written words that are heartfelt and well thought through. It may take several sittings to say exactly what you want him or her to understand about your feelings. Read it over several times to make sure it conveys what you really intend for it to.
1. Describe how important the relationship is to you and how you feel about him or her.
2. Describe how you would like the relationship between you both to be.
3. Take responsibility for your part of the differences between you, and make amends
by acknowledging your regrets for the problem
4. Request an opportunity to make improvements to the current state of the
relationship, and ask for a meeting to see what he or she might be willing to do.
5. Close by reiterating how much a new start could positively change things and
how you would welcome the opportunity to talk about it.