Ultimately, your happy ending depends on you

I remember the Monday afternoon that my first husband came home and told me that he was sleeping with a woman from work. I sat on the floor at his feet and tried to make sense of the strange words coming out of his mouth. I mean, she wasn’t even pretty… what did he mean they were having an affair?

Shallow and superficial, I know.

But, it was as close to logic as I could get. I sat there, with my dignity and just about every plan and dream for our future strewn on the rug around me.

I had only three choices: Stay and forgive him, stay and resent him or leave him.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Anyone who’s experienced the pain of their partner having an affair only has those choices too. No-one can make them for you. But, the advice that follows is for those who decide to stay and move forward with this person, for whatever combination of reasons.

After the dust of devastation has settled and you’re ready to work on your relationship, your goal will be to re-establish trust

1. Forgive

Often, there’s an initial forgiveness that happens – the one that prompts you to stay with your partner and move forward. But, there’s a secondary forgiveness too. A deep-seated one. The one that plagues your thoughts when you’re alone and scratches away at your subconscious.

Why it’s hard to forgive

There are a few reasons why it may be hard to forgive:

  • Resentment – you’re hurt and the wound hasn’t healed yet.
  • Power – when you’re the victim, you hold a certain power over the guilty partner. Forgiveness is yours to give or withhold.
  • Disappointment – this isn’t what you thought marriage would be. Where’s your fairytale?
  • Misunderstanding – you (mistakenly) feel that forgiveness means that you condone their actions or are giving them permission to do it again in the future.

How to forgive

  • Understand forgiveness – it means letting go, not condoning or forgetting what they’ve done.
  • See its value – not forgiving someone can have very real and detrimental effects on your health and happiness. Resentment can cause high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and much more. And it will only damage your relationship even more. Forgiving your partner helps you to create a happier space in which you can grow together again.  
  • Get real – don’t imagine that you can change your partner. If you’re going to forgive, you have to be ready to accept that they’re imperfect and have and will make other mistakes.
  • Be fair – don’t bully or manipulate your partner in the months and years to come. Don’t use the affair as a tool to get your way.
  • Talk it out – in the case of infidelity, there are usually loads of questions. Who? Why? When? Where? Who knew? What did you talk about? It’s important to get all of the information you need to be able to forgive and move forward.

2. Rebuilding trust

After the dust of devastation has settled and you’re ready to work on your relationship, your goal will be to re-establish trust. If you were the victim, share these points with your partner and work on this together:

  • Have a standard of absolute honesty – moving forward, there’s no room for dishonesty from either of you. If you want this to work, do it properly. When they tell you about the affair, they need to disclose everything that you want to know honestly (even when it hurts). The unfaithful spouse should never blame their partner or make excuses. This new level of honesty will create an incredible bond for the future.
  • Teamwork – if your marriage is going to be a success, you’ll both need to be invested. You both need to resist dwelling on or resorting to the betrayal that has characterised your relationship until now. Resolve to work as a team to save your marriage – with one another, not against one another.
  • Start fresh habits – break off any contact with the person with whom he or she had an affair, as well as any circles of friends that were the catalysts. This might mean changing your number, getting a new email address, blocking certain people on social media, maybe even finding a new job. The guilty party might even have to change their personality. Stop flirting, don’t chat to inappropriate people online, be more sensitive to the needs of your partner, and be completely open with them about every aspect of your day as reassurance. Do what you need to do.
  • Allow time, then move forward – forgiveness and moving on is a process; one that takes longer for some people than for others. But, you also need to reach a time at which you decide that you’re ready to move on. Don’t nurture the agony indefinitely. Work hard to get through it and make the necessary changes. Focus on goals, deal with minor setbacks quickly and maturely, and make the effort to strengthen your commitment to one another.

Resentment is a bitter pill that harms your marriage even further

3. Letting go of resentment

Resentment is a bitter pill that harms your marriage even further and can cause major health problems for you. It’s like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.

So, what can you do to let go of resentment?

  • Own your resentment – resentment is a choice. Yes, you’ve been hurt. Yes, they were wrong. But, resenting them is your decision. So is forgiving them.
  • Look at yourself – it’s important to look at yourself and your own flaws. Are you prone to anger? Bullying? Manipulation? Taking offence? If so, take this situation as an opportunity to create a spirit of forgiveness and tolerance in your relationship. It’s tough, but it’s the only way you’re going to make a success of your partnership in the future.
  • Prioritise – you may be right, but does constantly dwelling on that make for a happy environment? In the words of Dr. Phil, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Not every transgression on the part of your partner needs to become an issue or a tool for blame. Try to choose your battles and then speak about them when you’ve calmed down.

A happy ending

Ultimately, your happy ending depends on you. Think deeply and clearly about what you want and need to move forward…

Expect highs, lows, panic attacks and laughing fits. It’s an emotional rollercoaster at first. But, the ups and downs gradually even out, the sun shines again, and you start to see the silver linings. My happy ending and yours are probably completely different. Our choices are ours to make.

I divorced my first husband, knowing that neither of us would be happy together again. I remarried and have found so much love and happiness that I’d do it all over again just to be where I am today. But, your “happily ever after” can be completely different. Only you can decide on how you negotiate the bumpy, challenging, potentially exciting road ahead.