Before I write about the process of relationsip restoration after being caught, know that I write this with a mixture of grief and hope. My advice comes from my own past experiences, walking through this with friends, and my professional work with clients.
If you find yourself in the terrifying position of being caught (be it after an affair, online chat/hook-up, pornography, etc.), I want to tell you that it is possible to make it through. It won’t be easy. It will require diligence and intentionality, but there is hope – not only for yourself, but for your spouse, family and marriage as well.
In thinking about what to do immediately after being ‘caught’, know that the healing process will be painful. In fact, the pain was introduced into the relationship before you were ever found out. . Now the pain is being made known. Make it your goal to take responsibility for the harm you have caused, rather than letting it fall to others to carry the burden by being defensive, lying, blaming, or playing the victim.
Your natural reaction in getting caught is fear and/or terror. A human’s natural response to fear/terror is to fight, flight or freeze. When your spouse or loved ones find out about your inappropriate activity, responding in any of these three ways tends to make things worse. Here are a few simple tips that can help you respond in a healthier way.
- Be intentionally honest – You probably want to shut down and go hide in a hole somewhere. This is like leaving a wound open and undressed, the longer you delay treatment the more infected the wound becomes. Rather than waiting on your spouse to confront you, bring it to them gently.
- Don’t use the “Drip Method” – Often times we try to be just honest enough to get someone off our back. This lends itself to the ‘drip method’ of revealing ourselves: we tell the truth a little bit at a time rather than the whole truth at once. Doing this always causes more harm. ‘Dripping’ the truth in this way builds trust, then takes it away, builds it, takes it away. If you’re worried that what you have to share will overwhelm your spouse, seek out professional help first.
- Own your part – Rather than trying to defend, justify or minimize your actions, own up to the harm you caused. If you can validate the pain you have produced, you will help your spouse heal more fully. When we minimize or justify our actions, we invalidate the painful experiences of others, which adds even more pain.
- Get support – Not only will your spouse and relationship need external support, but so will you. Look for a safe group to join and get honest with them. If you don’t know where to find one, ask a professional therapist or trusted minister.
- Let your spouse feel – Even though you were a main contributor to your spouse’s pain, you cannot fix it or make it go away for them. Give them the time and space to grieve in their own way. Try not to rush them through their grief, or tell them they need to just move on, because in doing so you are just trying to avoid your own pain of causing harm to others.
- Focus on the problem, not just the behavior – Whatever the act, it is a symptom of a deeper issue. If your only goal is to no longer participate in the act you were caught in, you are avoiding dealing with the deeper issue. This is like saying you no longer have a disease because the symptomatic headache has gone away. Again, if you have been acting out in a way that threatens your relationship, you need professional help to deal with the deeper issue at hand.
- Professional Help – There are many people trained to help you walk through the aftermath of being caught, but not all counselors are of equal help. Ask for a referral from someone you trust. A good counselor will help you navigate the stormy course or relationship restoration. They will be a mediator between you and your spouse, helping you move towards fuller healing and preventing less wounding.
If you’ve been caught doing something inappropriate or out of bounds to your relationship, you have broken trust and betrayed your spouse. Trust can be defined as ‘repeated acts of trustworthiness’. Trust is on a continuum:
Your goal now is to begin giving your spouse experiences of you being trustworthy. This begins by intentionally telling the whole truth without defensiveness. When you get caught, this is an opportunity for you to begin the process of rebuilding trust so that you can rebuild your marriage.
I used the word ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ in the title of this blog post for a reason. Simply put, if you cheat on your spouse, it will eventually catch up with you. As a close friend of mine constantly reminds me:
‘What man covers, God uncovers.
What man uncovers, God covers.’
By Branden Henry