Q: My marriage is really in trouble, and I need your help. About a month ago, it came out that I was having an affair with a woman, and both she and her husband are friends of our family. It did not go on for long, but my wife is ready to leave and feels betrayed by both me and her friend. She says once trust is broken like this it can never be the same. How do I save my marriage, and how do we repair the friendship with the woman and her husband?
A: The good news is, it can be healed, though it takes time and a huge amount of work.
The first thing you need to do is to get it – to completely realize what you have done. You have broken a trust. It's for this reason that I have always disliked the word affair, because it makes it sound like some fun thing without consequences.
It's really adultery, the breaking of a sacred trust. I do not say this to beat up on you, but only to point out that calling it what it is getting us off to a good start towing it.
So, you must offer your wife a complete apology.
A complete apology includes an acknowledgment of the wrong done, taking responsibility for what you did, a voicing of the damage done, and a commitment to making sure it never happens again. Only then can the words "I'm sorry" have any useful meaning.
After making a complete apology, it's time to work on rebuilding trust. It's easy to believe that once trust is broken it can never be rebuilt, because we tend to think of trust as an all-or-nothing proposition; you either have it or you do not. The problem with this is it leaves no room for rebuilding once trust is damaged or broken.
So, let's look at trust on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest. Ask your wife how she would rank her trust level for you right now. You may need to brace yourself for the answer. If it's a 2, do not set a goal of getting back to 9 just yet. It's too big a leap.
Ask her what it would take to get from a 2 to a 3. In this way, by moving up one level at a time, you can, over time and with lots of work, get back the trust that was broken.
In most cases like this, rebuilding trust requires living under a microscope for a while, and maybe longer. Your every move and word will be closely watched. This may require your wife knowing your exact whereabouts at all times, presenting receipts for any money spent, and other exercises in building trust.
Living under a microscope is no fun. It's rigid and painful; it can hurt your pride and even make you feel like a child. That's just part of the price you pay to gain back something that is worth all you are going through.
It's crucial that you do nothing to cause the magnification under the microscope to increase even more. This brings me to your question about healing the friendship with the woman whom you were with and her husband.
For right now, that should be the least of your concerns. That friendship might heal later, but for now, the last thing you want to do is give the impression that the friendship is more important than your marriage. You must tread very carefully here.
You have a difficult road ahead of you. In the toughest times, you will need to keep in mind that the goal is worth it. Good luck.