While there are several scenes that make the movie Love Actually inappropriate it does give some intriguing story lines. A painful one is the story of a married couple named Harry and Karen played by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Karen figures out Harry has cheated on her and confronts him with an interesting question. She asks, “What would you do if you were in my position? Would you stay, knowing that your life would always be a little bit worse, or would you cut and run?”
That question is one any couple going through the pain of infidelity is forced to confront. It’s also easy to default to hopelessness about the relationship because the pain of betrayal cuts so deep. Many couples make immediate decisions based on the emotion of the moment, which can end the relationship or damage it even more. The emotions are valid, but while the short term appears bleak, what about the long term? Can a marriage survive an affair? Is getting over infidelity even possible? If so, how? Here are the answers to those questions.
Rebuilding a Great Marriage
Life won’t necessarily always be worse after an affair has occurred. In fact, it could possibly be better. When I say better I’m not saying that life will be easier, and I’m certainly not suggesting that having an affair is good for a marriage. However, it could be used to flush out the behaviors and attitudes that created an environment where an affair was desirable.
Nothing makes a person isolated like when they consistently feel unheard. Most affairs occur because of a lack of communication. Couples will stop listening to one another or never listened in the first place. Nothing makes a person isolated like when they consistently feel unheard. There is an opportunity to air out all of the dysfunction and start over. The process of recovering from an affair can be like rebuilding a house that has been destroyed by an earthquake. You can redesign and rebuild it the way you want by getting rid of all of the unhealthy habits. The problem is the foundation is now cracked.
Repairing a Cracked Foundation
Great marriages are built on love and trust. When those are violated it creates a powerful break. Frankly, sometimes it creates a break that never fully heals. But even then that doesn’t mean all is lost. When there is complete remorse from the offending party and an offering of forgiveness and grace from the offended party, the process of healing begins. From that point, trust can be re-established.
In order for that to happen each person, particularly the one who cheated, has to live truthfully, honestly, and transparently day in and day out. The offender needs to be willing to discuss the affair in detail, not withholding any information the offended seeks. Everything must be put on the table. The goal should be to build a resume of reasons to be trusted again. The offended should be allowed to discuss the affair whenever and for how long they need. This may be for years. Forgiveness may need to work over time. However, forgiveness means the offended will no longer punish the offender for the affair or hold it against them.
Both husband and wife need to commit to achieving the best possible outcome as a couple. A decision has to be made to hope for what the marriage could be with hard work instead of despair and divorce. Each person needs to fight for their spouse and the marriage. Optimism for the future has to be the focus and it must be protected. The couple must have faith that a great marriage is achievable. Disbelief and hopelessness are unwelcome.
Finding Objective Help
All marriages need wisdom, insight, and encouragement, but particularly marriages in crisis. First, the marriage most likely got to where it is because of dysfunction below the surface. An objective, outside point of view is helpful to identify the trouble spots and challenge the couple to change. This can come in the form of professional counseling and/or mentors. They also need to surround themselves with people who will support them to reach the marriage they hope to reach – people who will help them remember that a thriving relationship is possible.
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is the hardest thing you have ever forgiven?”