Most of the people who I hear from are upset because their spouse has been cheating and they aren’t sure how to move forward in a healthy way. Sometimes, though, I hear from the person who cheated. They too want to move forward in a healthy way, but their spouse is often very reluctant to trust them or to even give them a chance. They are often looking for the best strategy to get their spouse to listen to them and to at least give them some sort of opportunity.
Many have tried completely falling on the sword and begging for forgiveness. They will make every promise under the sun. They will promise to go to counseling or allow their spouse to call the shots or do whatever it takes to get their spouse not to leave them. Still, many times, this is not enough for the faithful spouse. They are understandably hurt and are reluctant to trust again. So the cheating spouse may begin to explore other options. Sometimes, well-meaning friends and family will tell the cheating spouse that they are being too much of a “pushover.” This can leave the spouse unsure as to what type of stance he or she should take in order to get even a small chance to save the marriage.
For example, a wife might say: “I have literally begged my husband to not end our marriage. I can’t blame him for being angry. I cheated on him and that is inexcusable. If the roles were reversed, I am not sure that I could forgive him. But I want him to forgive me because I do not want to break up my family and do this to our children. I have told my husband that I will do anything to make this up to him. I will go to counseling. I will stay home every night. I will drop my friends that my husband doesn’t like and thinks are a bad influence. I will do whatever it takes. My husband hasn’t completely shut me down or anything. But he won’t give me any sort of commitment and he won’t tell me that he’s even thinking about forgiving me or letting me back in. It basically works like this. I sulk around being terribly sorry and he acts as if I don’t exist. I ask him if I can make him dinner or get him anything and he basically refuses to allow me to do anything while not even looking at me. He acts like I’m just a bother. When I discuss this with my friends, they say that I should play hard ball a little more and not be as much of a pushover or be as accommodating. They say that I am almost inviting my husband to be mean to me because I’m acting like I don’t deserve respect. They say that yes, I made a mistake, but I’m not a bad person. Are they right? Should I pretend that I’m going to walk so that maybe he won’t want to lose me and then be a little more willing to hear me out?”
I’m going to try very hard to help, but have never been in your position. In fact, I have been in the opposite position (as the faithful spouse,) but this is actually why I think that I can help. Had my husband tried to play hard ball or pretend that he was going to walk if I hadn’t been receptive to him, well, I have to say that I might have opened the door for him. I would not have had any patience for this type of game playing. Essentially, I was waiting for my husband to show me his sincerity, not his attempts at manipulation. I was waiting to see if he was going to give up and then not make good on his promises. I was not just going to blindly believe his claims or just believe in him without first seeing him do the work.
Once he did everything he promised, I did begin to trust him again. He proved to me that I did not need to break up our family because it was not in my best interest to do so. I suspect that your husband may be watching and waiting in the same way. He’s looking for continued sincerity. It’s one thing to say all of the right things. It’s another thing to do all of the right things when you aren’t sure that anyone is watching. This type of rehabilitation just takes time, unfortunately. An affair does an awful lot of damage and you can’t just expect to make it right through words and reassurances. You have to make it right through repeated actions. There is no way to rush this.
Trying to rush it by playing hard ball or not being accommodating is almost emotional blackmail. It also indicates that you care more about your own time frame than on reassuring your spouse. It’s just not a good strategy at all. If anything, it will make your spouse doubt you more. So if you sincerely want is a spouse who believes in you again, manipulating them is about the worst way to go about it. Be sincere. Hang in there. And know that it might be rough for a while. But if you’re serious about your marriage, what other choice is there?