The Importance of Lament in Affair Recovery


You just disclosed to your spouse that you had an affair and may be filled with a melting pot of emotions, especially if you are desiring healing and restoration to your marriage. You’ve betrayed the trust of the person you committed your heart, mind, and soul to. You may be feeling confused, angry at yourself or your spouse, unable to concentrate, anxious, desperate to fix the relationship, among a myriad of other experiences that come along with an attachment trauma with your significant other. You’ve deeply wounded the person you love the most and that reality is painful and gut-wrenching to sit with. It makes sense that you may begin to ask questions about if you will ever be able to heal and recover or wonder if your spouse will come to forgive you. 

As Christians, in order for the healing journey to be most effective, it’s of vital importance that lament be a part of your healing process. Taking ownership of what’s happened, acknowledging your emotions as well as your spouse’s emotions, and laying them before God is significantly challenging, but will bring the healing you are longing for. 

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What is lament? 

Scripture defines lament as ‘a tool that God’s people use to navigate pain and suffering’. 

We see in Psalm 51 David crying out to God mourning and baring his soul for the wrongdoing he has done in committing adultery with Bathsheba. 
It reads in vs. 1-2 ‘Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.’ (NIV) 
And further in vs. 10-12 ‘Create in me a pure heart O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.’ 

David first describes the character of God as compassionate and His love, unfailing. We then see him acknowledge his transgressions, iniquities, and sin; crying out to God, drawing on who he knows God to be to cleanse him, to wash away the terrible thing he has done. David brought the fullness of the impact his sin had on others to God’s feet. He held nothing back. 

It’s later in vs. 10-12 that David asks God to create something new within him, a pure heart, and we can sense as readers the longing and desperation he has to remain close to God, that this longing can be sustained in his spirit with a new willingness to be faithful. We read how it is POSSIBLE for joy to be restored as David laid his soul bare before God and asked for what he didn’t deserve. Out of God’s mercy and grace, He forgave David. Not only this but David is said to be a ‘man after God’s own heart’. Out of David’s authenticity in his lament, God was moved with compassion in restoring David. 

Acknowledging the Pain 

It is so common when we are walking through a challenging time that our thoughts go to wanting to jump past the emotional experience or do practical steps like having accountability and setting boundaries. While these are certainly imperative along the way, your efforts to set needed boundaries and honor your spouse’s feelings will fall short without feeling the full impact of what has just happened. 

Your lament gives space for biblical sorrow, raw emotion, fears, doubts, confusion, and plain old sadness from the depths of your soul of how you have deeply impacted the one you love the most. 

Allow yourself to fully acknowledge and face the pain you have caused in your relationship. Allow God’s presence and His Holy Spirit to meet you in your mourning, grieving, and lamenting. It is only by acknowledging the impact of your actions that you can begin and move to the path of healing. 1 John 1:9 says that ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. 

It is the authentic lament that can begin to put the pieces of the healing process together in your marriage. If you desire restoration, It is God’s intervention in our lamenting and repentant hearts that make affair recovery possible. This is not easy. Truly sitting in the grief and pain can and will be excruciating, but allowing your body and heart to fully embrace the emotional experience (however painful) will be much more effective than what we as humans normally want to do and ‘think our way out of things’. You absolutely may be asking questions like ‘But what else do I need to do or say to heal my marriage or make this pain go away?’ While this is normal and expected, it’s the ‘sitting with’ your pain that will bring lasting relief and peace. 

What does lament practically look like? 

Mark Vroegop in his book, “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy”, put it very simply: “

1. Turn: Turn to God in prayer. 

This can be as simple as noticing thoughts that come to your mind, stopping for a moment, focusing your attention onto God, noticing what is happening in your body and any emotion that comes up in that particular moment. Draw onto his love, care, compassion, and steadfast character to ground you in the present moment as you continue to notice your experience. Our thoughts and emotions occur like rapid-fire, so when you are in the carpool line or in between tasks at work, maybe even preparing dinner or making your morning coffee, noticing your thoughts and directing your attention onto God physically calms your brain. 

2. Complain: Voice your pain to God. Identify in blunt, specific language the pain you are feeling.

It is such a common experience as Christians to feel like we need to have all our thoughts and feelings perfectly eloquent before placing those feelings in God’s hands. Matthew 6:8 shares how ‘The Father knows what we need even before we ask for it’. God just loves to hear from us, so although He already knows what we bring to Him, it gives Him the greatest joy to hear from His children. You expressing the depth of your experience to God allows a deeper connection to Him. God doesn’t need pretty words; He just wants your heart.  

3. Ask: Specifically call upon God to act in a way according to His character. 

Going before the throne of Christ when you know you have messed up, caused emotional harm upon another, and acted out of Christ’s character is VULNERABLE and takes COURAGE.  Asking can be through prayer at anytime of the day or even intentional time to journal and reflect. 

4. Trust: Affirm God’s worthiness to be trusted and continue to praise. Prayer doesn’t often change your circumstances, but it often changes you.”

It can be so challenging to lean into an experience of trusting our God of the universe when we may have a past of hurt after hurt after hurt with others. By acknowledging your own narrative of hurt or distrust with others, I’d encourage you to lean even further into God’s Word that brings to life His trustworthiness and His love for His children. Romans 8:38 even tells us that “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither our fears for today or our worries for tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” 

As these steps are carried out, you may notice layers to your experience around what you are truly grieving. Yes, it is important to grieve the damage done to the relationship with your spouse, however you may notice grief come up around thoughts and beliefs in relation to yourself as a person. It is okay and typical to grieve the person you used to be to yourself and how others perceived you before the infidelity as well as wanting to distance yourself from this person now having done something so painful. 

What happens in our brains when we lament? 

The act of infidelity is in and of itself, a traumatic experience. There has been a significant rupture of safety and trust with one of your closest attachment relationships, which does a number on your brain. It’s common during this time for your core beliefs to be absolutely shattered, to feel a loss in security and stability as you’ve shared this earth-shattering news with your spouse and wanting to find stable ground to pick up the pieces and make sense of your experience. 

The process of lament both alone before God and together in the healing process with your spouse biologically heals your brain. Your honesty and authenticity in expressing the pain and sorrow of what has happened lays the groundwork for emotional reconnection with your spouse, self, others, and God.  

For example: 
One of the most typical things we as clinicians see in folks who are having significant pain is they will attempt to contain the pain by distancing from it.  In other words, we get as far away as we can from the person we were when we were unfaithful.  We want to just focus on being the person who has changed and is no longer in adultery.  This distancing allows us to get away from grieving the reality that “I am that person.”  Pain resulting from infidelity is unbearable, so to protect our hearts from feeling the weight of this unbearable pain, it feels safer to do things this way.  

It may feel like helpful coping in the moment but it is not true healing since there are parts of self not fully experienced or acknowledged. Try to get close to and accept the you who was in adultery.  We are not accepting the behavior, but we are accepting and grieving the person.  Really feel into that part of you and the grief which is there.  

When you sit with one of our therapists, they will expertly guide you in navigating each part of yourself. You will learn how to truly SIT WITH and hold parts of yourself that feel so painful. The orphaned and abandoned parts of your experience can be acknowledged, seen, and held by another. Your lament to God along with the growing experience of safety and connection with your spouse are important steps to future growth as a married couple in Christ. 

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References: 
Mark Vroegop “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy” pg. 28 

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