You never thought you’d have this conversation. Your sister/daughter/best friend just told you her husband had an affair, or she just discovered his pornography addiction. She is shocked, angry, and scared. You are shocked, too, having absolutely no idea what to do.
What do you say? What do you do? How do you help and not hurt the situation?
No one prepares a wife to know how to respond when she learns of her husband’s betrayal. Similarly, no one prepares friends and family members to respond either. They are just as confused when someone they love has been betrayed. It’s hard to watch such intense pain and emotions. It’s hard to know what to say, what she needs, and how best to support her. And to complicate things even more, well-meaning responses have the potential to add more pain to the situation.
I want to compassionately acknowledge your heart’s desire to help.
First and foremost, know there is no way you can fix this for her. There’s no way to make her feel better. She is about to walk an incredibly personal journey of healing. And while you may feel helpless as you watch her struggle, it’s important to remember it is not your responsibility to fix anything.
Let me offer three truths to help you understand the healing process, as well as practical things you can say and do in support.
- Betrayal takes tremendous mental, emotional, and physical energy. It’s the emotional equivalent to being in a brutal car accident with multiple broken bones. Recovering and healing is incredibly draining. Be understanding. She may not be able to do everything as before—nor should she. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you or is being self-centered, she just needs time to heal.
- There will likely be lots of very strong emotions, which is completely normal. She may bounce between sadness, anger, hopelessness, shame, and denial. Part of the grieving process is trying to absorb the truth and make sense of what her husband has done. It’s important to understand that her anger is not only normal, but vitally important to her healing. She isn’t crazy or becoming an angry woman, it’s just part of her grieving.
- This is not her fault, and it’s important she knows this. It doesn’t matter what was going on in the marriage, how attentive she was to him, or how good she was in bed. His betrayal was not her fault. When a husband chooses to break marriage vows rather than work to heal the marriage or himself, that choice is 100% on him. Society’s go-to response is to blame the wife or make her responsible for his decision. That’s incredibly damaging to wives who are heartbroken and hurting, trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of their life. Please don’t do that.
With those three things in mind, here are some practical ways to support her:
What women desperately need to hear after betrayal…
- I’m so sorry
- It makes total sense that you are angry and hurt
- I am here for you if you need me
- This is not your fault
- You are not responsible for his choices
- I care about you and believe in you
- Take as much time as you need to heal
- Your safety is really important
- You will make it through this
- You are lovable and worthy of love
Things you can do to help her…
- Listen compassionately without offering suggestions or advice
- Offer to bring a meal over or drop gift cards in the mail
- Offer to watch her kids if she needs some time alone, or if she and her husband need time to talk
- Honor her emotional safety and stop gossip if you hear it
- Leave a voicemail stating she doesn’t need to call you back, but you’re there for her
- Send her out for coffee or a drive alone, and clean her house
Wives who’ve experienced betrayal need your love and support…and you want to offer it the best way possible. So lean in. Stay humble. Embrace the messy. Give her time. Affirm her worth and value.
She will heal.
You can do this.