I recently heard from a wife who was trying to best deal with her marriage after her husband cheated and had an affair. The husband was pushing her to "just start over" and to proclaim that they were beginning again with a "clean slate." The wife was torn about this. She was relieved that her husband wanted to move forward with the marriage because, very recently, she wasn't sure if her husband was going to let the other woman go. So there was a sense of relief that his priority was now with her and their marriage. But she wasn't sure if it was going to be possible for her to have that "clean slate" which he kept talking about.
She said in part: "my husband has finally decided to end the affair because he wants to save our marriage. But he keeps telling me that he's tired of constantly "rehashing the past." He feels that it's time to put this behind us and start our marriage from a new place. He says he wants to "start over completely" but I'm not sure if this is even going to be possible for me. I do want to save my marriage. I do want to be happy with him again. But I can't forget what he did to me and I may never completely be over his affair. I don't think it's fair or even realistic to think that he gets to mess up so badly in our marriage and then be rewarded with a completely new beginning where his actions are just forgotten because we want to begin again. How do I even respond to this?"
These types of questions are very common. It's normal for the man who cheated to ask for a clean slate while the wife who was cheated on is reluctant or even unable to give him one. In the article below, I will offer some insights that I hope will help you if you are dealing with this situation.
There's A Difference Between Starting Completely Over And Deciding On A New Beginning: I actually think that it is possible to begin again in your marriage after your spouse cheats or has an affair. Many married couples are able to do this. I know first hand that it actually is possible to create a marriage that is superior to the one that existed before the infidelity. But, there is a big difference between this scenario and one where the unfaithful spouse is hoping that his infidelity will just be erased and wiped clean as though it never happened in the first place.
It's not fair (or even realistic) to expect your spouse to just forget about your mistakes or to just begin again with no memory of the past. This is especially true if your spouse hasn't had the time or hasn't been given the tools to completely heal. If you really want to save your marriage and help your spouse get over your cheating, the way to do this isn't to rush them or pressure them to do something that they may not be ready to do.
So while it is possible to repair and rebuild your marriage to the point that both of you feel as if you've been given a second chance or have a new marriage (where it feels like you're "starting over,") the clean slate description really does take it a bit too far, at least in my opinion. In my experience, infidelity can't be erased just because you may hope that this is possible. It CAN be something that is worked through and that makes your marriage stronger, but it doesn't just disappear. (Luckily, the same is true of good things that you've contributed to your marriage. And it wouldn't be fair to negate those either.)
How To Handle It When Your Spouse Is Pushing You For A "Clean Slate:" I suppose there are some spouses who feel OK with this request and who are able to comply with it. But these aren't the folks that contact me. I usually hear from those who doubt that this scenario is going to be completely possible for them. At the same time, they often don't want to out and out reject or disappoint their spouse because deep down, they really do want to save their marriage. This can leave them with a bit of a dilemma.
I think it's best to be honest while being hopeful and diplomatic at the same time. In other words, while it may be possible for you to begin again in your marriage, you might find it more difficult (or unrealistic) to just wipe away the past. It's completely OK to be honest about this. You might say something to the effect of: "Please understand that I do want to save our marriage and begin again. But right now, I'm still healing. It's just going to take a while, I'm afraid. This doesn't mean that I'm not committed to our marriage or that I'm going to hold onto my resentment forever. But at the same time, we can't deny the past and we can't pretend that this never happened. So for right now, I'm not comfortable telling you that I'm completely moving on with a clean slate. I will always remain open to your proving to me that you can and will restore my trust and faith in you. And I am committed to showing you the same through my determination to rebuild our marriage. Let's just take this day by day and not worry so much about all of the definitions. We can certainly still save our marriage while we are adjusting and evaluating as we go along."
In this way, you're still placing your focus on your marriage and you're being upbeat and honest, but you aren't agreeing to something that you just don't feel at this time. To answer the question posed, I believe that it's possible to start over in your marriage after infidelity (if both spouses agree to this,) but I'm more torn on the "clean slate" issue. I've had people tell me that they were able to do this, but I didn't find it possible to just pretend that the infidelity never existed, although I did find a way to move past my own husband's cheating.
I know that this issue is a very difficult one, but I believe that you can save your marriage even when you have doubts and some unresolved issues as long as you keep moving forward. If it helps, you can read about how I was able to save my marriage after my husband's affair on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com/