Can This Marriage Be Saved?

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There is hope for a marriage threatened by an extramarital affair.

While reading the paper my husband turned to me and said, “I wonder if there is a politician who isn’t cheating on his spouse.” He was reading one more name, in a never-ending list, of those committing adultery.

But Capitol Hill isn’t the only place encountering, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” After working in divorce recovery ministry for over 25 years, I’m sad to report that there is no shortage of infidelity in the pew or the pulpit.

“I know it was wrong to cheat on my husband,” Jennifer shared. “But Jason feels like my soul mate. It isn’t just sex; we have a deeper bond than that.”

“I’m a Christian,” she continued, “and I want to fall back in love with my husband because it’s the right thing to do, and the affair is hurting my kids. But I can’t seem to pull myself away from Jason.”

What’s it going to take for Jennifer to restore her marriage? Is it possible to put “Humpty Dumpty” back together again? When Pandora’s Box has been opened can the evil, sorrow and suffering be shoved back under the lid?

There is hope. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He can do the same for a marriage infected by an extramarital affair. However, it will require that Jennifer and her husband be brutally honest with each other. They must recognize that it will take a long time and hard work to rebuild the trust that has been broken. With prayer, accountability, excellent counseling, and a fierce commitment to make the marriage better than before, it can happen.

“After my husband had an affair we attempted to go back together and restore the relationship,” Sharon said. “The church leaders shared Bible verses on marriage with us and explained why God hates divorce,” she continued. “They said God wouldn’t forgive me for my sins, if I didn’t immediately forgive my husband. And that we should resume a sexual relationship right away.”

“I did everything I was told,” She wept, “but it didn’t work. Five months later he left me and the kids again. And now he is living with his girlfriend. I’m so confused and angry.”

Because Sharon followed the advice she was given, it’s likely she is more devastated than the initial blow.

Rather than taking the time and the steps required for a true healing, Sharon and her husband swept the affair under the rug. And the unresolved issues that led to adultery were still brewing and rotting beneath the relationship. When this occurs a toxic gas is inhaled by the couple, their children, their church family and those around them. The poison goes on to destroy future generations and Satan smiles. Once again he has deceived the Bride of Christ, and she is totally unaware.

The issues associated with adultery are often complex, and there is no simple formula for restoration. However, if the couple sincerely desires a healthy, thriving marriage after an affair here are a few beneficial insights:

Eventually, both people must be committed to restoration.

If one spouse attempts to manipulate, badger, guilt or shame the other spouse into restoring the marriage it won’t work. Both people must be open to resolving the problems. It’s not uncommon for one to start off more willing than the other, but if over time that person remains opposed, restoration can’t happen. 

Provide the offended person time to grieve.

Infidelity annihilates trust, security, privacy, and intimacy. The person who committed adultery needs to allow their spouse the time and space to grieve. Any attempts to rush the healing process, or demands such as, “The affair is over, I never want to talk about it again” are indications that the offender is not truly repentant. 

“It took me almost a year to trust my husband after his affair,” Moira shared. “By allowing me total access to his calendar, cell phone, and computer the trust slowly resumed.”

True repentance is mandatory.

Jennifer’s comment about Jason being her soul mate is an indication that she is still rationalizing her poor choice. If she is serious about restoring her marriage, she’ll need to learn how to take those thoughts captive and replace them with truth. (2 Corinthians10:4-5). It’s common to hear the spouse who broke the covenant say, “My spouse isn’t meeting my needs,” “I’ve never really loved you,” or “The affair just happened.” However, the offender must repent and take ownership for his or her poor choices. It’s similar to building a house on a foundation that has a huge crack, eventually it will crumble.

How can you tell if someone is sincerely repentant? King David in Psalm 51 displays a man who is deeply sorry for his sin. He recognizes and confesses the pain and suffering he caused. Humility doesn’t demand, justify or make excuses. It admits, “I am to blame, no one else. I deserve any and all consequences for my actions. If you never forgive me, I understand. I’m the one who broke the covenant. I violated the trust and I do not deserve another chance. If you are willing, I’ll do whatever it takes—for as long as it takes—to earn your trust again.”

That’s true repentance.

Get down to the root reasons.

Financial stress, a neglectful or abusive spouse, or relationship boredom are typical reasons listed for an affair. But those are symptoms of marital breakdown—not causes. Digging deeply into underlying problems is required for true healing or the cycle will continue.

“I was sexually abused as a child,” Mike explained. “But I would never have connected that to my affair. After a lot of counseling I discovered that the trauma from my childhood played a huge role in why I made the foolish decision to cheat on my wife.”

Unlike Mike, most people never take the time or get the help to discover the “why” beneath the surface.  

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring sin, abuse, neglect or toxic behavior.

For some reason, Christians have allowed satan to deceive them into believing that love, mercy and forgiveness means ignoring sin. We even slap a Biblical word on it—submission. The perversion of this word is one of the greatest weapons satan uses to destroy the family. Submission does not mean ignoring or tolerating destructive, sinful behavior. After adultery, a marriage can only be restored if the unfaithful person is willing to eradicate all hazardous people or things from the marriage. In addition, the other spouse must learn how he or she is enabling the pattern. It’s often a complex, vicious cycle which requires professional help. 

Keep it real.

Sometimes a spouse who wants out of a marriage will “pretend” they are interested in reconciliation.

“My husband and I went to counseling after my affair, but it didn’t help.” Sheila shared. “We ended up divorced anyway.” What Sheila conveniently neglected to mention was that she refused to obey the counselor’s instruction to break all contact with her extramarital lover.  Her half-hearted attempt at counseling was a manipulative attempt to rationalize selfish motives. In simpler terms—she lied.   

God understands infidelity. He has been the rejected and betrayed Lover many times. Jeremiah 3:6-8 (NIV) declares his sorrow and fury, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.  I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”

Eventually, he forgives his Bride (you and me). Because of His faithfulness we have the assurance that He is more than willing to restore a broken marriage. If a husband and wife will humbly surrender, listen, learn, obey and change, nothing is impossible for the Creator. 


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