Can your marriage survive adultery? It won’t be easy, but because of God’s grace, a husband and wife can reconcile and grow spiritually. This article originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.
While devastating and heartbreaking, infidelity in a marriage can be worked through to a successful reconciliation. Because of Jesus, we have the ability to forgive as we have been forgiven. The Word of God is sufficient to instruct both the counselor and counselee on the various heart issues the couple will encounter in the reconciliation process.
When the adulterer repents, and both parties are willing to do the hard work of talking through and addressing the underlying sin and relationship issues that led to adultery, wonderful and amazing things can happen! The couple can stay together and can truly find love again. However, it will never be the same.
It is helpful to understand that the marriage affected by adultery is in a sense dead and gone. I don’t mean the couple is no longer married, but that the covenant was broken and the vows of fidelity were sacrificed. The one-flesh union was violated by introducing a third party into the most sacred aspect of marriage. This is why adultery is considered (by many) to be an acceptable reason for Christians to divorce.
Couples who do not accept that adultery has led to the “death” of their marriage may be in for a rough road. These couples act as though it is possible to carry on as though nothing has changed when in reality everything has changed. In fact, for the reconciled marriage to flourish, both the husband and wife must welcome change into their union. Things cannot go back to the way they were pre-adultery, because both people are profoundly and permanently changed as a result of the adultery and working through the issues in their marriage and within themselves.
Trust Is Shattered
Because adultery is accompanied by deception, the complete and total trust once shared between the husband and wife is shattered. Even in cases of successful reconciliation, where the injured party is willing to provide opportunities for trust to be rebuilt, the trust level may never be the same. There may be remnants of doubt and fear that linger even years into the restored relationship.
Forgiveness Does Not Equal Trust
Forgiveness is granted, but trust is earned. Trust is not an automatic given in reconciliation; it develops over time. This is often a great relief to the injured party and a big bummer to the one who is repenting. The repentant spouse is often eager to show how much they have changed and expects to be treated as though nothing treacherous has taken place. They don’t expect to be challenged or to be accountable for their actions and time away from home. Very often, what they do expect is to be believed and trusted—now—and they become angry when they realize it is just not going to be that easy. Trust is very difficult to rebuild in a marriage broken by adultery—even more so if the unfaithful person was very good at deception.
The injuries caused by adultery can take a long time to heal. If you are in the process of reconciliation due to adultery, it may help you to remember that the injured spouse believed in you and trusted you enough to share the deepest parts of their soul with you. Sometimes they denied what they saw or suspected because they believed in you so completely. The thought of adultery was absolutely ludicrous—until it wasn’t. Re-establishing trust is a risk for the injured spouse and that has to be taken into consideration as the couple progresses through reconciliation.
Fear of . . . Everything
The emotional backlash from adultery is extremely difficult to overcome. It is important to understand that this does not mean forgiveness has been withheld or that there is bitterness lurking in the heart. As much as the injured person wants to wholeheartedly give themselves to their repentant spouse, there is fear in doing so. Because they were so completely fooled, there is a great desire not to be made a fool again.
The injured person doubts their ability to be discerning. Everything becomes suspect, which is why complete transparency is needed. Unfortunately, cell phones and the internet do little to assuage fears and do a lot to increase anxiety in such cases. Some spouses become obsessed with checking email accounts and electronic devices in an attempt to assure themselves their spouse has truly repented. While such obsessions are not healthy, the repentant spouse should welcome the accountability. When repentance is real, there is nothing to fear. Accountability will prove that.
The injured spouse will struggle for a long time with the inner brokenness that adultery brings. Fears over their own inadequacies will haunt them long after restoration is completed. The repenting spouse may be plagued by guilt and shame as he or she observes the consequences of their actions ripple down into every facet of daily life.
There Is Hope
Even with all of this going against them, the couple can create a new and better marriage than the one demolished by adultery. Through effective biblical counseling, the heart issues (lust, greed, selfishness, idolatry, pride) that charted this course of action will be identified and the adulterer called to repentance and change.
The offended spouse will also have to deal with their own heart issues (anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, self-pity, fear) so that the new marriage commitment can begin on solid ground. There is no room for looking for specks in each other’s eyes; this is a long-term logging contract done on themselves. Willingness to confess sin and ask forgiveness, humility, openness, and demonstrations of sacrificial love will move the couple toward reaching the goal of reunification. It is important for the couple to remember that despite the hardships along the way, there is great blessing and reward in pursuing reconciliation. It is the most beautiful example of Christ-likeness when both husband and wife are willing to forgive and restore the marriage relationship.
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Resources for You
The 10-Session Challenge: Biblical Counseling Center has helped hurting couples work through difficult trust issues including adultery. Why not check out the basic information and restore hope in your marriage?