But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26)
Betrayal by a spouse is one of the deepest wounds we can experience in life. When one whom we have given our very hearts to, confided our deepest secrets, built an entire life with shatters our world it is hard to know where to even begin picking up its many pieces. Yet, with God there is always hope.
As revelation of the betrayal is made it is important not to make any rash decisions. Often the betrayed spouse is immediately ready to check out, to walk, to file for divorce. This is an understandable response, but it is an emotional one without much forethought and understanding. It’s important to take your time, slow your thoughts and plans down and consider all the options and consequences that lay before you. It is important to grieve the reality of what has happened to you. The marriage has been broken, but it might yet be healed. Moving slowly is important.
It’s important to consider what we mean when we say “hope” at this point too. Hope does not mean a return to the way things were. You can never go back after adultery. Both the betrayer and the betrayed would like to change things, but there is no undoing what has been done. This must be accepted before a new future can be forged, but, once again, this takes time.
There are some, both betrayers and betrayed, who attempt to live in a fantasy world. They pretend as though nothing has changed, as though the adultery was not that serious, as though they can just go on with life as normal. Pretending that a fracture has not happened will only work to increase the size of this gaping wound. It must be addressed, bandaged, and healed. Leaving it alone will only serve to breed bitterness, distrust, and distance. Both the victim and the betrayer need to recognize this and be willing to seek help.
Hope is not about changing the past, nor ignoring the present problems. Instead hope is about forging a new future in life of the gospel of grace. Hope for the marriage broken by adultery is grounded in trusting God, moving towards forgiveness, and asking for help.
The betrayal of adultery means that a person can no longer trust their spouse. We can always, however, trust our God. Trusting God with the aftermath of adultery means several important things for both victim and adulterer. For both it means not forcing reconciliation and healing. Renewal of the marriage covenant will take time. As we work at our own grieving, growth, and forgiveness we must trust that God will bless our desire to honor him in our marriage. We must trust that His timetable and the process itself will move us along towards healing. Forcing things will only aggravate the situation, exhaust our partner, and lead us to increased dissatisfaction and despair. Don’t set time tables, don’t make threats, and don’t set unrealistic expectations. Inviting wise counselors into the situation will help you to avoid rushing things. Trusting God, will also mean that we do not attempt to serve as the Holy Spirit in one another’s lives. We cannot control the spiritual growth of other people. We cannot force them to do things, believe things, confess things, and make changes. The betrayer cannot force his or her spouse to forgive or to give up bitterness, and attempting to will only further wound your partner. The betrayed cannot force their spouse to confess, confide, and repent. Attempting to do so will only breed further distrust and victimization of yourself. Inviting counselors into the process can help with some of this. Finally, trusting God also means that we believe a better future is possible. Our present experiences will tell us all brokenness destroys hope. In the wake of betrayal our emotions will convince us that the only alternative to the life we envisioned will be inferior. But God loves to take broken things and make them new (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5). The future will be different, it will not be like you had planned, but it can still be good. Trust god with that future.
Hope also involves forgiveness. Forgiveness is undoubtedly hard, and yet as believers we are required to offer forgiveness. Jesus tells us that there is no limit to forgiving those who have wronged us (Matt. 18:21-22). Forgiveness means choosing not to exact revenge and hold an offense against someone. In the case of adultery it means choosing to not seek retaliation, punish, or seek some kind of “payment” from the adulterer. Yet, we should qualify this call to forgive. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, nor is it the same as trust. Trust takes time to rebuild (see my previous post), and reconciliation may not happen. Forgiveness, however, can help you move forward.
Finally, our hope is directly proportional to the amount of help we seek. Attempting to deal with problems in isolation only compounds them. Couples that seek outside help, accountability, encouragement, and wisdom find a greater success rate in healing their broken marriages. Asking for help means being humble, admitting that you can’t fix this on your own, you don’t have all the answers, and that you are needy. That can be a hard thing to admit, especially in the church. Yet the body of Christ is called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). The weight of a broken marriage can be a lot to carry, and attempting to do so on your own will usually crush us. Asking for help means seeking wise godly counsel from those we trust, who can keep confidence, and who will strive to offer Biblical, objective, and discerning instruction and encouragement.
There is life after adultery, there may even be marriage after adultery. There is always hope after adultery, because the God of hope can “you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13). With God all things are possible!