This is the fourth of 31 Questions in 31 Days series of blog posts. To learn more about this series, do a search on this page called “31 Questions”.
Q #4: How do you forgive a spouse for infidelity or inappropriate text messages to another woman?
A: While I’m not a professional counselor or therapist, I have had many interactions with people in these difficult circumstances in my ministry as a pastor. Situations like the ones referenced in the question above are more common than you might realize. That is by no means an excuse for moral failure, but it is to say that marital infidelity is experienced and prevailed past by many couples.
The truth is, while marital infidelity, in its many different packages (e.g., emotional affairs, pornography, inappropriate text messages or adultery,etc.) is a toxic and often marriage-ending behavior, it doesn’t have to be. How does one move forward?
The following suggestions assume that the partner who has strayed wants to work it out and recognizes the wrong in what they have done.
- Get professional guidance. Make no mistake about it, infidelity is traumatic to a relationship. You will likely be unable to walk out of the days and weeks and months that follow discovering an affair into a healthy, restored relationship without going to a professional marriage and family therapist. If you both want the relationship to work, you’ve both got to be willing to put some time and money into finding healing. Many members of the clergy are excellent resources for finding the right help for your situation, but your spiritual leader will likely have neither the time nor the expertise to help you move ahead.
- Discern the kind of wandering involved. Not all wandering is the same. Pornography is not tantamount to an affair. A texting relationship with a person in another state is not the same as carrying on an affair with a neighbor. All these items are unhealthy and hurtful to the other partner in a committed marriage, but not all issues are the same. For many who discover texting or an inappropriate emotional relationship on the part of their spouse can end up imagining that it is the same as an extramarital, physical, sexual relationship, but it’s not. When the kind of wandering is determined, another step is necessary.
- Determine the depth of deception and evil involved. How long has this been going on? Has the cheating spouse admitted the entirety of their behavior? Has this happened before? How much of your money was spent on the relationship? Were you in regular contact with the person your spouse cheated with while the relationship was going on? These are all the kinds of questions to ask when assessing the depth of deception.
- Accept what happened. By accepting what has happened, I’m not suggesting you come to see it as acceptable. However, if there has been cheating, it will mean you need to accept that this has changed your relationship in some way and that you won’t be able to let it go in a day. Forgiveness is sometimes a discipline. Forgiveness of marital infidelity will require that you keep returning to the forgiveness process.
- Commit to taking steps that will make eventual healing and forgiveness possible. In order for you to move beyond the affair, mutually agreed upon measures need to be taken to make more sure that this will never happen again. That will depend on the nature of the unfaithfulness that happened. If it happened on a business trip or in the context of being alone with someone in their car or office, all these situations will need to be avoided at all costs down the road. An absolute end to communication with the extramarital lover should happen immediately. Furthermore, an accountability person, outside the family, is probably most appropriate. There should be someone outside the relationship who has a personal relationship with the couple who they can call if the agreed upon boundaries are violated.
Comment below to add what you think is key in moving beyond betrayal in a marriage relationship.