Excerpted from 25 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Dr. Juli Slattery. © 2015 by Moody Publishers. Used with Permission.
There is no pain like discovering that your husband has been unfaithful. It’s as if your whole world has been shattered. You doubt your instincts because you have been fooled. You make vows to never trust again because old vows have been broken.
Based on God’s Word, there is no greater offense in marriage than unfaithfulness. In fact, it is one of the only reasons that God allows for divorce--it’s that serious! I’ve seen some couples who try to quickly move on and forget the whole matter. I think this is a mistake. While a marriage can certainly recover from betrayal, it is not a quick and painless process. Something precious has been broken and needs to be rebuilt.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is trying to function in marriage without truly understanding the primary reason God created it in the first place. Marriage is not just a place to raise children or an agreement to make sure we are not lonely. It is a covenant that represents the promise of love God has made to His people.
Navigating the challenges of marriage--and the betrayal of infidelity--without understanding the larger meaning of God’s covenant is kind of like putting together a puzzle without the picture on the box. Attempting to fit together a thousand tiny pieces into a picture is difficult enough, but imagine doing so without knowing what the final product is supposed to look like. How in the world can you begin to create a picture out of such chaos?
Marriage was never supposed to be about creating a love that is brand new; instead, it asks us to discover and replicate God’s love that has existed since the Garden of Eden. When I put together a puzzle, I constantly refer to the picture on the box. I scrupulously study each piece to discern where it fits within the whole picture. I think this is critical to navigating the waters of restoring broken trust.
God experienced unfaithfulness and infidelity with His chosen people--first the nation of Israel, and now those who are followers of Jesus. God often refers to the worship of other gods or idols as “adultery.” Our hearts are to be pledged completely and totally to the Lord in the same way that a husband and wife promise to keep themselves for each other. In a very personal sense, God understands your pain.
Just as God extends forgiveness to us, He also asks us to extend forgiveness to someone who has betrayed us--even an unfaithful spouse. However, Jesus’ forgiveness in our life isn’t a reality until we are honest about our sin. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9).
Is your husband repentant? Is he sorry because he got caught or does he truly understand the harm his infidelity has done? While God is always willing to reconcile with us, He doesn’t offer “cheap forgiveness.” In addition to saying, “I’m sorry!” God asks us to turn from our sin and to walk “in fellowship” with Him. The same is a requirement when trust in marriage has been broken.
God has the benefit of being able to see into our hearts. Since you can’t look into your husband’s heart to measure the sincerity of his remorse, it will take time and patience to begin to trust again. The shockwaves of a betrayal can reverberate for months, even years after the fact. This means that you may need to grapple with forgiveness and trust issues on an ongoing basis as they arise.
This is a critical question in the process of recovering from a betrayal. Some women feel like they need to know everything--what he saw, what they did, and so on. Some counselors believe that when trust has been violated, you have a right to ask any and every question. After all, how can you rebuild trust if he is withholding information about what he’s done?
While I agree that there should be no secrets, I’ve also found that knowing details can be a roadblock to rebuilding intimacy. In the wake of broken trust, you may feel an incessant need to know things that you wish you didn’t know ten years down the road. It is very important to have a counselor help you and your husband sort through what detail is necessary for healing and what may create even more trauma. If information is withheld, it should always be for this reason, not because “I don’t have to tell you that.”
My friend Jill Savage is a godly woman whom I greatly respect. She and her husband Mark have walked through the process of rebuilding trust after infidelity. She speaks with wisdom and from experience:
As hard as it is for me to share about my husband’s infidelity, it’s my privilege to share how hard my husband worked to reestablish his integrity in our relationship. Mark committed to
answer any question I asked.
Sometimes he answered the same questions over and over again when I asked them from a slightly different angle. He was never exasperated by my need to know. He never exclaimed, “Can we stop now? I’ve apologized. When can we put this behind us?”
In the beginning, I asked dozens of questions each day. As time went on, my questions decreased to several times a week. Now we’re three years out. Questions still arise, but they’re no more than once a month, even just a few times a year. And Mark still answers them with patience and kindness.
As the one who was betrayed, I also had a responsibility in rebuilding trust. I intentionally chose not to ask particular questions, knowing the answers simply wouldn’t help. I also committed to never throw my husband’s choices in his face. I’ve learned that the purpose of asking questions should be to seek understanding, not indictment.
We have learned to ask healthy questions like, “How did that make you feel?” or “You’re very quiet tonight. What’s going on inside your head and your heart?” These questions bring thoughts and feelings into the light rather than keeping them in the dark crevices of our minds, where Satan often does his nastiest work. (Source: http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/ “Rebuilding Trust After an Affair” by Jill Savage.
God places such a high premium on sexual fidelity in marriage because He knows the level of vulnerability and trust a covenant requires. If your husband has been unfaithful, how can you know for certain he will never be unfaithful again? Choosing to love another person always involves an act of faith, hoping for what we cannot be certain about. However, no marriage can be based on "blind faith." In a marriage relationship, you and your husband owe it to each other to demonstrate a commitment to fidelity. This is particularly true if he has been unfaithful in the past.
Working with your counselor, you and your husband need to build safeguards or "hedges" around your marriage to protect against another betrayal. For example, do you have access to each other's cell phones and email accounts? Obviously, you could go overboard checking up on your husband, fueling an atmosphere of distrust and even paranoia. But in the wake of an affair, it is reasonable for you to expect a greater level of accountability in order to rebuild trust.
You also need to explore what led to the affair in the first place. In many cases, affairs happen because there are cracks in the marriage. Perhaps you and your spouse drifted apart, stopped communicating, and left each other lonely in the process. Maybe there were unresolved issues related to finances, sex, or parenting. Sometimes, an individual may have emotional problems such as past sexual abuse or bipolar disorder that lead to an increased likelihood of infidelity. Work with your counselor to identify what made your marriage vulnerable to the affair initially, then come up with practical ways to strengthen those weak areas.
I've met many couples who, like Mark and Jill Savage, testify to the healing power of forgiveness and restoration after betrayal. Nothing is beyond God’s redemption when a man and women are humble and willing to depend upon Him. However, rebuilding a marriage takes two people.
As complicated as the Bible can seem, it really is the ultimate love story. God loved us even when we were unfaithful to Him. In some cases, as with the prophet Hosea, God asked certain individuals to stay married even in spite of blatant betrayal. This may not have seemed like wise marriage advice, but God’s greater purpose was to help us grasp His unfailing love. He is faithful even when we are not. Whether or not your marriage can be restored, God asks you to be faithful to Him through it all. God can be exalted and glorified through you in every situation--whether that means a restored marriage or you walking faithfully through the trial of a broken marriage.