No Really, We Should Stop Telling Women to Forgive Their Cheating Husbands
Forgiving an unfaithful spouse: I had many people respond via email and Facebook comments to my last post and while many agreed we could do better, some thought I was overreacting.
And so I want to talk about what I think Christians are getting wrong.
But first make sure to read my last post Why “Forgive and Reconcile” is a Terrible Message To Betrayed Spouses.
Okay, lets talk about forgiveness.
Say you’re walking down the streets, and suddenly you see someone, bruised and bloodied by the roadside. What would be your first (healthy) instinct?
“Hey, you need to forgive and reconcile with the person who did this to you.”?
I suspect not.
I suspect the healthy instinct would be to get the victim the help they need so they don’t bleed out and die. I suspect many of us would focus on the VICTIM’S NEEDS. Not discussions around how to fix the relationship with whoever did that to them.*
But here in this conversation, we keep leading with, “But women need to know they can forgive and reconcile and their marriages can be saved!”
As if these betrayed women didn’t know that already!
Most Christian wives are not scanning and running for the exits the moment harmful behaviors or patterns begin to emerge in their marriages. They actually want their partner to stop their bad ways so they can have a healthy marriage.
On that basic level, we all can determine that somewhere deep within, they want to “forgive and reconcile” because they desire their relationship to be saved.
So we’re not saying anything new when we talk about forgiving and reconciling.
What we are doing, however, when we choir-up “forgive and reconcile,” is further encourage the bypassing of her needs for safety, trust, respect, and stability.
The “forgive and reconcile” messages encourage women to ignore what their bodies and god-given instinct are saying. They pressure them to focus on their spouse and the relationship.
Forgiving an Unfaithful Spouse: Infidelity is a Choice
Infidelity is a choice.
I don’t think we understand how truly intentional of a choice it is. There’s no “oops” or “I don’t know how I ended up in her inbox?” There’s no “I really don’t know how that happened.” It’s a choice.
Yes, a marriage can be saved after infidelity, as Misty Terrell shared their story.
But that marriage is saved because, first and foremost, someone owned up to the terrible evil they did and followed up with the hard work of recovery and fruit-bearing.
The marriage is not saved because their spouse just chose to forgive them. No marriage HEALTHILY survives infidelity because someone just forgave and forgot. There’s got to be deep work by the cheating spouse.
Yet many of us want to force the “deep work” on the betrayed spouse. To “forgive and forget” as if THEY are the bad guys, the ones who broke trust, the ones who drove a knife into their heart.
Again, there’s work on the relationship level, IF the relationship can be saved. Much healing. Growth. Choices to be made.
But we need to understand that the “forgive, forget and reconcile” message should never be a leading conversation. It should never be emphasized and highlighted with all the doodle marks.
We must allow wounded people to explore their options and offer clarifying feedback that does not add to their distress and grief.
We must allow hurt people to lead the conversation about how they want to live their lives. Let them invite us into their conversation. Let’s stop assuming we know the “what,” “how,” or “when” of their lives.
*(Betrayal is one of the worst kinds of marital injury. “Beaten, bloodied and left on the roadside to die” does not even begin to describe the pain of betrayal by someone you trusted with your whole life.)
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I agree 100 percent Ngina! In my work with wives I encounter the question “Why is it so hard for me to move on? I want my marriage to work…”
This leads us to the conversation of betrayal trauma, the symptoms, how long it can last, and what needs to happen in order for the marriage to be repaired.
The truth is, the cheating spouse has made their partner feel unsafe, and has shown themselves untrustworthy. Even if you want to forgive, every new instance of questionable behavior and resistance to healthy boundaries re-opens the wound anew.
Therefore, we need to stop leading with, “pray for God to soften your heart so you can forgive your husband.” That really just tells the betrayed spouse that the preservation of the marriage is more important than their sense of safety and trust in the relationship.
Hope this helps someone.
Thank you Ngina!
I agree women and men who are cheated on not just once but a lifetime need to walk out and keep going I don’t think God would expect us to stay with unfaithful men and women. And not with physical abusive people we are not their property.
What if the woman was the cheating spouse? Can a husband ever heal from that betrayal.
Simple principles apply when it’s a husband who has been betrayed.
As far as healing, check out the previous post referenced in this article.
I disagree no matter what we are to forgive it’s not about us it’s about the cheating spouse. Ask the lord if you can move forward! Let the lord move you out house give you both space. Forgiveness help us heal faster
Kimberly, I’m really hoping that people can understand the heavy and different layers of betrayal trauma. It’s not that I don’t think spouses shouldn’t forgive their betraying mates. I just don’t believe its anyone’s place to lead with that conversation. Like I said in the post and as majority of betrayed women say, being told to forgive a betrayed spouse adds to the confusion, paralysis and continued wounding. I don’t know how else to explain it, if this post doesn’t make it clear what I mean.
As a betrayed spouse(physical affair, emotional affairs, 36 years of porn addiction), forgive and reconcile is cognitive dissonance in the chaos of the betrayal. I was expected to keep quiet, deal with it all privately, and not make my husband feel bad by bringing it up and reminding him. I was blamed by all involved and expected to forgive, reconcile, stay in the marriage, and move on. Not one person comforted me, asked me how I was doing, allowed me to even process when I learned about the physical affair. It was the elephant in the room and absolutely no one was going to acknowledge it(except to tell me to not refuse him). My husband was given a total pass and never once apologized until I told him he needed to(after I learned about the porn addiction shortly after our 36th anniversary), and then I was expected to believe that it was a genuine apology. Everyone felt sorry for him and acted like nothing had happened, except toward me. I was treated like the offending spouse. I believed all this was my fault for more than 30 years.
Even today this man-boy cannot acknowledge the truth and destruction of what he’s done. I struggle to forgive him. His choices have wreaked havoc on my life, my memories, my brain, my family, my safety, my ability to function most days(even three years later). My finances are bare minimum but he has no worries. He even thinks nothing has really changed except that we don’t live together anymore. Yes, he actually said that to me. There’s truth in what he said…for him. But my life has been in utter chaos and I’m slowly pulling things back together. Abba is the steadiness and comfort and shoulder and peace. Yet he continues to allow me the time and space to grieve and process and yes, leave.
Maybe you’ve gone through all of that and can still say and live what you said. If so, I am truly happy for you and also envious. I cannot. Many others cannot. Please be careful what you say because your words and the implication behind them put added pressure and expectation and shame on an already overwhelmed and broken heart, mind, and soul.
I completely agree with you. Any form of cheating is devastating on the offended spouse. Without the mercy of God, I would have actually died.
One problem with the bad advice give to women (it’s not given to men as often, oddly……if it is so BIBLICAL, why not?) is that she is soooo desperate for someone to understand her pain, and someone comes along and dangles a “solution” that is supposed help mend the relationship. A quick fix is hard to resist. Unfortunately, a woman capitulating to the bad behavior of her husband will only nearly guarantee more bad behavior, and probably even escalation of that behavior.
I’m sorry this happened to you. I received horrible advice too, and “forgave” while he quit his job and spent the next 5 years convincing family and friends that I was “the problem” behind my back. Irreparable damage was done to my children in the process (I say my children, because he just used them as pawns in his dirty games).
I also am struggling while he jets around the world with his new foreign wife. Those of us who gave up our aspirations to help our husband’s fulfill theirs, and and quietly raise their children find it hard to find a new place in the job market that will be fulfilling, much less allow us to support ourselves.
You are seen and heard, and your struggle is known…..don’t you wish there was a Golden Girls resort for all of us misplaced treasures to call home? 10 moves later and I still don’t have a “home”.
Blessings to you. May the years the worms have eaten be restored to you.