Why “Forgive and Reconcile” is a Terrible Message To Betrayed Spouses


My husband had an affair, should I forgive him? is a question many betrayed women wrestle with. The internal and external query to “forgive, forget and reconcile” with their betraying spouse is heavy and constant.

So it’s bewildering when marriage advisers, who, ideally, should know better, step into their space and muddy up the waters.

Two weeks ago, Author Gary Thomas shared a teaser of a video titled “The Power of Forgiveness.”

In the brief teaser, he introduced two women, one whose husband had an affair and the other, the husband’s affair partner. He submitted both women were able to forgive and become friends.

Here’s a shot of Gary’s introduction

I shared my concerns about Gary’s teaser with my Facebook community, explaining why Gary’s snippet was harmful rather than encouraging to most people who’ve experienced betrayal trauma, and abuse.

Here’s part of what I wrote on Facebook.

“My thoughts are limited to the teaser only because I can’t access the rest of the piece without subscribing. As a writer, two things come to mind when I read this teaser.
1) Gary’s intro is likely most attractive to women experiencing betrayal trauma and fighting to save their marriages. We know the highlighted message is not a typical outcome in these marriages.
The introduction also appeals to Christians, in general, who have been taught to “forgive and be reconciled.” This teaser affirms that mindset. So there’s a high chance that well-meaning Christians will forward this post to women in destructive marriages. Again, this outcome is not typical but these women will once again feel pressured to take the moonshot rather than consider their own welfare and safety.
2) Unmistakably, we can talk about “God’s power to help us forgive, heal, and be reconciled.” The problem is when it’s the ONLY thing we mention. In this small teaser, it leaves the majority who will experience God’s power differently, with an awful taste in their mouths. (Guilt, shame, pressure)
I’ve seen spouses talk about God’s ability to heal and reconcile relationships, e.g., Author Misty Terrell (More with Misty, below!) But they approach it differently—lots of context and a clear, thorough explanation of what it takes to get there.
There’s an awareness of their particular audience and their circumstances. A one-sided teaser like this, I believe, wouldn’t cut it. And I think this is where we miss it, as Christian marriage teachers: we’re not sensitive. We’re not trauma-aware. We’re not creating material from the POV of victims and survivors.
And ultimately, that lack of sensitivity can lead to a post such as this Author’s, where we write a one-sided, highly-unlikely-to-most-outcome introduction and put the rest of the article, perhaps where we’ve issued a caveat, behind a paywall. ~ Ngina

*Someone later reached out to me and noted that Gary did a great job within the video, explaining and issuing all the necessary caveats. Yet, my critique remains because my problem was not about the contents of the actual video, but rather how he teased it out.

My commentary garnered a lot of feedback and discussions in the comments, from women who’ve experienced betrayal and abuse trauma, advocates and professionals.

I invite you to check out the conversations here. Let’s actually listen to the people who’ve been through hell and back as well as professionals!

Let’s talk about betrayal trauma and rebuilding a marriage when a husband has had an affair: is it possible? (Please note, as always, the same principles apply if it’s the woman who has had an affair.)

My Husband Had an Affair, Should I Forgive and Forget?

In the Facebook commentary, I mentioned Author Misty Terrell as someone who handles the topic with the care, truth and nuance it needs. Misty wrote a beautiful, insightful reply, and I want to highlight it here because it’s so very instructive.

Here’s Misty.

I have a unique personal account with my Husband’s AP (Affair Partner), who was also my friend prior to the affair.

I’m intentional to carefully approach this topic because it can be so triggering and cause women to feel pushed into forgiving -and reconciling-with the affair partner. We must be very purposeful in distinguishing between the two.

Reconciliation was NEVER my agenda, nor do I believe it should be. I will never be “besties” with the woman who was involved with my Husband. I don’t believe that is healthy, wise, or prudent.

However, I was able to release and let go of my need for justice and vindication and was able to put that process in the hands of God. I’d call this forgiveness. Some call it letting go.

This happened months before I saw her face to face, and on my own between me and Jesus-and a good therapist-for my own personal freedom flight to take place. It was all for my healing, not for hers.

Months later, I found myself sitting across from her, both of us weeping, as she poured out her own recovery journey. It was a powerful moment.

My husband had an affair should i reconcile

Jesus pursued her, and in brokenness and humility, she fully acknowledged her part. We hugged. I was able to release the label I had pinned on her as “the other woman.”

She became “another woman” to me, one who was experiencing her “woman at the well” process, and it was truly beautiful. (But truly unique. Not every AP has this come-to-Jesus moment. I would never advise a spouse experiencing betrayal trauma to sit across from the AP, let alone try and reconcile with her Husband’s AP.)

Occasionally -like twice/year-one of us will shoot a text saying “thought of you today.” But we aren’t best friends.

I would never want her around my Husband nor my Husband around her. I would never allow my children around her. I will never feel safe with her, because trust was severed.

I do not desire a friendship with her, and that’s a good thing. We left our church, where she also attended. So many boundaries are set in place to maintain emotional and psychological safety.

But, should I run into her at our grocery store, I could genuinely look her in the eyes and see her PERSON who has value and worth. A person who acted out because of her own unresolved trauma and a deep longing to feel loved and accepted.

There is space for empathy. There is grace to release her from my vindictiveness. But there isn’t space for reconciliation.

Unholy Fruit: Guide to Discerning Toxic Character Workshop

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In this Workshop and Checklist (affiliate link), Coach Sarah McDugal empowers your ability to discern the Fruit of an UNholy spirit.

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I don’t know how Gary will approach this topic, but I haven’t even mentioned it on my author page, because my experience is so incredibly rare…both my spouse and the AP sought out recovery.

Like, seriously, how often does THAT take place??? The majority cannot relate to this story at all, so why highlight it? Is that truly in the best interest of spouses who have been betrayed?

I don’t believe it will encourage. I think it would make many women feel discouraged, confused, false guilt that they can’t massage their husbands AP’s shoulders and have deep, emotionally intimate conversations.

That’s just weird. Wrong. Presumptuous.

This is saying that if you DON’T find yourself in the same experience, you can’t experience the same kind of LIGHT and transformation. That’s not truth!

Women who have experienced betrayal, you are not “required” to forgive or reconcile with the AP! You can pray God’s JUSTICE be done. The freedom for you will come when you begin the process of letting go…trusting fully that God is just and faithful to advocate for YOU.

But you get to decide when you are ready to begin that process—no need to force it or rush it.

“Be still and know that I am God” is best translated “Cease striving and experience my love for you fully and completely.” Cease striving. Rest. Trust that Jesus will provide a way out of your pain. With Him, you can just BE. ~ Misty.

Thank you, Misty!

“Betrayal is traumatic. Like a thick blanket of fog in a deep valley, despair can settle in and take up residence. We feel alone. Abandoned. Rejected. Is there hope?” – Misty Terrell.

Misty has some great resources for anyone experiencing betrayal in their relationship. She and her husband facilitate betrayal trauma recovery support groups: click here for more information. And you can also check out her website and books.

Click here to read the follow-up post No, Really, We Should Stop Telling Women to Forgive Their Cheating Husbands

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