How do I forgive my husband for having an affair?
This article is written from the perspective of a woman whose husband has cheated on her. It is certainly not the case that only husbands cheat on their wives. Wives cheat too. Perhaps a second article will be written from the perspective of the cheated-on man. But for now, we look at the issue from the perspective of the woman, whose husband has broken his vow. I suppose I am writing from this perspective first because, as a man, it seems only fair to endure the scrutiny and need of forgiveness first.
I suppose every married man needs forgiveness. At least, that’s what St. Matthew would say if he were writing this article. He doesn’t mix his words: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
The truth is, there isn’t a married man on the face of this earth who hasn’t had a lustful thought about someone other than his wife. So, according to Matthew, every wife is a victim of adultery.
But that’s not really the kind of adultery you were thinking about when you Googled this topic, is it? You’re talking about an actual affair. You’re talking about finding the strength to offer forgiveness to someone who has had sex with another woman, outside of your marriage. Or, perhaps you are talking about an emotional connection that your husband has developed with a colleague at work. It started out innocently enough…”just friends”…but developed into an affair of the heart which had less to do perhaps with physical sex than with an emotional bond. In either case, whether purely a sexual liaison, an emotional intimacy, or both, you’re talking about whether or not you could ever again make yourself vulnerable to him, trust him, be intimate with him, or have sex with him.
What do Scriptures say about forgiveness?
If the question is “should you forgive him?”,Scripture is clear that Christians should always be willing to forgive any offense of any magnitude. Ephesians tells us to, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (4:32). The Gospel writer Mark says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (11:25).
But the real question is “how could you forgive him?” It’s one thing to be told that you should, but a whole different thing to know how you could possibly find the room in your heart to move beyond such a violation of trust.
The first step is to blast the situation with light. Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (5:11) This means not only demanding a full revealing of the extent of the affair, but an accounting from your husband of why he did what he did. To say this is difficult work is the understatement of the century. But if there is to be any hope of actually finding room within your soul to forgive your husband, the wound needs to be fully cleaned out. That starts with a blast of light. If he’s willing to come fully clean about what he did and why he did it, that’s the first step. Trust is built on truthfulness. Difficult truth, as hard as it is, leaves hope for reconciliation. Where there is no truth, there is no hope.
Learning the Truth
The next step is to be ruthlessly truthful with your husband, about your feelings toward him. This will help ensure “that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble.” (Hebrews 12:15) It is at least as important for you to reveal the truth of your feelings, as it is for your husband to reveal the truth of his actions. It won’t be easy to say exactly what you feel, but to do any less will invite those feelings to dig in and smolder within your spirit. The most important thing for you to remember during this process is that the truth is your best friend. As John says, “it will set you free.” (John 8:32) There is one caveat here. Don’t be “dead right.” Truth can be used to gracefully reveal, heal and free but it can also be used to destroy, manipulate, and make one suffer. For your sake, check your heart in this process.
Success with Teamwork
Of course, going through this process alone can be treacherous. It’s easy to wonder if you missed clues along the way, or in some way failed to provide the relationship he was looking for. A Christian counselor can guide you toward an understanding of adultery that discards these misconceptions of cause and effect. The truth is, even solid, happy marriages aren’t inoculated from the pits of potential infidelity. Millcreek Christian Counseling has experienced counselors on hand to help you through this difficult time in your life.
Photos courtesy of Photostock and David Castillo Dominici