Good evening friends,

Whew, it’s been a whirlwind week of travel, counseling, coaching and writing. I attended Logos Bible Software boot camp last week to learn their software. We were treated so kindly by the entire Logos staff. I had the opportunity to visit with amazing women ministry leaders who wanted to study God’s word using this software.

In the photo above are just some of the women I had the privilege of studying with. They are (bottom left to right) Sharon Jaynes, Karol Ladd, Jennifer Kennedy Dean, (top left to right), Linda Evans Shepherd, Pam Farrel, Me, Carol Kent and Jennie Dimkoff. For more pictures, visit my facebook fan page.

I wish I could tell you I got home and became a bible study wiz, but alas my menopausal brain only could retain a fraction of what I learned but thankfully they gave us printed manuals that I can refer to again and again. But I have at my fingertips tons of commentaries, Greek language studies, dictionaries, various translations of the bible, maps, sermon notes and everything else my heart could imagine.

Pray for me. I can easily become overwhelmed with the responsibilities God has given me.

Today’s Question: I have been facilitating support groups for sexually sinful men for the past 14 years. We added a wives support group 12 years ago. We have had men referred to us by their counselor, pastor, or by their own wife. The deep stabbing pain a wounded wife feels over her husband’s betrayal is overwhelming. I am not able to understand my wife’s pain or entirely why she chose to stay with me in spite of the pain. We are both glad she made that decision from the first day back in 1994.

Many of the men I deal with struggle with a level of narcissism that is often comical. Their childish behavior, the petty lies and the denial that he wasn’t as bad as other men does not impress a wife. On occasion we are blessed with a man who gets it. He knows his actions will be the true indicator of how well he is recovering.

My question is this: If a husband is really working hard to win trust and he appears to be doing the right thing AND his wife refuses to trust him after months (maybe years) of anger, etc. What should the husband do next?

Answer: I am always thrilled to hear how God takes our worst sins and failures and uses them for his glory and to help other people. I am glad you and your wife have done the hard work of healing and are bringing the good news of restoration to other couples through your support groups.

Sexual infidelity strikes at the very heart of marital trust. I believe that is why it is one of the few biblical grounds for divorce. Trust is very difficult to rebuild once it is broken and it sometimes takes a betrayed woman a very long time to fully trust her husband again.

One way of looking at the situation you describe is that she may never fully trust him and that may be one of the consequences of his sin that he (and she) will have to live with if they stay married.

Let me make an analogy. If while driving recklessly, the husband caused an accident that paralyzed his wife, no amount of repentance would change the reality that she is now paralyzed. But together they could learn to live in this new place if she knew he was repentant for his reckless driving habits and he knew she forgave him even though she still remained paralyzed.

You don’t mention the particulars but you do give a few clues that I want flesh out.

First you say that her husband is working hard and appears to be doing the right thing, but he is not getting the results he wants – his wife’s trust. My concern with your question regarding what he should do next makes me wonder why the husband is doing what he’s doing?

In other words, his actions, even though they look right, still seem much about him. Getting his wife to trust him, love him and forgive him so that he has a better marriage. If he doesn’t get those things, will that mean that he stops trying to love his wife and to earn her trust?

The second clue that you mention is that his wife still has a lot of anger toward her husband. Her anger is appropriate for the sin, but to hold on to it for years hinders her ability to forgive and reconcile with her husband.

To heal a broken relationship it takes repentance and forgiveness. Healing cannot fully take place without both. If you have forgiveness, but no real repentance, the relationship continues to be damaged and real trust can never be re-established. On the other hand, if you have repentance but no forgiveness, the relationship still remains broken and genuine intimacy and trust is forsaken.

It seems to me that the wife may be having more problems with forgiveness because she can’t (won’t) let go of her anger. If she could forgive, perhaps they both could lovingly live with the continued lack of trust and together work to rebuild their relationship.

Again, using the analogy of a wife being paralyzed by her husband’s reckless driving. If she forgave him, they could live with the paralysis but she still might be fearful for a long, long, time whenever she is driving with him. As long as he continued to be patient and compassionate with her lack of trust, knowing that his past foolishness caused her great pain and consequence, they would be able to have a loving relationship.

But if he grew impatient and angry because “she wasn’t over it yet” or drove the slightest bit recklessly, it would erase all the good work he had done previously in helping her to feel safe.

So the answer to your question isn’t simple. The husband can continue to work toward rebuilding his wife’s trust by being patient and loving with her lack of it. The wife must learn to let go of her anger and forgive her husband if she wants to have a good marriage. It will take both of their work to make that happen.

If the wife is in the support group, ask her what she gets out of holding on to her anger for all this time? Perhaps it’s her way to punish him. But at what cost both to her and her marriage?

Friends, you who have lived this journey first hand – what are your recommendations?

10 Comments

  1. Anonymous on August 23, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Why do we insist on making things so complicated? Some times I feel we strive to create only to hear ourselves talk, admire or hate what we do, and repeat our actions over and over again expecting different results.

    Take a lesson from Corrie Ten Boom from the Netherlands. Corrie experienced first hand great evil during her time in a German concentration camp during World War II. There at the hands of her captures, her beloved sister, Betsy, died. One German guard in particular was very cruel. After the war Corrie ran into this man in Berlin. He had become a Christian and had repented of his sins to Christ. There, standing before Corrie was this evil man who now asked for her forgiveness. At first Corrie could not give it. She remembered her sister and felt hate. But then she thought of Christ and Mathew 6:15, which says, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” This was followed by Romans 5:5, “for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” Corrie thanked God for bringing His love into her heart through the Holy Spirit and thanked Him that His love was stronger than her unforgiveness. At that moment she felt free and took the man’s hand in forgiveness, viewing him through Christ’s eyes.

    We are not helpless beings without strength or the ability to make right decisions no matter what we have faced or endured. This is especially true for those who have turned their hearts, minds and souls over to God for safe keeping and put on the full armor discussed in the Bible. I think those that will not let go of hurt play directly into Satin’s hands. Satin will do everything to steel a Christian’s peace and ability to move closer to Christ. Helping to destroy marriages, especially Christian marriages, is one of his top priorities. Christian marriages represent the Church, the Holy Trinity and God’s covenant with man through Christ Jesus our Lord. Each time a Christian marriage is destroyed Satin mocks God.

    In the long run hold tight to 1 Corinthians 13. Put all your faith and being into growing Christ like. Find your primary happiness through the Word and thus our Lord, and leave the rest up to God. God is hungry for those that will live in faith and follow him.

  2. Anonymous on August 23, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I think that women know in their gut, whether or not their husband is telling them the truth. We may live in denial of what our gut feelings are telling us, but deep down inside we know that something just does not seem right. Our gut feelings may be telling us the real truth, rather than what we are seeing with our natural eyes. It may be warning us, that there is something deeper that needs to happen or change. I have experienced many hard things in my marriage and tried to keep the relationship going for 30 years, by being a forgiving wife. So many things repeated, even though my husband seemed repetant. Some things are small things, some very large (abuse and infedelity). The small things do matter, when someone is building trust. One of the things I have had a hard time with is, what does true repentance look like? This can apply to any relationship situation, whether it is the male or female. Forgiveness is free. Trust is earned. Just because we decide to forgive someone, does not mean we have to have a relationship with them. Every person is different. Every marriage or relationship is different. We never fully know what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes.

    • Judi on February 23, 2015 at 2:11 am

      “Just because we decide to forgive someone, does not mean we have to have a relationship with them.”
      AMEN!!

    • Lesego on November 15, 2015 at 6:26 am

      Thank you SO much for this answer You nailed it.best responss for my situation as a Christian im struggling with what forgiveness looks like …I forgive my emotionally abusive husband But I just dont want to be his wife anylonger I forgive him but I dont emotionally trust him …Does it mean Im an unforgiving Christian ? Or that I dont have faith in Lord Jésus?

      I found my self not emotionally or phyisically drawn to him .I hate the hurt im causing him.pls help

  3. Sharmayn on August 25, 2011 at 1:57 am

    In July of 2009 I discovered that my husband of almost 19 years had had two brief infidelities with women I knew –the first was my very close *friend* & prayer partner. (At the time of revelation the second infidelity was still in process and we were separated for 6 weeks.) All of this transpired in our small church where my family had been solidly planted and blooming for 10years…

    This horrific discovery came just three years after our 14 yo son had died from suicide. I share that piece of our story to say that altho it is probably silly to try to *compare* pain, my husband's betrayal is the WORST thing that has ever happened to me. There has just been SO MUCH LOSS.

    The first thing I would say is that unless you are a professional counselor or you have been thru this, I think it is imprudent to try to give advice about how to "get over" something like this… I have personally come to the conclusion that infidelity ( physical and/or emotional) is equivalent to the RAPE of a marriage (See 1 Corinthians 7:4). I've read hundreds – possibly thousands- of accounts of marital betrayal and tho the situations are always unique, the result is always the same, complete and utter DEVASTATION… If God, who loves and designed COVENANT and hates divorce, would site this as a reason to dissolve a marriage, we must try to understand the gravity of what takes place when adultery occurs.

    I think the counselor has spoken wisely. In my case, my husband is completely remorseful, repentant and doing everything in his power to make things up to me. His restitution towards me however has proven secondary to his primary goal of HONORING GOD WITH HIS LIFE… That newfound primary focus is what has given me the courage to move forward in our reconcilation and healing. It is the evidence of that change of heart that I needed most.

    When a couple decides to reconcile after infidelity, the healing and recovery is threefold. There is the individual healing of each of the two spouses and there is the healing of the relationship. I've made quite a few missteps in trying to make peace with what has happened. But I've found that forgiveness is a process that is instanteous and continuous. It is an everyday, continual choice. Everytime the memory resurfaces, I have to choose to forgive again. Two years out and I still feel very hurt, but the memories are not as painful anymore. I love my husband very much. I have had to reconcile in my own heart and mind that I just might have to walk thru the rest of this life with a heart "limp." (Genesis 32) I have chosen to stay with my husband in this *worst* case scenario. One of my counselors said that nowhere in the Scriptures are we ever told to put our trust in man(kind). While there has to be a certain level of trust in all our healthy human relationships ultimately, only our God is unfailing.

    Just a few weeks ago, God moved me further into healing as I read Psalm 37. He was there as my heart was being broken into a million pieces. Nothing that was done in secret was hidden from His sight and I know that He grieved with me and for me. That truth gives me great peace and comfort.

    Finally I would just say that healing and reconciliation takes two. It takes repentance and forgiveness as Leslie has said. Both the injured spouse and the offending spouse have to each do their part. If either is lacking, I don't know how healing can take place. I do know that whether the marriage recovers or not, God is for us. Whether single, married, divorced or widowed, He desires to make us whole.

    I hope this makes a little sense… 🙂 I'm praying for all the broken Christian marriages and people everywhere…

  4. Leslie on August 25, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Thank you dear ones who have shared your struggle and pain with us. It is such a tender topic and there are no quick and easy answers. I hope this forum is a place where we can share our struggles, our success and failures, our pain and our confusion. We are here for you and pray that God will be lifted up in the midst of all our human fears and uncertainities. There are no easy answers.

    • James on November 12, 2015 at 2:03 am

      Leslie,
      I first want to let all the ladies here who have endured the pain of an unfaithful spouse that they are loved and deeply cared for by God and that I am truly heartbroken for many of the stories I have heard on this site.
      One of the concerns I have had as a pastoral counselor who has dealt with married men who have fallen into sexual sin is hearing the frustration of men who are truly wanting to do the right thing, coming clean with their wives, humbly repenting and working hard at taking genuine steps toward restoring their marriage. In some instances, the hearts of their wives have grown so cold and callous to these men that literally nothing positive they do counts and everything negative they do counts double. Sometimes even years after the man has come clean and repented the wives still hold their husband’s sin over his head and use that as a justification for pushing them away. When these men do things for their wives that demonstrate a caring, tender love for their wives, their motives are constantly questioned. When they don’t do those things, they are accused of stalling their progress or “falling back into their old selfish ways.”
      Again, these women have been sinned against in a very hurtful way, so I don’t want to in any way mitigate the hurt and harm that has come to their hearts. At the same time, at what point does a wounded wife realize that she also has a responsibility to honor the vows she made in the covenant of marriage?
      If a man breaks the marriage covenant, and the wife wishes to divorce, scripture is clear that she has the right to do so (Matthew 5:32) and there is no longer any marriage. The wife is free from her vows and the man must walk out his own repentance as a single man. However, if she wishes to forgive her husband and move forward towards the restoration of a marriage she has the right to this as well. I think women who make this choice are to be commended for their forgiveness and courage. But I don’t think that a woman who has been so sinned against has the right to remain in a marriage covenant and expect her husband to honor his vows while she put her own vows on hold indefinitely.
      To many of these men, the anger and resentment they receive from their wives doesn’t feel like a boundary, or a process of restoration. In many ways, these men feel punished and for many of them that punishment has no expiration date in sight. Some of these men feel as if their wives now have full justification to be neglectful, hurtful and bitter toward them and for many of them the goal post for when the marriage will be genuinely restored keeps getting moved and the standard for genuine repentance becomes solely defined by the wife’s subjective feelings.
      Do these men deserve to be punished?
      Sure they do.
      But we have all done things in our lives for which we deserve the lake of fire, God’s just punishment for our sinfulness and rebelliousness toward Him, and we have all received grace in lieu of that justice. God did not withhold love or relationship from us when we grievously sinned against Him. At what point does the promise of a wife to forgive a husband who has sinned grievously against her become the basis for moving toward her husband in love and relationship rather than pushing him away in anger and punishment?

      Just some thoughts to ponder. Thank you for your ministry.

      James

      • Leslie Vernick on November 12, 2015 at 6:44 am

        Thanks James. I agree with you that if a man shows the fruits of repentance, a wife has to decide – am I going to repair and restore this marriage or am I going to release it. Forgiveness is necessary for either decision but to stay and be bitter and resentful and continue to punish her spouse for what he did is not God’s way.

  5. Brynlee on August 26, 2011 at 4:14 am

    I'd like to thank all the women who have shared their comments. It's as if I'm part of a support group. I am struggling with feelings of suspicion in my marriage. There are many things that don't add up; don't make sense and perhaps it is the enemy trying to destroy my marriage through my own imagination. My husband of sixteen years is a good man, but he can also be a very bad boy. I am afraid that he has strayed in our marriage, but I have no concrete proof or evidence of anything…just my intuition.
    Again, it could be Satan who is putting things in my head. I have been an emotional train wreck and I am clinging to Father God to bring all (if any) truth to light…whether my husband is guilty or not. It's the waiting, trusting, and letting go that is the hardest part. I want to search for answers on my own, but this always hinders God from doing His work and revealing things to me. I need to exercise self control…this is so difficult because I feel as though I've already been betrayed. I would feel so much better if the truth would just come out already. I need closure. I need to know who the other woman is and I want to know details. I want to begin the healing in our marriage. I don't intend to leave my husband. I just need to start the healing.

    • Ronda on December 1, 2016 at 8:54 am

      Sounds as though I wrote this. What has come of your situation?

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