For Christmas, I received a compass necklace. Daily it reminds me to live by my compass, not my circumstances. A compass gives you direction when you’re lost. It always points North so that you can find your way forward even in a storm, even when it’s dark, even when you’re tired or confused, or angry. How many times do you feel lost in confusing emotions or difficult circumstances? To get unstuck define your North.
Think of it this way. Name your most important virtues and values. Maybe you’d write down “I value honesty, integrity, connection, relationship with God, good stewardship of my body, mind and spirit.” These are a few of your NORTH STARS. Now, live by your Compass and not your circumstances. They will always give you clarity on your next steps forward.
This week’s question: My husband cheated and then abandoned me and our 5 children for nearly 2 years. He has recently apologized and wants to work things out. I agreed, and we have been taking steps to restore our relationship. He lives 4 hours away, so we only see him every 1-2 weeks for a few days. Recently he has been saying he needs reassurance that we will be together in the end. I think he is getting discouraged because it's taking me so long to “come around”. How do I reassure him I am still willing to work on things, but that I don't have a timeline on my healing? I fear that he will be so discouraged that he will walk away…. again.
Answer: I am so sorry you have had to experience this kind of pain. I’m sure it has not been easy for you to be the sole parent to 5 children for almost 2 years. I agree you do have your own healing to do, and I hope you continue to do it.
Adultery is a serious break in trust. It is a betrayal of the worst kind. It devastates the victim (you) and God says it is grounds for divorce. Yet, you did not initiate that option over the past 2 years. I assume you waited, hoping, praying he would come to his senses and repent. Now you say he’s apologized but he wants your reassurance that all will be well… in the end.
Let’s take first things first. What is your NORTH? What’s most important to you to be the kind of person you want to be? From what I gathered from your question, you want to be a good mom to your kids. You want to be a godly woman. You want to be healthy. And you value connection and marriage, that’s why you didn’t divorce him right away. But what else? Make a list.
You said you don’t have a timeline for your healing. You’re right, but can you think of what you need to heal? What’s most important for you to become you again? To live unafraid? If you were hit by a car and in the hospital’s intensive care unit, your first priority would be your own healing, not making sure your husband is reassured you won’t give up on him.
The very fact that he asks you to promise him a positive outcome shows me he’s not truly repentant for what he’s done to you and the children. He may have apologized but what does that mean? Words are easy, but a change of heart is different. John the Baptist said to the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you’ve repented of your sin and turned to God.” Matthew 3:8
Two of the main fruits (signs) that a person has truly repented of their sin is that they understand and show care for the pain and suffering they have caused the other person by their sin. They also feel grateful for the opportunity to make amends for that impact. They don’t act entitled to forgiveness or make demands on the victim.
The fact that your husband is still wrapped up in himself shows he hasn’t changed. Adultery and abandonment are very self-centered sins. He was ONLY thinking about himself, not you, not your kids, for two years. From what I can tell, he is still ONLY thinking of himself. He might not be committing adultery now, but he’s still focused on his own feelings and needs, not on yours.
I hear that you prefer reconciliation to divorce. That’s a noble desire. But do you want a repeat of your previous life? I hear that you are taking steps toward restoration, but are they the right steps? Has he done his own work of healing and understanding why he cheated and abandoned you and his 5 children for 2 years?
Friend, what your husband did is not a marriage problem. It’s a personal character and sin issue that he must face and address before any possibility of true marital healing and reconciliation can take place. His self-centeredness is still apparent, even as he causes you to fear he will leave again if you don’t cave in and reassure him. How can you promise things will work out when he doesn’t seem to have done any of his own work to get healthy? That would be foolish, and I think you know that. So put in your COMPASS that you want to be wise. A wise person discerns when someone is truly changed or not.
Here's something you might say to him. “I’ve waited for two years for you to come back home. I am willing to continue to see if you’re changing. But I can’t make any promises because I don’t trust you yet and I have my own healing to do. I need you to do your own work of healing and growing. We can’t fix this marriage if you don’t examine what was going on in you, that gave you a green light to cheat on me and abandon our family for two years. I still love you and want our marriage to thrive, but I can’t promise you that it will if you don’t do your own work to heal. We can’t rebuild broken trust in our marriage until we do our own work of healing our own selves.”
Then watch and see what happens. That statement might be a wake call for him that he takes seriously and even thanks you for being such a good helpmate instead of an enabler. Or it’s possible he will get angry, defensive, and discouraged. You must allow him to show you who he is. That tells you what’s most important to him. Is it his growth and restoration with you, the children, and God? Or is it more about his comfort and his convenience? It’s important for you to see where he truly is, so you can make good decisions for you and your children moving forward.
Friend, what words of wisdom would you give this sister from your own experiences of betrayal and/or abandonment?
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