I’m heading off to Lynchburg today to present a webinar to people helpers on “Three Common Mistakes that People Helpers Make.” Pray that my words and teaching have an impact on those listening that will equip them to be better people helpers to women in destructive marriages.
Question: I did a Google search today looking for support for the premise that even in cases of adultery, pastors should still encourage the offended spouse to prefer and seek reconciliation if there is objective evidence of true repentance. This is a personal question. I was dismayed at first to read your blog “What Scripture Supports Separation from a Destructive Spouse?” (Aug 5, 2013). Then I was deeply humbled by it. Then I decided I'd better read the texts you proposed and pray through them and get my heart back to recovery and away from trying to control the future.
My pastor told me last week that he has said for a number of years that, though my spouse has grounds for divorce, he discouraged it while remaining willing to support her if she chose to divorce (that is true) — until recently (my relapse two and a half weeks ago involving dual addictions). That was devastating to hear — yet, I could blame no one but myself.
Could you tell me what similar Scripture supports there are for promoting (actively encouraging) reconciliation, even in the case of adultery (and relapse during addiction recovery) — assuming true fruits of repentance are present?
Answer: Thanks so much for your question. Struggling with addictions is never easy. You did not give me enough of your history to render a complete answer but let me help you look at things from a few different angles.
You asked me if there are Scriptural supports that encourage reconciliation with a person who is truly repentant; even if they have done something – like commit adultery, perhaps multiple times?
I think that phrase “multiple times” probably defines where the problem lies. The fruit of genuine repentance is that you turn away from that sin and don’t repeat it. When you repeat that sin again, after you said you were repentant, trust is broken. Not only trust that you won’t sin against your wife like that again but trust in your claim of being genuinely repentant. The more times this pattern repeats, the less likely it is that your wife will be willing to put her trust out there again even if she forgives you.
In the reconciliation of a broken marriage, we’re not just talking about being neighborly again or having the ability to worship together in the same church. It’s about restoring an intimate partnership that is built on trust.
When trust has been repeatedly broken, the relationship becomes increasingly irreparable. –Click To Tweet
Let’s look at the situation for a minute outside of marriage. Let’s say you have been business partners with someone for 15 years and you have a gambling addiction. Your partner discovers you taking money from the business to play online poker. After you’re caught, you repent and go into treatment. You’re sorry and he’s forgiven you. Everything is restored. But then it happens again. And again.
Do you think your business partner will continue to want to be your business partner? No. Why not? Because you have repeatedly broken trust and now trust is not repairable because he no longer trusts your claim of repentance. The permanent brokenness of a relationship is a sad but real consequence of repeatedly sinning against someone.
You said you relapsed but you did not specify what happened. I imagine you have a sexual addiction (you didn’t say for sure) and another addiction – perhaps with alcohol or drugs. These are very besetting sins and I applaud you for trying to get help for them. But these or any other kinds of addictions will rob you of everything good in your life and you must learn to say NO to yourself and your own cravings and feelings if you want to grow, mature, and get healthy.
But let me ask you a few questions. Were you in personal or group counseling for your additions at the time of your most recent relapse? Did you have close accountability partners who you were honest with when you started to play with fire again? Did you confess to your wife or pastor that you were relapsing or were you caught? All these factors come into play when looking at the patterns of sinful behavior and the “evidence” of genuine repentance.
Individuals who are truly repentant hate their sin. They are done with it. And when that sin has hurt someone that they love such as their child or wife, they do whatever it takes to not repeat that sin again.
Jesus says it this way regarding repeated sexual sin: “It would be better for you to go through life with one eye than continue to sin in that way” (Matthew 5:29). I don’t think Jesus means you should literally cut your eye out, but Jesus is clear. Eliminating serious sin requires drastic measures. Do whatever it takes to stop it.
What drastic measures did you have in place to keep yourself from slipping back into your addictions? If your relapse also included a prideful “I don’t need help with this” kind of mindset, then your repentance wasn’t genuine or complete. You may have felt sorry you got caught or that you messed up, but your heart was not humbled, nor were you teachable or willing to submit to accountability and structured help to guard your heart against relapse. Relapsing is a choice, and if you’ve been in any kind of quality treatment, there are opportunities to reach out for help all along the path of sliding into relapsing in order to make a different choice. Did you reach out when you were slipping and sliding into your addictions? If not, why not?
So to answer your question, I don’t think there is any Scripture that commands your spouse to reconcile with you based on what information you’ve provided.
The Bible calls us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers or peace-fakers. Jeremiah warns against a superficial reconciliation when there is continued rottenness underneath. He says, “Prophets and priests alike all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).
Paul tells us that God has given believers the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Therefore, let me help you understand what that process looks like in messy and ugly relationship problems.
When someone has seriously sinned against someone and that person wonders whether or not she should reconcile with him, she isn’t merely looking for an apology. She’s looking for a change of heart.
Below are three evidences or fruits of a changed heart. John the Baptist said it well when he said to the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8). When someone is truly repentant, he or she will:
- See: They will acknowledge and see the hurt they’ve caused the person they have sinned against.
- Take responsibility: He or she will work to change the things they have done that have hurt you and the relationship. They don’t blame someone else for their sinful behaviors or attitudes. They do whatever is necessary, including drastic measures, to not repeat that sin.
- Make amends: They will do the hard work to rebuild trust. They don’t expect instant restitution or reconciliation when trust has been repeatedly damaged.
The fact that you’ve asked me for a Bible verse that might compel you wife to reconcile with you shows that you have not understood the process of godly sorrow or repentance well. Your question indicates you are trying to control her heart when you have plenty of work to do on your own.
A great biblical example of a man who was cautious with reconciliation is Joseph (see Genesis 37-49). He was betrayed by his brothers. They sold him into slavery because of their own jealousy.
When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking food from Pharaoh because of the famine in their own land, Joseph immediately recognized his brothers although they did not recognize Joseph.
We know that Joseph had already forgiven them because he was kind to them and gave them food, but he was also cautious. He did not trust them.
He waited. He watched their actions to see whether their heart’s had changed. It was only after repeated testing and time that Joseph saw their changed hearts and actions. It was only then he trusted enough to begin the process of reconciliation.
Because your hurtful behaviors have been repetitive, there may never be a time where your wife trusts you again with her heart, her body, or her life. But that does not mean that you cannot do the hard work to become a trustworthy man in your other relationships, especially with your children. I hope you do.
Friends, what are some of the things you look for to see if you could fully trust your spouse again?