A Metaphor Regarding Forgiveness

“And the second [greatest commandment] is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” -Jesus in Matthew 22:39, NIV


Even with the betrayal being fresh, religious people are apt to tell a faithful spouse of their obligation to forgive their adulterous spouse. The charge of “unforgiving” or “bitter” are always close at hand for religious people who think they know best. And some may even have a plan prepared for how the faithful spouse’s “healing” ought to progress. They may even be quick to tell the faithful spouse that a good Christian would not divorce the adulterous spouse adding human conditions to God’s permission in own Word (see Mt. 5:32 and Mt 19:9).

It is rather sickening and quite unhelpful.

As I have written elsewhere (e.g. on forgiveness and grief), I consider such responses very cruel and ultimately unhelpful if the goal is spiritual and emotional healing for the shattered spouse. It smacks of control. And it resounds like an echoing cavern empty of all true compassion and empathy for the hurting.

Let’s take another situation where one person traumatizes another. It’s a thought experiment and sort of metaphor for surviving adultery:

Sandy stabs Bob with a six-inch knife one night over a domestic argument regarding not staking the dishwasher “correctly.” You happen upon Bob shortly after the stabbing noticing he is still in great pain and is bleeding.

Is the first thought in your mind, “Bob, you need to forgive Sandy?” Or are you concerned about his pain and the bleeding that may be life-threatening?

Do you judge him when he shouts out in pain thinking this is a clear indication of his unforgiving heart? Do you condemn him for feeling angry towards Sandy for stabbing him wondering if such anger means he will inevitably become bitter? Or do you see it as part of the process of dealing with a significant trauma and loss of safety?

Do you question Bob’s faithfulness to Christian principles when he tells you that he will not return home because he does not feel safe around Sandy? Or do you recognize this as wisdom understanding such a reunion should only take place under the circumstances of knowing Sandy won’t stab Bob again?

Do you view Sandy’s stabbing Bob over–say–stacking the dishwasher correctly as justifiable needing Bob to repent of “his part” in the stabbing? Or do you view such violent behavior as an unexcusable choice Sandy made and of which she is completely responsible? 

Adultery is a great trauma than a simple knife wound. It is wound to the soul of a person. The marital betrayer stabs the faithful spouse at the level of their very being for they were/are one with the treacherous spouse. Adultery is soul rape. It feels like a dismemberment.

Don’t get me wrong: Forgiveness is an important part of the journey to healing. We do need to hand over the perpetrators of our pain to God and let go of our impulse to punish. However, I feel like Christians over-emphasize this part of the journey to the detriment of empathy and true love.

So, I ask in conclusion:

When your soul is hemorrhaging from getting stabbed in the back, do you want someone to “help” you by asserting moral demands (like “you must forgive now!”) or someone to hold you assuring you that you will make it through this pain? Would you like someone to listen to your pain validating that it is real or someone who judges and minimizes the trauma you just experienced? Or worse, do you want someone to tell you how you deserved the betrayal or someone who understands that you are not at all responsible for someone else’s choices/actions?

If you chose the later, I encourage you to follow in Jesus’ teaching of “The Golden Rule.” A faithful spouse is your neighbor. They deserve to be treated as well as you would want to treat yourself.

That’s what Jesus taught.


16 thoughts on “A Metaphor Regarding Forgiveness”

    1. Yes Ruthie…I believe this is so true. It has only been 2 months since I have found out that my husband had been unfaithful. When I found out, it felt like death. I didn’t eat for weeks and did not sleep. The pain was so extreme. I am not sure when forgiveness will come for me but I wish people would let me process this in my own time.

      1. Leolion,

        Be kind to yourself. As Nell points out below, you are still in the early stages. I remember the first few months of separation living in a similar state. Surround yourself with supportive people and try hard to eat well, exercise, and sleep. I know that is a struggle. Just take it one day at a time. Or one hour at a time if that is too much.


  1. Leolion, 2 months is early days, it will take as long as it will take. Someone said to me who had suffered the same that eventually the pain does lessen because no one can bear that level of pain for long, and it has to lessen. I hope that you have loving friends and family who are there for you

    It is a great analogy DM and one that I have used myself with my husband. He has said to me in the past when I have told him how desperately unhappy I feel about what he has done, that no, he has not made me unhappy, my feelings are completely under my control and I have chosen to be unhappy. I guess this is taken from pop psychology – have just quickly found this online but you find it all over the place

    ‘If, as an adult, you are miserable in the face of another’s unloving behavior, it is not their behavior that is creating your misery, but rather your own unloving response. Your own unloving behavior toward another is also unloving toward yourself.’

    Maybe for some things that is right, but the heartbreak of infidelity is a true wound, and subsequent horrible behaviour is twisting the knife. It can also send you into mental illness, and it is like saying that someone with a mental illness can just ‘snap out of it’. He has also said that the heart disturbances which I have been having are nothing to do with him. It’s just my age and general unfitness, fortunately when I had my heart monitor on he did actually ring me and reduced me to a weeping wreck with what he was saying to me, so a cardiologist confirmed that the cause of the abnormal heart rhythms that I had been suffering from was the emotional distress that he had caused me. But then he said that when he punched me at the top my thigh of it was not his fault that it left me unable to walk at times or needing to use a stick. Looking back, I forgave him many times for his violence and abusive treatment of me and all that did was leave the door open to more violence and abuse and scars that I will bear for the rest of my life. But I forgave because you are supposed to forgive and turn the other cheek. But looking back I can’t imagine that Jesus meant that you were to stick around with a violent unrepentant spouse , just to save them going out and getting a punchbag

    Certainly being unforgiving is not good for you, and is a burden and we have to move forward to healing , but if you have been wounded in your body you will continue to bear the scars, and continue to suffer from any injuries at least on occasion even if not all the time, likewise our soul will suffer when the wound is reopened. It is a ‘life changing injury’

    1. Nell,

      Our behavior DOES impact others. This includes how we feel. Words can hurt us. They hurt even more from people we trust and opened our hearts to. When a friend betrays us, it is not our fault that we feel hurt about the betrayal. The same can be said about a spouse.

      It sounds like your husband is an adept manipulator and abuser. I hope you are finding people to support you in getting to a safe place, Nell. What you have described as enduring is truly awful!

      And I say he is an adept manipulator because he is good at seeding a little truth into the lie. We do own our responses and our emotions. That is true. But as I wrote above. We are not impervious to others’ actions. They can still hurt us; this is especially so if we have made ourselves vulnerable to them by trusting them. We are all the most vulnerable to our spouses, and that is what in part makes adultery such a treacherous, wicked deed! We OUGHT to be able to trust our spouses not to commit adultery. Sadly, that is not always the case.


      1. Sadly DM he is a very adept manipulator and abuser, and it was not just me that was fooled over many years, he has always been good at presenting himself as normal. He only confessed to some of his womanising before he went as I believe that he thought that the women would tell me after he went, and wanted to get his version in first. He asked me to ask my sister for forgiveness for a grievous wrong he had done her and that I had not known about, and once he went she has felt able to tell me that it was much worse than he admitted to, so yes it was seeds of truth, just enough. So I think that he knows intellectually what a lot of things he did are wrong, he just wanted to minimise the effect on himself. He does not recognise that a lot of other things he did were wrong though.
        I need to understand what happened, the emotional abuse especially, to remember things, so as to lessen their hold and bring them into the light. Don’t worry, it won’t be on here! But I think I do need to write it down sometime in the future. I know it will take time because it went on for so long. I am attending a programme for victims of abuse, both emotional and physical, it is good to do it with others, and am glad that these mainly young women will be better able to avoid such relationships in future. There are good men out there

        1. Nell,

          Good men do exist. And I am glad you have found some support for yourself. I think writing out these things are very important for the healing process. Personally, I wrote out stuff about the spiritual abuse I experienced in my trials as part of my healing process as well. And that does not even mention the stuff I wrote out more directly about my ex’s and her cohort’s behavior. I think it is important that we do something physical to get such “poison” out of our system as well as to help us realize it actually did happen. Then we can let it go–forgive–and move forward when we are ready by the grace of God.


  2. Awesome article. I’m bombarded, and was immediately after DDay by “forgive” messages. My priest actually told me NOT to forgive. “You aren’t ready. You’ll need so long to heal, and you can’t cheat your own healing for someone else’s forgiveness. 2 years, 5 months after DDay I have virtually 100% NC, and I really don’t feel the need to actually look at her and say, I forgive you, even IF she was actually asking for forgiveness. Instead I now realize it’s a process of letting go, and moving forward without out her in my thoughts…

    1. Hooray for your priest, what a wise man. It would be cheating your own healing if you forgave instantly. It is a process you have to work through, and eventually with God’s help you will manage to forgive by handing it over to him. Some said to me that you don’t forgive for the other person’s sake, but for your own. Yes, they were trying to get me to forgive, but thinking about it now if it is not for them, and if they do not actually want forgiveness because they don’t really think that they have done something that wrong, then you are right to do it by your own timetable. If you had forgiven immediately then all the feelings you had would be stuck and still there, you would not be able to deal with them, and why do that to yourself

    2. I second, Nell, here. Glad to hear you had a very supportive and wise priest on your side who gave you counsel as to not stuff your feelings.

      And I agree that the forgiveness piece does not require you telling her that you forgave her. It is a letting go with or without her knowing. You do not need her to ask or her to give you permission to forgive her. By God’s grace, you can do it with Him alone. Then you can move forward as you say.


    1. Excellent article, BHB!

      One thing I would add is that it is not a one-time task. We often have to choose to forgive multiple times as we heal (his point about it not being instantaneous healing kind of gets at this). Forgiveness is a process and especially so for the deep wounds.

  3. What a great write up. It has opened my eyes to what my ex wife put me through. It really helped me put some things into perspective. When you are in the storm it can be hard to see clearly. I am very thankful for this web page. Keep up the great work! I was referred here by one of your friends, Brian C. in the dallas tx area.

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