Today, Chump Lady passed along a survey that an eager graduate student in psychology is doing on infidelity. Here is the link to Chump Lady’s post: http://chumplady.com/2014/07/forgiveness-troll-says-take-a-survey/
Then when I finished the survey, I saw this.
“The topic of this research is the effect of the specific aspects and characteristics of an affair on an individual’s forgiveness of his or her unfaithful partner. Forgiveness is an important process for the reconciliation of an intimate relationship. Previous studies have found that forgiveness of one’s partner is dependent upon a variety of factors, including empathy, commitment, and relationship satisfaction with his or her partner. The present study is exploring if forgiveness is also impacted by the specific characteristics of an affair, such as the length of the affair, how one discovered the affair, the type of affair, and why they think their partner had the affair. There may be differences between men and women in forgiveness.These findings may be helpful for counselors working with couples struggling with the aftermath of an affair.”
I wrote back to the researcher and told her I did not agree with the premise of her research, and moreover I found it offensive.
I realize this person is going into a helping profession and probably thinks she is doing some good healing broken relationships with “forgiveness,” but I honestly don’t think she’s thought this out and is going with the general Reconcile or Die school of marital therapy.
I replied. (And Divorce Minister — I gave you a plug. I’d rather let someone with a M.Div point out the theological tenets of cheap forgiveness.
I agree with Chump Lady that this is an offensive survey with offensive premises. While I agree with the graduate student that forgiveness is important for reconciliation, I see putting this first for faithful spouses in cases of infidelity as irresponsible and damaging. It continues to put the burden upon the faithful spouse as the primary reconciliation agent. That completely misses the point that the cheater is the one who took action to destroy the relationship and needs to take action to clean up the mess he/she made. It is not the faithful spouse who has demonstrated empathy and commitment deficit issues. They did not cheat. The adulterer/adulteress did. Minimally, the cheater needs to stop lying, blameshifting, and cheating. They need to confess their sins and repent to use Biblical language.
In my opinion, I find it irresponsible for either a psychologist or a pastor to focus on forgiveness towards marital reconciliation until they are 100% sure the cheater has repented and stopped their sinful and damaging behavior. To not insistent on repentance is to participate in both the damaging of the faithful spouse and the damnation of the cheater’s soul as he/she continues in their sin. No one is served in seeking reconciliation without repentance in the cheater.
If reconciliation of marriages ravaged by infidelity is the goal, the road map is clear Biblically: repentance in the adulterer/adulteress as THE ISSUE.
Here’s my comment on Chump Lady’s blog:
Thanks for the plug, Chump Lady.
So much is off on this survey idea. To begin, the survey is open to people like myself who did not reconcile the marriage. I fundamentally disagree with presupposition that my non-reconciliation had anything to do with my ability or non-ability to forgive my ex-wife. Even if it was present, I will remind all that correlation does not mean causation.
On a theological level, I push back on the idea of cheap forgiveness as well. Mathew 18 principles ought to take effect in the case of Christians cheating. This means confronting the cheater until they repent and turn from their cheating ways. Jesus tells His disciples that this is how to deal with such sin in the camp. He does not instruct them to keep on forgiving the offender and pretend everything is fine. Confront them and escalate it to the point where if they do not change, you treat them like a social pariah. If I remember right from my education and reading, this punishment in Jewish culture was WORSE than the death penalty.
Finally, I take issue with conflating forgiveness and reconciliation. They are not the same thing. Forgiveness is like getting to “meh.” The wrongness and my need to get my pound of flesh from my cheater et al. no longer controls me in forgiveness. Reconciliation is a different matter. It takes two to reconcile and only one to forgive. Such forgiveness would be needed to reconcile but it is a necessary and NOT sufficient condition. You still need the cheater to repent. Also, I would point out that reconciliation does not necessarily mean staying in the marriage. It means an end of animosity. If a cheater continues to sin against you, his/her actions makes that state next to impossible to achieve as they are acting at war with you still.
Those are just a few quick thoughts on this matter from the top of my head.
And I am not surprised this survey is going out. In my chaplain training, I am seeing psychology reach into theology by studying forgiveness as a way to heal. It’s hip. Personally, I agree forgiveness is important for all. I hope everyone achieves “meh.” But I see the methodology and faulty presuppositions about forgiveness/reconciliation as unhelpful muddling whatever good this survey could have. Also, I see it as a subtle blameshift back onto the chump–”Oh, your reconciliation efforts failed…must not have forgave him/her.” Yeah, like that is the main problem after adultery. That’s not how I read Scripture.