All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.
-Genesis 37:25, NIV
Much confusion surrounds the ideas of grief and forgiveness.
I maintain that what is a grief issue is often labelled “unforgiveness” or “bitterness” and thereby treating understandable grief as a spiritually pathological state. This error is all too common within the Church. Faithful spouses are soul raped then have the compounded emotional and spiritual injury of being labelled as spiritually pathological for expressing their sense of deep grief and injustice over being a victim of adultery.
It is sick spirituality.
It is often easier to see the sickness if we consider it under slightly different circumstances:
A mother looses her son to a violent murder. No doubt remains as to who killed her son. The evidence is blatant. However, the murderer continues to deny he did it. The justice system does not step in and prosecute him as the murderer has bought off the police and local judge.
Making matters worse, the mother and the murderer attend the same church. This church surrounds the murderer extolling him, and telling the mother that she needs to stop talking about her son’s murder as that is “unforgiving.” Christian “friends” welcome the murderer into their homes and pretend like nothing happened. If the mother dare show her pain over those betrayals, the friends are quick to label her “bitter” and “unforgiving.” They take zero responsibility for inflicting more pain upon her by their insensitive betrayal of their “friendship” with her.
Most reasonable people can see why the mother under these circumstances would struggle with unresolved feelings of hurt and betrayal. It is very hard to let go of the pain with people who you thought were your friends continuing to betray you!
It is hard to grieve and let go of the huge losses surrounding adultery discovery and divorce with people minimizing those losses and invalidating that one is a victim. Adultery victims do exist. And they did not cause themselves to be victimized any more than a rape victim “forced” their rapist to violate her body and soul.
Expressions of anger as great sadness is a normal and healthy response to experiencing injustice and severe losses. Our marriages and families were precious to us as faithful spouses. When our cheater decided to blow all that up by selfishly choosing adultery and lies, we were left with a lot to mourn. And these things were unjustly taken from us!
Add to those injustices all the other injustices that often come with infidelity discovery. Cheaters sometimes come out looking good even though their decisions destroyed the marriage and blew up the family. Christians–who ought to be the first to support faithful spouses–are often the first to blame and shame the faithful spouse for their marriage ending even knowing about the adultery committed by the other spouse!
That is a lot to process, and I am only scratching the surface.
True followers of Christ would be quick to empathize with the victims of adultery (Romans 12:15). They would validate their feelings of hurt and anger over the injustices experienced as opposed to shutting them down with shaming messages “to forgive” or blaming the adultery victim.
We–faithfuls spouses–do not want to hold onto hurtful feelings forever. However, denying their existence via shaming messages (“You’re being unforgiving”) does not help.
Part of getting to a place of healing and letting go is coming to a settled place that what happened did actually happen and the faithful spouse did not bring the injustice upon himself/herself. Another part is seeing that true losses and actual injustices were experienced. We are talking affirming reality as a necessary basis for healing.
Sometimes the best and most Biblical response to infidelity is entrusting the cheater to God’s wrath and judgement (see Ro. 12:19 and 2 Tim. 4:14). Jesus taught us to forgive only if our brother/sister repents (see Luke 17:3). Repentance is required for godly forgiveness and reconciliation to happen.
Not everyone will experiences God’s forgiveness and the eternal life that follows sadly. He allows us to reject Him. Faithful followers of Christ ought to understand–similarly–that some people will reject the forgiveness process in situations of infidelity by refusing to repent. So, the best a faithful spouse can do in those circumstances is entrust the cheating spouse to God’s judgment.
Do not forget: Grief takes time to process. We are talking about the heart healing and not the mind–primarily. Beating the heart up with “should’s” is not helpful but harmful, in my opinion. It will take time to heal from such a deep wound just as it takes time to heal from deep physical wounds. Plus, each subsequent injustice is like another turn of the knife or stab in the back.
Someone saying “OUCH!” over a recent betrayal or experience of injustice is not the same thing as “unforgiveness” or “bitterness.” Look at it through the eyes of someone grieving protesting against the injustice of it all. We–faithful spouses–need support to accept a reality too often denied by the cheater and other “Christians.”