“It is in the past.” – Cheater
But is “it” really in the past?
The effects and consequences of the cheating are very much in the present.
-A late night “at the office.”
-Another “business” trip.
-That song on the radio.
-A strange charge on the credit card.
-An unknown phone number calling your spouse’s cell.
–That perfume in the air.
In a flash, the faithful spouse is back to a place remembering the excruciating violation of his or her soul. That’s how it began last time…. The trauma and its aftermath is not in the past for us. It is very much in the present when certain events or happenings trip off the memories of that past treachery.
Pastors, counselors, and cheaters who respond to a faithful spouse experiencing such things with “Let’s not talk about it; it is in the past” are cold-hearted jerks.
They do not “get it” as far as how incredibly damaging infidelity is! Those effects do not vanish after a one-time confession session and a tacit agreement to forgive from the faithful spouse. The pain and broken trust are not healed or restored in three quick and easy steps.
A compassionate (repentant) cheater and competent pastor recognizes this reality. He responds with gentleness towards the faithful spouse treating this sort of request to talk about the cheating as a normal part of recovering from such a major relationship trauma. The cheater patiently answers whatever question the faithful spouse has to make her feel safe again. He works to rebuild the broken trust even if that means revisiting events that makes him feel full of shame. He does not shame her for needing this help and care.
The compassionate pastor and repentant cheater does not shut the conversation all down by telling her “It’s in the past” and thereby treating her as crazy or morally defective for feeling unsafe.
“I’m feeling hurt.”
“I’m scared and feeling unsafe. I don’t know if I can trust you right now.”
These statements are not the same thing as “I don’t forgive you.”
The faithful spouse could genuinely have forgiven the cheater yet still have moments where unbidden memories bring back the pain or feelings of being unsafe. It is not kind, godly, or compassionate to treat all such bids as statements of unforgiveness as if the faithful spouse is bitter and only bringing up the cheating to punish the unfaithful partner.
Assuming faithful spouses only bring up the past violation to punish is one of the least charitable interpretations of their intentions. It is yet another example of Christians assuming the worst of faithful spouses while assuming the best of cheaters–i.e. they have truly stopped cheating and have completely reformed their ways.
“That is all in the past.”
The actions might be but not the painful memories and the broken trust. Those can very well be in the present and warrant an empathetic response.