“Get busy living or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live….” – Deuteronomy 30:19, ESV
With such incredible pressure in Christian circles not to divorce, many faithful spouses may find themselves living in limbo wondering if his/her adulterous spouse is truly repenting. I remember being in that place for months! Each little glimmer or hint of kindness stoking my hope that maybe the marriage was not doomed.
This is no place to live.
“Miserable” is a good word to describe such an existence in marriage limbo.
When I think of that time, I think of some sound advice I received from a fellow chaplain intern during the summer of 2012. She told me her impression was that my (now ex) wife was cruelly toying with me. My friend pointed out the compassionate thing was either for her to file divorce (as she was claiming she was going to do) or get busy reconciling. Such reminds me of Andy Dufresne’s quote posted above:
“Get busy living or get busy dying.” Sound advice for life and marriage following adultery.
Unlike me, maybe you–faithful spouse–find yourself in the driver’s seat as it comes to deciding to divorce or not. That comes with a whole new set of challenges. Perhaps you really, really want the marriage to be resurrected?
Let me share some advice from my experience:
1) First and foremost, you do not have to resurrect the marriage after adultery. You are free Biblically to divorce (see Deut 22:22 and Mt 19:9). In other words, you do not owe it to your adulterous spouse or the Church to restore the marriage. If God has set you free, you are actually and truly free to decide to divorce. A repentant adulterous spouse will recognize this and approach the opportunity to resurrect the marriage as an undeserved gift from the faithful spouse. An entitled and selfish adulterous spouse will try to use religious language to steal this freedom from the faithful spouse and continue abusing him/her. Don’t buy the hype from the cheater or “well-meaning,” wrong Christians.
2) If the adulterous spouse starts to blame you for “your stuff” or “your contribution,” that is a clear sign he/she has not grasp the awful magnitude of what he/she did to you. They raped your soul! A repentant rapist does not wax on about how she had it coming to her. He owns his sin and acknowledges he was wrong, period. A wise pastor and/or Christian counselor will understand this and give no quarter to the blame-shift game.
3) A truly repentant adulterer/adulteress will make your needs and your pain the focus. The adultery was all about his/her sinful selfishness. It is time he/she starts thinking about the one he/she deeply wounded. This means that the adulterous spouse will not whine about hearing your anger and pain over his/her betrayal. He/she will patiently listen to your pain validating and supporting you emotionally as a true and godly friend would do. Also, he/she will not insist on keeping the OM/OW as a friend. You do not remain friends with someone who raped your spouse’s soul. That’s just to name a few indications of care for the faithful spouse. I would also add complete honesty to the faithful spouse and whatever accountability the faithful spouse needs to start trusting again. This is to repair the damaged done by his/her sins of lying as all adulterous spouses lie. If all that is too difficult, then I suggest the adulterous has likely not repented, and divorce is the best of the bad options in that case.
To paraphrase Shawshank Redemption: Get busy resurrecting the marriage or get busy divorcing. Don’t get stuck in marriage limbo. If you are getting mixed messages from your adulterous spouse, then consider that a clear message: it’s over. He/she doesn’t get it, and that leaves you especially vulnerable for future adulterous affairs.
Repentance isn’t fickle or flighty.
Fickle is fully fake repentance.
So, don’t buy it.
It’s a ticket to marriage limbo.
Scripture encourages us to make choices and enforces the consequences for those chosen choices (see Deuteronomy 30:19 quoted above). It is vital that you follow this model if you decide to explore resurrecting the marriage. Like the advice my friend gave me that awful summer, this will save you much grief and lost time spent in marriage limbo. And it is a kindness to both parties. By your example, you are teaching him/her not to take mercy for granted and consequences come from actions and choices. In the end, God may even use this to save his/her soul. However, whether that happens or not, it will spare you from a long languishing stay in the misery of marriage limbo.