Grief and Forgiveness

“My soul refused to be comforted.” – Psalm 77:2b (NASB).

“‘For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.'” – Jesus (Matthew 6:14-15, NASB).

I suspect that most Christian survivors of adultery have been told that they have to forgive their cheating spouses. A well-meaning pastor likely told them this as soon as the adultery came to light and anger appeared in the faithful spouse’s voice. Or, perhaps, the adulterer/adulteress led the charge in reminding the faithful spouse of the command I just quoted above from Jesus?


Regardless of who reminded the faithful spouse of this Scriptural mandate to forgive, I feel it is important to make a few comments and unpack the complexities surrounding forgiveness after adultery.


Forgiveness is a process. The deeper the wrong(s), I am convinced, the longer the road to forgiveness and healing. Anyone demanding immediate forgiveness after adultery fails to grasp this spiritual reality. And demanding the world of the soul to be otherwise only causes further shame and hurt in the person trying to heal from a major trauma. Also, it minimizes what happened.


I will likely be able to forgive you on the spot if you unintentionally step on my foot. Now, if you intentionally attacked my sanity through your lies and rape my soul through your infidelity, then that might take a little more time to forgive. It is a bigger debt I am forgiving and is thereby harder to let go.


To be clear: we need to forgive those who sin against us as Jesus instructs us.


However, forgiveness is not minimizing the sinful deed, excusing the wrongness of it, or forgetting it. Forgiveness is a choice to give up my rightful claim to the pound(s) of the offending parties’ flesh–so to speak. I believe it takes a special grace from God to get to this point after adultery. And the first step may simply be asking God for that needed grace to forgive.


Another complicating factor in the forgiveness process is that you are grieving. I think this is often missed pastorally with adultery survivors. Anger is a healthy and natural response to loss and injustice. We have both in the case of adultery. Furthermore, if the marriage was precious to the faithful spouse, the intensity of the loss will bring with it intense emotions. Yes, that includes intense anger. This is grief.


Putting a timeline on someone’s grieving process is plain cruel. Also, to think the person will never again feel angry or sad about the lost marriage and betrayal because they have forgiven the cheater is unrealistic and reveals gross ignorance about what it means to grieve.


We are never the same after we lose a significant relationship–whether by death or divorce. There will always be a hole in our lives where that relationship used to be.


Sure, the intensity of the emotion and the pain will lessen over time as we walk through our grief. However, grief has a way of ambushing us even years after the loss. And it is fundamentally an emotional process, not a rational one. It will not be controlled.


Grief can only be felt and experienced–i.e. not corralled by reason.


To the caregivers and pastors, I urge you to view the intensity of the emotion as a sign of how much the faithful spouse valued the marriage and desired to honor God through honoring their marriage vows. Please do not view it through the lens of a bitter person with forgiveness issues. While forgiveness issues may be present, I doubt that is the sole source or even the primary source of the emotional intensity. I encourage all to remember that.


Be kind to yourself.


Grieve and encourage others to grieve.


Don’t judge the grieving.


And if you struggle to forgive the perpetrator of your pain, ask God for the grace to be willing to do so. It is okay to need His help in this.  And remember that grieving like forgiveness is a process.




***A special thanks to CH Peter Lundholm at St. Cloud VA Medical Center for teaching me much of the content in this post in leading forgiveness and grief groups for Veterans.

14 thoughts on “Grief and Forgiveness”

  1. I was married to my ex for 29 years. He was abusive, angry, jealous and controlling but I loved him and prayed for him anyways, he was a wonderful father. We had the same goals regarding our kids (5 of them). About 3 years ago his company had him on a job in another country making double his money, he just turned 50, was a big boss, etc. (midlife crisis?)He would come home one weekend a month and things were really going well, I truly thought we were finally happy. Slowly when he came home he was different, disconnected, different hairstyle, music. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t want to believe it we were happy so I didn’t care. Then I found out he was having an affair. It started with strip clubs, hookers and then this affair with a girl 30 years younger than him. He decided he wasn’t coming home. After 6 months he started coming home reconnecting with the kids, begging me for another chance. Every time he went back I was devastated. I filed for divorce, he gave me everything house, money, support. for the past 2.5 years he comes to every family event, births of grandchildren, holidays, graduation, parties and every time he leaves crying and begging for forgiveness not only for the adultery but for the years past as well. I have been angry, mean, stopped talking to him on numerous occasions but he still comes back. He has been kind and generous to me and the kids, never angry, totally different from the arrogant, self absorbed, proud person he used to be. We have been legally divorced for a year now. His gf still lives with him but he says he is sending her home when he goes back in a few days. He says he doesn’t love her, he loves me and this family. It is hard for him to just quit his job and come home and still support us both. But he said he will if it means we have a chance. I don’t want to loose everything but I know he shouldn’t be there. I have been in spiritual turmoil and I just cant let go of 30 years that I devoted to my family to start again. I am no longer angry and I miss him. Should I give it another chance? Is true forgiveness even possible? We are Christians I just want to do what God wants me to do.

    1. Let him come back to town and live in a separate dwelling and demonstrate to you over time the depth of his transformation. Please do not let him back into your home. He left . if he is sincere, he will rebuild with you emotionally and spiritually what he single handedly tore down. But the cookies are not up for grabs. If he is sincere, he will very carefully tread back on your turf. Anything else is just his realization that he can t go places with someone young enough to be his daughter and he s tired of looking foolish and wants it all better as soon as he “comes home”. No. Come back to town, keep your own space and rebuild what you tore down. Sincere motivations will stand the test of time. Thirty years. What’s. Two years to make sure you don t get put out to pasture again. Be careful.

    2. Trust his actions over his words. He has demonstrated poor character and a willingness to risk your well-being plus that of your children. Those are his actions.

      A major red flag for me in what you wrote is that he is still with the gf. If he thought it was truly wrong, the gf would already be gone. It gives me pause as to his sincerity. Does he follow through with what he says? Give it time to see if he is sincere. Trust his actions, not his words.

      As I read Scripture, you are under no moral obligation to take him back. Forgive him, yes. However, forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciling the marriage.

      Personally, I would be very concerned about his activities with hookers and clubs as that could potentially expose you to deadly STDs in the future if you reconciled. How do you know that he won’t do that again? To go back into a relationship with that as still a real possibility (as demonstrated by his past behavior, which is the best predictor of future behavior as we are taught about suicide) would be unwise. Is he signing up to go to a counselor on his own to figure out why he chose to sin and what lies he chose to believe to give himself permission? I would be real cautious because you are gambling with your life if you take him back.

      I believe God still does the miraculous and restoring your marriage would be a miracle. And I would add that it is called a miracle for a reason–i.e. it is outside the ordinary course of things. I, also, believe in verifying the miracle by others. Please be cautious. If he means it, you will see it in his actions over time as M counsels. I hope it is real for you, but I have major doubts just from what you have already shared.

    3. Confused, I echo my husband. You write “It is hard for him to just quit his job and come home and still support us both. But he said he will if it means we have a chance.”

      That job of his is what gave him the multitude of cheating opportunities to begin with. If he’s really sick of that lifestyle he’d quit his job whether you’re in the picture or not and he’d make it his top priority. That’s great that he said he’d be willing to give it up if it means he gets you. But at the same time, he’s also telling you that he’s just going to continue on with it if you’re not in the picture. That same mentality is also going to apply to his gf. If his gf is still living with him you’re only getting lip service. “Hey! It’s okay if you’re not in the picture!” You also wrote that she’s 30 years younger than him… Yes, that sounds lovely knowing that he’ll hook up with someone who could be his daughter…Seriously, what 20 something says “you’re 50 something?! Yes! Let’s have sex!” and what 50 something really goes after a 20 year old…No…..No, no, no, no, no.

      “I don’t want to loose everything but I know he shouldn’t be there. I have been in spiritual turmoil and I just cant let go of 30 years that I devoted to my family to start again. I am no longer angry and I miss him.” What I hear is constraint and sunk costs. I will refer you to check out Chump Lady’s post entitled “Better the Devil You Know.” “I really want option A but I guess I’ll go with option H because it’s just not worth it to hope to achieve option A.” Don’t short-change yourself. 30 years is a lot invested, yes. It’s not going to be easy. But entering into a relationship out of constraint mode isn’t going to end well for either of you. You’re already divorced, that whole hassle is out of the way. Good job for pulling through it. You can stay your ground and get that option A. You are worth it.

      Further more, you wrote that you miss him yet you started off by saying: “He was abusive, angry, jealous and controlling…” What is it that you miss exactly? Do you really miss him or are you actually missing the idea of a genuinely good man by your side? When we operate from constraint and/or desperation, it’s really easy to blur out all the bad, think it doesn’t matter. We think of the good (aka “he was a wonderful father”) and then miss that because hey, at least there’s something to miss, right? I do believe in miracles but you also divorced him for a reason. Don’t second-guess yourself. Trust the actions you took.

  2. What happens when you forgive them for they didn’t know what they were doing. Come to find out they did. You try and forgive and they continue to abuse and hurt you and your kids. How do you continue to forgive them for tearing apart your life. How many times ate we expected to forgive.

    1. We are instructed to forgive a lot; HOWEVER, that does not mean we allow an abuser to continue to abuse us! A natural consequence of abuse is that the relationship is damaged. Reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness. Reconciliation needs both parties participation and the abuse to stop–minimally.

  3. Ya know, it’s as if all abusive men go to the same “school of thought”. Are they all freakin stupid or what!?
    I have forgiven my ex for myself. The daily rants going on in my head were more than I could take. I forgave so that I could move on…totally and free from debilitating anger.

  4. Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with what forgiveness means and if I should even forgive my ex who was a cheater.

  5. I was taken to a womens retreat a few months after D-Day. I didn’t really want to go, things were still pretty raw and my beliefs had been shaken. They said there that if we don’t forgive we would go to hell. This made me very angry and still does. My first thought was “great now I’m going to hell because of him because I will never forgive him for this.” This was his second affair, this time though he got his 19 year old girlfriend pregnant. Anyways this whole situation has completely changed how I feel about God and Christians. He says now he has found God and he goes to church every weekend, to both churches in town. And everyone has just embraced him and thinks he is wonderful. I think it’s crap that they reach out to him and not to me. They know what he’s done. I guess what I really want is for him to have to wear a scarlet letter A, and for people to treat him like a pariah. Am I really going to go to hell if I don’t forgive him?
    I’m so glad I found your site, thank you for sharing your wisdom. It helps so much.

    1. Matthew chapters 6 and 18 talk about how we need to forgive. Jesus himself commands us to do this. However, He is compassionate and understands our weaknesses. If you are not there yet, I would just encourage you to pray for the grace to be wishing to forgive. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It does not mean excusing. It does not mean minimizing what was done to you. What happened to you was wrong and inexcusable.

      And I would add that forgiveness is really a gift to yourself. It frees you from being tied to your cheating spouse via anger/spite. You no longer have to play jailor or punisher. You give that job to God for Him to do as He wills. It frees up energy for yourself.

      Furthermore, I am sure Jesus Himself is furious at your cheating husband! While I am not Jesus, I am angry at him for doing that to you TWICE and the church reacting the way they have. How wicked!

      From a snarky place in me, I would add that those reminding you of this forgiveness commandment ought to be reminded of their obligation to turn out the sinner among them or put him under church discipline minimally. Matthew 18 lays out the principles that ought to be put into operation by a Bible-believing church in the event of adultery. Godly men in leadership ought to confront your husband. If he does not repent (which it sounds like he hasn’t), then he is to be kicked out of the church or–at least–treated like a degenerate pagan as Matthew 18 reads.

      My heart goes out to you in all of this, Angie. It is not fair. It is not right. As I say elsewhere, grief over your losses is appropriate here. Anger is part of that grief. Do not let anyone tell you how you must grieve. And I would add that I see grieving as the first task in all of this…forgiveness comes later as I see it. All that said, I wish I could do more than to share my thoughts, heart, and prayers with and for you.

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