“Even if she cheats on me, I will forgive her and take her back,” Desperate Husband said.
“Well, that’s no marriage. You would just hold that over her head forever,” said Mr. Worldly-Minded.
This is a real exchange that I had with someone prior to discovering the irrefutable evidence of my former spouse’s adultery. I have kept the person’s identity anonymous using a pseudonym because I do not share this exchange to punish the individual who said it (even though he has not repented of it). However, I share it to expose assumptions I suspect others have encountered in the aftermath of adultery discovery as members of “Christian” communities.
Two points from this exchange stand out to me:
1) Marriage to Mr. Worldly-Minded seems to be all about winning and dominance.
This is why forgiveness is not an option in his mind. The potential tipping of power towards the faithful spouse is too big of a threat. He fears the playing of the “trump card” (i.e. “You committed adultery!”). This fear outweighs any consideration that forgiveness could actually take place where the sin is not held against the sinner. And it belies a worldly view of marriage where one partner lords it over the other partner (see Mt 20:25-28).
Plus, who wants to be the “marriage police” for a lifetime making sure the other spouse is not cheating? It is much preferable to be married to someone who has demonstrated character–i.e. an ability to resist temptation and honor her marriage vows. The preferable outcome is not power over one’s spouse, but the ability to safely entrust one’s well-being to her.
It’s less that a faithful spouse seeks to hold adultery over an adulterous spouse’s head than a faithful spouse needs help healing and rebuilding that which was destroyed through the adulterous spouses treacherous betrayal.
2) Mr. Worldly-Minded is extremely coldblooded lacking empathy towards Desperate Husband.
By treating the offer to forgive with such contempt, Mr. Worldly-Minded fails to recognize the incredibly large debt being forgiven. Adultery is an extreme trauma. It is soul rape. The traumatic aspects of this experience does not go away overnight as if all that happened was that a spouse accidentally stepped on a toe. Adultery is a result of deliberate and wicked choices flowing out of a wicked heart. Such a traumatic experience has a tendency to “show up” unexpectedly. It is like grief. You never know precisely when you will be ambushed by feelings around the lose. Someone with empathy towards a faithful spouse would understand this. They would not condemn a faithful spouse for bringing up the event even years later because they would realize how traumatic an event it is and how great a loss was experienced. Talking about the loss and accompanying feelings is necessary to truly grieve and heal. Plus, such healing does not take place on a linear timetable just as human relationships do not. It’s messy.
In a sense, Mr. Worldly-Minded is correct to assume the marriage will never be the same after adultery has taken place and the memory of the betrayals will linger. The marriage will always hold the scar (or fact) that the adulterous spouse demonstrated a willingness to treacherously betray her partner in word and sexual deed. It would be foolish to forget this fact. To forget it is to ignore reality–namely, a character deficit was demonstrated through committing adultery, and it needs addressing for it not to happen again. Only a fool would ignore and not address the real danger of a repeat performance. And it is truly coldblooded person who thinks or suggests one ought not to have a scar or traumatic memory following such a horrific experience that discovering adultery is.