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 [i.e. Joseph].
– Genesis 37:35, NIV
When a broken bone heals, I hear that it is stronger in the place where it was broken. I also hear that weather can sometimes bring back the ache in that place even well after it has healed thoroughly.
The pain does not signal it is unhealed.
It just means it was once broken, and the person is forever changed by that event.
I think that is a fair analogy to surviving infidelity and divorce. Years later the acute pain usually is gone, but the ache can come back surprisingly on a dark, rainy day. You never really know when that ache might return.
But it does not mean one is unhealed.
One of the largest misunderstood parts of surviving adultery in Christian communities is a failure to understand this traumatic loss as initiating a time of complicated grief.
The spouse who is divorced following adultery did not just lose a spouse. They had their world upended by the greatest treachery known to human relationships. And, I maintain, the divorce is a moral injury for many Christians who were once totally opposed to ever divorcing. Plus, they may not have had a choice in the matter yet still suffer their faith community’s condemnation.
Plus, in the case of adultery, the faithful spouse actually does have someone to legitimately blame for the marriage’s death according to the Bible (see Deuteronomy 22:22, Jeremiah 3:8, Matthew 5:32, etc.).
With any significant loss, we do not simply go on as if that person was never a part of our lives.
A hole is left.
In cases of infidelity and divorce, the hole includes tainted memories and the loss of the person one thought one married. Plus, the loss of innocence and dreams is huge. We are never the same after such an experience.
And that is okay.
- A compassionate Christian does not sit on his or her high thrown and disparage as “unhealed” a grieving faithful spouse. That is mean.
- A compassionate Christian recognizes strong emotions mean someone really cared about what they lost or how they lost it (i.e. unjustly). They offer empathy and not condemnation.
- A compassionate Christian understands no amount of healing will ever change the historical facts and accepts that as the faithful spouse must. The bone was broken–i.e. her friend’s marriage ended when her (ex) husband chose adultery over godliness. Those ugly facts will never change, and a good friend does not try to pressure a faithful spouse to deny reality.
The pain may never go away entirely. Your broken “bone” may be set off years or decades later. You never know.
But the pain will ease.
I testify to that.
You won’t forever be stuck in the “remind yourself to eat” stage.
And my word of pastoral counsel to fellow Christians is to cut faithful spouses some slack. Their expression of hurt and pain does not necessarily mean they are “unhealed.” It may simply mean they cared deeply about what they lost and grieve living in such an unjust world.
So then the question becomes:
Do you have the strength to weep with those who weep?