Proscribing Patience For Adulterous Spouses But None For Faithful Spouses


In my trial to keep my license as a minister, a focus of the questions was about whether or not I had forgiven my ex-wife. This is a fair question to ask a minister. Bitterness in the pulpit is a dangerous thing. And we are commanded to forgive.

However, the accompanying piece was conspicuously absent.

They did not ask whether my adulterous former spouse had repented. In fact, I am unaware of any effort on the denomination’s part to confront my ex-wife with her adultery as was their duty as Christian leaders correcting someone who professed to be a Christian. One official and friend even told me that he saw this as a major oversight in the whole process (hence, that is one of several reasons that we are still friends).

This brings me to the heart of the post today:

Forgiveness from faithful spouses seems to be demanded upfront. However–like in my case–repentance from adulterous spouses seems to be ignored or treated on a long-term, small installment plan.

At least, this is what I’ve observed from online resources (see this post), my experience, and stories that I’ve read or heard. Forgiveness seems to be demanded up front on the spot for faithful spouses. It’s the focus. If the faithful spouse dares to show pain after the initial adultery confession, the faithful spouse is quick to get labelled “bitter” and “unforgiving.”

Contrast with how adulterous spouses are treated*:

They give a partial confession.

Response: That’s a step in the right direction. (The whole partial-truth-being-a-lie thing is usually ignored here.)

They still go to the bar even though that’s what got them in trouble in the first place.

Response: Well, repentance takes time. We all make mistakes. At least, he didn’t sleep with anyone this time. That’s progress.

They come back to counseling yet continue to lie about adulterous relationships that happened or are ongoing.

Response: Well, at least they are here. That’s something to work with.

You get the drift…

This is SO backwards!

The faithful spouse needs time to forgive because they are grieving major losses. Forgiveness is not a one-time thing. It takes time like healing a deep physical wound. One can choose to embark on the journey with one decision, but one does not arrive in China overnight on foot from Europe. The same goes for forgiving soul rape and all its accompanied sins against the faithful spouse. (Personally, I think the focus on forgiveness first for faithful spouses is cruel and misguided. Grief comes primarily to play here, and forgiveness is only a part of that healing process–even if it is important, which it is.)

It seems so strange that we extend patience and empathy primarily to the perpetrator of adultery while we harshly make demands from his or her victim. This is not God’s heart on these matters. He is close to the powerless and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). And He resists the proud (James 4:6)–i.e. the unrepentant, rebellious adulterer or adulteress.

It is past time we reverse this treatment.

We need to be firm with adulterous spouses and gentle with faithful spouses.

Demanding of repentance from the adulterous spouse on the spot, and patient with the faithful spouse as he starts the forgiveness process.

An adulterous person running headlong into the abyss of Hell needs a firm response. A call to stop. She does not need a helping hand along her way over the top of the cliff.

A faithful person crushed by the sins committed against him and his family does not need further burdens of guilt and condemnation heaped upon him. He needs a kind word and patience extended to him in his healing process.

As pastors and Christian leaders, let’s get this right for a change!





*Chump Lady talks about this treatment of cheaters in her article entitled “Cheaters Are Timid Forest Creatures.”

7 thoughts on “Proscribing Patience For Adulterous Spouses But None For Faithful Spouses”

  1. 100% correct,sir. This happened to me,as well. The Christian counsellors that my adulterous wife and I met with were far more concerned with my forgiving her unrepentant adultery then they were with calling her out on it. I was told that “I didn’t want to know” the whole truth. They actually enabled her lies in this way for a whole year. It seems now,looking back, that they were afraid I would divorce her if I knew the full extent of her betrayal. They were right.

    1. fastfish41,

      So patronizing of them to make a decision that is not theirs to make. Talk about manipulative, too, if the point was to keep you from divorcing. It’s the truth that sets us free…not lies (of omission or commission).


  2. Thank you! This is so true….my friend has chosen reconciliation and had mentioned that her counselor said that it is good of her husband to have lied to her because she wouldn’t have wanted to know the whole truth and it would have caused her to divorce. This seemed off to me and was unsettling because I don’t think I could just live like that. Her husband may have shown a more repentant spirit than mine.

    I like the idea of reconciliation if possible and if one has a truly repentant spouse….I mean really truly willing to expose the devastation they had caused and uncover the messy wound. In my own marriage, I have not seen a repentant heart on his part so right now I don’t see how marriage restoration techniques would work if we don’t have the basic ingredients of trust to start with.

    I am finding it very difficult to trust right now and my husband has not done anything to make me feel like he is repentant. I think it is unwise to trust without that repentance and any counselor who is trying to talk the wounded spouse into just stuffing their natural protective inclinations in favor of buying into a lie in order to preserve the marriage appears to be going against what is right and truthful.

    1. Pigtails,

      I’d be worried about your friend’s marriage if I was a pastor knowing what you wrote. It does not sound like they are actually dealing with the sin. Lying is not a healthy foundation for a godly marriage. So, I definitely agree with you about needing truth as a “basic ingredient.” And I absolutely would steer clear of a counselor who did not treat adultery as the serious sin it is. Stuffing pain and grief is a bad idea.


  3. Another great post DM. This is all so true.
    Partial truth is a full lie. I got so tired of the “trickle down truth” I was being given.
    This is not only prevalent in the “church” it SOP with some non-faith based therapists. Forgive immediately and never discuss again – only way unfaithful spouse will want to work on marriage. Umm…as you said “this is so backwards!”
    I had a divorce group leader inform me that in order to heal, I needed to accept my responsibility in my ex-husband’s affair. Pardon my language, but WTH!! No way and no thank you.
    It is incredibly sad that for a faithful spouse to have been “soul raped”, only to get injured again by their church leaders, therapists and/or friends with such behaviors/comments in not requiring repentance first and foremost from the unfaithful spouse.
    Keep up the awesome work.

  4. Moxie, great comment- partial truth is a full lie.

    DM, it seems like so many “well intentioned” leaders are trying to avoid devastation at all cost… not realizing they contribute to the lie – and exacerbate an already bad situation. Is it their misplaced pride/fear of their inability to “fix” something that isn t theirs in the first place to fix? Seems to me a Godly marriage involves the couple and God. Not in any way the pastor or priest. The answers – whether we like them or not, lie within the devastated relationship, not “the first aid crew”. Who knows, but it is really sad these ill advised “leaders” are apparently oblivious to the additional damage they inflict.

    1. Helping professions attract people who want to help or “fix.” Pastors and counselors are such professions. So, it does not surprise me this impulse. And it is not so bad as long as a pastor or counselor is aware of their own “stuff” and not projecting it upon the couple. It is the desire to control the outcome that gets in the way. I think problems arise when the agency of individual is ignored or trampled upon by an overzealous helper wanting to keep the marriage together. Instruct, yes. But do not control. We are responsible for our own choice and that does not change regardless.

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