One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
-Proverbs 18:24, NIV
Today, I am writing a post about what I learned concerning friendships following my ex’s adultery and my divorce.
These are lessons I learned from my personal experience, and I speak from that as opposed to making theological stances on these matters (or at least, not primarily making those stands). I hope all who read the following are encouraged and helped in navigating these fraught waters:
1. Advice from true friends is offered humbly with open hands.
A good rule of thumb is if someone is offering advice that you have to follow, then the advice is more about them than you. Truth can stand on its own. It does not need help. Anything else is manipulation and is not kind or godly.
2. Sometimes you will trust the wrong person. Forgive yourself and learn from your mistake moving forward.
Early in my separation–prior to learning of my ex’s illicit sexual behaviors–I opened up to far too many people. At that point, I was desperate to stay married and felt the need for outside validation. So, I was especially vulnerable to bad advice and manipulation.
Intimate matters and tender truths of your heart ought to be entrusted to people who have demonstrated over time that they can be trusted with your heart and secrets.
It takes time to find such people. (Or you have to pay for a good therapist to function in this role for set hours).
I would add that it is okay to make mistakes in this area. We all do. The mistakes will be painful–trust me, I know!–but you can learn and grow from them narrowing the field down to your true friends and supporters.
3. A true and godly friend is not neutral about adultery! And they are certainly not neutral about you being traumatized by said sin and all the lies that go with it.
I have a “no tolerance” policy on this matter. If someone needs to remain friends with the woman who raped my soul and continues to live in denial, then I no longer consider them a friend based on said stance.
God is not neutral on these matters. He is very clear that adultery is unacceptable behavior for He put it in under prohibited activities in the Ten Commandments (e.g. Ex 20:14)!
That said, if the former friend desires mutual friendship with both parties, then they ought to engage in calling the adulteress/adulterer to true repentance. That is what the Bible calls them to do as a concerned, Christian onlooker (see Mt 18).
Until full repentance has taken place in the adulterer/adulteress, the relationship remains ruptured. The onus is on them to repair what was broken.
And by not repenting, it is the cheater–NOT the faithful spouse–who has put the former friend in such an awkward position with the faithful spouse.
So, I encourage people to direct anger appropriately. (And in this case, this would be justified and righteous anger over unrepentant sin, by the way.)
4. Friends do not slander and/or name-call their friends.
This ought to be an obvious one, but it was one, sadly, I needed pointed out to me. The situation this touches was an especially painful betrayal by a seminary “friend.” He kicked me while I was down saying things that were not true about me and calling me a rather hurtful name.
After I shared about this “friend” calling me that name, I remember a Catholic priest and chaplain mentor of mine responding, “That does not sound like a friend to me.”
I can still hear that response in his Southern drawl. Obvious stuff, but the obvious often times alludes one during times of extreme trauma and desperation.
Now, I don’t mean you end a friendship over a slip up. The idea is that a true friend cares enough to repair the relationship after such a slip up seeking forgiveness. They do not stand by their slander or pejorative name calling. Rather, they are ashamed of it.
5. A true friend leaves room for disagreement in the relationship.
This lesson is related to point number one about leaving room to say no to advice. I learned this lesson from my best friend and former college roommate. We disagreed about some steps I took during my separation from my ex, and I disagreed with some of his engagement with both parties trying to help me reconcile. We left room for such disagreement in our friendship. Our friendship is now stronger, than it has ever been.
Well, more can be said on the topic of negotiating friendships during and after discovering adultery and/or getting divorced. These are just a few of the top ones that come to my mind from my experiences.
People do exist who are true friends in these experiences.
These people sit with you and do not judge your feelings. They genuinely care about your well-being and understand that sometimes suffering has no answers. That is where healing presence begins. Sometimes the best friend is the one that lets you yell out your anger/pain and then holds you as you cry.
*A version of this post ran previously.