And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
-Luke 19:8, KJV (quotation marks added)
So, you think your cheater has hit rock bottom and is truly willing to repent. You do not want a divorce; so, you are trying to work things out with him/her.
What are some signs of true repentance to keep you from being played for a chump again?
I write a lot about this important ingredient a lot here. Look at my posts on the Prodigal Son Parable (here and here). Essentially, humility is the willingness on the cheater’s part to accept full responsibility for cheating and the reality that staying in the marriage is an incredible, gracious gift given to them by the faithful partner. A humble person puts others before himself/herself.
Let me provide a few examples of what humility does not look like:
If the cheater is spending couple’s counseling going over the faithful spouse’s “faults,” the cheater is not being humble. If the cheater refuses to hear about the pain he/she caused the faithful partner citing being “forgiven of that already,” the cheater is not being humble. If the cheater demands to stay married twisting Scripture to manipulate the faithful partner, he/she is not being humble.
Also, a cheater also freely and humbly submits to STD tests and shares the results with his or her spouse as part of humbly accepting what they did to the marriage and assuring the faithful spouse of his/her safety. In my opinion, this is a very basic level of demonstrated care for the faithful spouse to help them feel less afraid of what life-threatening diseases the cheater may have exposed them to via their cheating ways.
To commit adultery is to lie and steal. The unfaithful partner has stolen time, money, and memories. These need to be restored to the best of his or her ability. Like Zacchaeus in Luke 19, the cheater who is truly repentant for wronging the faithful spouse will go out of his/her way to make up for cheating their partner out of so much.
In a secular legal system, we award damages and compel wrong-doers to payback what they took and provide financially when what was stolen can never be returned (e.g. a damaged reputation). This is what is considered just. To be a just and godly people, we ought to follow this sort of idea in regards to infidelity as well.
Restitution may take various forms in this matter:
The cheater ought to do his/her best to repair the damaged relationships his slanderous lies created with others in regard to the faithful partner. Money spent on the affair partner(s) ought to be repaid to the faithful partner. Trips taken together–i.e. stolen memories–ought to be provided for the faithful partner as a way to make things right again (probably to a different location, though). Stolen intimacy–i.e. secrets with the OM/OW–need to be exposed to the light for the faithful partner to see and know as well. Finally, the cheating partner needs to be willing to take his/her partner’s justified anger and hurt over the cheating, stealing, and lying for as long as it takes for the faithful partner to heal from the cheater’s treachery (And that timetable is determined by the faithful spouse alone).
Cheating is all about hiding treacherous deeds in the dark. Transparency is of utmost importance in light of this reality. The cheater no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. They abused that to wicked ends and thereby ought to understand the need for the faithful partner to always know or have access to their whereabouts and online activity.
Transparency includes sharing what the cheater did as many times as the faithful needs. Grief is not a one and done sort of thing. It takes considerable time to process deep wounds, and infidelity leaves deep wounds. The faithful spouse needs to know both cognitively and emotionally what was lost and part of that knowing requires reviewing the wrongs done to him/her.
Appealing to “forgiveness”–as in “These things were already forgiven and ergo no longer ought to be mentioned”–short-circuits this important grieving process. Plus, such an appeal tells the faithful spouse that the cheater’s (and possibly the pastor’s) discomfort over discussing the infidelity trumps the faithful spouse’s need to heal and grieve.
4. Freely and Actively Attending Counseling.
This is another important part. Cheating is caused by a character flaw in the cheater. The lies and entitlement must be mercilessly destroyed and uprooted in the cheater’s heart (e.g. Hebrews 12:4). A repentant cheater realizes this and willingly gets appropriate help. They do not wait upon the faithful spouse’s initiative in making an appointment but do so themselves as they realize their great need for such help.
A note of caution:
Not all counselors and/or pastors are equipped to deal with such scenarios. The last thing one needs is a pastor/counselor who enables blame-shifting and entitlement-mentality in the cheater. Also, a naive pastor/counselor is no good either. They need a healthy amount of skepticism directed towards whatever the cheater says as the cheater is a proven liar. Words need to be verified with actions as the cheater has squandered the benefit of the doubt by being unfaithful. Also, a counselor/pastor wrapped around the cheater’s finger affirming them as to how hard the cheater has it is no good either.
The attitude the cheater has towards counseling is important to note as well. A repentant cheater does not view this activity as externally imposed (e.g. “She’s making me go to counseling.”). Rather, a repentant cheater views going to counseling as an opportunity to fix the mess he or she made. Counseling is treated as a lifeline as opposed to a punishment, in other words.
Someone has said that “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.” It is the axiom given in suicide prevention training that I have attended. And such an axiom applies to marriages ravaged by adultery.
It does not mean everyone will cheat again. However, the reality is that such cheating is more likely to happen again than not. A wise person accepts that reality and plans to deal with this probable worst case scenario.
It is not just to insist the faithful spouse put themselves in a situation of vulnerability where they set themselves up to be victimized horrifically again. A post-nuptial can be designed to mitigate such risk to the faithful spouse providing them a generous financial exit in the event the faithful spouse decides reconciling is not working for them. Consult the appropriate legal authority for this as I am not a lawyer.
Furthermore, a post-nuptial sends a clear message that cheating will not be tolerated. It is a clear statement of consequences in the event the cheater decides to go back to their old wicked ways.
Plus, a post-nuptial is a completely unnecessary document in the event the cheater truly reforms and restores what they destroyed. So, a refusal to sign such a document says that the cheater wants the door left open to cheat without consequences, and ergo, that means the cheater really isn’t repentant.
It is risky and extremely generous for a faithful spouse to give a cheater another chance in remaining married to him/her. I am aware that God does work miracles and resurrects marriages ravaged by deceit and adultery. However, I encourage people going through the restoration and rebuilding process to go forward with their eyes open.
The only godly restored marriages are the ones where real repentance is present on the part of the cheater.