So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
-Exodus 15:22-24, KJV
Have you ever watched a movie that involved a shipwreck at sea?
The survivors on stuck on life rafts adrift in an ocean of salt water waiting to be rescued. In that state, the sun beats down on them, and they soon become thirsty.
They are surrounded by water, but it is salt water, which they quickly learn is not their friend. It won’t solve their drinking needs–at least, not in a lasting way. In fact, drinking this ocean water might hasten their own death.
I see a parallel here with accepting less than full repentance from a cheater when attempting “marriage reconciliation.”
Unless the “water” is pure, it will end up taking more than it gives* even though it is wet.
The general metaphor is one where the cheater offers something that seems indicative of repentance and change but really is merely a ploy to continue to keep the faithful spouse on the hook and avoid facing the consequences of the cheater’s sins.
- The cheater might offer the “water” of going to couple’s counseling with the faithful spouse. However, the faithful spouse discovers that the cheater visited with the Other Man/Woman after each session. This is a false indication of commitment to the marriage that just leaves the faithful spouse feeling more hurt and betrayed by the unfaithful spouse because it is a treacherous betrayal. It is salt water.
- The cheater might offer to come back to the marriage if the faithful spouse does x, y, and/or z. A foolish counselor or pastor supports this sort of thinking not checking the cheater on making demands of his/her victim. The faithful spouse starts doing x, y, and z only to discover the cheater had no intention of honoring his/her offer. That’s one humiliating swig of salt water.
- The cheater might offer the “water” of tears and talk of feeling bad about the betrayal. However, this is followed up with a heaping pile of excuses and/or blame-shifting of the marriage’s deterioration onto the faithful spouse. They are not really crying over the pain they have inflicted on the faithful spouse but rather the tears are about them experiencing pain over being caught. Reading those tears as true remorse is taking a LONG swig of salt water!
We–faithful spouses–do not want to believe our spouse was and is capable of such treachery. The idea of a future without them in it is scary. That was not part of our life-plan as we vowed to stay together “until death do us part.”
All those are heady reasons to swig on the salt water. But don’t do it! I promise you that it just leaves you feeling much worse.
*Shout out to Pastor Dominic Dinger of Calvary Chapel in St. Cloud, MN for this particular phrase in reference to sin’s diminishing returns.