In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines.
-Proverbs 18:17, NIV
They give hope in hopeless places.
And they can crush the spirit as well.
Stories are well known as effective manipulation tools. Despots the world around recognized this and engage in promoting propaganda for good reason.
Faithful spouses are usually playing catch up in the story game by the time the awful discovery (-ies) are made. This time of catch up can be weeks, months, years, or even decades long. Trust me, it is very disorienting as the faithful spouse has to put into question the entire marriage narrative after discovering such a deep betrayal as adultery.
Part of the grief cycle is making sense of a world shattered by a loss. Putting together a story is very helpful for a faithful spouse looking at the splintered pieces of his or her marriage following infidelity discovery. We need to have a sense of what happened. And we need assurance that our pain did actually come from something!
I think this is why the tendency for faithful spouses to “over-share” in the beginning following infidelity discovery is so strong. We instinctively know we need to get this out. Our reality has been exposed as a sham. We need to have validation that the new reality we now know is reality.
It is important for that reason alone for a faithful spouse to have a friend or two who can be trust completely. Barring having such a friend, I recommend journaling out one’s heart to God. The pain must come out. A story must be reconstructed from the pieces.
The faithful spouse’s story needs to be reconstructed in part because the adulterous spouse’s past and possibly current version is a lie. It is a lie they have used to triangulate people and curry sympathy thereby enabling their adulterous sin. And the faithful spouse is at a double disadvantage in setting this right–i.e. they usually do not have all the information about the infidelity, and they are late in the “game.”
Part of my issue with people who take the “two sides to every story” or “I want to remain friends with both of you” approach is how it enables the adulterous spouse’s slanderous lies to continue and actually does not help that individual turn back to God.
Add to this, those who shut down faithful spouses when they are courageous enough to share. They shut them down by playing the “bitter card” and/or “angry card” as if anger over adultery is a bad thing.
Now, I am not saying the adultery needs to be the totality of all the conversations. However, if it comes up, a caring and loving sibling in Christ is going to listen without judging realizing the faithful spouse’s need to share the story. They do not withhold what is needed and what they can readily provide–namely, a listening and non-condemning ear.
And I wished more Christians realized how truly wicked these situations are!
My former spouse prepared the way for her infidelity by slandering my character even trying to triangulate my own mother and my sister-in-law with insinuation that I was a wife-beater, which they quickly dispatched in questioning as it was and is a complete lie. Personally, I am convinced this tactic worked quite well with others including her own family. It was truly wicked.
Besides my own experience, I know of a situation where another–female–faithful spouse endured an air war where her cheating spouse pretty successfully silenced her voice for a while by labeling her crazy. Even with her now exposing it as a lie, Christians still cling to the adulterous spouse’s narrative. This stuff is nasty.
Silence gives cover for evil.
It plays both into the further destruction of the adulterous spouse and further wounding of the faithful spouse.
That is not to say the adulterous spouse will give up his or her position of power willingly. Some really want to have full control of the image game, which is managed by keeping their story unchallenged. I think this is doubly so in the Christian community where looking good seems more important that being good.
In fact, I suspect the focus on avoiding divorce over teaching against adultery follows from this image idolatry. Divorce exposes the rift publicly. Adultery can be covered over as long as the victims are willing to continue to be victimized and silenced.
Playing the “bitter card” or “anger card” are effective ways to shut up a Christian faithful spouse.
And they are an effective way to enable evil.