Surrendering Their Image Control
A key piece in the testimony given by W. Paul Young, the author of The Shack, was how he did not make an excuse or try to hide the fact of his infidelity. He stopped trying to pretend or control how people perceived him.
And, certainly, he did not put a muzzle on his wife regarding what he did to her and their marriage. She was free to share that he had been unfaithful. (Not to mention, he shared this historical fact as well refusing to hide anymore.)
It takes humility and courage to do that.
However, it is a step towards true repentance when a cheating spouse is willing to accept this as part of the price they must pay for their poor, sinful choices. Also, a truly repentant cheater will make it clear to their spouse that he or she is free to share what they did to anyone they need.
The repentant adulterous spouse gives up narrative control in lieu of helping the betrayed spouse heal from their treachery.
The focus is no longer how they look to others or how they feel. Instead, the focus is on repairing what they damaged aiding faithful spouses in their healing. That’s the focus of truly repentant adulterous spouse.
Plus, when the faithful spouse brings up the pain over what happened, the cheating spouse does not shame the faithful spouse or shut him/her down by calling the spouse “bitter” or “unforgiving.” They accept that their sinful wronging of their partner caused a deep wound that will take time to heal. The adulterous spouse is compassionate enough to recognize this as part of the healing and grieving process.
Many–if not most–of us have a former or current spouse who is far from repentant in this area. The infidelity must never again be mentioned! They get angry when the OM/OW is raised as an issue. If the faithful spouse is triggered by something the cheater did, the cheater blames the faithful spouse for being unforgiving or bitter.
It was already forgiven, right?!
I have a real problem with pastors being enlisted to shut up faithful spouses. It bothers me greatly when God-language is used to further harm the vulnerable. This is just not right!
Some pastors might want to be “merciful” by covering over what the cheating spouse did. They may even tell the faithful spouse to keep silent about the infidelity to others.
What is missing in such situations is the understanding that the cheating spouse destroyed their own reputation when they chose to be unfaithful. People learning of what they did simply reveals the reality of his or her own bankrupt character.
It looks bad, because what they did is bad!
While I do not recommend buying a billboard space or shouting about the adultery from the rooftops, I also do not recommend keeping it as a dirty little secret. That is isolating when the faithful spouse needs support. He or she needs to be free to share their story to find healing.
Also, the cheating spouse needs to recon with the consequences of his or her actions. One of those consequences is the need to rebuild relationships destroyed through committing adultery and lying. This is part of the social damage that adultery does. Part of taking responsibility for committing adultery is to own this consequence.
A pastor helping an adulterous spouse to avoid these social consequences is thereby helping the adulterous spouse avoid owning and truly repenting from his/her sin. This is not good spiritual care for anyone.
It is past time for the cheating spouses to relinquish narrative control and face the reality of what he/she did!