What does forgiveness look like when your adulterous (ex) spouse is unrepentant?

Answering the mail today:

“What does forgiveness (acceptance) look like when your adulterous spouse or ex-spouse is unrepentant?  (I’m speaking of this as a person divorced from a cheating ex-wife who never admitted the affair was wrong or asked for my forgiveness.. We have […] children in common, so aside from getting along for the sake of the kids, I kind of would like to get rid of some of the bitterness and day-dreams of her stepping in front of a truck).”

-Anonymous Dad

Dear Anonymous Dad,

Dealing with unrepentant adulterous (ex) spouses is not a pleasant experience. Reading your question brought a song to my mind. From a cheeky place, I could not help but think of the Jaron and the Long Road to Love song, “I Pray For You”

Obviously, you want to get past this fantasying stage. So, I will repeat what I say elsewhere on this blog:

Forgiveness is a process.

And adultery is a deep, deep wound requiring much time to heal.

It is  like a dagger into the heart.

Such a wound will not heal over night, and it will take a lot of tender and attentive care for it to heal properly.

If you have not already done an inventory of the wrongs against you, I encourage you to do so. Then choose to destroy that list or do something to indicate that you are choosing to forgive these very real wrongs. I recommend writing/typing something out as it is helpful to utilize our bodies and getting it out. Also, doing this exercise is a helpful exercise to deal with the denial. It helps us grasp reality. The list is right there in front of us. It happened. These were real wrongs done against us. Something exists that needs our forgiveness.

Once you have done your list or done your own process of deciding to forgive your adulterous ex, it becomes a spiritual discipline not to allow the past wrongs and pain from her to consume your mind. You get to choose what you allow your mind to dwell upon even if you do not always choose what initially comes to mind. When I have found myself ruminating on unforgiving and spiteful thoughts towards my ex (she’s never repented or asked for forgiveness either) and her “supporters,” I have to remind myself that I forgave her and them. I handed them over to God. Sometimes I have even lifted my hand as if nailing or placing those sins back upon the “Cross” as a symbolic gesture reminding me of the spiritual truth.

To be clear: Forgiveness does not deny either the wrongness of what happened or that it happened. And it does not excuse it. Adultery took place, and it was evil. However, I am choosing to give the burden of its wrongness to God as it is too heavy for me to carry. I want to move on with my life. And Jesus calls me to forgive (Mt 6:14-15).

I think God calls us to forgive others out of love for us: God wants us set free from the bonds of hate and bitterness. As long as we are still hating those who have hurt us, we are still bonded to them. I don’t know about you, but I think freedom from the perpetrator of evil is far more enticing to me than a lifetime of bitter bondage to him/her.

But once again, forgiveness is a process. And with each new wrong–as you may experience dropping off the kids–you need to start the process of forgiveness over for that wrong.

I can tell you from my own experience: it gets easier with time. As you flex your will to forgive, your forgiveness “muscle” will get stronger by the grace of God. You will find His grace brings healing, and over time you will no longer experience the intensity of anger towards the person who has wronged you so deeply. That’s been my experience: I have gone from near “homicidal” rage towards one individual to pity now as he will be answerable to God for his wickedness.

The wrongness does not change nor the need to keep healthy boundaries (especially if this person is still in denial over the evil things she did). As a healthy boundary in your situation, I would recommend having as little contact with her as possible as to limit the opportunities for her to hurt you further. Someone who refuses to accept full responsibility for committing adultery against their spouse is not a safe person with which to spend time as the faithful spouse. This is generally true of anyone who treats us with contempt, and adultery is a declaration by action of just that–i.e. utter contempt for God and one’s spouse.

As your heart heals and you find the freedom forgiveness grants, you may find as I have that the need to get the confession or exact the punishment is no longer as interesting a topic to you. As the Polish proverb says, “Not my monkeys, not my circus.” Her issues are hers before God. And the narrative she tells herself does not matter to you, because you know the truth.

Truth always wins as God is the ultimate victor. And God is truth.



10 thoughts on “What does forgiveness look like when your adulterous (ex) spouse is unrepentant?”

  1. “To be clear: Forgiveness does not deny either the wrongness of what happened or that it happened. And it does not excuse it. Adultery took place, and it was evil. However, I am choosing to give the burden of its wrongness to God as it is too heavy for me to carry. I want to move on with my life. And Jesus calls me to forgive (Mt 6:14-15).”…..

    I truly believe giving the burden of the wrong done to us to God and leaving vengeance or even ‘non-vengeance’ to God is the first key to opening the door to healing after we have been wronged by infidelity.

    I’ve seen people so embroiled in bitterness that they are unable to move on with their lives..I will not become one of those by God’s grace.
    Thanks again for not downplaying the magnitude of adultery but showing there is a full live beyond it and it should not define the rest of our lives.

    1. I agree that once you hand your burden over to God, you are enabling yourself to move forward. I am mindful of that each day and the Serenity Prayer has become my mantra when the pain or thoughts move into my mind.

      I have a very close friend whose first husband destroyed her belief in love and marriage and her pain is so evident 15 years later. She has since remarried but still carries around her anger. I have vowed to not follow her example. I don’t want to be suffocated by pain and living in the past..

  2. DM, I am only now beginning to entertain the idea of forgiving my husband and his girlfriend for my own healing process. Do we need to tell our cheaters that we forgave? I don’t think I could do that. He’d just look at it as a free pass.

    1. Movingliquid,

      I would actually encourage you NOT to tell your cheater. Such a conversation is more appropriate for actual reconciliation where the cheater has demonstrated remorse, repentance, and care for the ones he/she hurt through committing adultery and lying. The relationship needs to be repaired before that conversation would be healthy. In other words, to tell him that you forgive him now without his repentance is like casting pearls before swine.

      Forgiveness does not require that we tell the person that we forgave them. (By the way, that makes it possible for us to forgive dead people who have hurt us in the past.) Forgiveness is more about us giving up our negative tie to the other person handing them over to God. We no longer feel the “need” to spend all that energy punishing them in our minds.


      1. That’s a huge relief because, yes, there is no repentance on their part and no desire for reconciliation. This is something I need to begin exploring so that I can begin to move on.

  3. I told my wife that if ever I caught her unfaithful again, I will expose her shameful adulterous affair first to our pastor, then the church, families and then close friends. I will make sure that everybody knows the slut that she is so she will never step out the house again. I will ensure maximum damage. I managed to get into her chat messages and save then as evidence to be used later, then we will divorce and be sweated enemies.

    If she wants to continue the affair, she can do so, but only after we file divorce papers. She can’t have it both ways. Period. Do the right thing, divorce now, and maybe we can stay friends.

  4. Jesus said quite clearly in Luke 17:3….IF they REPENT, forgive them.

    Forgiveness is not possible without two parties being involved. The one who sinned repenting to the one who was sinned against. Anything less than that is not real forgiveness.

    Now yes, we should love our enemies, yes, we should not be revengeful or hateful. Yes we should trust in our God of justice and focus on good things, but again that is not forgiveness. Forgiveness as I said can only happen when there is repentance and takes two parties.

    God says to forgive others as He forgives us. There is no forgiveness for us without repentance of our sins. Do we think we are holier than God, to presume we can ‘forgive’ someone who could not care less about their sin against us, or who deny it, or minimize it?

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