(But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.)
– I Cor 7:15, NLT
A group often missed in the Christian discussion of adultery and divorce is that of faithful spouses abandoned by their adulterous ones. I am in this group. And I can tell you it comes with its own sense of pain born from a heightened sense of powerlessness, rejection, and sometimes blame on top of that from the Christian community.
One of the most frustrating and painful aspects of the ecclesiastical trial I successfully negotiated was how the reality of being abandoned was practically ignored. The trial–which for others may be a more informal trial of opinions–focused on the decision to divorce. Was the divorce Biblical? The problem with this was that they were trying the one left behind who did not make the decision to divorce.
I felt like I was being held answerable for my former wife’s sin. To be clear: in my former spouse’s case, her choice to divorce me was sin. I had even given her the clear option to end her adulterous relationships and return to fixing our marriage; however, she responded to this offer by lying about her ongoing adultery rejecting the offer to restore our marriage with utter contempt. Such was very painful for me.
That said, God did redeem her rejection of me with a gift. It gave me a window into how Hosea must have felt when Gomer repeatedly rejected him for other lovers (see the book of Hosea). The prophetic book of Hosea is a metaphor about how God feels whenever we choose sin over Him. I caught a glimpse into the heart of God who is madly and jealously in love with us, His Bride.
Back to the trauma of being left behind:
While I do not know what questions your family, friends, or church leaders have asked you about being abandoned, I can share the question used to cause me considerable suffering. It was a question echoed with slight variation by my former spouse and her family frequently in my ordeal. In fact, they attempted to get me to believe this was the most important question to ask myself about my disintegrating marriage:
This question and its variations are the wrong sort of questions to ask a faithful spouse after being abandoned. It encourages mind-reading and taking responsibility for a choice he or she did not make. As such, it is guaranteed to add to the trauma of abandonment and compound the already extreme emotional suffering of the faithful spouse. They have just had their soul severed by the rejection of their spouse with whom they were once one. Blaming them for this trauma by asking this question is not going to aid in the healing process.*
Furthermore, it is possible–as in my situation–that the question is based on a false premise. The question assumes the abandoning spouse had to abandon the relationship. In philosophy, we call this the fallacy of the loaded question. A classical example of this is the question: When will you stop hitting your wife? The question presumes the husband is hitting his wife. It is a no win situation to answer it if he is not.
So, if you are like me and have experienced these sort of questions, I encourage you to reject Satan’s lies. Speak the truth to yourself until you believe it:
“He/she did not have to leave.”
“I am not responsible for another person’s choices and actions. I am only responsible only for my own.”
“I do not know why he/she chose to leave, that is a question for him/her to answer. I cannot see into his/her heart.”
I understand each situation is different on these matters. But I hope by sharing about my experience today, we will start demolishing Satan’s stronghold of lies designed to destroy those left behind. More will be following on this topic of spouses left behind.
*In some cases, a spouse might need to remove themselves from the marriage due to–for example–extreme physical abuse and/or addiction on the part of the other spouse. However, the question in these circumstances still needs to be addressed to the leaving spouse and not the one left behind. After all, only the leaving spouse really knows why they left. With the answer to that question in hand, a pastor or leader can then address the serious sin directly.