Should I Stay with a Spouse Who Cheated?
- Friday, May 23, 2014
“People tell me I should divorce her. Forget her. Find someone else. She admits she was in love with the guy...but she says it’s over and she wants to make our marriage work. Asked me to forgive her. I don’t know if I can.
“Am I a fool to consider staying with her? Could I ever believe she really loves me? Will I ever quit thinking about the two of them together? What if he tries to get her back? Could I trust her not to go? Can I ever trust her again about anything?”
He paused, dropped his chin and said, “Part of me wants to walk away. Part of me wants what we had before. I don’t know what to do.”
Countless times over the last twenty years, I heard similar questions from men and women whose spouses cheated. Infidelity runs rampant. Every week people call our nonprofit because of it. Desperate people ask us for help to rescue their straying spouses who say they no longer love them. Penitent people ask us if there is any way to convince their spouses to forgive them for their unfaithfulness. Many, similar to the story above, say their spouses asked to be forgiven and taken back but struggle with whether they should...or even could.
We help people in any of those situations.
In this article, I address those making a decision about whether to forgive and reconcile. My suggestions come from years of experiences with multitudes of marriages affected by adultery.
First, Consider Your Spouse’s Character
A vast difference exists between good people who do bad things and bad people who do bad things. Good people sometimes do bad things. Stupid things. Terrible things. Yet, they still differ substantially from people who are who do not have good hearts.
If prior to your spouse’s straying he consistently lacked integrity or morals, or manipulated, used, and discarded you and others with little to no regard for your welfare or emotions, why give him another chance to hurt you? God may change him, but you cannot. If he acted that way before straying, do you believe he will act differently now?
However, if before his adultery he demonstrated love, compassion, integrity, and other evidences of goodness, he likely is worth rescuing.
During his affair, he probably displayed characteristics that caused you to question his heart. People who cheat typically lie, manipulate, and sometimes say mean, hurtful things. Some stray into activities contrary to all they believed and stood for before. Crossing one boundary often leads to crossing many. They display behavior that understandably causes others to categorize them as bad. However, before you label him as that, ask yourself whether his behavior during the affair was consistent with who he was before, or whether it was as if he had changed into someone else.
If he became someone else, then he likely is a good person who was doing a bad thing. His actions contradicted the man he once was. If he now demonstrates penitence and asks for forgiveness and reconciliation, do not view him only as he was during the adultery, but remember who he was before it occurred. In short, consider the possibility that he is a good person who did a bad thing and now wants again to do right.
If he is, and you choose to forgive and reconcile, you have a strong chance of making your marriage better than it was before.
Second, Consider Your Own Heart
You have every right to be hurt and angry if your spouse strayed. You need time for hurt and anger to heal. If people try to convince you that you must let go of your hurt and cease your anger immediately, ignore them. That would only bury the pain deep within you and nothing good comes from that. Your repressed anger eventually will erupt, not once but many times, causing both of you to suffer far too long.
However, if you wish to hold on to your hurt rather than learning to forgive over time, getting back together will harm both of you. Years ago a woman told me the only reason she stayed with her husband after his affair was so she could remind him of his reprehensible deed every day for the rest of his life. They lived unhappily until finally he could no longer stand the misery and left her. It would have been less painful and more merciful for each of them if they had ended the marriage quickly.
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