Sexual sin can quickly become a nightmare. John started looking at pornography when he was nine years old. Along with masturbation, that habit continued through seminary and into his marriage to Joyce. By the time he was pastoring, he was sexting and sex chatting online. When asked if he wanted sex with a sixteen-year old girl, he consented and drove to the meeting point. There he was met by an undercover police officer. Arrested, he went to prison for his crime. John deservedly lost his pastorate. Financially ruined, he and Joyce filed for bankruptcy.
Has your husband looked at another woman with lustful intent? He committed heart adultery. Has he had sexual contact with another woman? He has committed physical adultery. You have been betrayed in love.
If this is your story, the illusion that all is well in your marriage is gone. His unfaithfulness has stripped away all the comforts that an intimate marriage relationship provides. The future seems filled with the fear of the unfaithfulness happening again, and never knowing the full story. Trust is shattered.
This kind of pain comes with the toxic emotion of anger that can easily lead to bitterness. There is no cleaning up this disaster “like it never ever happened.” Yet, perhaps unbelievably to many, there is hope for a healed marriage that is found in repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. The important question for you to ask: “What is God doing?”
Don’t Blame Yourself
Our therapeutic culture will tell you that adultery stems primarily from our dysfunctional family of origin. While somewhat true, the concept falls short of understanding the real problem.
Many wives blame themselves for their husband’s sin by thinking, “If only I had been a better wife.” Know this: his sexual sin is not your fault! Don’t blame yourself. As an experienced counselor, I strongly suspect it wouldn’t have made a difference in his behavior. Your husband is fully responsible for his sexual sin, not you. If he blames you, he is sinfully justifying his actions.
Some wives also think their husband sins because, “I don’t have the body I once had.” If your husband has mentioned that, know this: his sexual sin is not about the physical change as your body naturally ages, but your husband’s hardhearted attitude towards those changes. That hardness contributes to justifying sexual sin.
Other wives assume their husband sins because, “I lack sexual interest.” In counseling thousands of couples grappling with unfaithfulness, I have often found that the wife has lost sexual interest. It’s true that the lack of sexual intimacy in a marriage opens both spouses to temptation (1 Corinthians 7:2–5). But know this: a wife’s sexual disinterest is never an excuse for sexual sin. Sexual disinterest is often a relational problem, and not just a sexual problem. Sometimes it’s a physiological problem. But whatever it is, it is a shared problem, not an individual problem. Seek help—together! It is critical that you find a person who has the experience, and the knowledge, but is comfortable with discussing intimate sexual details.
Don’t Let Hurt and Anger Determine Your Response
Now, as inexcusable as your husband’s unfaithfulness is, I’m going to say something nearly intolerable in our current culture: don’t end your marriage. Divorce in the face of unfaithfulness discards what marriage is designed to display: the gospel of Christ. The gospel provides a path of healing, even for the deep wounds of betrayal. And keep in mind, only death severs this one-flesh relationship that God has put together (see Romans 7:1-3).
This is not a time for pride to govern either the betrayer or the betrayed. Nor is it a time for either of you to disconnect relationally.
This is a hard truth to face: you both married a sinner! The nature of evil in your husband’s heart, which you should hate, has the potential to destroy the one he loves. Never allow the horror of your husband’s sexual sin blind you to the fact it is his sinful nature, like your own, that has caused him to betray you. You are called to forgive sin, even sexual sin of your husband.
I find that the hardest part about dealing with unfaithfulness in a marriage is for both spouses to die to their own selfishness. Paul says, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Either a husband or a wife can unilaterally destroy a marriage through sexual sin. This is a time for your Christ-like character to guide you through this difficulty, not your pain and not your circumstances.
The Way Forward
Failure to attempt to fix a broken marriage is a denial of the power of the gospel to transform our lives. The way forward is to ask: “How is God working for good in this horrible situation?”
Your desire to not get hurt again is a natural response of self-protection, but I have also found it to be one of the hardest roots of bitterness to pull out. It can be a stumbling block to God’s purpose. We know that God works all things for good for those who love him, including pain and suffering and betrayal (Romans 8:28).
As Christians, we are commanded to love and forgive in ways that mere human reason thinks foolish. Marital unfaithfulness is a time for the radical biblical approach to pain: “We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
In adversity God often hides from us what he is doing. We learn to live in the mystery of his providence. The truth is, God always knows what he is doing. Yet, at the same time what your husband did, he meant as evil against you. But God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20) as we can grow through adversity.
This is a time for you to “not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Distrusting your unfaithful husband is not a reason to stop caring for him. In the agony of betrayal you must be willing to accept that you are responsible spiritually to God for others, especially your husband. “If one member suffers all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Don’t allow pain, selfishness, or weakness to keep you from your calling as a wife to address sin in his life: to stand strong, and sometimes this is done “without a word” as you let “your respectful and pure conduct” possibly be the primary thing God uses to stir your husband to repentance and obedience (1 Peter 3:2).
God Will Be Faithful
Regardless of the depths of sexual sin, real change is common when we allow God to work in our hearts. Prior to going to prison, John and Joyce participated in our week-long intensive counseling workshop. John could have become hard and calloused in prison, yet his heart was changing through true repentance. Joyce could have decided to turn away from God and leave her husband. In pride, she might have protested that she had a right to get out of the mess that John created and get on with her life. Scripture teaches that we have no rights. We are either slaves of sin, or slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:16). Joyce decided to remain not only faithful to God, but to John. She went to live with her parents as God continued to work in her heart.
After John’s release from prison Joyce wrote to me. “God has done amazing and beautiful things in our lives. John is the most wonderful faithful husband and father. God has transformed his heart and allowed me to trust John again. There is so much respect, love, joy and great communications between us. I never would have imagined that God would do so much healing in only three short years.”
This couple learned what Charles Spurgeon taught. “God sets a high value upon His people’s faith and He will not protect them from those trials by which faith is strengthened.”
Pray that you address this trial without a selfish agenda. Difficult circumstances are not the evil, but exist to address evil in our hearts. Pray for a soft heart that trembles at the audacity of your husband’s sexual sin. Pray that you develop a deep concern for your husband, especially as you contemplate the punishment for unrepentant sexual sin.
An unfaithful husband never nullifies the faithfulness of God. He will continue to lead you to eternal life that will end all pain. The providence of God places us in various circumstances to test the genuineness of our faith. His purpose for marriage is often reached through pain, and never without pain. Look beyond the pain to the heart of God. Know that your pain is an appointment with God for Him to do His deepest work. Turning to God in the pain can become a means of spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity for the glory of God.