Is Reconciliation Possible?
“It is simple to begin divorce proceedings impulsively,” observes the book “Couples in Crisis,” “and yet there must be many marriages that are essentially worthwhile and could be successful if the problems were worked through.”
THIS observation harmonizes with an age-old teaching of Jesus Christ on divorce. Although he stated that it was permissible for an innocent spouse to get a divorce on the ground of marital unfaithfulness, he did not say that doing so was compulsory. (Matthew 19:3-9) A faithful spouse may have reasons to try to save the marriage. The wrongdoer may still love his wife.* He may be a caring husband and devoted father who conscientiously provides for his family’s needs. Taking into account her own needs and those of her children, the faithful spouse may decide to reconcile rather than divorce. If so, what factors can be considered, and how can the challenges of reconstructing the marriage be met successfully?
At the outset, it has to be said that neither divorce nor reconciliation is easy. Furthermore, simply forgiving the adulterous spouse is not likely to solve underlying problems in the marriage. It usually takes much painful self-scrutiny, frank communication, and hard work to salvage a marriage. Couples often underestimate how much time and effort it takes to rebuild a damaged marriage. Nevertheless, many have persevered and have a stable marriage to show for it.
Questions to Answer
To make an informed decision, a faithful spouse needs to clarify her feelings and the options that are open to her. She might consider the following: Does he want to come back? Has he definitely ended the adulterous relationship, or is he reluctant to do so promptly? Has he said that he is sorry? If so, is he truly repentant, sincerely remorseful about what he did? Or does he tend to blame me for his wrongdoing? Does he genuinely regret the hurt he has caused? Or, rather, is he merely upset that his illicit relationship has been exposed and disrupted?
What about the future? Has he started rectifying the attitudes and actions that led up to the adultery? Is he firmly resolved not to repeat the wrong? Or does he still have a tendency to flirt and to form improper emotional bonds with the opposite sex? (Matthew 5:27, 28) Is he fully committed to rebuilding the marriage? If so, what is he doing about it? Positive answers to these questions may be a basis for believing that marital restoration is possible.
“There is a frustrating of plans,” says a Bible writer, “where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) This is certainly the case when the innocent mate feels a need to talk about the infidelity with her spouse. Without necessarily going into intimate details, they could have an honest and fervent discussion that may bring out the truth about what happened and clear up misconceptions. This, in turn, may help prevent the couple from drawing further apart as a result of misunderstandings and long-term resentment. Granted, both husband and wife are likely to find such discussions painful. But many have found that they are an important part of the process of restoring trust.
Another essential step to an effective reconciliation is to try to identify problem areas in the marriage—things that both spouses may need to work on. Zelda West-Meads advises: “When you’ve talked through the pain, when you’ve decided that the affair is definitely over, that you still want your marriage, work out what has gone wrong and renew [the] marriage.”
Perhaps you were taking each other for granted. Spiritual activities may have been neglected. Maybe you were not spending enough time together. Possibly you have not given as much love, tender affection, commendation, and honor as your spouse needed. Reevaluating your goals and values together will do much to bring you closer and will help prevent future unfaithfulness.
Working On Forgiveness
Despite her sincere efforts, an injured spouse may not find it easy to forgive her husband, much less the other woman. (Ephesians 4:32) It is possible, though, to work progressively toward letting go of resentment and bitterness. “The faithful partner needs to recognise that there comes a time when they have to move on,” advises one reference work. “It’s important not to keep dragging up your partner’s old sins to punish [him] every time there is an argument.”
Many spouses have found that by endeavoring to reduce and eliminate feelings of intense resentment, they have eventually ceased to feel hostility toward the offender. Doing so is a vital step in rebuilding a marriage.
Learn to Trust Again
“Will we be able to get that trust back again?” agonized one distraught wife. Her concern is valid because the adulterer’s deceit has destroyed—or at least seriously damaged—the trust. Like a precious vase, trust is easy to smash but difficult to mend. The fact is that there has to be mutual trust and respect for a relationship not only to survive but to flourish.
Usually this will involve learning to trust again. Rather than insensitively demanding to be trusted, the guilty spouse can help rebuild trust by being completely open and honest about his activities. Christians are encouraged to ‘put away falsehood and speak truth’ with one another. (Ephesians 4:25) To win back trust, you may initially “give your [spouse] an accurate itinerary of what your exact movements are,” says Zelda West-Meads. “Tell your [spouse] where you are going, when you will be back and make sure that you are where you said you are going to be.” If plans change, keep her informed.
Feelings of self-worth may take time and effort to rebuild. The guilty spouse can help by being generous with affection and commendation—telling his wife frequently that she is appreciated and loved. A respected marriage counselor advises: “Give her credit for all she does.” (Proverbs 31:31, Today’s English Version) The wife, in turn, can work on rebuilding self-confidence by focusing on things in her life that she does well.
It Takes Time
In view of the intensity of the pain caused by infidelity, it is not surprising that after many years vivid and painful recollections are still possible. However, as the hurt progressively heals, humility, patience, and endurance on the part of both will help rebuild trust and respect.—Romans 5:3, 4; 1 Peter 3:8, 9.
“The awful pain of those first few months does not last,” reassuringly states the book To Love, Honour and Betray. “[It] does eventually fade . . . Eventually you find you can go for days, weeks, months and even years without thinking about it.” As you continue applying Bible principles in your marriage and seek God’s blessing and guidance, you will no doubt experience the soothing effect of “the peace of God that excels all thought.”—Philippians 4:4-7, 9.
“Looking back,” reports Pedro, “the experience has changed the course of our lives. We still need to make a few repairs to our marriage now and again. But we’ve survived the ordeal. We’re still married. And we’re happy.”
But what if the innocent spouse does not have reason to forgive the unfaithful one? Or what if she does forgive her spouse (to the extent of letting go of resentment) and yet for sound reasons chooses to avail herself of the Biblical provision of divorce?* What demands can divorce place on an individual? We invite you to consider factors involved in divorce, as well as how some have coped.
For simplicity, we will generally speak of the faithful spouse as being the wife. However, the principles discussed also apply to innocent husbands whose wives are unfaithful.
Please see the article “The Bible’s Viewpoint: Adultery—To Forgive or Not to Forgive?” in the August 8, 1995, issue of Awake!
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In view of the many factors that can be considered, it may be beneficial to seek the assistance of an experienced and balanced counselor. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have access to kind and compassionate congregation elders.—James 5:13-15.
Counselors, friends, and relatives are encouraged not to promote personal preferences or to advocate or condemn either divorce on Scriptural grounds or reconciliation. Urges one Christian woman who went through a divorce: “Just give lots of support, and let us make up our own minds about what to do.”
Counsel ought to be solidly based on the Bible. “Don’t tell them how they should or should not feel,” suggests one divorcée. “Rather, let them talk their hearts out.” Fellow feeling, brotherly affection, and tender compassion will help soothe the deep injuries caused by marital betrayal. (1 Peter 3:8) An experienced counselor noted: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.”—Proverbs 12:18.
“I needed understanding, a word of comfort, and encouragement,” reflects one faithful husband. “And my wife craved some specific direction and commendation for the effort she was making—tangible support that could help her continue.”
If after careful and prayerful contemplation a person decides to divorce or separate for a Scriptural reason, counsel should not be given in a way that makes the person feel guilty. Rather, the person can be helped to overcome unwarranted feelings of guilt.
“If you want to be a meaningful source of comfort,” said one victim, “never forget the deep human emotions involved.”
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WHY SOME STAY TOGETHER
In many communities, there are wives who have little option but to remain with an unrepentant adulterous husband. For example, some Christian wives who live in strife-torn or low-income areas have stayed with an unfaithful husband who in other respects continues to care for his household, though he may not be a believer. As a result, they have a home, needed protection, a steady income, and the relative stability of having a husband in the house—even though he may be unfaithful. They have reasoned that remaining, although not desirable or easy, has given them—in their particular circumstances—greater control of their lives than if they were to battle it out on their own.
After putting up with such a situation—sometimes for many years—some of these wives have had the joyful blessing of ultimately seeing their husbands change their ways and become faithful and loving Christian husbands.—Compare 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.
Therefore, those who choose to remain with a spouse—even if he is unrepentant—should not be criticized. They have had to make an unenviable decision and should be given all the help and support they need.
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WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
Granted, in some cases an innocent mate’s imperfections may have contributed to a strained relationship, yet the Bible states that “each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14, 15) Although there may be various contributing factors, a person’s “own desire” is primarily responsible for his adultery. If a spouse’s failings cause marital problems, committing adultery is certainly not the way to solve them.—Hebrews 13:4.
Instead, marital problems can be solved when both husband and wife persevere in applying Bible principles. This includes “putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely.” They should also persist in displaying such qualities as “the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” Most important, they should “clothe [themselves] with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:12-15.
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Listening carefully to each other can help a couple rebuild a marriage