Questions From Readers
● When an innocent mate resumes sexual relations with an adulterous mate after learning of the adultery, does such resumption of sex relations constitute evidence of forgiveness by the innocent mate?
Sexual relations outside the marriage provides the basis for divorce, if the innocent mate desires this; by the same token, if there is a resumption of sexual relations, forgiveness and a healing of the breach is to be understood. Otherwise, there is no real harmony of action with the extending of forgiveness.—Matt. 19:9; 5:37.
When there is genuine repentance on the part of the adulterous mate, and both mates have a sincere desire to work together in solving the problems that have developed, certainly it would be most fitting for mercy to be shown and forgiveness to be extended to the erring one. Every reasonable effort should be made to preserve the marriage relationship that exists, while realizing that there likely will be some strained relations and problems to be worked out for a while. Thus matters could work out not only to the blessing of the married couple and any children still at home but also as a defeat of the great marriage-wrecker, Satan the Devil.
In some instances, it may be very difficult for the innocent mate to find a real basis for continuing the marriage. Even before the adultery came to light, there may have been very serious problems in applying Bible principles relating to headship and subjection. There may have been little communication, with love and respect for each other being at a very low ebb. Bitterness, resentment or other factors may have interfered with rendering to each other the sexual due. Is there going to be any real improvement in trying to work out these serious, deep-rooted problems if forgiveness is extended? The innocent mate may feel that the chances of improvement are very slim and may choose to divorce the adulterous mate, even though this will mean adjustments in life, such as facing the trauma of divorce, the need possibly to arrange for other accommodations, caring for any children involved, and so forth. Also, to be borne in mind is the fact that Jehovah ‘hates a divorcing.’—Mal. 2:16.
These are all factors that the innocent mate must weigh in determining whether or not to extend forgiveness. This should be done before resuming sex relations, before the renewing of intimate privileges reserved for those who are married. Talking matters over, discussing the problem areas, trying to reach an understanding, and determining the willingness of both persons really to work at building love and respect in the marriage, all are things that can be done without implying forgiveness. But when the innocent mate brings himself or herself to the point emotionally where he or she can have sexual relations with the adulterous mate, it is to be assumed that the innocent mate extends unqualified forgiveness, and will not use the known unfaithfulness as a basis for getting a Scriptural divorce permitting remarriage.
In thus acting consistently in extending forgiveness, the innocent mate imitates Jehovah in forgiving, without holding over the head of the guilty one his past sins and continually reminding this one of what transpired in the past. (Ps. 103:3, 8-14; Isa. 55:7; Eph. 4:32; 1 Pet. 4:8; 1 John 1:9) Of course, this puts a responsibility on the recipient of forgiveness to appreciate this and avoid a repetition of the wrongdoing.
Admittedly, at times tragic, unforeseen problems develop afterward that, had these been known, might have caused the innocent mate to withhold forgiveness, including the resuming of sexual relations. However, rather than providing a basis for changing the status of the marriage, the possibility of these problems’ developing emphasizes even more the importance of the innocent mate’s carefully weighing all factors and not making a hasty decision when faced with deciding whether to extend forgiveness or not.
The situation would be the same even where pregnancy results from the adultery committed by the wife, and the pregnancy is not known at the time sexual relations are resumed by the man with his wife. The possibility of pregnancy is certainly something the husband would want to take into consideration in determining whether he could forgive his wife and take her back. Practical wisdom would dictate that he wait until such time as it could be definitely determined if she was pregnant with another man’s child. If he forgives her and has relations with her before knowing, then what? He should have decided in advance that he was willing to accept the possibility of her having a child and that, if a child was born to his wife, he would accept this child into his home and care for it as his own.
It is understood that when “fornication” on the part of a believing marriage mate comes to light, this should be brought to the attention of the body of elders in the congregation. (Matt. 19:9) If the guilty party does not do this, then the innocent mate would have a responsibility to report the wrongdoing in the interests of keeping Jehovah’s congregation clean. If there is genuine repentance on the part of the guilty one, such a person may be retained in the congregation, and this would be true even though the innocent mate might not choose to extend forgiveness. If there is no repentance, the guilty mate would be disfellowshiped, even though the innocent mate might choose to extend forgiveness and continue living with the disfellowshiped mate.
All of this emphasizes that marriage responsibilities cannot be taken lightly. Only “fornication” by one’s mate gives the other mate Scriptural grounds for dissolving the marriage with a view to remarrying. But once marriage intimacies are resumed, the Christian congregation must be consistent as the couple must be consistent, in viewing the past known “fornication” as no longer being a basis for dissolving the marriage. Looking to Jehovah, the couple should work diligently to build up love and respect in their relationship, so as to have a good measure of happiness and success in their marriage.