Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
-Romans 12:15, NKJV
What astounds me about some Christians is how they believe they are helping faithful spouses by telling them that they must forgive their cheater.
Most of us–faithful spouses–already understand forgiving our cheater is on the docket of things to do in the midst of this tragedy (provided the cheater repents–see Luke 17:3).
However, I still maintain other things ought to come first!
For example, we have to get to a place where we actually accept and believe the historical facts of what just happened. Forgiveness is nonsensical if there is nothing to forgive.
Then we are confronted with the grief over all those catastrophic losses that come with discovering one’s spouse is a cheater.
Grief is not bitterness or unforgiveness. It is the proper and natural response to loss.
It is sometimes uncomfortable to sit with someone in the throws of grief with all the anger over the injustice and all the sad tears over the painful losses.
But we–as Christians–are to sit with people experiencing grief as opposed to pushing them away with a condemning judgment and a command to forgive.
All of this is why I suspect that those who use Matthew 6:14-15 to command faithful spouses to forgive are serving themselves and not the faithful spouse.
The reminder moves the onus of care from the Christian to sit with their discomfort to them saying the “problem” is the “crazy” angry or sad faithful spouse. They aren’t getting with the “Christian” program and “forgiving.”
It is a condemning judgment dressed up in religious acceptability:
You, faithful spouse, deserve this misery (and isolation) because you haven’t forgiven her. It’s your own fault. See? I’m helping you by telling you how your are to blame.
Such behavior disgusts me.
It is not how I would want someone I love to be treated following the extreme trauma that discovering an unfaithful spouse is.
The person filled with God’s love will sit with the faithful spouse and listen to their pain. They won’t blame them for being victimized. And they will remind them that they are in no way responsible for being sinned against.
They talk of forgiveness with the same sensitivity as if the faithful spouse was the parent of a murdered child considering forgiving their child’s murderer. After all, the adulterous partner killed something very precious to the faithful spouse.
The truly loved filled friend does not use forgiveness talk to blame or isolate the faithful spouse. A reminder to forgive is not used to relieve their own discomfort from being confronted by their own vulnerability in a world where real evil acts happen.
They do not talk of forgiveness to serve themselves but only when (or if so) invited to truly care for their hurting brother and sister in the Lord.
I do believe forgiveness needs to eventually part of the healing conversation. However, Christians in particular often move there too quickly. They fail to do the important grief work that must come first, IMO.
So, I would recommend to any person wanting to support a faithful spouse to ask themselves:
Is my impulse to remind her to forgive about truly helping her or serving my own needs (e.g. to be seen as a “good” Christian, to escape the discomfort this awful situation brings, to avoid feeling powerless, etc)?
The wise Christian realizes sometimes even having a verse for a statement does not make it the proper statement to make in the moment (see Ecclesiastes 3:1ff).
You can speak a truth and still be wrong because that truth came without true love. Such is all too applicable to Christians talking forgiveness to faithful spouses!
*A version of this post ran previously.
Republished with permission from www.divorceminister.com.