There are so many marriages that have been trashed by adultery—yet are reconciled. If there was only one reconciled marriage, it would still be amazing. But there are thousands.
What is their secret?
If you had asked the betrayed partner before the adultery, “Do you think you could ever reconcile if your spouse was adulterous?” Most would have said, with confidence, “no!” Yet—many do. But how? What is their secret? …It is this. They are able to reconcile because God gives grace—lots of grace—to couples facing this betrayal. He knows the consequences of adultery—because he experiences it. God, himself, is joined to his people, and his people have been adulterous. Take a look at the book of Hosea or James 4. We are adulterous; he is betrayed.
As a result, our God has a soft spot in his heart for victims of adultery. He comforts and gives more grace than we could imagine. So many people, though they can go through moments of seemingly unbearable pain, receive power to love and be reunited from the God who stays committed to adulterers and cares for those they betray.
How does reconciliation happen?
An observer might think that a past adultery no longer affects the marriage, but that isn’t so. Though the world suggests that we can have casual sex, adultery reminds us that there is nothing casual about it. The person who belonged to you was intimate with another, and it rips your heart out. There is no forgetting. As time goes on, the memories are less intrusive, but they are still there. Forgiveness lessens the blow, but doesn’t erase it.
The growth process might look like this.
At first, the lines are clear: there are victims and there are adulterers. Victims deal with suffering, those who were unfaithful deal with sin.
As time passes, the lines blur. Victims continue to find comfort, but remember that they are sinners too (Matthew 7:3-5). Unfaithful ones begin to see more of the sin beneath their sin. That is, they see how lust and adulterous desire are ultimately driven by spiritual adulteries, by wanting to be separate from the True God. And, God, in a startling response, invites these hurt and sinful people to return to him with displays of compassion and love.
Then victims become more open to seeing change in the unfaithful spouses and begin to lay down any self-protective shields.
After a while, couples look from a similar vantage point at the past adultery. Instead of the clear lines of victim and adulterer, there is a circle that surrounds the couple. They are one again, rather than two. The adultery is no longer one person against another but a sad intrusion that leaves both spouses sad that sin persists in this world.
What is it like 10 years later?
The intruder adultery has been cast out, but when you look around, you can still see evidences of it. It sounds strange to think of sin as an outside intruder, especially when the adulterer was an obvious sinner, but the reality is that, as we grow, both individually and corporately, sin is less and less part of our being.
As reconciled marriages grow, there is no more finger-pointing. Injured spouses usually desire that their partners no longer experience guilt because guilt, by itself, works against change rather than for it. What is left is a marital limp, not noticeable to others, but it is surely there. At times, it feels like a small handicap. More often, it feels like a reminder that the loving and powerful God gives grace to the humble, and that spiritual treasure is found in weakness.