Death is not the worst thing that can happen in a marriage. Unfaithfulness is. Lies, cover-ups, any worldly affection that surpasses one’s affection for the other—these are more complicated griefs that get reignited most every day after the betrayal. A third person, whether known or not, seems to have intruded into the marriage relationship and refuses to leave.
Reconciliation is certainly possible after marital betrayal. The determining factor is ending the unfaithfulness. If the unfaithful person has given evidence that he or she has genuinely returned, marriages reconcile more often than not.
“Evidence,” of course, is one of the challenges. Unfaithful spouses occasionally believe that their word is enough when a moment’s reflection reveals that such expectations are foolish. “Love believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7) does not mean that we simply believe everyone when Scripture is also clear that liars abound. Instead, confession is the first step, and it is an opportunity for the unfaithful person to begin compiling evidence of faithfulness. This is the privilege and responsibility of love.
Healthy marriages aim to give evidence of faithfulness every day. We are faithful in small things. If we say we will do something, we do it. If a hobby starts taking more and more time, we talk about it and hold that hobby loosely. We anticipate what would bless the other person. We schedule time together, daily. When the marriage has been fractured by unfaithfulness, you do the same thing, yet more dramatically.
Your goal is not to end all your spouse’s fears and grief. That is not possible. If that is your purpose, you will be prone to frustration and hopelessness, and you will begin to accuse your spouse of not getting over it. Your goal is to be skilled in love, and you prefer that love is blatant. To this end, you take the initiative. You reflect carefully. What would add evidence of faithfulness? Gather a dozen ideas before you ask a friend, then get a dozen more. Pull out your favorites, especially those that can become a permanent part of your marital relationship and might bless your spouse. Then talk with your spouse and gather more ideas. Here is a small sample.
- Set up a system for a wise person to receive your Internet data.
- Since you can evade all barriers, what are other ways to make your Internet activity open and public? Make everything available to your spouse.
- Set up a “find a friend” app on both your phones so your spouse can always know where you are.
- Set apart times to focus on matters of your heart—read, pray with someone else, know more of God’s loving faithfulness to you, and ask the Spirit to inspire you with more ideas of how to offer evidence of loving faithfulness. Your goal is to love Jesus more, even more than you love your spouse. There is no better way to grow in faithfulness and love to a spouse. And share one thing you are learning every day.
- Set apart times to get to know your spouse’s heart. Ask him or her about intrusive thoughts and struggles from the day. Grow in grief and sympathy from these times. And ask about joys and blessings, and share in them.
- If you are not involved in counseling, find someone who will meet with both of you—or perhaps just you. This expresses openness and a desire for ongoing help.
All this is a fine challenge. It is a doable and worthy lifelong mission that is within your grasp, assuming, of course, that you call out for the Spirit’s help for every step, every breath. Those who have taken up the challenge have often found that their marriage is better than it has ever been.