Can This Marriage Be Saved?
By Laura Petherbridge
CBN.com South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford seems to be in the news a lot these days – with the cross-continent affair to the new accusations of misused state funds. One of the earliest comments he gave regarding his affair caught me completely off guard. He said, “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair—it was a love story.” He went on to share that he views his recent love interest, Maria Chapur, as his soul mate.
After twenty years as a divorce recovery expert, I’ve heard many people use similar words. It’s not uncommon for someone to become convinced that the “forbidden lover” is their “love of a lifetime.”
Sanford went on to share that he is, “trying to fall back in love with his wife.” If that’s true, what’s it going to take to restore this marriage? Is it possible to put “Humpty Dumpty” together again?
I’ve watched many Christian couples reconcile after an extramarital affair. Most quickly move back in together and the following Sunday they carefully apply their “church mask.” Amidst cheers and “Amens” from the congregation, they proudly walk to the altar proclaiming a healed marriage. The crowd roars with glee.
It would be wonderful, if it were true.
Rather than taking the time and the steps required for a true healing, the issues are swept under the rug. The couple reads a few Bible verses on marriage, slaps a forgiveness label on the front door, and crawls under the sheets, (the formula they received from their pastor). They “go back to normal.” What they don’t realize is that the unresolved issues which led to the affair are still brewing and rotting beneath the relationship. And toxic gas is being emitted and inhaled by the couple, their children, their church family and those around them. The poison goes on to destroy future generations and Satan smiles. Once again he has deceived the Bride of Christ, and she is totally unaware.
The issues associated with adultery are often complex, and there is no simple formula for restoration. However, if the couple sincerely desires a healthy, thriving marriage after an affair, here are a few beneficial insights.
- Eventually, both people must be committed to restoration.
If one spouse attempts to manipulate, badger, guilt, or shame the other spouse into restoring a marriage it won’t work. It’s necessary for both people to be open to restoration. It’s not uncommon for one to start off more willing than the other, but if over time that person remains opposed, restoration can’t happen.
- Provide the offended person time to grieve
Infidelity annihilates trust, security, privacy, and intimacy. Therefore, grief abounds. The person who committed adultery needs to allow the offended spouse the time and space to grieve the violation and breach of the covenant. Attempts to rush the healing process or demands, such as “The affair is over, I never want to talk about it again,” are indications that the adulterer is not truly repentant.
- True repentance is mandatory
People who commit adultery often justify the act. Mark Sanford stating that his mistress is his soul mate indicates that a part of him is still rationalizing why he was unfaithful. If he is serious about restoring his marriage, he’ll need to learn how to take those thoughts captive and replace them with truth. (2 Corinthians10:4-5) It’s common to hear the spouse who has broken the covenant make statements such as, “My spouse isn’t meeting my needs,” “I’ve never really loved my spouse,” or “I don’t know how I ended up here. It just happened.” If the offender isn’t truly remorseful, but merely sorry that they got caught, restoring the marriage will be impossible. It’s similar to building a house on a foundation that has a huge crack, eventually it will crumble.
How can you tell if someone is sincerely repentant? If we look at King David in Psalm 51 we see a man who is deeply sorrowful for his sin. A remorseful person recognizes and confesses the pain and suffering they have caused others. Humility doesn’t demand, justify or make excuses. It admits, “I am to blame, no one else. I deserve any and all consequences for my actions. If you never forgive me, I understand. I’m the one who broke the covenant. I violated the trust and I do not deserve another chance. If you are willing, I’ll do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to earn your trust again.”
- Get down to the root reasons
Many people list financial stress, a tumultuous home, a neglectful or abusive spouse, or relationship boredom as the reasons they had an affair. But those are all symptoms of marital breakdown—not causes. Unless a couple does the hard work to dig deeply into the root reasons why those things occurred, the problems will resurface.
- Forgiveness does not mean ignoring sin, abuse, neglect,or toxic behavior.
For some reason, Christians have allowed Satan to deceive them into believing that love, mercy, and forgiveness means ignoring sin. We even slap a Biblical word on it—submission. The perversion of this word is one of the greatest weapons Satan uses to destroy the family. Submission does not mean ignoring or tolerating destructive, sinful behavior. After adultery a marriage can only be restored if the unfaithful person is willing to eradicate all toxic people or things from the marriage. In addition, the other spouse must learn how he or she is enabling the behavior. It’s often a complex vicious cycle which requires professional help.
- It takes two people to get married, but only one to get a divorce.
You cannot control the actions of your spouse. If he or she is determined to get a divorce there is nothing you can do to stop it. Be aware: It’s very common for the one who wants out of the marriage to “pretend” they are committed by going to a few counseling sessions. This allows them to justify a divorce by saying, “We went for help, and I tried, but it didn’t work.” The half-hearted effort was used as a manipulative tool to and ammunition to rationalize their conscience and selfish motives. In simpler terms, they lied.
Know that God understands infidelity. He has been the rejected and betrayed lover many times. Jeremiah 3:6-8 (NIV) declares his sorrow and fury, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”
Eventually, he forgives his Bride (you and me). Because of His faithfulness to the Beloved we have the assurance that He is more than willing to reveal how to restore a broken marriage. If both people are willing to listen and learn, nothing is impossible for the Creator.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t” — Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. Her newest book, The Smart Stepmom, will be released in September of 2009. For more info, go to www.laurapetherbridge.com.
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