An affair does not have to be the end of your marriage. Here’s how to forgive your spouse after an affair.
Q: We’ve been through the pain of an affair. We want to move on and have an even stronger marriage. How can we do this? I don’t know how to forgive my spouse.
A: Your number-one goal is to rebuild trust. Recovering from adultery takes a lot of time and work that a counselor can help with, but two important aspects of moving beyond an affair are having commitment and having realistic expectations of each other. It’s difficult, but it can happen.
Begin each day with a clean slate and live obediently in the power of the Holy Spirit within you. Say no to the threats to your marriage and to the temptations to be less than the person God called you to be. Determine to guard your own heart, for you alone are responsible for your own thoughts, words, and actions. You are the one who must say, “No way!” when you are tempted to compromise your role as husband, wife, or parent.
You need a battle mentality. You need to draw a line in the sand and declare to the enemy of your heart, “Not me.” You need to make a commitment to guard your heart at all costs. Then you need to live out that commitment on a daily (even hourly) basis.
Decide that you will not knowingly do or say anything that will damage your marriage again. Individually and as a couple, commit yourselves to living obediently and creating a legacy that honors Jesus Christ. You want to leave behind two life stories that will encourage and equip your children and grandchildren for their marriages. You may want to do something concrete, such as carefully wording your commitment and printing it on paper. Then sign it, and keep it where you will see it often. Create one for yourself, then you and your spouse write your corporate commitment.
Be consistent with the basics. Study the Bible on a daily basis. Share what you read and discover with your spouse. Pray daily, on your own and with your spouse. Confess to God any known sin in your life. Live above reproach in all your activities so that God’s light can shine through you.
Having resolved to guard your heart against all threats to your marriage and family, how much of your commitment can you keep in your own power? If your answer was anything but zero, you may need to rethink it. Jesus told us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That’s right, you can’t do anything apart from your dependence on Jesus Christ. If you want to guard your heart, if you want to learn how to forgive, you need to see yourself as a branch that is utterly dependent on the vine to which you are attached.
Jesus is the vine; you and your spouse are branches. You need to rely on Jesus daily to guard your heart. Your pastor can’t guard your heart for you, and your favorite TV preacher can’t do it. Your Bible study group, your accountability partners, and all the good Christian books and tapes you can get your hands on can’t do it either. All of these things can encourage you and teach you, but only Christ can guard your heart. You can’t do anything without Jesus, but look what you can do with him. The apostle Paul testifies with confidence, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
God knows our hearts. He knows our fears. He knows our sins. He knows our struggles on how to forgive each other. He knows our deepest thoughts before we even think them. And yet how often we try to ignore or gloss over our inner battles, temptations, and attitudes hoping he won’t notice. We mistakenly think if we press on with a business-as-usual mind-set, he won’t be offended.
A vital key to guarding your heart is to come clean with God about what he already knows and sees. Don’t pull back from God when you blow it. Be open with him. Tell him everything, including how you feel. He’s not going away. He is available to you all day, every day. He wants to be involved in everything you are involved in, including your marriage. As you open yourself to him from the heart, you connect with the lifeblood of the vine, Jesus Christ, the source for guarding your heart.
*Our book, Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, can help you understand different conflict styles and teach you how to move toward forgiveness and healing!