broken marriage

For many married Christian couples, it is nearly unimaginable that a spouse might cheat. In reality, though, infidelity amongst religious couples remains nearly as high as the national average, which hovers around 60 percent, according to Dr. Willard F. Farley Jr., licensed psychologist and author of His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. A survey from Ashley Madison, a website made to set married people up with affairs, shows over 70 percent of its users label themselves as Christian.

That's a problem. When Christians cheat, it can come as a massive, unexpected blow that is difficult to process without help. If you or your spouse has gone through an affair, and the two of you wish to reconcile, it's time to visit a marriage counselor. There is no shortage of help—an army of books, articles, and psychologists are at your fingertips. Before you do anything else, use them to get started along the path to healing.

But that's not what this article is about—if you're like most, you've probably got a handle on that end of things. We're going to talk about what few consider and what many misunderstand: what the Bible says about how to handle the ultimate betrayal.

Recognize adultery as a sin.

Proverbs 6:32 puts it best: "He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself." Therein lies the essence of what sin is—self-destruction. God doesn't lay down His laws just to control us or keep us from having fun. His every mandate comes from a place of endless love for humanity and from His infinite perspective that sees all ends. God knows that certain behaviors hurt us—if not now, then later. These behaviors are what we know as sin.

Adultery seems to hold a special place amongst all sins—it is one of the Ten Commandments and is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible. This is not because any one sin is worse than another in the eyes of God, however, but because adultery wreaks a special kind of destruction in the human heart. Think about it. Your spouse is supposed to be your refuge. They are your safe place—the person who you can trust more than anyone else in the world. That's why being betrayed by your spouse is an event from which it can take years to recover.

This is why God forbids adultery. Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate refuge, and when we break our vows, we turn what is supposed to be God's gift into a nightmare.

Know that you can leave.

In Malachi 2:16, God outright says, "I hate divorce." It would seem that this would automatically preclude any thoughts of divorce, no matter what your spouse's offense. But it's actually a common misconception that the Bible teaches that you must stay with your spouse if they cheat on you. This simply isn't true.

Let's look at what the Bible actually has to say. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says that "whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery." Notice that "except"—if your partner commits sexual adultery, you are not Biblically obligated to stay with them.

And again, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul writes that "if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace." You are not enslaved to a spouse who unrepentantly cheats on you, abandons you, or abuses you. God wants you to have a life of peace, and because of this, divorce is permitted in these cases. As we're about to see, though, if your cheating spouse is willing to reform, God wants you to make at least an attempt at healing your marriage.

Realize what forgiveness is.

When a cheating spouse is repentant, it is best if you can find the strength to forgive them and figure out exactly what went wrong. But before you do that, let's talk about what forgiveness is and, just as importantly, what it isn't. For the most part, forgiveness means giving up the desire for vengeance and compensation—something that is extremely difficult when you've been cheated on. Forgiveness allows the forgiver to find peace, even in the face of incredible betrayal.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 tells us to reconcile with our spouse if at all possible. God knows that sometimes people do stupid things—even otherwise good people. It is possible to work through an affair, to find out why it happened, and to come out a stronger couple than ever. This is the end God wants, rather than the lifetime of pain and guilt that comes from ending the relationship. Forgiveness heals marriages.

Realize what forgiveness isn't.

While God wants us to forgive, He does not, as we've said, want us to bring harm to ourselves by staying with someone who does not care about us. Forgiveness is not permissiveness. Forgiving does not mean that you should continue to give a cheating spouse a free pass as they hurt you over and over. It doesn't mean that you should pretend the affair isn't happening. And it certainly doesn't mean that you allow your spouse to take advantage of you.

No—if your spouse habitually cheats, it's time to leave. But if they are sincerely remorseful and willing to put some work into making better choices, make an effort to forgive and reconcile—it is better to choose healing, if that is possible. But if your spouse simply doesn't value you enough to stop hurting you, move on. Forgiveness isn't meant to make you a doormat.

Pray for healing.

It's easy to forget the power of prayer, especially in turbulent times, but speaking to God can be one of the best things you can do if you've discovered that your spouse has cheated on you. Praying gives you a way to get away and talk out your feelings immediately. Just give everything to God—your anger, your rage, your pain. You're not going to offend Him. Let Him know how you feel.

After you vent, start praying for the positive—pray for the ability to forgive and that your spouse's heart will be made righteous once again. Aside from inviting God to act in your life, this can help keep you from continually dwelling on the negative. Finally, pray that God might use your pain for something good. Grief can teach us in ways few other things can, and so praying for an open mind is vital.

Sometimes, it's the prayer itself that changes things—talking to God helps us to stay focused on what God wants for our lives. So, if you find yourself in this incredibly difficult situation, make some time for God. You won't regret it.

Moving on.

The Bible describes a difficult path when it comes to dealing with infidelity. While God permits divorce when a spouse cheats or abandons you, what He truly wants to see is reconciliation and forgiveness—this is what is best for us in the long run.

So, as you attend counseling and work toward a solution in your marriage, keep these spiritual principles in mind. Don't feel enslaved to a life of pain, but don't abandon the idea of reconciliation. This trial may yet leave your relationship stronger than ever before.

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