Question: "What should be the response of a Christian whose spouse has had an affair?"
Answer: Infidelity creates a very difficult and painful situation, one that involves all the emotions, and, for the Christian, can stretch faith almost to the breaking point. The best thing to do is “turn all your worries over to Him. He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). If you have been wronged, go to the Lord for comfort, wisdom, and direction on a daily basis. God can help us through the deepest of trials.
Adultery is always wrong. “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). The injured party should rest in the truth that God is the avenger. The wronged individual does not need to fret over getting even. God will do a much better job of avenging us. When we are betrayed, we need to commit the pain to the One who knows every detail and will deal with it appropriately.
PRAY. Seek the Lord for wisdom, for healing, and for guidance. Pray for yourself, pray for the offender, and pray for anyone else involved. Pray for the Lord to direct your thoughts, words, actions, and decisions.
BE HONEST. A betrayed spouse is going to suffer the effects of deep hurt. It is appropriate to engage the anger and hurt caused by infidelity. Expressing these emotions to God can be a first step toward true healing (see Psalm 77:1–2). Giving our emotions and needs over to God allows Him to minister to our hearts so that we can begin to let go of the offense. Godly counsel from a Christian counselor or pastor is helpful.
BE WILLING TO FORGIVE. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). We should be willing and ready to extend forgiveness to anyone, including a spouse who has had an affair, who comes to us in repentance, confessing his sin (Matthew 6:14 –15; 18:23 –35; Ephesians 4:31 –32; Colossians 3:13). True forgiveness may not be accomplished for some time, but the willingness to forgive should be present always. To harbor bitterness is sin and will negatively affect everyday decisions.
BE WISE. We must consider the possibility that the unfaithful spouse does not repent of his or her sin. Are we to forgive a person who does not confess his sin and remains unrepentant? Part of the answer is to remember what forgiveness is not:
Forgiveness is not forgetting. We are not asked to forget the experience but to deal with it and move forward.
Forgiveness is not the elimination of consequences. Sin has natural consequences, and even those who are forgiven may still suffer as a result of their past choices: “Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:28–29).
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a commitment to pardon the offender. It is a transaction made between the offended and the offender. Feelings may or may not accompany forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a private, secret act within an individual’s heart. Forgiveness involves at least two people. This is why confession and repentance are required.
Forgiveness is not the automatic restoration of trust. It is wrong to think that forgiving an unfaithful spouse today means everything is back to normal tomorrow. Scripture gives us many reasons to distrust those who have proved themselves untrustworthy (see Luke 16:10–12). Rebuilding trust can only begin after a process of reconciliation involving true forgiveness—which, of course, involves confession and repentance.
Also, importantly, forgiveness offered is not the same as forgiveness received. The attitude of forgiveness—being willing to forgive—is different from the actual transaction of forgiveness. We must not short-circuit the process of confession and repentance and the rebuilding of trust.
Forgiveness may be offered by the wronged spouse, but, to be complete, it requires that the one who had the affair acknowledges his or her need for forgiveness and receives it, bringing reconciliation to the relationship.
BE FORGIVEN. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When a marriage is in crisis, both parties should ask God to help them see how each may have contributed to the whole situation and be released from the weight of guilt before God. From that point on, there will be freedom to seek His counsel and guidance. His Holy Spirit will enable them to do what they could not do on their own. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
As God leads, true forgiveness and reconciliation are possible. No matter how long it takes, every effort must be made to forgive and reconcile (see Matthew 5:23–24). As to whether to stay or to leave, “whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9, NLT). While the innocent party may have grounds for divorce, God’s preference is forgiveness and reconciliation.
In summary, when a Christian’s spouse has had an affair, the wronged party must guard against bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) and be careful not to repay evil for evil (1 Peter 3:9). We should be willing to forgive and genuinely want reconciliation; at the same time, we should not extend forgiveness to the unrepentant. In all things we must seek the Lord and find our wholeness and healing in Him.