Dear Seeking Happiness,
My husband and I met in our sophomore year of college and married right after graduation. Both of us love God and I thought we had a marriage made in heaven. Then it happened. My husband had an affair with someone at his office. This was about 9 years ago. I didn’t suspect or discover anything was going on. He confessed and I said, in a state of shock, that I forgave him. I didn’t want to divorce him because we had 2 small kids. We have stumbled along, with some happy days and many more mediocre days. But at the slightest hint of trouble in our relationship, any argument or anytime he is late, I am reminded of his affair and my heart is flooded with painful memories. I get angry all over again, then sad and I withdraw from him. Our children are older now and a part of me is ready for a divorce. I just want to be happy! God says I can get divorced, right? I’d love to know what you think I should do?
Dear Seeking Happiness,
My heart hurts for you. And, I am grieved for the time you have spent in an unhappy marriage and flooded by hurts and painful memories. I know you have walked through a hard season. I also appreciate your heart and your desire for happiness.
I also want to thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to write. I am honored that you have trusted me with this information and that you are seeking godly counsel. I want you to know I have spent time prayerfully considering how to answer your question, and more importantly, how God would answer your question.
First, I believe your letter reveals that you are dealing with several issues in both your marriage and your heart: forgiveness, re-building of trust and searching for happiness. I would like to break each area down before I make any suggestion about your course forward.
Forgiveness. Forgiveness is not something we can withhold. So, no matter what path you take moving forward, forgiveness must be a part of it. This is not my wisdom, but rather wisdom from the mouth of Christ. Jesus was very clear after teaching us how to pray. He said that if we do not “forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:15).” I am glad you told your husband you forgave him and I hope you asked God to help you completely forgive him as well. This step reveals a heart that is not hard, but rather a sister trying to be obedient to a loving and righteous Father. When you give God command of your ship, forgiving and forgetting go hand-in-hand. I do not mean to minimize your situation. I cannot imagine the hurt your husband’s sin caused you, but I also cannot fathom the hurt that my sins have caused Jesus. Although Jesus was without sin, pure and without blemish or evil thought, He lovingly took on all of our sins! Because of the love that Christ has shown us and because of His words that perfect and godly love can cover a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8), I do believe a couple can move past an affair. Many times have I seen the beauty of this type of forgiveness in the lives of fellow Believers. You will know when you have truly forgiven your husband when his sin no longer stings or floods your heart.
Rebuilding of trust. This takes time. Rebuilding of trust can be a slow and tedious process. Your letter does not mention any other issues with this area, so I will assume that after your husband confessed to you his affair, he walked-out his role as husband in a godly manner. Everyone has hiccups in their marriage, but the reliving of the pain of an affair is a real issue that needs discussing. If you are ever going to be capable of trust again, you will have to allow Jesus to fully heal your hurts with your husband, and any other man for that matter. I recently finished a great book that I think would help you, Boundaries for Your Soul by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller. In this inspired book, the two psychologists discuss how to deal with overwhelming hurt, painful memories and things that haunt you from your past. First, you must recognize the hurt for what it is. You cannot be afraid of the memory but rather give it room in your heart. Do not place it behind a closed door where it can later surprise you and pounce on you, but put it on the other side of an ol’ fashioned fence where you can keep an eye on it. Next you have to examine how you respond to the memory. Some of us use anger or over-eating to “numb the pain” of previous hurts. In Boundaries for Your Soul, the authors call these our managers. Your manager may be a feeling of despair and sadness. After we have identified our memory for what it is, and have acknowledge how we have attempted to handle it on our own, we must invite Jesus to be near the memory. The truth and love of Jesus offers the only permanent numbing effect on pain! We lay down the memory and then figure out ways to allow the Holy Spirit to reconcile our hearts. This ministry of reconciliation is vital to rebuilding trust. After you have dealt with the pain, you may be able to view the last 9 years of your husband’s faithful behavior in a kinder light. Consider allowing your heart to fully embrace your college sweetheart and rekindle trust and love. But rekindling aside, attacks from old memories won’t stop if you do not deal with them properly. If not probably dealt with, something or someone will just trigger them all over again. Allow Jesus to heal your hurting heart, my sweet sister.
Searching for happiness. A search for happiness will never bear fruit if God does not lead the way. Allow Jesus to be the hero in your story! Allow His love to encompass your heart and direct your actions. Allow forgiveness to flow from the love with which Jesus saturates your life. Then pray about what to do moving forward.
Your situation does have a technically biblical basis for divorce. But, allowance was made because of the “hardness of their hearts.” I do not see in your letter evidence of a hard heart; only a hurting one. Divorce is not an unpardonable sin, but the ramifications of divorce are as difficult to walk through as the years you have just completed. The fastest path to happiness may be with your husband through the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father. I am hoping you have sought godly counsel before. But if not, it is never too late! Go see your pastor or talk to a Christian counselor today!
I will be praying for you as you decide your path forward. My prayer is that you will continue to seek Godly counsel and that you will consider reading Boundaries for Your Soul. I believe God is able to completely heal your heart, your hurts and your marriage! There are no limits on our big God!
Thank you for reading the blog. Stay washed in the Word, sister. And please reach out again if you would like me to clarify any of my points. I hear your heart. I hope you have heard mine. I do not believe divorce is the best answer to your question, but I know God will love you no matter what decision you make.