The Ongoing Pain of Forgiveness

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NIV) 

"Every time I think I am over this I get kicked in the stomach again."  These words tearfully spoken by the wife of an adulterous husband.  In this case the adulterer repented, the wife forgave him and the couple chose to stay together and work on their marriage. The relationship shattered by adultery can be rebuilt over time when repentance is full and complete by the offender. 

In many ways life on the surface can and does go on as normal, but for the wife there is an undercurrent of hurt and pain that is never totally absent. Adultery is a brutal traumatic act to a marriage because it affects so many different aspects of life beyond intimacy. The pain of the betrayal can resurface unexpectedly so what she learns is that forgiveness is an ongoing and painful way of living for a while. 

We encourage full disclosure of sexual sin in the counseling process. However, we also believe there are some details the wife is better off not knowing about because they are not beneficial and will only cause more pain. This is a double edged sword because what she does not know for certain her mind and imagination want to conjure up.  

The result of this is that sometimes events that may or may not be connected in reality are strung together in her mind.  We call these memory chains and they are very difficult for the wife to deal with and for the offender to understand. Memory chains make certain events, places, and periods of time "off limits" for her because they evoke a painful emotional response. For example, driving past a restaurant she knows he ate at with the adulteress, or even the mentioning the name of a town or meeting people from that period of time can provoke painful memories; even if they had nothing to do with his act of adultery. These things essentially hit the refresh button on the pain of adultery for his wife. 

These are emotional issues and must not be ignored or considered irrelevant just because they are in the past.  A wife cannot be expected or told to "Get over it." The pain from this past event can be as fresh and hurtful as a new wound would be. This is difficult for the spouse to understand because there is no ongoing adultery, there is nothing (in his mind) to cause her to be upset or cry about. 

Memories are a main reason adultery requires ongoing forgiveness. Each time a memory or thought surfaces the wife is presented with a choice to forgive or become angry and bitter at events of the past. Dealing with it biblically requires a determination to remain forgiving, not dwell on forgiven sin and hurts of the past when thoughts arise unbidden. 

Adultery is a nasty sinful business and thinking about it will only breed more hurt and anger. Meditating on what is true and real is critical (Philippians 4:8).  She must remind herself there is nothing profitable or virtuous in thinking about sexual sin. 

Rejecting thoughts that lead down the path of hurt and anger is not an easy task, but it can be done if she is determined. Prayer, talking to God and asking Him to clear her mind of old thoughts and reminders is so helpful. Bringing hurt and pain to Him is biblical and follows the pattern laid out for us in the Psalms. 

Our counsel also encourages memorizing verses of Scripture on the thought life. If memorization is a problem she can make index cards with these verses and keep them handy when thoughts present themselves.

We also want her to think of forgiveness biblically. She did not forgive her husband because he deserved to be forgiven or because he is such a great guy.  She forgave her husband on the basis of the forgiveness God extended to her in Christ.  This reminds her of her own unworthiness before God and the grace that has been lavished on her life.

The intense pain that resurfaces now should not be present years down the road. Over time, even this will fade if she takes the steps now to address memory chains biblically.