“Everybody in my family tells me to divorce her. My Mom will be furious if I don’t. She called Shelly some pretty bad names. Called the guy she was involved with worse names. She insists that I file immediately.” “Why haven’t you?” I asked. “I don’t know. I’m hurt. Deeply. But we had fourteen years together. My kids don’t say anything, but I can see how worried they are. They don’t know the details, of course, but they know things are bad between Shelly and me. If I divorce her, do I tell ’em what their mother did? And do I lose my kids if I divorce? Mom says that a good lawyer can take the kids away from her because of what she did, but I don’t know…” “Yeah, you have a lot to consider. What do you really want? If you could just snap your fingers and get it, what would you wish?”“I’d wish she never met Jarrod. That she hadn’t gotten involved with him.”“Uh-huh. But since you can’t change the past, how would you change the future? Again, what it is that you truly want?” “I want this to be over. I want my wife to love me. I want peace and trust and security. I want what I thought we had but turns out we didn’t…”
I could put a name to the man in the conversation above. Actually, hundreds of them. If you prefer, I could change the pronouns and provide hundreds of women’s names instead. Since 1994, we have worked with thousands of marriages, many affected by infidelity, though all the other problems have been represented in quantity as well. Control and domination, addiction, anger, stepfamily difficulties, in-law problems, and more lead people to contact us for help. They do not always call to seek help to save their marriages; sometimes they call because they feel confusion about whether they should divorce or try to reconcile their marriages. When offended spouses ask my counsel, I suggest they consider five things as they make their decisions.
First, do not allow your family or friends to make your decision. We need our families. We need them even more during times of crisis. We want their support, love, and understanding. However, following their advice in trying times may lead to poor consequences. Why? When we hurt, those who love us also hurt. Because of their love for us, they can become very angry and bitter toward the person who caused our pain. Often, that creates within them strong negative feelings about that person. Therefore, they usually do not wish us to continue in a relationship with the one who hurt us. Instead, they want to protect us from the offender. Because the safest route to our not being hurt by that person again is to end the relationship, those who love us may want us to do just that. Sometimes their urging us to end the relationship actually is the wisest course of action. However, sometimes it is not. Their love for us may blind them to the possibility of rescuing the relationship and the benefits that reconciliation brings. If your spouse has hurt you especially by infidelity bask in the love and security of your family and friends, but seek advice about how to deal with your straying spouse from wise and experienced people who do not carry your hurt in their hearts. Before making your decision about divorce or reconciliation, seek balanced counsel rather than biased counsel.
Second, do not try to hurt the one who hurt you. A woman who caught her husband in his second illicit relationship packed her things and her children and moved back to her hometown. In a phone conversation, she told me that her friends wanted her to do everything she could to destroy her husband’s reputation as well as annihilate him financially. When I enquired whether she intended to do so, she replied that she told her friends she had enough hurt on her own and did not need to take on theirs as well. I told her how impressed I was with her maturity. She understood a principle that many seem to miss: Vengeance leads to bad decisions, and bad decisions lead to bad consequences. Vengeance attempts to make the other person hurt as badly as you hurt. It never fully satisfies because you can never be sure that the other person hurts as badly as you do. Demand justice, but forego vengeance. Vengeance may hurt the other person, but the emotional damage it does to you may be far worse. Collateral damage, such as the long-term effect on your children, financial stress, or dividing your mutual friends, may well be the worst of all. Vengeance usually hurts the vigilante more than the intended target. If you intend to hurt the one who hurt you, you will not make a wise decision about whether you should divorce or reconcile. If you wish to make the best decision for your future acknowledge your hurt, but do not let your pain cloud your judgment. Make the choice that benefits you, your children, and your future, rather than a choice that ultimately hurts you more. To do that, acknowledge your hurt, but do not focus on repaying the hurt.
Third, consider your spouse’s heart. A woman sat in my office after discovering her husband’s infidelity. She talked about how her family, especially her father, wanted her to divorce her husband and, in the process, punish him severely for what he had done.
Parents, Stop Feeling Guilty
One may grow up to be an alcoholic, choosing to repeat the sins of their parents. Yet, the other child sees the destruction alcohol has caused and chooses to never drink. One may grow to be bitter and resentful of the failure of the parents; while the other chooses to have compassion and live in forgiveness. We even see this in non-believers who make these choices by human will power. How much more should it be true for those of us who are empowered by Christ’s life within us?
The Prodigal Son Who Is To Blame? Look at the story of the prodigal son. This story tells us about a series of choices a young man made because he was given the right to choose for himself. And he made some terrible choices that brought painful results. However, he knew that when he was ready to make a new choice, the door to home, and his father’s heart, was always open. How much blame did the father in this story deserve? None. Jesus gives no indication that he was a bad parent. No doubt, the father heard the stories about his son’s foolish decisions. But he never protected him from the consequences. It was the consequences that brought the son to his senses. Was it painful to watch? I am sure it was. But was it worth it? Absolutely! Remember, the elder son had all the outwardly righteous behavior, but his heart was filled with bitterness. Forgiveness and restoration came to the younger son who learned through his consequences and came to fully embrace the father’s love. We don’t know if the elder son, whose outward behavior seemed good, ever came to enjoy the unconditional love of his father.
Be Good Parents…Unto The Lord: Should we seek to be the best parents we can be? Certainly. Not so much for the sake of the children, but to walk pleasing to the Lord for ourselves. My wife and I have eleven divorces and remarriages between our four parents. They did not set a good example. But we made a different choice. And the power of God’s grace living in and through us has enabled us to set a completely different example. After over twenty years of marriage, we have set a very different example, but we have been far, far from being perfect parents. Nonetheless, it is always up to our children to decide the choices they will make for their own lives.
Let Them Fail: Be glad when your children make a bad choice because now they will have an opportunity to learn important life-long lessons. Don’t be so quick to protect your children from the consequences of their poor choices. Certainly, this must be age-appropriate, but let your children learn that choices have consequences. Let them know you love them too much to insulate them from these valuable lessons. Pray for your children. Do not pray that God will force them to serve Him, because God will not answer in that way. But pray that the goodness of God will overwhelm your children and that they will choose to respond by loving Him back! “Do you not know that is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4)
If you feel you have been a poor parent, then humble yourself, repent to your children and ask their forgiveness. And, regardless of their response, be free of fear, shame and condemnation…because Jesus paid for that sin just as He paid for all other sins! I strongly recommend Danny Silk’s book, “Loving Our Kids on Purpose” as one of the very best resources on how to parent children through the power of true grace and truly represent the nature of the Father to our children.
Dr. Lewis Akpogena