I counseled a woman whose spouse had cheated on her…again. This wasn’t the first time and she figured at this point that it wouldn’t be the last. She was beside herself. What to do? How to get over this? Her mind was buzzing with a million different thoughts. Can I offer him forgiveness, reconciliation, trust again?
You may have the idea that you need to be kind and forgive automatically. When a relationship experiences devastating brokenness, nothing is automatic anymore.
Perhaps you believe that forgiveness, reconciliation, and trust are a package deal. Consider forgiveness, reconciliation, and trust to be three steps in a process of repairing what’s broken. I wish it could all be resolved automatically in one easy step, but people are complex and relationships can be complicated.
Here is some good advice about how to extend forgiveness, reconciliation, and trust from the book Boundaries in Dating, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. Although the authors’ perspective here is addressing issues for people who are dating, I believe these three steps are helpful to anyone who has been hurt by someone they trusted.
“The simplest way to help you to organize your thoughts as you confront this problem is to remember three points:
- Forgiveness has to do with the past. Forgiveness is not holding something someone has done against her. It is letting it go. It only takes one to offer forgiveness. And just as God has offered forgiveness to everyone, we are expected to do the same (see Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:35).
- Reconciliation has to do with the present. It occurs when the other person apologizes and accepts forgiveness. It takes two to reconcile.
- Trust has to do with the future. It deals with both what you will risk happening again and what you will open yourself up to. A person must show through his actions that he is trustworthy before you trust him again (see Matthew 3:8; Proverbs 4:23).”
The woman in my example needed to clear her thoughts, process her pain, and recognize the current condition of her marriage. She had some important decisions to make. Her husband didn’t leave her, but she also wasn’t sure he would stay committed to her. I asked her what she wanted in the relationship. What was she willing to give? Was she able to extend forgiveness, reconciliation or trust to him again?
I’d like to tell you that she chose to forgive and let it go, but when I met again with her she told me she did what some betrayed spouses do: she chose to cheat on her husband. She admitted to me it wasn’t her best decision, but she was ready now to forgive her husband (and herself), reconcile, and learn to trust again. So they began together that three-step process listed above.
If you’re in this place now, I encourage you to first decide what you really want for yourself and your relationship.
Can you forgive the other person?
Is your partner ready to reconcile what’s been lost? Are you?
The work to reconcile is challenging, but worth it. You are worth it.
Trusting is probably the hardest element in this process. Words don’t matter anymore. To gain someone’s trust again, the betrayer must prove by their behavior that they are trustworthy. And this takes time, lots and lots of time doing trustworthy things over and over again.
Are you willing to risk one more time to repair a broken relationship?
Is the other party interested and willing to rebuild with you?
Is it valuable enough?