4 steps after adultery (Part 3)

Have you ever had to grit your way through rehab?

Back in college, I collapsed my right lung in a freak soccer accident. A routine play burst a hole right through the tissue, turning my every breath into an agonizing groan. After surgery stapled my lung shut, I had to rebuild my strength by breathing into this plastic contraption for weeks until eventually my body regained its former strength.

Adultery is a little bit like that day on the soccer field. It blows a hole in a vital part of your life, making every breath/thought/minute a painful experience. To recover, you need more than a quick outpatient surgery. You need rehab. That daily, uncomfortable, don’t-really-want-to-do-it kind of behavior.

In my last two blog posts, Part 1 and Part 2, I laid out the first three steps you should take after an affair. Here’s my final step, my plan for your relationship rehab: 

Choose “You First!”

“You First!” is my two-word way of describing Christian love. Putting another person ahead of yourself (Philippians 2:1-4). Treating another as you would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). At the root of every strong relationship, including those recovering from infidelity, is the daily habit called “You First!”

Which is simple on paper but almost impossible in practice.

Relationship rehab is miserable. Like someone relearning to walk, it is so frustrating not to be able to do the things that were so easy to do in the past. Before adultery, you could go on a date without the long stretches of silence. You could watch a show without every onscreen kiss triggering revolting memories. You could talk about nothing and everything without those swirling thoughts of bitterness and betrayal. In the months after an affair, saying, “You First!” makes turning water into wine seem like child’s play.

What’s easier, exponentially easier, is to keep your distance from your spouse. Skip the date. Stay late at work. Occupy yourself with the kids. Grab your phone and hide in another room. Forget about her wants. Ignore his needs. Avoid the hurt by avoiding the one who hurt you.

But, brother/sister, that’s the wide road that inevitably leads to marital destruction. The only possible way to heal that gaping hole in the lungs of your marriage is to say, “You First!”

Even before you want to!

You won’t feel any affection in those early days. If anything, you’ll feel like a hypocrite for faking it. But don’t let that dissuade you. That’s like refusing to do rehab because it doesn’t feel good to move. No, you make those painful movements so that, one day, you can walk, run, sprint without the sharp pains of the past. 

One day, you’ll eat dinner without anger. One day, you’ll get through the entire date without a fight. One day, you’ll miss him. One day, you’ll kiss her. And like it!

That might seem impossible just now, but nothing is impossible with God. Listen to Peter’s words: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:3,4). Divine power. Everything you need. Your calling. His glory. Very great and precious promises. These gifts, which are all yours through your Savior, are the strength you need to start your rehab.

No, God doesn’t guarantee every marriage will make it. Sometimes this sin damages things behind repair (Matthew 5:32). But if you want to make it work, then righteous rehab is your daily path.

Eighteen years ago, that soccer ball threatened to end my athletic career. Thankfully, the rehab worked and I came back to finish college with the two best seasons of my collegiate years. These days I have the scars to remind me of that fateful day. But beneath them are lungs that are better than they used to be.

If infidelity has taken your breath away, I am asking our Father to give you the grace to start your rehab today. To say, “You First!” to a person who doesn’t deserve it. To love.

Just like the Jesus who loved you first, even when it hurt.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as the lead speaker for Time of Grace, where he shares the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.

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