What do you do after your husband caves in to your suspicions and tells you his mistress’ name? Or when you discover the details of your wife’s affair, how do you escape the horrific hole that your heart can’t claw its way out of? When your best friend breaks down with the news of her devastated marriage, what do you say?
I would be verbally stabbing countless hurting people in the heart if I suggested a quick fix for something as serious as adultery. But recently, as I’ve counseled a number of devastated couples, I’ve given some thought to the next steps that offer a pinhole of light to those stuck in the dark tunnel of an affair.
These steps aren’t a simple process, because trust is like a tree. Trust, that nonnegotiable thing in a happy marriage, is a tree that takes years to grow; and adultery is the sharpened axe that can chop it down in a single night. You can’t duct-tape up a fallen tree in a few minutes, and you can’t restore trust with a few quick steps. Trust takes a hundred times more time than anyone wants, which requires couples to “wait for the LORD” day after day (Psalm 27:14).
However, I would suggest that the following four steps are the best work to do while you wait. I’ll share two of them with you today and two more in my next post. Here they are:
1. Get real about the wreckage
Christian people love words like grace, healing, and forgiveness. But these words are only glorious because of what, by their very definitions, came before them—guilt, hurt, and failure. Without guilt, we wouldn’t need grace. Without spiritual hurt, we wouldn’t treasure the healing wounds of Christ. Without sinful failure, we wouldn’t cling to forgiveness at the cross. The good news of the gospel must begin with the crushing news of our brokenness.
It’s the same with an affair. Before we rush to “Jesus saved adulterers” or “God wants you to forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” we need time to get real, to grieve, and to lament. We need to sit, like Job’s friends, and gaze at the horror of what has happened (Job 2:13). We need to weep over all the triggers that sin has inserted into our daily lives (the house where it happened, the phone where he flirted, the app that led to her adultery). We need to ball up our fists at all the family pictures that are now tainted by what that smiling face was hiding during that moment. We need to be more ancient Jewish than modern American and give pain the space it deserves.
Healing isn’t an instant message. Rather, it journeys on foot, crossing nauseating oceans of questions and parched deserts of pain until arriving at its final destination, our hearts.
So, get real about the wreckage of sin. This step is the first to true healing of the heart.
2. Get back to God’s grace
Broken vows have a demonically unique way of breaking our souls. When you thought you were unconditionally loved by at least one person but then discover you were not. When you watch your wife weep every day for weeks and know that you are the reason why. Those moments devastate both the cheater and the one cheated upon.
Which is why grace is so vital for healing. Paul wrote, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). The consequences of adultery are immense but never bigger than the compassion of the Almighty God. Jesus died and rose so that the cheated-on know they are forever treasured and so that cheaters know they still have more than a slight chance with God.
Given the unrelenting feelings of unworthiness and shame, I would suggest writing out your favorite passage on grace on a note card (1 John 1:9, Romans 8:1, and Jeremiah 31:34 are my favs). Tape it to your steering wheel. Stick it to your bathroom mirror. Screenshot it as your wallpaper. Keep grace as the constant reminder of what your heart will so quickly forget—God is with you and for you.
As the psalms so often remind us, God’s gracious presence is our refuge and rock. While we hope the marriage will make it, only the unconditional love of God is guaranteed. On the days when we sense the progress and the days when it feels like it’s all in vain, grace is the pillow that allows our souls to rest and recharge for the day ahead.
Adultery is evil, but it is not the end of our stories. Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, let’s ask God to do what feels impossible—to bring life out of this death, to create beauty from these ashes, to replace this shame with his grace once again.
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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