Jim sits across from his wife, Kim, who is sobbing deeply. They are each trying to find words that will help them go forward.
It's been three months since Jim confessed to Kim his adulterous behavior with two different women. It's been two months since Kim learned that she knows one of the women. Jim had initially decided he didn’t want to hurt Kim by telling her it was her friend Bonnie. But he later decided nothing but the entire truth would begin releasing them from the deceit that was destroying them.
Today, as they sit across from each other, Jim has already said he's sorry and asked Kim to forgive him. He has tearfully promised he will never do it again. Kim is full of emotion, but still very emotionally disconnected from Jim. She knows she loves him, yet she is plagued by a disturbing lack of peace. Why hasn’t forgiving him brought her heart to rest? The two have agreed to stay together and to negotiate the problems. They both know Kim must once again trust Jim, but how? Why is she still in so much pain?
In order to successfully navigate the road to reconciliation, Kim and Jim must overcome four essential hurdles. If you and your spouse are trying to rebuild your relationship after an affair, you will most likely face these same hurdles. Awareness and understanding of the challenges that lie ahead can be your first step toward recovery.
Many people mistakenly think that adultery is simply a wrong action, but it is also a violation of God’s divine order for marriage. A person who has had an affair must seek his spouse's forgiveness, not just for the adulterous act, but also for violating the marriage covenant, or sacred commitment. An intact marriage covenant creates an atmosphere of security and trust. That security and trust is what Kim needs in order to give herself freely to Jim. Only a restored sense of security and trust, borne of Jim asking and receiving forgiveness for breaking the covenant, can begin to restore Kim's confidence, peace and joy.
It is important to realize that a wounded spouse, such as Kim, will struggle with multiple issues. On one hand, her own sexual identity has become confused. Because of Jim’s act of immorality Kim finds herself asking deep in her soul, What is wrong with me that he would want someone else? There is also the issue of shame emerging in her spirit: shame that he would want any other woman, and especially that it was her friend Bonnie. How could it be Bonnie? Bonnie of all people! Another facet of Kim's struggle is her confusion over her lack of peace. Although she has forgiven Jim's acts, she needs to process and eventually forgive him for the ways she has been affected by his violation of their marriage vows.
On the surface, it may appear that one's behavior is the problem, and that a promise "to change" is the solution. However, the real problem with someone like Jim is the fact that in his mind, he granted himself permission to break his marriage vows. To address only his behavior and overlook this issue of permission will leave both Kim and Jim in limbo. Without getting to the real problem, both spouses are destined to continue feeling as though something is wrong, but neither will understand what. They will limp along, wondering why their relationship is so tentative and distant.
This ties in closely with Hurdle #1. Once a marital covenant has been breached, trust will be difficult — but necessary — to restore. Without trust, a couple cannot know intimacy. To set the stage for restored trust, Jim must be able to humbly admit that he is unable to manage his sin or keep his promises, and that he is deeply addicted to the pleasure of sin. At that point, he will be in a position to receive God's freeing grace and empowerment to choose differently. By being humble and openly dependent on God, Jim will also be putting himself in a position where Kim can begin to trust him again. As renewed trust grows between them, the couple will be able to enjoy rich intimacy, true fulfillment and sustaining joy.
By conquering these hurdles together, hurting spouses can overcome the damage of infidelity. By learning to trust God in a new, much deeper way, they can enjoy a stronger, more fulfilling marriage.