When I learned about my husband’s secrets 15 years ago, I thought forgiving him would make the whole problem go away.
I tried to understand exactly what had happened that led Jason to choose sexual intimacy with pornography and other women rather than with me. But his response was “It’s in the past, it’s over. Let’s move on.”
I believed forgiveness was my ticket to moving on. So that’s exactly what I did. I forgave — or at least I thought I had — without even knowing exactly what I was forgiving.
A year later, I realized my heart — my poor heart — was so bitter. It was resentful, wounded and holding hatred toward my husband. There was no way I had really forgiven him. That realization started me digging deeper into forgiveness, something I continue to do in my personal life as well as with the women I help. Below are three faulty beliefs I grappled with and that I witness others with a similar story wrestling with.
Myth No. 1: Forgiving quickly is important
I forced myself to “forgive” quickly because that’s what I thought all good Christian wives are supposed to do. I thought I could circumvent the grieving process and the pain — and skip right to the happily ever after.
But forgiveness doesn’t work that way.
I realized that hasty forgiveness isn’t authentic forgiveness. It often has serious and negative implications. For starters, saying “I forgive you” too soon caused me to stuff my pain and negative emotions. Instead of stuffing, I needed to use these difficult emotions in a positive way: to process them, express them and ultimately heal from them by working through them. While the obedience and willingness to forgive can occur initially out of faith in a forgiving Christ, the emotional process should not be rushed.
Not only is it important for the wife to process emotions instead of burying them, it’s also important for the husband to see his wife’s pain. Jason now mentors couples through recovery, and he’s noticed that husbands who witness their wife’s pain are strongly motivated to avoid relapse. This has proved true for Jason as well. Observing my deep, ugly struggle has definitely helped him battle his integrity issues.
Forgiveness is not quick and easy; it’s a winding road with many peaks and valleys. It takes hard work to grow from identifying feelings of betrayal and hurt to releasing the pain and resentment, and then moving to true forgiveness.
Myth No. 2: Forgiveness means the recovery process is over
Another faulty notion is that once husbands receive their wife’s forgiveness, they have permission to put the whole thing behind them. Once she forgives him, the grueling and costly process of repairing a damaged marriage is complete. He can finally move forward with the relief of having all his skeletons out of the closet.
This assumption misses an important truth: Forgiveness does not necessarily equate to reconciliation. Husbands who believe this myth miss out on doing the difficult but redemptive work of behavior and character growth.
This myth also puts a lot of undue pressure on the wife, and pressure is the last thing she needs. For the betrayer to put the responsibility of saving the marriage on the betrayed is unfair. Instead, the wife needs space and time to grieve, to process.
Forgiveness doesn’t mark the end of the recovery process, nor does it mean the wife has chosen to reconcile. Rather, it’s a significant and necessary milestone toward healing.
Myth No. 3: Withholding forgiveness ensures the husband’s commitment to recovery
A valid concern about forgiveness is that once the wife forgives her husband, he won’t continue in his recovery efforts. However, withholding forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that he will pursue sexual integrity.
This myth enables the wife to feel as though she has more control and influence in her husband’s recovery than she actually does. Early on, wives are looking for safety and security, and this perceived control gives them a sense of security. But delaying the forgiveness process causes the wife to not experience the deep freedom and peace that comes with forgiveness.
The truth is none of us can force our husbands to commit to the process of recovery. We can’t control their choices. But we can set boundaries, express our pain and communicate to our husbands that we expect faithfulness. And ultimately, we can start our own journey toward healing.
Realizing I hadn’t actually forgiven Jason was one of the most hopeless feelings I’ve ever experienced. I feared I was too far-gone, that maybe forgiveness would never work for me. But now I see that painful moment was a significant turning point in my healing process.
Shelley Martinkus is a writer, speaker and group facilitator helping women with a story similar to her own. Her first book, Rescued, is a guide to help women survive and thrive after sexual betrayal.
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