The Cost of Forgiveness

Brad Stenberg

The wrong done by sexual sin and betrayal is a serious matter, but the forgiveness involved is more serious still. That’s because forgiveness can set in motion the healing of a relationship where truth replaces deception, and a future hope is birthed out of ashes. But there are certain costs involved.

To ask for forgiveness costs you having to bear the sting of humility and humiliation. You have to give up the defenses that protect your self-image from being morally wrong by openly admitting your failure and being exposed. It also costs you what status or power you may have had with your wife because you have to give up that position to the one you have wronged. And it costs you the uncertainty of knowing whether your wife will be willing and able to overcome the many impediments to forgiving you. This kind of betrayal can cause irreparable damage to a marriage.

As difficult as it seems for you, think what it costs your wife to forgive you.

First, she has to give up her claim to justice. She has to let go of her desire to see you get what you deserve for your sexual sin. While she experiences the painful agony of being betrayed, it seems to her that you are getting by without this pain. Instead, she has to trust and obey God’s instruction to not take vengeance or carry a grudge, but rather to love you in the Lord (Leviticus 19:18). This is not easy.

Second, the forgiving process costs your wife her sense of safety with you. The discovery of sexual unfaithfulness in one’s marriage is described by many women as being worse than having your body torn apart, or having open heart surgery without anesthesia. This kind of trauma often causes a wife to organize the entire relationship around the injury. The hurt can reemerge in an alive and intensely emotional manner, like a flashback that feels overwhelming. Though you sorrowfully admit and repent of your transgression, she finds it difficult to let it go because she never wants to be hurt like this again. So she naturally protects herself from being vulnerable.

Third, the occasion for forgiveness has cost her the loss of trust in you. You betrayed a trust that you promised to protect. Your wife now has to protect what little trust she has left. Even though she forgives you for what you did in the past, trusting you is about the future. It’s going to take some time for her to be able to trust and invest in you again. This is something you will have to earn through more than verbal reassurances. She needs to see your bold, concrete, and consistent actions over time. Feeling remorse is good, and verbal promises help, but it’s your overall attitude and actions that will win your wife’s trust back. She has to trust that you will not harm her again.

So, in most cases of sexual betrayal a wife has the heavier emotional load to carry. She has to control intrusive and obsessive thoughts about your behaviors. She has to calm the rage that screams from her pain of rejection. She has to grieve the loss of not having the marriage she thought she had. And she has to find a way to restore her lost sense of self. Meanwhile, she also has to find the strength to act in ways that are attractive to you, while risking being vulnerable and intimate again. And she has to do all this while dealing with the difficult issue of forgiving you. It’s necessary, but costly.

In contrast, you want it to be over. You’ve confessed or admitted your behavior (though perhaps only after having been caught). You’ve pledged your fidelity and commitment to be sexually pure. You feel relieved, cleansed, and ready to move on. You think it’s in your and her best interest to forgive, trust, and get over it. But it is not in your wife’s best interest to forgive and trust you too quickly because cheap grace does not produce the lasting change you both need.

It cost God His only Son to be able to say, I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).

So know and accept that the forgiveness process you and your wife are involved in will cost you both something.

For help in experiencing forgiveness and healing, we strongly encourage you to attend the New Life Weekend with your spouse.

God’s Sense of Humor

G. Mike Clark

Have you ever thought that God has a sense of humor, and this concept correlates in how we relate to our spouse, and He revealed it through His creation of us? When He designed us, God gave us a built-in design in how to relate to our wife. After we recognize the design of the architect, applied as the designer created it, it will work. If damaged over time, because of a sin in our life, it may take time for it to begin to work again, but for us men it will test our patience. We men expect instant acceptance after we ‘fall’, especially in our closest relationships, i.e. our wife, children, to accept our apologies saying, ‘we have changed’ and go on from there.

Fay and I have been married for over 28 years. During those early years I would apologize, endless times telling her, ‘I will try not to do that again,’ and I really meant it! Finally, one day she turned to me and said, “I believe that you are sorry Mike, but stop trying and do it!”

The writer of Proverbs said, ‘Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future’, (19:20 ESV). This is what she was asking me to do, ‘Listen to my heart and what I need from you, and just do it, honey.’ Why is this so complicated for us to understand sometimes? ‘Mike,the Lord said to me, ‘I gave you two ears, and one mouth, maybe I want you to listen twice as much as you speak to Fay.”

I just started reading, Safe Heaven Marriage’Building a Relationship You Want to Come Home To by Dr. Archibald D. Hart and Dr. Sharon Hart Morris. They wrote this book ”for all those who long to be emotionally connected with their spouse.’ Men, don’t we long to be emotionally connected with our spouse? They go on to say, ”couples need to feel emotionally safe, close, cherished, and respected. Only then can they intertwine their hearts and souls and become one, as God intended,’ (xiii). This is how our wife will begin to feel emotionally safe with us as we listen to their hearts, and then in time, because they feel emotionally safe with us.

In James 1: 2-8, he addresses the area of patience. Patience is an area that we men need to ask God for help. During this period of regaining ground, our wife is learning to trust us again emotionally. James says,

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (NIV).”

He goes on to say, ‘Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him,’ (James 1:12, NIV).

Let us not forget that God has given us our spouse to cherish and honor. She needs to sense that we will stop what ever we are doing at that time and ‘lend her both of our ears’. This may take some time for us to learn how, but stay focused on her and your relationship with Christ. Now, let me give you a word of encouragement to apply to your life today. Listen to God, study His Word, but do not forget to pray (speak) to Him daily. As you spend time reading Scripture daily during your quiet time, ask yourself the following question: What is the writer saying to those of us who are reading it? Not, what does it mean to me? (We will come up with all kinds of meanings.) Then, is there an application for me to apply to my life today? As we learn how to listen to God daily, it will be easier to listen to our family members beginning with our spouse.

Transparency, the Next Step Beyond Accountability

Mark Sellers

There is this old Russian joke from the Cold War days of the former Soviet Union. It goes something like this:
– ‘Moscow has only two television stations.’
– ‘Oh, really?’ someone asks.
– ‘Yes. One is the government station with the official Party line.’
– ‘Well then, what is the other?’
– ‘There’s this guy in a KGB uniform telling you to go back to the first station.’

I thought it was funny the first time I heard it, but the more I thought it through, the more I found parallels for what passes today as accountability.

The idea of accountability partners has been a staple in the Christian men’s movement for some time. Having an ‘accountability partner’ has a momentum of its own, one many of us accept without question, yet one that falls short of what I believe is really needed.

In many circles it is seen as a major piece of sexual sobriety. You and your partner meet weekly, usually at a restaurant, more often than not for breakfast. You ask each other the tough questions, ones typically pointed and direct. They often go like this:
(1) Have you been sexual with yourself, or with someone besides your spouse?
(2) Have you viewed pornography?
(3) Have you purposely lingered over sexually-suggestive programming on television and/or cable? and the real killer
(4) Are you lying to me now?

I probably have my questions around somewhere, folded up in one of my Bibles. Yet such meetings had a strange feel. I felt pressured to give good news each week to keep my partners as friends. Fortunately I know them now, and know our friendship is intact no matter what, but back in those early days our energy was wrong.

Let’s be honest. Men struggling with sexual addiction are terrible at investing in mutual relationships. We are instinctively secretive, we pull back a lot, and we give ‘happy news’ because we don’t want to be seen for who we really are. We are Marlboro Men, riding the prairie alone, keeping our worlds to ourselves.

Fortunately my partners are exceptional men, and we have pushed past accountability to a better place. We couldn’t sustain our friendship on the shaky platform of a question list. There has to be more than a KGB officer directing us back to the Party line.

Unbalanced partnerships form when one person is identified as the addict and the other is seen as the healthy one. These usually don’t survive the long haul.
I once had to console a man who was dumped by his partner because he wasn’t ‘serious.’ Certainly there are two sides here, but what killed it from the start was the lack of mutuality and its unbalanced nature.

Another time a man shared his story with his partner, and it was good. But the partner heard that the man’s wife had not been sexual with him for some years, and passed the information on to his own wife, who in turn passed it on to the man’s wife. We almost lost a marriage then and there.

One former pastor I know confided with an accountability partner about his struggle with pornography; only the partner had different ideas. The pastor wasn’t moving fast enough in his eyes, so he reported him to the other pastors. What could have been wonderful grace-driven restoration instead became a dramatic platform dismissal.

To be honest, the picture I laid out is not that bleak. God continues to move in all their stories, and they are seeing restoration despite such setbacks. More importantly, God is receiving the glory for it. Still we can do better. Accountability partnerships based solely on asking the hard questions cleans only the outside of the cup. Jesus said, ‘First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.’ (Matthew 23:26 NIV)

I suggest caution before we move into accountability relationships. We can seek out men who are also in recovery, who have had their lives broken, who are not spiritual superstars, but who will sit with us through our worst storms. We need partners who will love us even if we mess up and act out. Such men should earn our trust, and we theirs.

I suggest an even higher standard. How about ‘transparency partners.’ ‘ men with whom we can walk in the light together, experience mutual Godly fellowship and not demand an immediate external fix? God heals in our openness. We already know that (1st John 1:7). Still we must discern the wolves out there hiding in sheep’s clothing. With a transparency standard we can be mutually open, and move beyond our false selves, see the dirt inside each other’s cups, and celebrate together as God begins to clean those cups.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.