Guilt, Surviving Adultery and Divorce

When to Call it Quits

As I look back over the years of adultery and divorce, one of the most difficult things I had to do was to discern when to call it quits in my marriage. As a Christian, I was raised knowing that marriage is a sacred covenant between man and God, a commitment to love and cherish for as long as we both shall live. Divorce was never a word I allowed to enter into my vocabulary. I never dreamed that I would be a statistic.

After the revelation of my husband’s affair, I made the decision to fight for my marriage—to extend forgiveness and let God make our marriage better than ever. For about six months, I fought to regain trust, to forgive, to put bitterness behind me. But, I eventually realized that I was the only one fighting for the marriage.

My prayers began to change. “Lord, please show me if I need to hang in here and fight,” I would beg Him. The answer, in my mind, was silence. My friends who were close to me and the situation began to tell me that God was showing them it was time for me to walk away. But, I couldn’t hear God saying that. After all, have you ever heard a sermon where the pastor tells you to throw in the towel? Never…and I would never want to hear a pastor say that. God can heal every marriage, but He doesn’t always. Therein is the struggle of God’s sovereignty vs man’s free will.

I struggle with whether to even throw this out, and I am certain that there will be negative backlash to it. However, I do believe that God does give permission to walk away in the case of marital unfaithfulness. When you know that your spouse has been unfaithful, when you have the undeniable proof or admission of guilt, I encourage you to give God and forgiveness a chance. However, when you have done all you know to do, when you’ve prayed all you can pray, when your closest, most godly advisors are telling you to walk away, and yet you can’t hear God telling you that it is ok…then, consider the list below.

(I will use the pronoun “he” only for simplicity; I realize that for every man who cheats, there is a woman also involved.)

Has the unfaithful spouse admitted to his sins?  My gut reaction was to protect my husband, and I made the mistake of keeping his transgression private. I allowed him to hide from the truth of his actions, and, therefore, continue in a life of secrecy. But, confession of sins is vital to repentance. Depending upon the circumstances, it is not necessary for the unfaithful spouse to tell everyone you know. However, it is essential that he admits the truth to those closest to you—children (if age appropriate), parents, close family members. In my case, my ex-husband should have been willing to confess to the church because it was directly impacted by his actions.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Is your spouse allowing you to express your hurt? To process the betrayal, you must be able to talk about it. You must be able to express the multitude of emotions with which you are dealing. Keeping it all bottled up inside will damage both of you. For the first six weeks or so after my husband’s affair was discovered, he was fairly open to me talking about my emotions. However, I soon began to hear, “You are going to hold this over my head for the rest of our lives, aren’t you?” My response was to shut my mouth and bottle it up. The offending spouse, if truly repentant, will understand that he has done great damage to you and will be willing to hear your heart ache. He will realize that your pain is a consequence of his actions, and will be willing to endure for your sake. I am not saying that your spouse should be the only one you talk about these feelings with, and it most definitely should not be the only topic of discussion. But, there will be times when you will need to talk about it with the one who has caused the pain. He should be willing to listen and cry with you, understanding that he is responsible and accepting that responsibility.

Does the offending spouse allow you to check up on him? When a spouse has been unfaithful, trust has been completely shattered. You no longer trust anything your spouse says. You will find yourself checking on him to see if he really is with Dan. Is he really at the office? He said he was going to run by the bookstore; I wonder if he is really there? He said he was going to the gym, but I wonder if that was an excuse to see her? If your spouse is truly repentant, he will understand that you need to allay your fears by checking on him. He will gladly hand the phone to Dan so you will know he really is with Dan. He will allow you to drive over to meet him at the bookstore. If he is going to be late, he will gladly call you and let you know why he is late and how long it will be. He will do whatever is necessary to help you rebuild trust.

Is he willing to go and participate in individual and joint counseling? If your spouse had an affair, you need an impartial and experienced third party to help you navigate the murky waters. Perhaps it is a pastor at your church or your church may recommend a licensed counselor. Whatever qualified person you can find will be an essential step to your healing. The counselor can help you both see areas where you need to surrender to God and change your thinking. He will help you discuss touchy issues that you might otherwise find difficult to discuss. My husband and I found a godly couple who had successfully navigated the waters of adultery (he was a former pastor). Although I faithfully met with her, my husband refused to meet with him after he suggested that at some point my husband needed to apologize to the congregation he had been pastoring. I eventually sought out a licensed Christian counselor who told me it was time to divorce. At that point my husband forbade me to return. I knew the end was near.

Is your spouse sharing with you? Do you know your spouse’s passwords? Is his phone off-limits to you? Does he regularly try to keep his computer away from you? After several months of trying to keep things together, I found that my husband never had any incoming or out-going calls listed on his phone. He only used a work computer, and I did not have access to it. Caller ID was always blank. Although her husband and I communicated regularly, they had become very adept at hiding things from us. Phone calls did not register on the phone bill if they went to voicemail. A new business line was a convenient way to communicate. Rather than using a computer, he was using his cell phone and keeping the history wiped out. If there is anything suspicious, you need to confront. You need to express your concerns and consider if he is hiding something from you.

Is he spending time alone with God? God is the Healer. He is the one who can help your spouse change his ways. He is the One who sets the prisoner free. If your spouse is not making time alone with God a priority, if he is not taking the family to church, if he is not stepping into the role of spiritual leader (men only), then you need to wonder if he is seriously repentant. My husband actively took us to church as a family for about eight weeks after the revelation of his affair. He then suddenly lost all interest in church and even told me he did not miss it one bit. I now know that the timeline of quitting church corresponds with the exact time he began to communicate with her again.

Is he accusing you of the same sins he committed? I had an opportunity for an affair about nine months after his affair was revealed—and I found myself awfully close to the fire. However, I ultimately decided to walk away. Suddenly, I was the one sneaking around to see a man—any man that even said hello to me. If I went to the store, I was actually going to meet a man—even though I came home with a car full of groceries and a receipt to show where I had been. If I went out walking, I was just walking to the corner and then getting picked up by a man—just as he had done for several years. When I was working a night shift at the hospital, I was really with someone at their house. All of the things he had done were suddenly projected onto me. In my opinion, he was looking for a way to shift the blame from himself and onto me. He was unwilling to take responsibility for his actions.

Is he taking the lead on healing the marriage? About six months into our attempted reconciliation, I reached a place where I realized I was the only one putting any effort into healing the marriage. That was the moment I took off my wedding ring and vowed never to put it back on my finger until I saw him working at healing. The offending spouse—if truly repentant—will be willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the marriage together, to give you security. And there is no timeframe for when it ends; it ends when death separates you. After months of enduring, I gave one last chance: I told him I would go to counseling but he needed to take the lead and call the counselor. He could not comprehend why it was his responsibility to call the counselor and schedule the appointment. He refused to make an appointment, and that is when I made an appointment with a divorce attorney.

Is he willing to accept the consequences of his actions? All of the above illuminates this point, but I must re-iterate it. Please understand…you must be willing to love, respect, and forgive. You must not hold it over his head. You must be working to get closer to Christ and allow Him to show you the sin in your own heart. If you are doing all of that and he is unwilling to accept the consequences—broken trust, lack of security, emotional distress—then there is a problem. You must not allow this problem to be swept under the rug and not be dealt with. If you are going to endure the pain, then you want your marriage to go from good to great—as we all know God can do. Just because you forgive does not mean there are no consequences.

I know how difficult it is to hear God say that it is ok for you to walk away from your covenant marriage. I know the emotional distress as you strive to hear His voice telling you that He understands. I know how badly you want to hang in there, to fight, to not let go because you made a commitment. And, for some of you, God will tell you to hang in there a little longer—and He will resurrect your marriage from the dead.

However, there are others of you who have endured such tremendous pain and anguish. You’ve done everything you can do. You’ve prayed all you can pray. You are seeing the signs that your spouse is not truly repentant—perhaps, like my husband, continuing in his adulterous ways. God may just be telling you that it is ok for you to walk away. Some of you may find that by walking away, your spouse wakes up and is truly repentant. Others, like me, may end up divorced and five years down the road and still see no repentance. I’m not here to tell anyone to walk away—especially if you sense God is telling you to hang in there. But, for those of you who are struggling to make the decision, I hope that the above guidelines may help provide clarity in your decision.

(By the way, I know there will be those people who tell you that divorce is never appropriate for God’s holy, chosen people. While God says he hates divorce in Malachi, I believe it is because He hates the pain that His children must endure because of divorce. He also clearly says that divorce is wrong except in the case of marital unfaithfulness… Hold your heads high and know that He loves you no matter what! And, I love you too!!)

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14 thoughts on “When to Call it Quits”

  1. This is amazing… I too struggled with making the decision to walk away from a marriage that had years of infedelity. I thought it wasn’t the Christian thing to do and that I had to keep on trying even if my husband wasn’t. It wasn’t until my pastor told me that I was flogging a dead horse that I realised I had done all I good do and that it was okay to walk away. It’s something I have never regretted. I tried for eight long years before I made that decision but it was the right time to make it.

    1. I am so glad that you have found peace! There are those who say we should hang in there no matter what, but I believe God truly set me free! It has been difficult, and I occasionally still have moments of wondering what would have happened if I had hung in there. But, my life is so full and God has done so much in me through this time that I know I made the right decision. God is good…all the time!

  2. This was an encouraging read being newly divorced. While I tried keeping the marriage together but it did not work. The marriage counselor told me he could not fix a marriage with only one person showing up. Marriage counseling turned in to individual counseling. I wrestled with divorcing my ex b/c I didnt want to be abandon…again! My ex and I were together for a long time and I have dealt with and accepted a lot from him. I threw in the towel when he told me he didnt want to be seen with me around the city. I felt lower than low. I had done nothing to to deserve this from him. So yes, I threw in thw towel on those few words (even though I found out so much more he was doing and accusing me of doing). He has said many hurtful things to me but not one time tell me what he simply liked about me. I believe the word of God as truth and from the abundance of the heart his mouth spoke! So I threw in the towel and now trying to find my way with God as my guide. We have to press forward in spite of what happened to us. Our strength and courage come from God. Our faith is Him who keeps us covered. We have been called to walk in forgiveness (I know its not easy but it’s right). So I have decided that “because of my faith in God I can face my departure with confidence!” Have a beautiful day.

    1. Monica, I hear myself in so much you say! Yes, you have a beautiful future! God WILL take your pile of ashes and turn them into beauty beyond measure! Keep your eyes on Him, and let Him guide you into His plans for your life.

      1 Peter 5:10 has been such a source of encouragement for me! The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.

      God bless!

  3. Thanks! Very timely!
    I am struggling with this exact situation.
    Initially he went to one counselling session but mocked it behind my back, then I was told ‘it was none of my business’ and he didn’t owe me an explanation. Now he just doesn’t talk to me at all. (Emails and texts about kids and money)
    I put into motion the child support, house sale and property settlement, all the official paperwork. Only thing left is to actually divorce. Had thought he might take the lead due to other people’s influences but no. It feels so wrong to initiate divorce but I also feel like I can’t move on. It’s well over a year since I found out and seven months since we spoke. I think maybe I should take back some of the control I lost.
    My pastor said to me right at the beginning, once a covenant has been broken, it no longer exists and I am released…
    Many things to think about.

    1. People often quote from Malachi 2 when they talk about God hating divorce. The context of that passage, however, is that of the spouse who has chosen infidelity, broken the covenant. I do believe that God calls some people to stay with their spouse. In those situations, He heals the marriage and He gets the glory for resurrecting a marriage from the dead. I rejoice with those who have been called to stay and have seen miracles in their lives.

      But, I also believe that God releases some of us from our covenant. He needs some of us to experience the pain of divorce so that we can minister to others, so that we can comfort others with the comfort He gives us. And, He restores our lives through new experiences, through new life, through new opportunities for ministry. He does miracles in our lives, too, and He gets the glory–even though it may not look the way some believe it should look.

      I was the one to initiate divorce. I decided that I was valuable. I decided that I would no longer be controlled by this man who claimed to love me and yet lived as if I was nothing but an object to gratify his lusts. I decided that had too much self-respect to continue being used and abused. I decided that it was time to show my kids that I was a strong lady who deserved better.

      I have never regretted it…

      Praying God makes your path clear!

  4. I was prompted to direct you to psalm 37. I pray that it brings you comfort in your spiritual journey. God bless you.

  5. This is exactly where I am at, not sure of what God is saying, my husband says he loves me and he wants his family but yet he still talks to this other person, she has no problem sharing him. Please pray that God gives me wisdom. I have forgiven so much..

    1. HE MUST CUT OFF ALL CONTACT WITH HER. No exceptions. I hate to be harsh, but as long as he is still communicating with her, you cannot heal your marriage.

      You are in a tough situation, and your heart is broken. The betrayal of your trust, of the deepest and most intimate areas of your life is beyond comprehension. You are scared–scared to moved forward with him and without him. But, you must tell him that it is you or her. She must be out of his life no matter what the cost.

      One thing I have come to realize is that there is a huge difference between love and lust. Lust is a greed, a what’s in it for me, self-centered attitude. Love is always focused on the best for the other person, always an action, always giving. (I encourage you to read Galatians 5 in The Message at biblegateway.com for the easiest way to find it). My marriage was a one-way street. His “love” was in so many ways actually a lust–a desire to get his needs/wants/desires met at all costs. That is far from the love that God intended for us to experience.

      Lord Jesus, my heart aches for my friend as she tries to hear your voice in the midst of the chaos of her life. You know that her desire is to be obedient, to experience the abundant life you came to give. Give her godly friends and advisors who can help her see your will. Give her clarity and peace about her future and the direction she should go. I pray for her husband’s repentance, that he would recognize the gift he has and change his direction. But, should he choose to continue in his sinful ways, I pray for you protection and provision over Donna. Show her clearly that you are her Great I AM, the One who will carry her through the desert and into a beautiful future prepared just for her. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

  6. I found your blog through Encouragement for Today. I’ve read a few posts. It has been balm for my soul. I’m in a difficult marriage with children living as a single Mom. Your words have spoken to a place in my heart that desperately needed clarification. Thank you for putting yourself out there. It has helped me greatly this morning.

    1. While I am so sorry for the pain you are experiencing, I am so grateful that God could use my words to offer a little encouragement. I don’t know your specifics, but He is El Roi–the God who sees. He sees your hurt. He sees your pain. He sees your fear. He sees your confusion. And, He sees your heart. He knows your desire to be obedient, and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

      Lord Jesus, I lift my friend Shannon to you today. I hear her hurt. I hear her pain. I pray, Lord, that you would give her your peace that surpasses all understanding. We know that you are the God of peace and not confusion. Giver her the supernatural wisdom to know what you would have her to do and the strength and courage to walk in obedience. Pour out your blessings on her today.

  7. Although I have not experienced infidelity in the same way that you have, I have found out several times that my husband was looking at pornography. There was also a short affair with his secretary but there was no sex involved; only kissing. (He took a lie detector test.) He has continuously lied to me about many small things. (I didn’t know he dipped tobacco until 15 years after we were married. Even though I have not experienced infidelity in the literal sense, it feels the same. The most difficult part is that he has always treated me really well ( buying gifts, helping around the house, etc.) Although he appears to be sorry when he gets caught, he never admits anything out of remorse, but only when he knows he has been ‘caught” and there is no alternative. The first time I found out, I was extremely painful, but as time went on and I have found one secret after another,I have become almost numb.I am struggling with the decision of divorce, because I have two girls that are ten and thirteen. I would appreciate any thoughts,prayers,or suggestions that you may have to offer.

    1. Oh, sweet friend! What you have experienced IS betrayal! Perhaps he hasn’t “gone all the way” yet, but he has betrayed your trust in the deepest, most intimate ways. He vowed to forsake all others, and he is choosing to get as close to the fire as possible without getting burned. It’s a dangerous path. Jesus said, “if anyone has even looked at a woman and lusted, he has already committed adultery in his heart.” Your husband is going down the path toward a full-blown affair. He is trusting that you will let him have his little indulgences and still be there for him. He is not repentant of his actions–only sorry he’s been caught. My husband never confessed, either. He hid until he got caught, and his “repentance” was very short-lived. My husband took the walk…indulging in pornography, daydreaming about this woman, making efforts to spend time with her, a brief encounter of kissing. Eventually, it culminated in a full-blown, two-year long affair before he was caught. Then, he added online dating–all while we were trying to keep our marriage together. If I could change one thing, I would go back and give him an ultimatum LONG before it reached that final point. Would it have changed things? I don’t know. But, I was too scared–no job, knew we would lose our ministry, scared what others would think. Today, I know my God is big enough to handle it all!! You are in my prayers, and I am always available by email at denasdevos@yahoo.com for private interactions. Praying God gives you peace and complete confidence in the direction he leads!!

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