Is there a statue of limitations on the “exception clause” for divorce?

Is it ever okay to divorce someone? If so, when? If not, why not? Those are interesting questions. I remember discussing them in various ethics and ministry classes. We’d sit around and talk about the relative merits of the various views, exegete the “exception” clause(s) in the Bible, and wrestle with difficult situations like spousal abuse and long-term neglect. Those were some fun discussions.

Discussing the same questions in your living room with someone whose marriage is falling apart, that’s something else entirely.

I’ve recently run across some questions about divorce that were new to me, though I’m sure they’re not unique, and I’m having a difficult time deciding on the appropriate response. So, I thought I’d throw the situation out there and see what you all think about it. Take a look at the following scenario and let me know how you would respond. (Obviously, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to put the details of another person’s struggle on a public blog. So, I’ve changed the names and conflated some of the details with other scenarios I’ve encountered over the years.)

The Scenario

  1. Jack and Jill have been married for quite a while and they have three children under the age of thirteen. Early on, Jack developed a problem with pornography and has struggled with sexual addiction for many years. He’d gotten caught a few times over the years. And, each time he’d sincerely promise that he’d stop, but quickly lapse into the same destructive patterns.
  2. Three years ago, his problems with pornography culminated in a brief affair. He hit bottom at this point, finally recognized his need for God’s grace to deliver him from this addiction, and began the healing process. The last three years have been transformative and he is now a completely different person. God’s grace is good.
  3. Realizing that healing requires honesty, Jack told Jill about the affair shortly after it happened and in the following months revealed to her the full depths of his sexual addiction. That was, of course, quite painful for both of them. But, although Jill was hurt and angry, she decided to stay. For the last three years, he has been in counseling regularly, and she’s seen a counselor occasionally. But they did not pursue counseling together, thinking that they needed to work on their individual issues first.
  4. A short time ago, Jill asked for a divorce. Jack has not had any relapses. Nonetheless, Jill has come to the conclusion that she’ll never really be able to get past all that has happened and truly love Jack as a husband again. Jack wants the marriage to work and has tried to get Jill to agree to talking with a pastor or counselor to work more actively on their marriage. But, since the affair, Jill has not shown any desire to seek help in restoring the marriage, and she is now firm in her decision to leave.

The Questions

How would you handle this situation? Suppose that Jill is your friend and she’s come to you for advice. How would you have counseled her three years ago? If she’d asked for a divorce then, would you have supported that decision? If not, why not? And, How would you counsel her now? Is it any different from what you’d have said three years ago? Does it make any difference that he’s such a changed person now? If you think that the Bible allows divorce when infidelity is involved (i.e. the famous “exception clause” in Mt. 19:9), how long does the exception last? Is there a statue of limitations on the exception clause? Or, could a divorce five or even ten years later be justified on the basis of this exception?

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

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About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on June 21, 2011, in Ministry, Pastoral Theology. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I’m pretty quick to work out how I feel about things and why. My husband is not. It took him 3 years to just to realize how hurt he was by the situation at our previous church. Not sure anyone can justify telling someone how to grieve and when they should be finished grieving.

    I would recommend regular counseling now for the wife, not with the goal to fix the marriage, but with the goal to be able to move forward, toward healing. Three years ago I would have suggested the same thing. I wonder if wife avoided counseling 3 yrs ago suspecting the agenda would have been focused on “fixing the marriage” instead of helping her heal. But eventually, joint counseling should have been part of the process.

    And I would have suggested going to professional counselors, not pastoral staff.

    And it takes longer than 3 yrs to really know if someone is a changed person…in the meantime, the wife has to trust the change, …and once something is broken, it’s not fully functional or as strong as before. It may be mended or healed, but there is still a mark, a scar, a hairline.

    • Yes, the reason that they didn’t pursue marriage counseling right away was because they were advised that they both had stuff to work through as individuals before they could even hope to process the issues in their marriage. But, they never got past that point so they could begin addressing things together.

  2. Hard questions.

    I believe that healing is possable, for both parties individualy, as well as together in marriage.

    My advice 3 years ago would be the same as now: counseling and boundaries in the relationship are necessary to heal.

    At this point, I would ask Jill to take her counseling in a more intentional place. The occasional counseling may not be helping fully. This would be my advice regardless of decisions to devorce or not. She needs to heal.

    I would also suggest Jill find a godly woman friend with whom she can talk and pray with regarding this step in Her life. I value community, and I do think that there is a chance her decision to divorce may be birthed out of a sort of isolation in her hurt.

    I would also suggest that Jack find the same male relationship.

    Perhaps a step to immediately take would be for Jill to take a retreat week, away from work, family, Jack, and intentionaly be in her hurt before and with God. I would like to see her take this retreat with a woman she can trust to be with her and guide her to the healing and grace and person of jesus again and again.

    In all of this, I would reassure her that she should feel hurt. There is not a quick solution, nor is this easy. Ultimately, she must decide if divorce is the road she must take. I would always be her friend, no matter the decisions, and I think it is right for her friends to protect and defend her choices as needed.

    However, I do think that at this mark divorce should be a long term decision, and that that decision needs to be made only after Jill has more support and some I tentional time for her own healing. That may mean seperation from Jack for a time.

    Hard situation, as I said. There are no easy things in hard situations.

    • Thanks Aaron. I know one of my concerns in this process is how quickly everything has been moving since Jill first said that she wanted a divorce. Time away to process and heal would probably be a great idea.

  3. There is a difference between one who has committed adultery, is repentant and contrite, and is endeavoring to restore the marriage — and one who is living in adultery and is unrepentant. The latter case may justify a divorce, but I do not think the former does.

    In this case, three years ago the husband was repentant and contrite and committed to restoring the marriage — I don’t think divorce would have been biblically justified then. Three years later, the husband has followed through with his repentance and commitment and has not relapsed. It has proven to be difficult for the wife, but I do not think that divorce is biblically justified — nor do I think that divorce will solve the wife’s problem.

    Though the former adultery was not hers, the marriage is as much hers as it is his. He has been committed to restoring it; she should be just as committed as he is. He has gone to counseling regularly, and it has apparently been helpful. She has gone only occasionally — perhaps if she went more she might come to the conclusion that she WILL really be able to get past all that has happened and truly love him as a husband.

    • Jeff, what about the previous struggles with pornography and sexual addiction? Isn’t that a form of infidelity as well? If a person continually falls and expresses what looks like sincere “repentance,” only to do the same thing again, is she justified in finally saying “enough” and walking away?

      • Sure, it is a form of infidelity, and in Jack’s case, it led to a physical adulterous relationship. If it is ongoing, that is if he continues in it and is unrepentant, perhaps that may justify divorce. But in the scenario as presented to us, Jack has worked steadily at addressing the problem and is committed to restoring the relationship, with the result that “the last three years have been transformative and he is now a completely different person.” Does not look to me as if he continually falls or that his repentance has been hollow or ineffectual. I don’t think divorce is warranted or justified by what was previous. What is past is past. However, if the adulterous ways continue without any true repentance, then divorce would not be inappropriate.

      • Not according to Jesus’ math on forgiveness…though obviously it is easy to say that and so much harder to put into practice. Just this morning, I read I Timothy 1:16 where Paul says, “But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.” I was struck by the phrase “utmost patience”–and the need to work on that in my own life.

        One key factor is whether Jill is committed to following Jesus. If she isn’t, divorce can make a lot of sense. I had an awful marriage filled with hurt and pain for years. We got to the brink of divorce, and staying was the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever done. It was like an emotional crucifixion. In my case, healing came slowly but it did come [in part through counseling]. 20 years have passed since that crisis and we are both incredibly grateful we stuck it out because the deep hurts have gone away and our relationship has been restored 100-fold.

    • Jeff, you said “whats past is past”, and while it is true that Jack may be a different person, we can not ignore the fact that he damaged the marriage relationship, violated covenant, and that the damage (while occurring in the past) has results and consequences that are very much here and now.

      No matter how much he changes, the effects of his sin in the life of his family has far reaching implications and cannot be swept under the rug as “past”. Yes, he has changed and has showmen his repentance be altering his behavior. Now, he needs to see that dealing with the effects (restitution) is part of his process of healing. That may mean letting Jill be healed through a divorce if she cannot find or accept healing in this broken relationship.

      • Jill will not be healed through divorce. One is not healed *through* divorce but must healed *from* divorce because divorce takes what has been wounded and amputates it.

        I do not think the divorce exception Jesus made for adultery was intended as a hold card that can be pulled out at any time forever after. Though Jack was at one point in an adulterous relationship, he no longer lives in adultery. He is committed to the marriage and has worked hard at restoring it. What has she done for the sake of the marriage? To divorce him now after three years, over something that he has truly repented of and changed, is an excuse, not a reason.

  4. I believe the first thing to say is that divorce is not a unforgivable sin. It appears that there is a level of deep trauma that has happened in learning of the betrayal. For Jill learning of the betrayal of 3 years ago, its like it happened yesterday… so in this sense there is no statue of limitations.

    And while a literal reading of the Gospels appears that Jesus speaks of one clause for divorce – note Luke is not actually speaking of divorce as such (Rather is slapping the religious leaders in the face telling them they have divorced God for money) and nor does Jesus address the fact that woman had the right to divorce their husbands if they failed to provide intimacy, shelter and provision. – rather his teaching seems to be addressing the issue of one particular situation regarding the husband wanting to get rid of his wife for any reason.

    A deep issue to consider in the counselling process is to consider if we believe the “Marriage” is more important than the health of the “Individual” If we believe the “Marriage” is more important we will want to see the partners come together no matter what cost.

    However if we consider the needs and hurts of the individuals and help them to heal – perhaps then the marriage may survive.

  5. Craig, I think one of my questions in this has been how to know when it’s time to move from the individual to the marriage. The counsel that the couple received early on was that they needed to heal as individuals first. If the marriage is going to work, there has to be a time when the two can come together again and start healing the marriage. But, it seems that Jill was never able to get over the hurt of the betrayal and start working on the marriage again. (And, we should also recognize that the issues in the marriage ran far deeper than just one infidelity. Patterns of behavior that took years to develop, can’t be fixed quickly.)

    • I missed that question.

      The only way the counselling can move forward from an individualistic healing to that within coming together as a couple is when both couples truly believe that they can trust the other enough to do so.

      Abusive behaviour tends to happen on a cyclic basis and though forgiveness is key – there is a huge difference between forgiving someone and trusting them. In regards to her husbands confession – I think wisdom is needed regarding the timing of such a confession and the reason behind the confession. What was the reason for his confession at that time – was it to bring healing and accountability into the marriage – or to get it off his chest… and then demand forgiveness.

  6. I want to share my perspective as a woman who has also had a troubled marriage. While infidelity was never an issue in my marriage there were other issues that could be argued to fall under other exception clauses. First to get it out of the way I don’t think there is a statute of limitation on the exceptions clauses so I don’t think that she should stay in the marriage because to do otherwise would be a positive sin. But I also don’t think that should be the question Jill should be asking herself. Jesus calls us not to avoid sin but to a more exacting and encompassing standard of the law of love, to fist love God absolutely and then to love others as ourselves. So I would council Jill to consider what God, from His own perspective, would think was in her best interest. As one of my favorite pastors says God’s goal is not for us to be happy but for us to be more like His Son. A big part of that is learning to understand love more as God understands love. You describe her as not thinking “love Jack as a husband again” and that may be in the limarance or in-love-ness sense. But there are problems with seeing in-love-ness as the goal, rather than just a doorway, to our exploration of love, such as this blog points out: http://www.patheos.com/community/evangelicalcrossroads/2011/06/14/my-problem-with-love/ (HT Koinonia)
    My own experience has been that it has been invaluable to me to go through the process of acting in love even in those time when I don’t feel it emotionally, of putting aside my own hurt to consider my husband’s needs, of trying to find practical solutions to problems rather than think about it being un-fair that I’m the one having to deal with this problem, of experiencing romance with my husband because I set out to invoke it rather than having it arise spontaneously, of painful extending trust in more areas even while accepting the absolute trust in my husband may never return. These thinks have lead to personal growth and to the deepening of my faith. I think I am becoming a better servant of God and a more pleasing disciple to Christ as I purse this path. My marriage has gotten better, though it still might not qualify objectively as “good.” So I would counsel Jill to stick with the marriage, not because she “should” according to the law but because it is really in her own best interest. There are situation where the other party is either explicitly determined to end a marriage or is continuously pursuing a course so destructive that nothing can be built in the face of it. But in a case like Jack’s where there appears to be true repentance, I would advise that the wronged partner is more likely to find joy, fulfillment and a strengthening of their own core by staying in the marriage and really working on the problems rather than abandoning the challenge unmet. I know that I though there are unpleasant moments in my marriage still, I find I have a great deal of pleasure in my life. I have a great core of joy in my life that I come back to even when I’ve been confronted with things in my marriage I am far from satisfied with. While I can’t know God’s verdict on my choices yet, but I do know that I am happy with my marriage despite, or maybe because, of the fact that happiness is not my goal.

    • Thanks for sharing that. It sounds like it’s been a long and probably difficult journey for you. And, I really appreciate you offering some insights from someone who has had to walk that road.

      I’m sure that at least some will be wrestling, though, with whether this approach will contribute to the problem of people remaining in situations that are actually bad for them because they want to be loving. Is there a time when the most loving thing is actually to walk away? Or does love/commitment always mean that you stay put?

  7. What kind of fervor does Jill have in her current personal walk with Christ? That is my starting point without any strings attached to reconciliation and healing of their relationship. This is a question to be posed best by a woman whom Jill trusts and that you know has a holy walk with Christ as well. Jack should engage in the same question with a male and the queries should be done one on one, not in a couple counseling session. As far as Christian counselors go … God’s speed finding and booking one who is mature, Christ-centered, and has the time in their schedule for an appointment.

  8. Is the deeper sin his adultery, which indeed violated their marriage covenant, or her inability to forgive him, which is also a violation of the marriage covenant (assuming she made public vows to do such)? Ironically and sadly, and based only on what is posted here (obviously), she is the one who might be in grave spiritual trouble. He sees the need for grace, but she is unwilling to finally extend it (the gospel is for the little things, but not the big?). I’d say the same thing if the roles were switched, i.e. wife slept around, husband wouldn’t forgive.

  9. Great questions. I have to confess that I have harbored serious doubts about how evangelicals have read the Mt. 19:9 as an “exception clause” for a very long time. It seems to me that even the phrase “exception clause,” which we all use in our thinking, puts us right back with the Pharisees who sought out the scriptures to find the rules by which they were to behave, rather than to find relationship with the God behind the teaching. In a traditional reading of Mathew 19, rule number one appears to be don’t commit adultery. Rule number two follows, if my spouse commits adultery I can divorce. My concern is that this is law based thinking from the very beginning. We have already lost any vision of relationship based redemption and if I ready Paul correctly, we might as well go get circumcised and adopt the whole law. Galatians makes ever so clear that Paul believes this way of thinking to be futile and counterproductive. That said, it still leaves me asking the question, “How can I read this text in a non-legal more relationship based way?” I think that is really difficult for most of us to do. What follows is an imperfect stab in that direction.

    I think reading this text correctly starts with coming back to the reasons for the law. God is not a killjoy. He doesn’t tell us not to do something just because he doesn’t want us to do it. Rather, he tells us “don’t commit adultery” because to do so will bring spiritual, emotional and eventually physical death into our lives and into the lives of those around us. He isn’t giving us a task to complete so that we can earn spiritual brownie points. He is sternly warning us that all adultery causes real tangible death, from the most adrenaline producing escapist affair down to the smallest thought or look.

    So how does that relate to the teaching of Christ in Mathew 19? First, I want to say that in almost every scriptural context, including Mathew 19, Christ reminds his readers that divorce is not what God ever desires. In every case God is for the marriage. He desires to see each person in the marriage abiding in him and so bearing fruit in the lives of both people in the marriage. Christ is very clear to tell the Pharisees that Moses only permitted divorce “because of the hardness of your heart.”

    Because of this, I would argue that Christ is not creating a universally valid escape clause for adultery in Mathew 19:9. A strict reading of what he says is that someone who has divorced because of adultery does not commit adultery when they remarry. He doesn’t say that every spouse who has been cheated on has the right to a divorce. Those are different statements. No he has something different in mind when he appears to create an exception. I think that Christ is recognizing that when adultery happens it is so deadly that one half of the “one flesh” unit can die in all senses of that word except physically. I believe that Christ clearly argues that adultery in all forms brings death, and if I am the spouse of an adulterer, then I am free to recognize when my spouse has “died” because of the adultery. I am not blackmailed in my marriage into living with a “zombie” Christian spouse who has lost their heart and their life to the sin of adultery.

    Christ’s divorce teaching then becomes something much closer to Paul’s teaching on a non-believing spouse. That which is alive is not bound by that which is dead. Yet even in these circumstances Paul does not make divorce a rule. Rather he says that divorce is permissible. Paul’s hope is that the believing spouse can stay with the non-believer and so affect them toward salvation. From this point of view divorce is not permitted by rule in any circumstance including adultery. Rather it is permitted on a case by case basis, requiring agonizing and painful choices. That choice should center around the question of whether or not my adulterous spouse still seeks the life offered in Christ. If they have abandoned that life then I am no longer bound to them, they are to me as a gentile or a tax collector.

    A quick sidenote: Please do not read in this as a statement on whether or not someone can lose salvation. Whether or not they are still redeemed is not the question answered here but rather a much more practical question of whether or not they are living as if redeemed any longer. If I read both Paul and Christ correctly, they teach that if a believer is acting and living as an unbeliever, they are functionally an unbeliever and the church is to treat them as an unbeliever until they repent. The question of their eternal destiny is for God to answer at the end of time.

    I also think this understanding of the text in Mathew 19 helps clear up something that has always really, really bothered me about Christ’s teaching on divorce. If I read this text from a purely legal point of view, then a spouse who is viciously beaten by their partner is required to stay in the marriage. No “exception clause” exists for them, but a spouse whose partner has committed adultery is allowed to leave. This makes no sense whatsoever. It is not ground that I would ever want to defend. It is poor theology which makes God appear highly capricious. Yet I have seen people try! If adultery is so bad that it allows an out from marriage, why not a beating to within an inch of your life?

    However, if we look at divorce for believers as permissible only in a context in which sin has brought about the functional spiritual death of a spouse, then I think it makes it much easier to recognize other instances where the spouse has begun to act as an unbeliever, physical abuse being an obvious and clear example.

    With this in mind, God’s view on divorce and marriage becomes much more clear and unified throughout scripture. From the very beginning, scripture commands believers to avoid becoming bound in marriage when that marriage will damage their relationship with the Father. This is the unifying theme in both the old testament and the new. This starts in the call to not marry the Canaanite women. It makes sense of Nehemiah’s call to put away foreign women after the captivity. This principle makes sense of Paul’s teaching on unbelieving spouses. It makes sense of Christ’s teaching on divorce. It also allows a much more defensible position on spousal abuse. Adultery and physical abuse can bring about the functional spiritual death of the believer. When this happens Mathew 18 says to treat them as an unbeliever. This also means that the bonds of marriage may no longer apply because they may serve to harm the relationship between the believing spouse and their heavenly father. That is to be determined in open community on a case by case basis.

    I think that the mistake of reading Mathew 19 as an “escape clause” is made quite clear when we put Christ’s teaching in context, the passage on divorce in Mathew 19 is intimately tied to the two sections which precede it. In the beginning of chapter 18 Christ teaches that we are to call fellow believers to repentance repeatedly and if they ignore the call of their community we are to treat them as if they are dead, that is like tax collectors and gentiles. Immediately after this teaching Peter asks “how many times should I forgive?” Jesus illustrates his argument that Peter is asking the wrong question by telling a parable. In that parable a King forgives his slave of a debt that he cannot pay. That slave then goes out and demands money owed from a fellow slave. When that fellow slave cannot pay he has the slave thrown in prison. This slave who has been forgiven but does not forgive is called wicked. Christ wants us to understand that each of us has been forgiven of a debt that we cannot repay. God’s grace wiped out a sum which is infinitely greater than anything done to us by our peers. We are challenged to make sure that we live fully in the reality of the grace we each have been shown and so forgive the debts owed to us.

    Mathew didn’t invent chapter breaks and in this case I think the break does a tremendous disservice. The section on divorce immediately follows these passages on forgiveness and repentance. I believe that Mathew wants us to see the teaching on divorce in the context of the parable on forgiveness and his teaching on repentance. In all circumstances God’s great grace to us demands that we forgive no matter what has been done to us. Marriage is seen as the real world place where the ideas of grace and forgiveness are the most challenging to work out and yet the call remains true, “forgive.” This is the overall thrust of the passage in Mathew 19. One thing is clear in reading Mathew 19:9 in its proper context; a hardened unforgiving heart toward the spouse, is never grounds for divorce, no matter what the sin, including adultery. It makes a mockery of the grace God gave each of us through Jesus’ death.

    However, while one must forgive the adulterer, Christ makes clear that a spouse is free to recognize when that adulterer has functionally died. This refers back to the beginning of chapter 18. If the believer is acting as an unbeliever the believer is no longer bound and should not let their spouse lead them astray. Thus Christ says that the believing spouse who remarries because of adultery is not bound by their past vows. It is as if their spouse had died. I would go so far as to argue this would hold true for other circumstances as well, such as an abusive spouse.

    Christ’s teaching on adultery recognizes it’s deadly peril for the human soul. It can kill an individual, leaving behind a zombie that devours flesh to sate its own insatiable desires. When this happens, no spouse is expected to stay and be devoured and most importantly no believer should let anything lead them astray from their Father, especially not an unbelieving spouse.

    In the context of an evangelical church where 70% of the men acknowledge struggling with porn and in which women are fast catching up, I think the real question for each of us is whether or not we understand our deadly peril. Christ’s teaching in Mathew 18 and 19 should call all of us, myself included, to do the hard work to make sure that we do not sin and damage our hearts to the point that we are effectively dead although our body continues to live. We all need to work to receive the kingdom as little children.

    From this perspective, the case of Jack and Jill becomes quite clear to me. I don’t believe that God would ever have supported Jill’s decision to divorce Jack, not even immediately after the affair. At the time of confession Jill should have drawn some very clear boundaries and demanded that Jack progress forward in his recovery. If Jack had refused the work, he would have shown that he was functionally living as an unbeliever. In that case, Jill would have been free because that which is living cannot be bound by that which is dead. Jack, however, continued to try and find his way out of his sin, although he was a continued failure for many years. Yet, he never gave in to the death. That in itself is an act of grace through faith which is not of Jack’s own doing but was a gift from God. Eventually, he humbled himself and became willing to do the hard work of becoming free of his addiction. This is different than someone who has given themselves over to the sin and has functionally died. I believe in this case the call on Jill is to recognize that forgiveness is not within her own power, to cry out to God and to do the hard work of healing. Reading Mathew 19:9 in context leads to this conclusion. Her ongoing pain is no excuse for divorce and if this were a real situation, I would hope her church and friends would make this very clear to her. To argue that pain is an acceptable reason for divorce makes a mockery of the incalculable grace given us by God through Christ.

    Erik Wecks

  10. I once did an exegetical paper on this, so I have all of the answers 😉 . Its been awhile since I did that paper, but as I recall, the “exception clause” is actually quite exceptional; in the original (in the Deut text where Jesus refers to), “porneia” had to do with an “incestuous adulterous” relationship. If this is the case, and that’s what Jesus was referring to, then it seems that most appeals to the exception clause are moot (unless there is incest involved).

    Having said that, it seems there are other ways to argue for the plausibility of divorce (like in cases of physical abuse etc); on Christian principles that go beyond the “exception clause” discussion. This is something I need to revisit though (I have recently been touched by this issue myself; my parents just divorced after 37yrs of marriage, and it wasn’t over sexual infidelity . . . there were other extenuating circumstances — my parents both love Jesus, my dad is a retired CBA pastor).

    I can’t really say what to do in the case of Jill; these things are always so dynamic and complex its hard to know exactly unless you’re actually the one in counseling with them, hearing both sides (and then even then only the Lord really knows).

  11. Pat, I think you’ve got a great point about the issue of forgiveness. It is interesting to me that we’re willing to look at infidelity as a sin issue but not refusing to forgive. But, of course, forgiving alone doesn’t necessarily determine a particular course of action. For example, a church might forgive a pedophile but still not allow that person to serve in the nursery. So, isn’t it possible for a Jill to forgive Jack, but still not think that the marriage should continue? Or, is forgiveness in this context inextricably linked to reconciliation?

    • I think that forgiveness in this context would look like them staying together. I can imagine some scenarios where it would not (e.g. serial offenses by the dude).

  12. Erik, I definitely agree that we shouldn’t see the “exception” clause as a rule that requires, or even excuses, divorce. I agree that there’s a tendency to assume that if infidelity is involved, the offended spouse has an automatic “out.” So, thanks for the reminder that this isn’t how the biblical logic works.

  13. While I agree the mist with Pat on the issue of forgiveness or the lack of it, I think too we need to remember that such sins as sex sins do a lot of damage and it can’t take a long time to forgive such sins especially for women because they have more of their emotions tied up in the relationship then men typically do, not saying men don’t just saying the depth of hurt can go deeper in women because of the emotional element. So…. Even after three years it can be just too hard for Jill to go on because the pain is so deep, and I think this can be highlighted by the fact at Jack tried to get things fixed quickly so they could move on but sometimes it is just not that easy, he has to understand that while he did sin and took responsibility for it and is trying to work on it and so on, there are still consequences to sin and especially sex sins, and one consequences is a very broken wife and very broken marriage. This is not to say God annotate redeem it all, but it could take long than three years, if at all.

  14. The three children under the age of 13 factor in.

    My husband is like hers and this problem does not go away, it just gets shoved under the rug only to rear its ugly head again, unless he submits to some hard and painful work excising the roots which brought about such deadly fruit. His wife knows him up close and personal. He might have cleaned up his act for now and look good to everyone else, but she knows if he has gotten rid of the roots which drove this behavior… or just buried them deeper.

    My husband had an affair at 7 years (while we were missionaries), and again at 26 years of marriage (and dabbled with porn off and on all along, despite male accountability groups and routine church attendance as well as evangelical church leadership). If I was her, I would stay until the children have all reached 18 and if she discerns that he still has baggage percolating underground, get on with her life and don’t wait around for the next ride on the garbage truck.

    I’ve been married 28 years now. He’s porn and adultery free for two years and we get along pretty well. I think we’ll make it as long as he doesn’t decide to go for strike three, cause if he does, he’s out (and he knows it). Forgiveness is different from reconciliation and intimacy. She can divorce him and still forgive him and wish him well.

    Here is a blog post with links to three good articles about recovering from adultery (scroll to the end of Dear Betrayed Wife) which will give you some ideas about how to work with this couple. I’m afraid that I perceive the emphasis others seem to place on her needing counseling and needing to “forgive” too much like saying she needs to “be fixed”, like its “her fault”. I went to professional counseling for three years. What counseling did for me was help me STOP being a scapegoat and thinking it was somehow my fault; and counseling grew me a backbone.

    • Thanks for sharing that with us. I agree that the kids need to be considered in all of this, and I find it interesting that many people discuss divorce as though the kids didn’t really have anything at stake – it’s just a matter between the two adults. I couldn’t recommend staying together purely for the sake of the children because that doesn’t seem to offer much hope for healing he marriage toward what it’s supposed to be (as opposed to children being a key reason for maintaining commitment and continuing to work on the marriage). But, I definitely think they should be part of the conversation.

      And, I’m glad you brought up the reality that it’s often very difficult to know whether someone like Jack has really moved beyond his problems until quite a few years have passed. Much of Jill’s decision seems to be based not on the last three years but the disillusionment and disappointment of the previous many. Right or wrong, the latter is playing a much larger role than the former.

  15. Yep, the children are important: in Luke 1:17 revival is identified by the hearts of fathers(parents) turning to the children. If we did not have minor children, I doubt our marriage would have survived. But they do matter, and they are better off with both parents unless there is abuse (which there is with ongoing porn use, but Jill’s husband has stopped). I’m afraid Jill will eventually need to reconcile with disillusionment regarding her expectations for christian marriage (hopefully in this marriage, not through serial broken relationships). We women want a fairy tale life and it’s not reality. ((((sigh))))

    I wonder if she has ever processed her anger? If you got to those articles, it’s a big part of a wife’s healing. She needs permission to be angry (which women do not get from the typical Christian approach). It will be very ugly. She does not need chastisement for it, or urging to “forgive”. She needs to feel it and vent it. Her husband sowed and sowed and SOWED crap into her for years and she needs to spew all that crap out. Preferably, he needs to receive her venting- with a very humble attitude and perhaps some phrases like “I’m so sorry that I hurt you”.

    Also, here is a little clip for her which I just posted to someone else who’s ready to jump ship:

    From Dr. Phil:

    Dr. Phil’s Number One Rule Concerning Divorce
    People often ask Dr. Phil, “How do I know if I’m ready to get a divorce?” The number one thing that you have to know is this: The time to get a divorce is when you can walk out the door with no anger, no resentment and no bitterness.

    Now you’re probably saying, “Wait a minute. Isn’t that why you get a divorce?” No. If you’ve still got anger, resentment and bitterness, you’ve still got unfinished business, Dr. Phil says. You should be able to walk out the door saying, “I’ve done everything I can do to resolve this situation. I cannot do it. I accept that. I am moving on with my life.” If you can’t do that, you’ve got too much unfinished emotional business.

  16. PS. You could recommend they attend Retrouvaille. http://www.retrouvaille.org/

    The post sessions are worth their weight in gold and cover much material which would cost a couple a fortune to get through in Marriage Counseling, but for FREE! 🙂 The initial weekend costs, but scholarships are available beyond the registration fee if finances are an issue.

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