In Part 1 of this series, I dealt with getting into the right spiritual mindset. In Part 2 I dealt with understanding and combating the threat of shame. Now, we need to deal with pitfall avoidance. There are a lot of pitfalls, some emotional, some relational, and some practical.
The first pitfall to avoid is to not fall for any blame-shifting tricks your wife might throw at you. If your experience is true to a common pattern (one I also experienced), she’s been telling you for weeks or months that she is “unhaaaaapy” in the marriage, and that you need to change. She might even have threatened divorce if you didn’t change.
This is very common. In fact, you might even be in marriage therapy right now to deal with your alleged shortcomings. This is a major pitfall you need to identify and avoid: She isn’t telling you all this stuff because you are really a bad husband. She isn’t going to therapy with you because you need to change for the sake of the marriage. She isn’t threatening divorce because she’s unhaaaapy.
Rather, she’s doing all of these things because she needs you to take the blame for her sin. If you google “christian wife cheated” or something similar, you will find multiple stories where the guy is going to therapy with his wife and then finds out she was cheating. Or you’ll find stories about how she was complaining about the marriage, and then he found out she was unfaithful. I
In fact, this is exactly what happened to me with my ex-wife. For a month and a half before I found out the truth, I was repeatedly instructed that I had to change for the sake of the marriage. This kind of thing isn’t a coincidence. She needs you to buy into her own personal fantasy that her actions were somehow justified.
Don’t do it. She has to admit that the current crisis in the marriage was caused by her own lack of self-control, not by you being a bad husband. She must admit this, both for her own spiritual health, and because your marriage cannot survive unless she does. Repentance results in healing. Unrepentance results in self-destruction.
Furthermore, if you admit to being the chief problem, she will lose all respect for you. I know, this sounds really bizarre, but it’s how female psychology works. She needs a man who is strong and tough, who can stand up to threats and remain stable. She needs a man who can stand up even to her, because if her man cannot stand up to a woman who is clearly in the wrong, how could she trust him to stand up to bigger threats?
So don’t do it. Don’t be a pansy.
Second, if you are currently seeing a marriage therapist, stop. This is the opposite advice of what most Christians will give you. But if your wife brought you to the counselor under false pretenses, then continuing the counseling relationship is buying in to your wife’s scheme.
Instead, if you want to go to a counselor, find a male Christian counselor of conservative theological disposition. I say male because, as the victimized party, you need someone who can empathize with the kinds of emotions a man feels when his spouse cheats. I say “of conservative theological disposition” because you do not want to go to a counselor who is a feminist white knight mangina. While being conservative doesn’t make it impossible to be a white knight, it at least lowers the probability. It also increases the odds that the counselor believes in ideas like sin, guilt, and (again) repentance.
Third, you need to avoid a false concept of forgiveness. This is really, really important. I forgave my ex-wife very shortly after she told me she had been unfaithful. I did this, not for her sake, but because it is my duty to my Lord as one for whom He has shed His blood. If Jesus died so that I might be forgiven, who am I to not forgive my wife?
But forgiveness is not a feeling. You can forgive your wife and still be angry as hell at her. In time, as you ask God to give you a heart that backs up your decision to forgive, He will. But forgiveness is just that, a decision. It is an act of the will, nothing more or less. It is, as one friend put it, “Giving up your right to a better past.”
Forgiveness is also not reconciliation. This is a very common misunderstanding among Christians. Just because you forgive your wife, doesn’t mean your marriage isn’t over. It doesn’t mean divorce is out of the picture. Instead, it means you take your hands (metaphorically) off her throat.
So do not seek any form of revenge. Divorce isn’t revenge, and if you decide to pursue divorce for the purpose of revenge, you’re making a big mistake. Now, not all Christians agree on when–if ever–divorce is permissible. As a Protestant, I hold to the usual Protestant interpretation that it is only permissible in case of adultery (with the possible exception of physical abuse creating a “divorce for personal safety, but no remarriage” situation). Adultery is the very case you’re in right now.
But my point is, regardless of your personal beliefs about divorce, when you forgive your wife, it doesn’t mean you’ve reconciled the marriage. Forgiveness is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for reconciliation.
Fourth, don’t assume she isn’t already planning to divorce you. She might very well be. That’s why you have to be pro-active here. There are some vital practical steps you need to think about (h/t to Man for the Ages for some of these):
- First, if you have a joint checking account, I would immediately go to the bank and put half the cash (your half) into your own personal account. The internet is chock full of stories of a woman emptying a joint account after her husband confronted her about an affair.
- Next, never move out. If you move out now, chances are you will never get your house back. She’ll divorce you and, posession being 9/10ths of the law, you’re out of luck.
- If the two of you separate for a period of time, and you have kids, do not let her take the kids. Do you hear me!?! Do not let her take the kids. You will never get custody if she does. And she might very well take them half-way across the country, and your relationship with your kids will never be the same.
- Be clear to her, if you decide to separate, that since she was the one who stepped out, you are staying in the house (assuming you want the house in this market) and the kids (if you have any) are staying with you.
- Keep a journal of everything that happens, including time spent with kids. This is good both as a record should things get ugly from a legal standpoint, and as a means to organize your thoughts and enable you to remember facts and events. The latter will be important in the healing process. Don’t tear pages out of the journal. If you need it in court, doing so will make it suspect.
- Do not go blabbing to just anyone. For one, you may not know who she cheated with (and it might be more than one guy). So who knows if one of the people you tell is her lover. For two, some of the people you tell might be her friends and they might clue her in as to your thoughts. For three, it can get you in legal hot water if you’re not careful. So stick with immediate family members for now.
These are some basic guidelines on pitfalls to avoid. This isn’t an exhaustive list. In general, it is a good idea to 1) use common sense; 2) realize that, as an adulteress, your wife is not trustworthy, and she must work to earn back your trust; and 3) keep up the 3 P’s. Those three rules will help you avoid a lot of problems.
Update: Reader 7man has this sage advice to add:
Another financial thing is to have your paycheck deposited your personal account (in a different bank) and then make transfers into her account (or the joint account). Also make sure to get a credit card only in your name.