by Mike Genung
If your husband has hurt you with adultery or porn, one of the worst things you can do is stuff your emotions. You’ll be a walking volcano, ready to blow. Or, you’ll freefall into depression. Share your anger and pain with other women you can trust who will listen and pray with you. You can also journal your emotions out, and go to God with them.
There’s a delicate balance here. Expressing your anger is healthy. Letting it own you is not. Seething rage that is allowed to fester into bitterness will poison your soul. It’s also hard to extract.
Bitterness has consequences:
- It affects every relationship around us. A bitter wife will lose it far quicker with her kids or other loved ones.
- It makes reconciliation next to impossible with those who’ve hurt us.
- Bitterness makes us miserable people; quick to complain and judge, slow to encourage and love.
- It puts us in bondage to sin.
- We obsess about seeing God judge the other person. We may not say it, but what we really want is revenge; to seem them suffer.
- Most importantly, bitterness puts a wedge between us and God that expands with time. We’ll have a harder time praying, and there is a danger we can become so choked with soul-poison that we back off from Him entirely. This is especially true if you blame God for your spouse’s actions.
When I was in my 20’s and lived in California, I struggled with relationships with women, often cycling through fear, attraction, and wanting to push them away. I started seeing a female counselor (funny how God worked that out); a memory I’d stuffed into the recesses of my mind was unearthed where a trusted older female family member had molested me. I had filed it away in my emotional cabinet as “does not compute, must be normal,” and my counselor helped me see it for what it was – sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse messes with the soul like nothing else. Trusting other people feels next to impossible. Fear reigns; if I felt like someone was coming too close emotionally or crossing a boundary, real or imagined, it would set me off. I bounced between rage and depression like a yo-yo. I often felt sick to my stomach when I thought about what happened; it felt like something deep within had been violated. I hated what had been done to me and what I was.
I worked with the counselor for the next year or so, expressing every feeling that bubbled up. It seemed that the answer was to “get it all out,” but the anger didn’t subside. Then we moved to Colorado and I stopped going to counseling for a while. It would be ten long years before I resolved what had rapidly become bitterness in my soul.
Unfortunately for Michelle, I was married to her during that time.
I often found myself critical and bitter towards her for no reason. The anger would come from nowhere, and I’d snap at her; I had no control over it. I prayed often, asking God to relieve me of whatever the problem was, but couldn’t break free from it. I knew that, as my counselor back in California told me, I had a problem with hatred of women that was rooted in the molestation event, but didn’t have a clue on how to deal with it.
In 1997 I started seeing another counselor in Colorado Springs and shared my anger problems. When we got to the topic of the molestation, he asked me a simple question: “Have you forgiven the person who abused you?”
At his suggestion, I a wrote letter to the person (they lived several thousand miles away) stating what they did, and that I’d forgiven them. As soon as I sealed the envelope there was a sense of peace; the bitterness was gone.
Some of you might feel anger starting to rise because you know what’s coming, but please read the rest of this article before you write me an email that “I’m not forgiving that jerk-husband of mine for what he did!! I’m tired of hearing the wife should forgive when my husband keeps hurting me!! You’re just as bad and you’re one of them!”
Let’s look at all the pieces of the puzzle first.
Forgiveness and trust are two completely different things.
Forgiveness must be given, but trust must be earned. Just because you forgive your husband never means you have to trust him. He must earn that back by consistent action over time, such as going to support groups, meeting with a counselor, cutting off the stumbling blocks (Matthew 5), and, most importantly, gaining freedom from porn or any form of sexual sin. If he says “Awww, I can handle this on my own; I don’t need to do any of that stuff,” you have no reason to trust him, and are not under obligation to do so.
Just because you forgive him does not mean you accept his sin.
If your husband says “Well, you’ve forgiven me so we’re good now, right?” yet he refuses to take action, i.e. get rid of his porn stash, or end an adulterous affair, you have every right to draw a firm line in the sand. Refuse to tolerate his sexual sin or allow him to treat you as a slave instead of a wife. Set firm consequences if need be, even to the point of asking him to leave.
Forgiving him does not make you a doormat wife. Some equate forgiving their husband with weakness, but the truth is that forgiving him for that level of betrayal is one of the toughest, most Christ-like things you will ever do. No one would say that Jesus was a sissy for allowing Himself to be crucified by His enemies and then asking the Father to forgive them as He suffered. What Jesus did on the cross was an amazing act of strength and humility.
Forgiveness does not justify your husband’s sin, or give him free reign to continue in it. Ever.
There are four main reasons you should forgive:
1. For your own sanity, health, and well-being. Left unchecked, over time your anger will eventually eat you alive, poison your other relationships, and distance you from God. Granting your husband forgiveness will benefit you more than him (although, he needs it in order for your marriage to recover). I spent more than ten years allowing bitterness against the person who molested me to mess up my life, but my resentment and craving for revenge never affected them in the least. Bitterness always hurts the person who owns it the most.
2. So you don’t hurt others. I hurt Michelle many times because I was bitter towards the person who molested me. Your loved ones will pay the price as the poison of your anger seeps out.
3. Because God asks us to. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions. Mark 11:25-26
I notice several things about the verses above: It does not say to wait for the other person to ask for forgiveness to grant it. It does not say to wait until we feel like it before we forgive. Forgiveness is an act of the will; a choice that we have to make. It is 100% up to us whether to forgive. No one can force us to. God tells us to forgive, but He never forces our obedience. There are serious consequences for not forgiving.
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch woman who was held prisoner in several German concentration camps during World War 2. In her book Tramp for the Lord, she told a story of when she was speaking on forgiveness in Germany after the war. At the end of her speech, a man approached her who she recognized as one of the cruelest guards in Ravensbruck, a concentration camp. She remembered the shame of having to walk past him, naked, for inspections, and the trauma of those days. He told Corrie that he had become a Christian since the war, thrust his hand forward, and asked if she would forgive him.
Corrie froze; she didn’t want to forgive this man. She had no time to react or process her emotions. But, she realized that forgiveness was commanded by God, and is not an emotion but an act of the will. Corrie decided she could raise her hand and let God take care of the rest. She prayed for help, raised her hand, and embraced the man’s. As she did, Corrie experienced a current of warmth that flooded her soul, and she wept. She writes that she had never experienced the love of God so powerfully as at that moment.
Corrie also notes that those who had been interned in concentration camps, were released, and then were able to forgive their captors were able to have a normal life. Those who didn’t forgive nursed the poison of their bitterness and “remained as invalids,” unable to function. The consequences of an unforgiving heart bound in bitterness are severe.
4. So you can find peace. You may live with a husband who shows no remorse over his sin or any intent to do anything about it. To forgive is to release his sin to God and allow Him to take the burden. In spite of how hard your marriage might be, you can find moments of peace during the raging storm because now you’re in a place of surrender to the Lord and His purposes and ways. You’ll be in a position to think clearer and hear better from God for wisdom and guidance for the next step He wants you to take.
But shouldn’t I wait until my husband cleans up his act before I forgive him?
What if he never breaks free? Or if it takes several years? Better to forgive him now than risk allowing bitterness to take hold in your heart, especially if it might be a long haul.
You’re just writing this because you’re a man and you’re on my husband’s side.
No; this article is for wives. I saw the devastating pain my sexual sin caused my wife; my heart goes out to every wife whose husband stabbed her in the back with porn or adultery. My motivation is to lift a burden off your shoulders so you can find peace and rest, no matter what situation you’re in. I don’t want the enemy to gain ground in your life (see Ephesians 4:27). I shared the story of how I was molested so you could see I can relate at some level to where you are. I know that unresolved rage will poison your life; my hope is you will see this is something you need on many fronts.
By the way, the person I forgave for molesting me wrote a letter back and asked “if I felt better for writing that.” They never acknowledged their sin. My peace was not contingent on their response, but on releasing their sin to God through forgiveness.
I’m not ready yet.
If you’ve stuffed your emotions, or if your husband recently confessed his sin (or got caught), you may need a little time to express your anger and pain. We must forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35). If your heart is shut down when you forgive your husband the words may not mean anything, i.e. “Sure, I forgive him… who cares?” That’s denial. Your husband has hurt you, severely. When you forgive your husband, you’re releasing him for all time for all the damage he’s done to your heart. You will no longer hold what he did against him. It’s a free pardon. The good news is that when you release him from his sin you are also releasing yourself from the bondage to his sin and your own bitterness.
How do I walk this out emotionally? How do I forgive him knowing he’s still using porn and I want to throttle him?
Here’s what the process can look like: Your husband confesses (or your catch him) viewing porn. Get away with the Lord for a few minutes, and express your pain, frustration and anger, then pray something like this: “Lord, I don’t want to carry my husband’s sin, it belongs at the cross. I surrender it to you and grant my husband a full pardon for what He did, just as you have pardoned me every time I’ve blown it. Please grant me the humility to continue to forgive him. Father, please show me the next step, whether it would be to step back and let you work, confront my husband, or work out an action plan with him.”
Another way of looking at it is how you respond when one of your children sins. Our tendency is to immediately forgive them whether they ask for it or not, and then try to help them so they can learn from their mistakes. You can assume this same approach with your husband. Of course, the heat gets turned up if our kids persist in rebellious behavior; so should it be with your husband.
I’ve forgiven him, but the anger keeps coming back.
Ask God to show you if there’s something more there that you need to deal with. Your husband’s betrayal could be tapping into an unresolved wound from long ago, such as a time(s) when your father hurt you. Let God take you back, and if there are more wounds to be dealt with, let Him heal you. This may require talking it out with a friend or counselor, grieving loss, and/or forgiveness on your part.
If nothing comes up, keep laying your husband’s sin at the throne of grace. Refuse to pick it back up. When someone’s hurt us deeply there could be some residual emotion there, especially if we’re used to replaying courtroom judgment scenes where the husband gets thrown into prison for life. You may need to retrain your heart and emotions to release the sins of others if you’re used to holding onto them.
Forgiveness will never be a one-time event in marriage, whether it’s with porn, or the usual disagreements couples go through. You will have to forgive your husband many times during the course of your marriage, just as he will with you.
My heart breaks as I write this because I know there are some wives who are reading these words who are hurting deeply. God loves you and He cares about what you’re going through. He knows how your husband has hurt you. I believe He has a tender place in His heart for the hurting, especially those who draw near to Him for comfort (2 Corinthians 1). He knows that forgiving your husband may be the hardest thing you will ever do. When Michelle told me she forgave me it was one of the most precious, amazing moments of our marriage. I could never do anything to earn her forgiveness, and neither can your husband earn yours. When Michelle forgave me, I marveled that she could be hurt so deeply and still love me so much that she would grant me a pardon. You may never be more Christ-like than when you offer forgiveness to one who does not deserve it or can never do anything to earn it. You’ll touch the feet of Jesus as He hung on the cross, and will gain understanding on what so much of the Christian life is about – sacrificial love, the kind God gave us and modeled for us. It still blows my mind that Jesus asked the Father to forgive the Pharisees while He was dying… I would have wanted to ask God to waste them… or at least just one…
May the Lord grant you the humility to forgive, the peace to rest in Him, and the wisdom and strength to move forward.
On April 8 and 15th of 2006, we interviewed Clay and Renee Cross on the radio show. Clay Cross was a Christian singer who struggled with porn. One of the topics that surfaced in the interview was how Renee handled forgiving her husband. Listening to these shows might be an encouragement for you.