Forgiveness After Sexual Sin in Marriage

April 17, 2013

Forgiveness After Sexual Sin in Marriage
Julie Ganschow

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Julie Ganschow

Forgiveness After Sexual Sin in Marriage

BCC Staff Note: You are reading Part Three of a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on counseling and women. Read Part One by Keri Seavey: The Many Hats That Women Wear and Part Two by Jill Wamsley: Fearful Women of Women of Faith? You’ll also enjoy posts by Hayley Satrom, and today’s blogger, Julie Ganschow.

I have often heard it said, “I can forgive anything except adultery.” There is nothing quite as difficult as forgiving intentional sin, so when a wife is asked to consider forgiving sexual sin the challenge factor goes up astronomically.

Adultery and other kinds of physical sexual sin violate the most closely held tenants of marriage and are among the hardest to forgive. For a woman to deal biblically with the fallout of the sexual sin in which her husband has been involved, she will have to understand what it means to forgive him biblically and how to do so.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:12—13 (NASB)

I Am Not Sure I Can Forgive

When it comes to forgiving sexual sin, one of the major reasons a wife may not want to forgive is because she believes the hurt and betrayal are just too big to get past. Sexual sin is the unforgivable sin in marriage in the minds of many people; however, is that what the Bible teaches?

Many people struggle to forgive in general because they are not clear about what forgiveness from the heart really is; they do understand and look for reasons or make excuses not to forgive.

The Bible teaches us that the greatest need we all have is to be forgiven for our sin. Without the forgiveness of sin we are all destined for hell and eternal damnation (Romans 6:23). You don’t have to be Bible a scholar to figure out that if God forgives us, He has the expectation that we will forgive each other on the basis of the forgiveness we’ve received.

To refuse to forgive will add to the internal misery and woe she will experience. The unforgiving person is the one who suffers the most. When a woman informs me she chooses not to forgive, I can guarantee she will become bitter. In choosing this path, the sins of bitterness and unforgiveness enslave her and will ruin her life. She may think that by refusing to forgive her husband will “get his,” but that is not so. In refusing to forgive, she will be the one who suffers even greater misery than she experienced as a result of his sexual sin.

I have also been told by a wife that she can’t forgive her husband until she forgets what he did. This is backward thinking and is indicative of someone who is holding on to the wrong that has been done to them. Each time she chooses to dwell on the offense and the hurt she has experienced, she engrains it a little deeper in her mind and heart.

The truth is that every time she rehearses the offence it only serves to exacerbate the pain which in turn leads to bitterness. She will not forget until she learns to forgive. When she forgives the wrong done to her, she releases it and then, in time, she will begin to forget the pain.

Some wives remain angry and unforgiving because their spouse has not asked to be forgiven. They say, “I’ll forgive when he says he is sorry.”

Jesus Teaches on Forgiveness

The Lord addresses this with Peter in Matthew 18. Peter thought he was being very generous by boasting that he would forgive the same man seven times. The Lord Jesus revealed his heart by instructing him to forgive 70 times seven!

The same instruction was given in Luke:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. Luke 17:3—4 (NASB)

At first glance it appears that granting forgiveness is conditioned on the person actually asking for it first. Sometimes a woman is reluctant to forgive because her husband has not asked her for forgiveness nor has he repented of his sexual sin.

This suggests that unless someone asks for forgiveness, you can never really forgive them because without them asking, there isn’t any taking ownership of their sin as one would when repenting to God. This is true as far as it goes. Unless a person asks, obviously there is no admission of sin; however, that does not that mean we are free to withhold forgiveness.

The first thing a wife must understand is that forgiving her spouse is not an option for the Christian; it is required.

The Level Ground on Which She Stands

She must understand that her position before God is exactly level with that of the worst sexual sinner, because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is nothing exceptional about her or any non-sexual-sin sinner; this is because we are all sinners and all in need of God’s grace and mercy. She must choose to forgive her husband on the basis of what God has forgiven her.

God intended to forgive her of her sin before she asked. In fact, He did forgive her at the cross, which was long before she was born. How then can she withhold forgiveness from her husband for his sin?

By forgiving her husband she chooses to release him from the sense of debt she believes she is owed because of the hurt he caused. It’s like saying, “Husband, you do not owe me anything, nor will I personally punish you for what you did to me. I choose to forgive you this debt just as I have been forgiven my enormous debts by God.”

This takes big faith! In order to exercise big faith, she must believe that she serves a big God who is able to work in all circumstances of life.

Join the Conversation

How have you urged women to forgive when they justify withholding forgiveness based on how they feel rather than operating on a scriptural basis?

3 thoughts on “Forgiveness After Sexual Sin in Marriage

  1. The only thing that I would add to this article is a little more clarification at the end. True forgiveness can only come about when one admits their sin and the other grants forgiveness. An exchange needs to take place. Yet even when the adulterer has not come to ask for forgiveness (and that exchange has NOT taken place), the other individual can have an *attitude* of forgiveness where they are not holding onto anything against that person and they have released them of their debt and laid it at the foot of the cross.

  2. I wish I had been able to read this 4 years ago when my husband admitted
    to having an affair. The affair was six years prior. I had a strong
    feeling (and many indications) that it had happened, but he denied it,
    would turn my accusations against me and tell me I was crazy. Six years
    is a long time to truly believe something and be told her are crazy.
    When he finally admitted the affair I was broken even more than I
    thought I could be. I went to my pastor, broken down in tears, and all
    he could say was “didn’t this happen a long time ago?” To me, it was a
    fresh wound. I then went to another woman in the church who has a
    counseling degree and had a position with the church and she said “Are
    you going to divorce him?” I replied that I wasn’t because I was a child
    of divorce and that simply wasn’t an option (we have 4 children). She
    then told me “then you need to get over it.” I longed for someone to
    open the scriptures with me, to help me through it, to pray with me. I
    didn’t get any of that. I just got a lot of people who didn’t want to
    talk about it. That response further broke me. I pray that woman who
    need this article will find it and begin their healing through
    forgiveness. Thank you.

  3. Yes, it’s extremely hard to forgive, and yes, forgiveness is still needed. With repentance, forgiveness, and God, you can get through the worst stumbles and even though there will be huge scars, all things are possible with God. But, if the man is adamant and non-repentant, maybe the marriage can’t and shouldn’t last? I thought Jesus stated specifically that the one reason acceptable for divorce was unfaithfulness in marriage. (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.) How can you grow together with God at the center of your relationship and lives with unrepenting sexual sin like adultery?

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