Nothing destroys a marriage like adultery, but rarely does adultery just come out of nowhere. There’s usually some kind of groundwork that has been laid in advance. This happens when we take the intimate parts of marriage—feelings about our spouses, private details about our marriage, even small complaints or problems—and share them with someone who is not our spouse.
When we talk about things like that with a member of the opposite sex, we are opening a window with them into inappropriate territory, and we are building a wall between ourselves and our spouse. That wall, regardless of its height, is damaging to a marriage.
How can we tear down that wall once we have built it? One way is through the power of responsibility and forgiveness—whether you’re talking about adultery or any other offense. The spouse who has done wrong must take responsibility for his or her behavior, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. Then the spouse who has been hurt must be willing to forgive.
When I talk to married couples who are dealing with a spouse who has made a big mistake, this is what I always tell the husband or wife who has been hurt: It is not about what your spouse did. It is about your response to what they did.
If your marriage is going to work in the future, then you simply cannot dwell on the mistakes either of you have made in the past.
In the same way, you can’t make a mistake and then start making a bunch of excuses for it: I was under a lot of stress. You were not paying attention to me. You weren’t meeting my needs.
Excuses do not help your marriage at all. The best approach is to admit your failure. Say something like: I was wrong. I cannot believe I did that to you and there is no excuse for it. I violated your trust. I don’t deserve it, but I will do anything to earn it back. Then, prove to your spouse that you really mean it.
For your marriage to be intimate, both spouses have a responsibility. One spouse must own up to his or her failure without excuse, because if we have done something wrong we need to say we are sorry. It is absolutely necessary.
But the other spouse must be willing to receive that apology with grace and mercy. In Jeremiah 31:34, the Lord says “For I forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”
We have a forgiving God. We need to be a forgiving people. Marriage only works when you are forgiven, and so we need to forgive each other.