Adultery is a devastating sin within a marriage, and the result is often divorce. But, can marriages be healed when adultery has been committed? Yes, they can. As Christians, if a spouse commits adultery, the other spouse has the legitimate option to divorce but not theobligation to divorce. In other words, the offended spouse can freely divorce the one who has committed adultery without committing sin. In addition, the offended spouse has the freedom to forgive and also work towards reconciliation. The offender would need to repent, confess his/her sin, and, hopefully, seek Biblical counseling.
Divorce is not automatically a sin
Some Christians think that there’s no situation in which divorce is permissible and that any divorce is sinful. After all, God hates divorce: “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel . . . ,” (Malachi 2:16). But, God allows for divorce under the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 24:1-422 for moral indecency, abandonment in 1 Corinthians 7:13-15, and adultery in Matthew 5:32. In addition, we find that God divorced Israel. Consider the following verse.
“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also,” (Jeremiah 3:8).
So, divorce is not automatically a sin. If it were, then God would have advocated sin when He gave Israel a “writ of divorce.” But just as God ultimately forgave Israel, so, too, it is possible in a Christian marriage where adultery’s been committed that the offended party forgive the adulterer and the marriage be healed. But in the Christian context, it can only be done through the forgiveness that is found in Jesus. It is up to that couple to work through their issues, to seek counseling, and to look to Christ in His great forgiveness so that the marriage might be restored.
Setting up requirements
Let’s say that a husband commits adultery, is repentant, and seeks reconciliation with his wife; and she has forgiven him and also seeks reconciliation. She has the right to require certain compliant behaviors from him. She could, for example, say that he must come home directly from work or that he must not be unaccompanied for certain length of time (months or even years) or that he must check in with his wife every half hour when he is away or that he must pick up the phone whenever she calls or that he must go through counseling, etc. In other words, because her trust in him has been violated, she has the right to put requirements upon him until that trust is earned back. How long that takes depends on the couple.
I have counseled Christian couples where adultery has been committed, and they were working for the healing of the marriage. In each case, the offended person has the right to put restrictions and requirements on the offending spouse. If that spouse were to rebel against the requirements, then further counseling is needed. I often address that rebellion and tell the person that his/her sin has resulted in the consequences and that if real repentance is there, humility will show itself in submission to the requirements of the spouse and/or the church.
Finally, in the years of marriage counseling, I’ve seen marriages be healed when adultery had been committed. But, both parties must work hard. The offended spouse ought not to bring up the others sin repeatedly and beat him/her up with it. When forgiveness is offered, we are not to bring it up again. This can be difficult, but it is necessary since the guilty party knows his guilt and does not have to be reminded of it, particularly when he or she complies with the consequences of the adultery in the restrictions and requirements that then become necessary.