“If a spouse has been unfaithful; or hurtful to a partner in any way, and then promises not to make the same offense again, what is a loyal spouse supposed to do? How can a partner know if their spouse is serious or just patronizing them? It’s an important question. Counseling tell us that at crisis points in marriage, a spouse may make a few small changes in the right direction only until the sense of crisis passes. Then he/she goes right back to the offending behavior.
This is flat-out abusive. When you know that what you’re doing is frustrating your spouse or even making him/her miserable and you do just enough to keep the platform of living together alive so that you can ultimately continue to make him/her miserable, that’s spiritually and emotionally sick. It’s malicious. “I’m not going to let you go but I’m also not going to change.” I can’t say this strongly enough: it is not only unkind demonstrates a real emotional disorder to treat anyone, much less your spouse, this way. Therapy needs to help the offending partner to bring an end to the evil (change needs to happen) rather than unwittingly offer a platform for the evil to continue (just try to do a little bit better so your spouse isn’t quite so angry and won’t separate from you).
If a marriage is going to be rebuilt after trust has been repeatedly broken, it has to be rebuilt on real repentance. The offending spouse has to demonstrate their horror at what they’ve done by going full speed in the opposite direction, not by taking a three-degree turn simply to show a tiny bit of “progress.”
This is true for major and minor issues, to a different degree. If my issue is being chronically late and I’m truly repentant, I start showing up early. If the issue is saying hurtful things, it’s not “repentance” to say hurtful things a little less often. Real repentance is stopping abusive language completely and intentionally saying kind, encouraging and praiseworthy things. If the issue is a lack of employment, I don’t settle for a part-time job. I work the part-time job and then spend just as many hours looking for a full-time job.
Real repentance reveals a real heart transformation; our spouse can see the change not just hear us say we intend to change.
Real repentance continues with the offending spouse owning his/her faults. It’s common for me to see a spouse who has acted deplorably start to resent having the spotlight put on him or her and thus respond by saying, “You know, he/she isn’t perfect either.”
The sarcastic part of me wants to say, “Really? Well, this changes everything. We’ll forget about your offending and hurtful action until we get this person you’re married to to be a little more patient when you mess up.”
A mark of real repentance is that a spouse will welcome, without resentment, increased accountability. If you say you’re not looking at porn or contacting a previous flirtation (or worse), then you shouldn’t have any problem letting your spouse pick up your phone or IPad and scrolling through the messages or history. There is no good reason I would care if my wife looks at every app on my phone. If she finds out I ordered her a surprise birthday present, that’s on her. There is no good reason I should be afraid if she checks out where I’ve been on Amazon or Netflix or surfing the web. Why would I care unless there was something I didn’t want her to see? And why wouldn’t I want her to see it unless I shouldn’t have been doing it to begin with?
Secrecy is hiding and by definition the opposite of intimacy. Repentance is, at root, a choice. You’re calling your spouse to make up his or her mind: do they want to be married, or not? You’re not interested in a quasi-marriage where they are half single and half spouse. You will be all-in with them, which includes forgiveness and generosity, but they have to recommit with conviction that they are committed to their primary relationship, not only in words but in actions and a changed heart.
One husband had several extramarital affairs. The wife was going to leave him. But she thought she saw a real change for the first time so they went to a place that specializes in sexual addiction. The counselor set out the conditions: “Your wife is going to write down thirty questions that she has always wanted to ask you. You’re going to be hooked up to a lie detector and a detective is going to monitor every answer. She’s finally going to get all her answers, and you’ll submit to this lie detector test every four months for the next two years. And by the way—one more act of unfaithfulness and she is going to divorce you.”
The husband agreed and through much counseling and confession their marriage was restored. At the end of two years the marriage had become so sweet that the wife told her husband, “You don’t have to take the lie detector tests anymore” but the husband said, “Yes, I do.”
You see, that’s real repentance. That’s a man who realizes the harm he has done and the harm he is capable of doing again so he welcomes accountability. His desire to stop hurting his wife is greater than his desire to “enjoy” doing what wounds her. He knows the latter desire is not yet nonexistent so he takes concrete steps to guard himself and ultimately protect his wife from further pain.
Contrast this with a husband who had “dabbled” in meth. He and his wife have two small children. When his wife said it wasn’t safe for her and the children to share the same house with a meth addict, but she was willing to work with him if he would enter recovery, he said he was done with meth, recovery wasn’t necessary, and he refused to consider any drug tests. That’s not repentance. Lying and addiction are virtual synonyms. A repentant addict knows this and admits it and sees the tests as necessary steps for healing.
One husband displayed controlling behavior over his wife until a separation woke him up. I told him he had to be more concerned for his wife’s welfare than he was over her return. “If you truly love her, you shouldn’t want her to return until you know she won’t be hurt by this behavior anymore.” He later told me that sentence hit him like a sledgehammer and he kept repeating it to himself until it was true. He really didn’t want his wife to agree to live together anymore until he was certain there had been a heart change sufficient enough to protect her from his former behavior. Today they are back together and enjoying the best season of their marriage to date.
If you are the offending spouse and your spouse is willing to hang with you, you owe him/her real repentance. Not a minor change that keeps them silent for a few more months, but an admission of guilt, a major overhaul of behavior, concrete accountability to maintain the change and a heart transformation so complete that you don’t even want to get back together until you are relatively certain that, your behavior won’t make your spouse miserable any more. Anything less is not real repentance.
If your spouse is on the treadmill of saying-I’m-sorry-but-never-changing you can say, with some integrity, “Being sorry isn’t about what you say or even about how you feel. It’s ultimately about what you do.”
Couples therapy and counseling, can help relationships mend and stay in integrity by emphasizing that love includes accountability. For happy couples, love is not only a feeling but an action.
Paraphrased by Reverend Gary Thomas. Original Article – Read Here