Over at my blog, a marriage support group leader asked me, “If a previously unfaithful husband is really working hard to win trust and he appears to be doing the right thing AND his wife refuses to trust him after months (maybe years) of anger, etc., what should the husband do next?”
Here’s how I responded to her. I hope it will help give you ideas on how to help couples experiencing a similar struggle.
Sexual infidelity strikes at the very heart of marital trust. I believe that is why it is one of the few biblical grounds for divorce. Trust is very difficult to rebuild once it is broken, and it sometimes takes a betrayed woman a very long time to fully trust her husband again.
One way of looking at the situation is that she may never fully trust him, and that may be one of the consequences of his sin that he (and she) will have to live with if they stay married.
Let me make an analogy. If, while driving recklessly, the husband caused an accident that paralyzed his wife, no amount of repentance would change the reality that she is now paralyzed. But together they could learn to live in this new place if she knew he was repentant for his reckless driving habits and he knew she forgave him even though she still remained paralyzed.
You don’t mention the particulars, but you do give a few clues as to why the wife doesn’t trust her husband that I want to flesh out.
First, you say that her husband is working hard and appears to be doing the right thing, but he is not getting the result he wants—his wife’s trust. My concern with your question regarding what he should do next makes me wonder why the husband is doing what he’s doing.
In other words, his actions, even though they look right, still seem much about him. Getting his wife to trust him, love him, and forgive him so that he has a better marriage. If he doesn’t get those things, will that mean that he stops trying to love his wife and earn her trust?
Forgiveness is essential
The second clue you mention is that his wife still has a lot of anger toward her husband. Her anger is appropriate for the sin, but to hold on to it for years hinders her ability to forgive and reconcile with her husband.
To heal a broken relationship takes repentance and forgiveness. Healing cannot fully take place without both.
If you have forgiveness, but no real repentance, the relationship continues to be damaged and real trust can never be reestablished. On the other hand, if you have repentance but no forgiveness, the relationship still remains broken and genuine intimacy and trust are forsaken.
It seems to me that the wife may be having more problems with forgiveness because she can’t (won’t) let go of her anger. If she could forgive, perhaps they both could lovingly live with the continued lack of trust and together work to rebuild their relationship.
No easy answers
Again, using the analogy of a wife being paralyzed by her husband’s reckless driving: if she forgave him, they could live with the paralysis, but she still might be fearful for a long, long time whenever she is riding with him.
As long as he continued to be patient and compassionate with her lack of trust, knowing that his past foolishness caused her great pain and consequence, they would be able to have a loving relationship.
But if he grew impatient and angry because “she wasn’t over it yet” or he drove the slightest bit recklessly, it would erase all the good work he had done previously in helping her to feel safe.
Hope for the future?
So the answer to your question isn’t simple. The husband can continue to work toward rebuilding his wife’s trust by being patient and loving with her lack of it.
The wife must learn to let go of her anger and forgive her husband if she wants to have a good marriage. It will take both of their work to make that happen.
If the wife is in the support group, ask her what she gets out of holding on to her anger for all this time. Perhaps it’s her way to punish him. But at what cost, both to her and to her marriage?
How would you have answered the support group leader’s question?