One of most common questions I get asked by men (I’m writing this as a man to other men, but the following advice applies to women caught in the same) who have been unfaithful in their marriage (whether through pornography use or a physical affair) is this:
How can I win back her trust?
The answer to that question will vary from couple to couple, but the foundation is always the same. That foundation gets laid when the offender acknowledges what his rights are, which are these:
Did you catch them? They are very important, so take a moment to write them down. To say it another way, in case you missed it the first time, the rights that are yours as the unfaithful one in a marriage are these:
Speaking from personal experience, the longer it took me to realize this foundational truth – that I had no rights – the longer I delayed healing and the rebuilding of trust in my marriage. The moment I stepped out of my marriage in unfaithfulness was the moment I forfeited whatever rights I had.
What sort of rights am I talking about? Well, at the risk of sounding simplistic, ALL of them. There are things about a broken marriage which will look different from a healthy one until trust is restored, and the sooner you recognize that the better. Your marriage is no longer one of equal footing (if it ever was). So what does this mean in real life?
- When she hurts your feelings you don’t tell her that she has hurt your feelings. Most likely she was trying to. Suck it up.
- When she calls you all sorts of names and her anger is bearing down on you with both barrels, you bear it. Don’t assert your “right” to have your argument heard, and don’t try to tell her she is sinning against you with her words or actions.*
- When she wants to stay up until 3am talking about her fears you listen. Don’t assert your “right” to get some sleep because you have to work in the morning.
- When she wants to cancel a family vacation or alter other routine events, comply. If friends and family object, defend her.
- When she wants to convert your office space into a scrap-booking room, help her do it.
- When she wants to look through your cell phone every hour, or have access to your laptop, or wishes to know every move you make every minute of the day, be grateful she wants to be involved in your life so intimately, and thank her for it.
There came a point where I was so broken over the sin I had done and the pain my actions had brought upon my wife that I no longer had the will to rise up and assert myself. The sooner I stopped asserting myself, the sooner healing began and trust was restored. The more I fought that, the more miserable we both were. Here is a handy chart to demonstrate that:
A person who has experienced true brokenness over their sin, who understands godly sorrow over worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10), will willingly lay down their rights. This is not something any of us can do on our own. We must have the Spirit of God at work within us, constantly remaking us into the image of Christ, who “though in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
We must become like Christ towards our hurting wives, and bear them and their pain the way Christ has borne ours. You, like Jesus, have no rights.
How long, you ask? How long until I can eat where I want to eat? Well, here is a helpful chart I made that depicts the length of time your rights are withheld:
This is not a hard and fast rule, but the longer you have been sinning against God and your wife the longer it will take to establish a good foundation. Of course, the ideal you are shooting for is where both partners surrender their rights to each other, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21). And no, you do not have the right to tell your wife she is to submit to you out of the fear of Christ. You lost that right, too. With God’s help, she will willingly give that back to you when you have done the hard work of following the above advice.
Guys, believe me, it’s worth it!
* While the offended party may indeed be sinning against God and you with their anger and bitterness, it’s crucial you understand 2 things: First, you caused this. Second, it’s not for you to point this out to her. Your primary duty is to pray for her and to intercede on her behalf to God, bearing her sins in the way Christ bore your own. The longer your wife sees her daggers falling on a humble, prayerful, loving target the sooner those daggers will lessen, become duller, and soon cease altogether.