By Justin and Megan Dungan
We both understand from personal experience that there are two hurting individuals in a scenario like this: the offender and the offended. We have a heart for both sides. However, since this question is written from the perspective of the offender, we will focus on that for our response.
Shame and guilt likely has found its way into your head from time to time, if not consistently, over the last decade. First, we feel that it’s important to try to understand and appreciate the weight of your offense on your spouse. This doesn’t mean walking around with your head low in constant shame, but rather understanding that decisions we make have consequences. No matter how big or small the offense, there is always a consequence. To accept that consequence is important, and it likely means that you have walked/will walk through very challenging times as a couple. This period of dryness may be brief, or it may be extended, and accepting that unknown variable is very hard to swallow.
Part of appreciating the offense from the perspective of your spouse includes understanding their ‘triggers’ for the event. Your spouse likely has developed insecurities around this event, some of which may not even be known to them, and these insecurities can come to the surface when a trigger hits them. Triggers for your spouse may include your staying at work late, going out of town for work, going out with certain friends, a random line in a movie or TV show, among many others. Can you begin looking ahead and minimizing these triggers so they are not as hurtful for your spouse? Can you begin putting some distance between you and the group of friends that act as a trigger for your spouse? Can you begin going to work-related conferences with an accountable friend? Should you stop exposing yourself to movies that include adultery? Should you stop using certain social media channels? Should you install filtering software on your computer? Try to appreciate the triggers that your spouse has and treat them the way you would like to be treated.
Put up some boundaries. These boundaries may be needed for the rest of your marriage, the rest of the year, or just a few months. And again you have to be okay with that. Even if you don’t fully understand or agree with your spouse's triggers, showing them grace and understanding in this area and loving them through the pain goes a long way in their healing process. Let us say, however, that in no way should you accept abuse, verbal or physical, from your spouse. You should never feel that you ‘deserve’ this type of behavior. If you find yourself in that situation, it is imperative that you separate yourself (and children) from that environment now. This doesn’t mean you are giving up, you are simply protecting yourself and your children and you can continue to work on your marriage from that environment, with the assistance of professional counseling.
More importantly, however, completely embrace the individual you are in Christ. And that starts with knowing and understanding what you have been forgiven from. We have a saying at Journey that we repeat often in our house: “It’s okay to be messed up here, but it’s not okay to stay that way." This reflects the truth that we are all broken and have been forgiven, but also recognizes that we have a decision to make. Are we going to continue behavior that Christ warns is detrimental to us, our family, etc. or are we going to accept forgiveness from our heavenly Father, turn from our behavior, and lead the life we were called to lead?
Assuming you have taken the latter position, we would encourage you to hold fast to Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We love the words ‘hope’ and ‘future’ in that text. While we are in dry spots in our marriage, we can feel that we are wasting time, almost running in circles. However, this Scripture promises that He has a plan, and He has a future for us. We have also found from personal experience that He can bring us through extensive healing in a very short amount of time, essentially making up any ‘lost’ time that we thought might have been gone forever.
It’s a very hard journey that you have traveled and continue to travel. We commend you for seeking ways to help your spouse heal and grow through this process.