Good afternoon Dr. Buckingham,
My wife and I have been married for 19 years. I will admit the marriage has been on rocky ground from day 1, with the exception of the birth of our children. My wife has been verbally abusive the majority of the marriage; she yells and screams at our kids and rarely apologizes when wrong.
A few years ago, I read a text message my wife wrote to someone whom I considered a friend. The message read, “I know old girl is over there, I’m not mad.” I immediately questioned what was going on and received a response of “nothing” and “oh, we are reading each others text now?” Because I couldn’t prove anything, I didn’t confront the issue further. I just let it fade away, but deep within, I struggled dealing with it.
People had made certain statements around me to make me think she had cheated, but I would always say not my wife (but I always did have some doubt). Oh, did I mention that early in our marriage a man called my house (I could hear clearly), and she said “girl, yes” as if a female was on the phone. When asked why she did it, she said she didn’t want me to think anything.
So recently, I finally asked my wife if she loved me or was in love with me. She turned the question over to me without answering. I then asked if she had cheated on me in our 19 years of marriage. And she admitted she had on two occasions (with different people) within the past seven years. She admitted the affair with the friend, but told me it happened during a time she didn’t know if she loved me and wanted out.
At first, I thought I was not ready to give up on my family, and I’m ready to fight to save it. But now I’m not so sure. I really have a problem with infidelity. I know I can forgive her because that is what Christ requires of us, but I can’t get over the fact she put the family through so much over the years, while cheating in the process. Nor can I get over the fact that she allowed a friend to invade what I considered to be mine. Now she wants to make things right. I am now her ROCK, her man, her lover and her friend. This is the first time I have heard this from my wife in 19 years. My plans are to leave, but my children are priority. Based on my wife’s behavior do I have grounds for divorcing her?
Signed, Husband in Doubt
Dear Husband in Doubt,
I am saddened to hear that your marriage might come to an end. Considering that you mentioned forgiveness and Christ, I will answer your question from a biblical perspective. Based on my understanding as a Christian, I believe that adultery and abandonment are the only two reasons why a person may divorce his or her spouse. Exodus chapter 20, verse 14 tells us, “Thou shalt not commit adultery. Also, Hebrews chapter 13, verse 4 tells us that “Marriage [is] honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
I share the latter Bible verses for two purposes. Purpose No. 1 is to answer your question and purpose No. 2 is to challenge you to think about your concept of forgiveness.
Purpose #1: According to the Exodus and Hebrews listed above, yes, you do have grounds to divorce your wife. Also, 1 Corinthians chapter 7, verses 1 though 40 provides insight about interactions between men and women in relation to marriage. I realize that you are in a great deal of distress and feel betrayed. You have every right to feel as such. However, I ask that you keep an open mind as you read on.
Purpose #2: You stated, “I know I can forgive her because that is what Christ requires of us, but I can’t get over the fact she put the family through so much over the years, while cheating in the process. Nor can I get over the fact that she allowed a friend to invade what I considered to be mine. Now she wants to make things right.”
I am slightly confused about your statement and concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness as I know it means to wipe the slate clean, to cancel a debt or to pardon someone. The primary reason for asking for forgiveness or showing forgiveness is to increase the possibility for restoration. We forgive out of love, mercy and grace, which are bestowed upon by God.
If you cannot get over the fact that your wife put the family through so much, then you are not able to forgive. I associate forgiveness with the ability to remove resentment and anger from your heart in order to develop a peace of mind. In order to have a peace of mind, you have to restore your heart to a place of mercy. Release your wife from the wrong that she has committed against you and the family, so that you can gain control of your life from hurt emotions (Genesis 4:1-8). Also, be careful not to grow weary. Hebrews chapter 12, verse 14 tell us to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”
I apologize for focusing so much on forgiveness, but I want to make sure that you find peace in your situation. Whatever decision you make regarding your marriage, please do so with love, mercy and grace. Your children are watching and will also be impacted by your decision and behavior just as they have been impacted by your wife’s decisions and behavior.
Consider family counseling whether you decide to leave or stay. Speaking with someone about your distress and your children’s potential distress will prove to be beneficial in the long run.
If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to email@example.com
Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.