Christian Counseling; In A Relationship Crisis: Give One No Chance or Endless Chances?

Five days ago Sandi discovered her husband had a first-time, recent affair. Yesterday she took her children and moved back to her home state where her family lives. She has no intention of ever reconciling with her husband or giving him another chance. Though the name is fictitious, the story is true. I have witnessed this fairly uncommon event a few times over the years of my counseling.

More common is the story of Jen who remains true to her husband who has had a few affairs over the course of their marriage and is addicted to pornography. 

Sandi and Jen have their reasons for handling the critical marriage in their own way. Sandi may have wanted to end the relationship and found a "Biblical" way of calling it quits. Or it may have been that she had little tolerance for conflict and pain or had a limited sense of mercy due to her father cheating on her mother. Jen, on the other hand, might believe in endless understanding and forgiveness, knowing we all have a sin nature and that she isn't perfect. She may believe that God gives all people unlimited chances and had no choice but to forgive and stay. Or Jen might have been very fearful of hurting her children by leaving or insecure about venturing out into the world on her own that she chose to stay in a tortuous marriage.

Of course, there are many more possible reasons why people like Sandi and Jen chose to do what they do. In my opinion, crises reveal the true nature of our character, usually for good and ill. Conflicts and tragedies bring out the best and worst in us, even if we only reveal just the one side. Here are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves in a crisis: 

What do I want to do (emotional)? 

What should I do (conscience and reasoning)? 

What do I believe God wants me to do (spiritual)? 

What are others saying about it? 

What, if anything, is the Bible saying about how I could rightly respond? 

What have I been fantasizing about doing?  

How fast or how slow should I proceed?     

How are my own history and character helping and hindering me in handling this crisis?

Though I believe anyone has the right and spiritual freedom to end a marriage if a partner has an affair, I firmly believe that an established pattern of behavior is key to decision-making. There is no question that we all fall very short of doing what we should do and being who we should be. Those in recovery often fall once, twice, even three times during the first year. To give a person no chance after a mistake, even a very serious one, reveals something not only about the offender, but the offended, that needs to be understood. Similarly, a person who lacks relational boundaries and continues on in a relationship when there is a pattern of destructive behavior says much about the offended person. Taking that position gives an offender the knowledge that no matter what he or she does, you, the offended, will never leave, which, unfortunately, will most often be taken as a license to give in to their harmful ways. Sharp and painful consequences are a deterrent to continuing acting out behaviors. 

If something acts like a duck, quacks like a duck and does it more than two or three times, it is a duck. In that sense, past behavior predicts future behavior, but only when there is a pattern. 

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