If we look to movies or romance novels for a definition of love on which to model our marriage, we’ll quickly find ourselves confused, disappointed, and embittered.
To Hollywood, love is a feeling. But that’s not real love. Real love keeps a couple together when feelings wane and passion ebbs. It keeps them committed when the world crashes in and when their bodies age and fail. Real love satisfies a couple for decades.
That’s because real love isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice.
Getting Re-educated on Love
In 2011, I discovered my husband had multiple affairs during our 19-year marriage. I was shell shocked. “I don’t love you anymore,” he said.
We separated, me to find answers, and my husband to pursue the world. That’s also when God—the author of love—began my re-education. The qualities of real love—truth, humility, patience, perseverance, boundaries, and repentance—became more than religious terms, God challenged me to back up my commitment with faith and obedience.
After four years of prayer and practical application, my husband and I were reconciled. Our emotional intimacy grows daily and exponentially. It’s a marriage I could never have imagined.
Here are the six reasons why I want to encourage you to choose to love your unrepentant spouse even in the face of addiction and infidelity.
1. We All Have Core Wounds
Every one of us had some kind of dysfunction in our childhood. Even if your parents were saints, they were still sinners like their parents before them. Where you have dysfunction, you have sin and pain. Where you have pain, you have a need to medicate.
My grandfather taught my father it was weak to show affection, so I grew up starved of the love and approval a daughter so desperately craves from her daddy. For my husband, emotional abandonment in his childhood came in the form of his parents’ ineffectual boundaries. Our parents weren’t “bad people”; they simply had core wounds from their childhood they passed on to us (Exodus 20:5-6).
Whether your spouse is a professing Christian or not, they have core wounds. In all likelihood, they are unconsciously using their sexual sin to medicate themselves from pain just like you may use food, entertainment, shopping, or control to medicate yours.
2. We’re All Sinners
It’s hard not to think the way the world does about sin, that one crime or violation is worse than another. Our whole court system is based on it. Murder is more criminal than slander. Rape gets more shock and awe than a porn site, and embezzlement stirs up infinitely more rage than shoplifting. It’s all perspective.
But not to God. Romans 8:23 says we’ve all missed the mark or fallen short of God’s standard. Revelations 21:8 puts murder on the same level as unbelief, cowardice, and lying. Yes, there are different consequences and repercussions on this side of heaven, but it only took one of our sins for Jesus to have to go to the cross.
That doesn’t minimize our spouse’s betrayal. That particular pain hurts like hell. You may fantasize about pouring coffee on his laptop, flushing his iPhone down the toilet, or even snipping off his man parts—
Uh, but there you go. You sinned according to Matthew 5:22 (anyone who is angry with another is subject to judgment). You have become just as guilty and deserving of punishment for putting Christ on the cross as your unfaithful spouse.
Sure, there’s righteous anger but most of us aren’t angry with our spouse because they’ve disrespected God (John 2:14-16).
I know it doesn’t seem fair, but how fair was it for Jesus, an innocent man, to die for our sin? I worshipped people’s approval more than God’s and I tried playing God in my husband’s life because I was terrified of rejection and abandonment. Bottom line, even though I committed undying devotion to God, my first husband, I betrayed Him as much as my husband betrayed me.
3. I Made a Covenant with God
On my wedding day when I stood at the altar before my family and friends, God was there too. I vowed to my husband, my loved ones, and God, “for better or worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish” for the rest of my earthly life.
Our spouse’s infidelity? That’s the “worse”. Our spouse’s sexual addiction? That’s the “sickness”. My agreement to love and to cherish him didn’t include “as long as he loves and cherishes me back”.
Let’s be clear. We did not make a commitment to let our spouse treat us like a maid, a sex toy, or wall. Setting boundaries is also an act of love. God sets boundaries for us throughout Scripture so we can stay in relationship with Him (1 John 1:5-10). Calling your spouse to repent and return to their commitment to God and you, is the most loving thing you can do for them.
4. Move Them Toward Repentance
If your spouse has secret sin, you don’t have to be the one to expose it.
Let me say that again, because this thought is hard to wrap our head around: If you’ve furtively tracked your spouse’s whereabouts via GPS, secretly scoured their phones for illicit messages, or privately poured over credit card statements looking for evidence of their betrayal, STOP!
Instead of getting angry or hiding, what would happen if you reacted to your spouse’s sin with God’s love and healthy boundaries? Paul told the Romans they could overcome others’ sin with kindness (Romans 12:17-21). Peter agreed saying love overcomes sin (1 Peter 4:8).
How in the world can loving my spouse like Jesus lead them toward repentance (Romans 2:4)? Think about your response to Jesus’ love for you. You didn’t deserve his love and kindness, but he gave it anyway (Romans 5:6). And because he did, you repented.
5. Jesus Set Us an Example
From the cross, Jesus expressed love and compassion for the people who were murdering him (Luke 23:34). It may seem impossible to love like this, but if Jesus did it, so can we. It ain’t easy, but it is possible because love is a choice, not a feeling.
When my husband chose adultery over me, I choose to believe Jesus could move the mountain of sin off his heart (Matthew 17:20-21).
When it looked like my marriage was dead, I chose to follow Jesus’ example and claim God’s resurrection power to restore it just like Jesus believed his Father could raise him from the dead (Acts 2:24).
That’s because Jesus said if I have faith, nothing is impossible for me (Matthew 17:20). He also said if I stay connected to him through his Word, he’ll do anything I ask (John 15:7). Through the Apostle Paul he said I could can do anything when I rely on him for my strength (Philippians 4:13).
6. God Commands It
The last and most important reason I need to love my unrepentant spouse is quite simply because God commands it.
In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he turned Jewish tongues wagging when he flipped the Law on its head and told them they needed to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (Matthew 5:44).
Why? Because it’s his hallmark and evidence to a sin-sick world that he’s real, and alive, and loves us desperately (John 13:34-35, 7:23). When we love like this, we are the most like Him (1 John 4:17).
For a girl that grew up desperately craving her daddy’s love and approval, how could I not respond to Him?
What Stops Us
What keeps us from loving our spouses when they aren’t repentant? Pride, fear, and unbelief.
Pride because we’ve forgotten we signed up to be a servant like Jesus (John 13:14-17).
And unbelief because we’ve forgotten how powerful our Creator is (Psalm 18).
Oh, and there’s one more—because it’s hard (Hebrews 12:7, 11).
It’s hard to love with firm boundaries and respect. It takes supernatural fortitude to maintain a love that protects the truth and integrity of the commitment we made. It’s a love that sees not who we or who our spouses are, but who we can be.
Such a love is unstoppable (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
Disclaimer: Please note that we are speaking to a difficult marriage here, not a dangerous one. If you are in an environment that is not safe, we encourage you to seek help.
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