Coping With a Spouse’s Betrayal
MARGARITA and her husband, Raúl, had served Jehovah together as full-time ministers for many years. * But shortly after the birth of their first child, Raúl began drawing away from Jehovah. Eventually, Raúl began living immorally and was disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. “When all of this happened,” says Margarita, “I felt that I was going to die. I was heartbroken, and I did not know what to do.”
Soon after Jane got married, her husband betrayed her trust and affection in a different manner. He began to abuse her physically. “The first time he punched me,” says Jane, “I was stunned, embarrassed, and humiliated. In what became a pattern, he begged me to forgive him. I thought it was my Christian obligation always to forgive and forget. I also thought it would be disloyal to mention our problem to anyone—even to the elders in our congregation. This pattern of abuse and forgiveness went on for years. All the while, I thought that there had to be something I could do to make my husband love me. When he finally left me and our daughter, I felt that I had failed, that I should have done or said more to hold the marriage together.”
Like Margarita and Jane, you may be suffering emotional, financial, and spiritual distress because your husband has betrayed you. Or you may be a husband who is experiencing heartache and hardship because your wife has been unfaithful. Undeniably, we are living in “critical times hard to deal with,” as the Bible foretold. This prophecy indicates that during “the last days,” the family unit would come under attack, with natural affection totally absent in many cases. Some would prove false to their claim of serving God. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) True Christians are not immune to these problems; hence, what can help you to cope if you have been betrayed?
See Yourself as Jehovah Sees You
At first, you may find it hard to believe that someone you love could hurt you so badly. You might even start to blame yourself for his or her sinful conduct.
Remember, though, even the perfect man Jesus was betrayed by someone he trusted and loved. Jesus selected his closest companions, the apostles, after much prayerful thought. All 12 were then trustworthy servants of Jehovah. Therefore, Jesus was no doubt deeply grieved when Judas “turned traitor.” (Luke 6:12-16) However, Jehovah did not hold Jesus accountable for Judas’ actions.
Granted, no marriage partner at present is perfect. Both mates will make mistakes. An inspired psalmist realistically wrote: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3) In imitation of Jehovah, both partners should be inclined to overlook each other’s imperfections.—1 Pet. 4:8.
However, “each of us will render an account for himself to God.” (Rom. 14:12) If a marriage mate establishes a record of abusive speech or actions, it is the guilty party who must answer to Jehovah. Jehovah condemns violence and abusive speech, so there is never any legitimate reason for treating a mate with such a gross lack of love and respect. (Ps. 11:5; Eph. 5:33; Col. 3:6-8) In fact, if a Christian repeatedly and unrepentantly gives in to fits of anger and will not change, he or she must be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. (Gal. 5:19-21; 2 John 9, 10) A marriage mate need not feel guilty for reporting such unchristian conduct to the elders. Indeed, Jehovah has compassion for the victims of such mistreatment.
When a marriage mate commits adultery, he or she sins not only against the innocent partner but also against Jehovah. (Matt. 19:4-9; Heb. 13:4) If the innocent mate has been endeavoring to live by Bible principles, there is no need to feel guilty about the sinful betrayal by the adulterer.
Remember that Jehovah knows how you feel. He describes himself as the husbandly owner of the nation of Israel, and his Word contains many touching passages that convey the grief he suffered because of the spiritually adulterous actions of that nation. (Isa. 54:5, 6; Jer. 3:1, 6-10) Be assured that Jehovah is keenly aware of the tears you shed if you are in some way betrayed by your marriage partner. (Mal. 2:13, 14) He knows your need for comfort and encouragement.
How Jehovah Provides Comfort
One of the ways Jehovah provides comfort is through the Christian congregation. Jane received such support. “The circuit overseer’s visit came at a point when I was very low emotionally,” recalls Jane. “He knew how depressed I was as a result of my husband’s filing for a divorce. He took the time to help me reason on such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 7:15. The Bible verses and his kind comments helped relieve my feelings of guilt and provided me with some peace of mind.” *
Margarita, mentioned earlier, also learned that Jehovah provides practical help through the Christian congregation. “When it became obvious that my husband was unrepentant,” says Margarita, “I took my children and moved to another city. On arrival, I was able to find two rooms to rent. The next day, overwhelmed with sadness, I was unpacking our bags when there was a knock on the door. I expected that it was the landlady, who lived next door. Amazingly, it was the sister who had conducted the Bible study with my mother and had helped our family learn the truth. She did not expect to see me but had come to this house because she studied the Bible with my landlady. I felt such relief—I was overcome with emotion. I explained my situation, and we cried together. She immediately arranged for us to attend the meeting that day. The congregation welcomed us, and the elders made practical arrangements to help me care for my family’s spiritual needs.”
How Others Can Help
Indeed, members of the Christian congregation can provide practical support in many ways. For example, Margarita now had to find employment. A family in the congregation offered to help care for her children after school when needed.
“What I really appreciate,” relates Margarita, “is when brothers and sisters offer to accompany me and my children in the field ministry.” By such practical assistance, members of the congregation are helping to ‘carry the burdens of one another’ and in so doing are fulfilling “the law of the Christ.”—Gal. 6:2.
Those who are suffering because of the sins of others truly appreciate this kind of practical help. Monique, whose husband abandoned her, leaving her with a $15,000 credit-card debt and four children to raise, says: “My spiritual brothers and sisters were so loving. I cannot imagine how I would have survived without their support. I feel that Jehovah supplied the most wonderful brothers, who gave of themselves to my children. I have had the pleasure of seeing my children grow to spiritual maturity with such help. If I needed advice, the elders helped me. If I needed someone to talk to, they listened.”—Mark 10:29, 30.
Of course, a loving friend will discern when it is best not to broach the subject of another’s sad experience. (Eccl. 3:7) “Most of the time,” says Margarita, “I enjoyed talking with the sisters in my new congregation about the preaching work, our Bible studies, our children—anything except my problems. I appreciated that they let me leave my past behind and helped me make a new start.”
Resist the Urge to Pay Back
At times, rather than somehow feeling responsible for your mate’s sins, you may resent the fact that you are suffering so badly as a result of his or her errors. If allowed to fester, this resentment may undermine your resolve to stay faithful to Jehovah. For instance, you may be tempted to look for ways to pay back your unfaithful mate.
If you realize that such feelings are pent-up within you, you might reflect on the example of Joshua and Caleb. These faithful men risked their lives to spy out the Promised Land. The other spies lacked faith and turned the people away from obeying Jehovah. Some of the Israelites even wanted to pelt Joshua and Caleb with stones when they tried to encourage the nation to remain faithful. (Num. 13:25–14:10) As a result of Israel’s actions, Joshua and Caleb were forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, not for their own error, but for the error of others.
Though Joshua and Caleb likely felt disappointed, they did not let their brothers’ sins make them bitter. They focused on maintaining their own spiritual balance. At the end of the 40 years in the wilderness, they, along with the Levites, were rewarded by being survivors of that generation and being allowed to enter the Promised Land.—Num. 14:28-30; Josh. 14:6-12.
The actions of your unfaithful mate may cause you to suffer for quite some time. The marriage may end, yet you may suffer emotional and financial hardship afterward. However, rather than allowing dark thoughts to cloud your thinking, remember that Jehovah knows best how to deal with those who deliberately disregard his standards, even as the faithless Israelites in the wilderness discovered.—Heb. 10:30, 31; 13:4.
You Can Cope!
Instead of allowing negative thoughts to weigh you down, fill your mind with Jehovah’s thoughts. “I found that listening to the tape recordings of The Watchtower and Awake! helped me to cope,” says Jane. “The meetings were also a great source of strength. Having an active share in the meetings helped keep my mind off my problems. The preaching work assisted me in the same way. By helping others build faith in Jehovah, I strengthened my own faith. And caring for Bible students helped to keep my mind on the more important things.”
Monique, mentioned earlier, says: “By attending the meetings regularly and by participating in the field service as often as I can, I have been able to endure. My family have drawn closer to one another and to the congregation. My ordeal has helped me recognize my own weaknesses. I have been tested, but with Jehovah’s help I am able to cope.”
You too can cope with similar trials. Despite the pain caused by a betrayal, strive to follow Paul’s inspired counsel: “Let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.”—Gal. 6:9.
^ par. 2 Some names have been changed.
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Abandoned mates appreciate those who assist them in the field ministry