Something is Broken

By Keith Miller | September 16, 2010

I have been disloyal to my wife and she found out.  I’ve confessed, and have also confessed to God.  I feel like God has forgiven me, and I’ve forgiven myself.  But my spouse says “It’s not that easy—that something’s broken—that ‘being sorry’ won’t fix it.”  She said she feels betrayed and that is (so far) not possible to get over.  We both still love each other, but don’t know what to do to get really close again.  Can you help us any?

Oh boy, this is a question that many people have asked—including me.  From my counseling and my own experience, I have found that for some people (who are the “betrayers,”) it is difficult to grasp all of the domino-cascading consequences resulting from the betrayal.  One of these consequences is related to the nature of trust.  In fact, many people equate “forgiveness” with “trust.”  But there is a difference between the grace that allows someone to forgive us, and the difficulty that person has with trusting the betrayer again.  Personal betrayal is about as deep a wound as can be inflicted.

Recently I heard a sermon by Rick Shurtz, teaching pastor at Gateway Church, that helped me see this whole problem more clearly.  Rick talked about the impact a personal betrayal had on him.  One of his elementary school teachers was, he felt, the best teacher he had ever had—even through graduate school.  The teacher was especially friendly toward Rick, and Rick especially remembers the period set aside each day during which each student read silently something of his or her choice.  Rick noticed that the teacher did his own silent reading, and he always had his Bible open in front of him.  This made a very strong positive impression on Rick.

Eventually this teacher moved to another city and became the Principal of another elementary school.  One day, when Rick was around fourteen, his parents told him that they had just learned that this former teacher—the man who had befriended him, inspired him to learn, and who showed him that it was not shameful to be a Christian—had been arrested for child molestation.

Later that evening, as Rick watched the story reported on the local nightly news, he felt numb with shock.  This teacher’s behavior felt like a personal betrayal to Rick—and it hurt and confused him in many ways.  For example he couldn’t help wondering if, when he went to class the next day, the other students (who knew Rick was one of the teacher’s favorites) would think that Rick had been one of the students this teacher had molested, although he hadn’t been.  He questioned everything that he learned from his teacher—particularly concerning his Christian witness.

In his sermon Rick pointed out that many people who have been betrayed (though not all) have found God’s grace and been able to forgive the person who betrayed them.  And although grace, and forgiveness are a free gift, the trust of the people who had been betrayed had to be earned, and restoring trust might take a lot of time.  After a betrayal, the person betrayed experiences many painful feelings, and must also grapple with the heart-breaking knowledge that the trusted one had the ability and the will to deceive her or him.

This statement said a lot to me about the struggle that a person who has been betrayed goes through, especially after deciding to continue in a relationship after a betrayal.  It is difficult to regain that original freely given trust that had existed.

So it may be that what your wife says is “broken,”—that saying, “I’m sorry” won’t fix— is trust.  Trust is one of the most essential ingredients of a close relationship.  So if getting close again is what you and your spouse want to experience, perhaps your focusing on restoring trust between you can help you make progress.

So how do people restore trust when it has been broken?  I don’t know.  But for the one who has been the betrayer, as you have, I think practicing patience and learning to do what you can to behave in a trustworthy manner toward the one you have betrayed would be important.

For the one who has been betrayed, here is something I learned from Pat Mellody.[1]

“Relationships require trust.  The problems come when we do not recognize that trust is not a decision, but the result of certain actions.  Trust is the result of taking risks over time and not getting hurt.”

Somehow the one betrayed has the idea that he or she must be vigilant and smart to somehow avoid being betrayed again.  But keeping up a constant vigilance to protect oneself from the pain of being betrayed can close the door on current and future intimacy.  So making the decision to take some risks with the relationship is a step of courage that—if one doesn’t get hurt—can allow trust to grow.

While the original, unblemished, freely given trust you each had for the other may never return, I believe it is possible for a new kind of trust to grow, perhaps stronger because of what you have both learned in this painful but maturing process.

And for both parties, I would add—pray for yourselves and each other as you go through the coming months and years.

This sermon clarified for me why some people close to me (not my wife, Andrea) have difficulty being around me, even almost forty years after I had a moral failure and betrayed their trust.  I have been forgiven (by God and by these people), and I have tried to conduct myself in a trustworthy way toward them.  But the relationships with some of them are not close (at least not as close as I would like them to be).  And the tenuous contacts I do have with them feel very delicate and touchy to me. I am very sad about that, but understand and accept it as one of the many consequences of my unwise choices almost forty years ago.  I am grateful for the insight I got from Rick’s talking about how being betrayed impacted him.  So I want to say “thank you” to any of you reading this for questions like this.  Sometimes in trying to help you sort these issues out, God helps me to deal with them in my own life.

Dear Lord, thank you for your grace and forgiveness when we confess.  Help me to hear and try to understand with patience the reactions of those whom I have hurt.  Teach me what you would have me to learn from the painful reality of the pain I have caused in others.

And please help me to learn how to be trustworthy in all my relationships—particularly with you.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Are you hurting? Pray. … Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.  (James 5:13, 15-17)

It is impossible to go through life without trust: That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.  Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear

How do you learn to be trustworthy, when you can’t undo a betrayal or have hurt someone in other ways and they can’t trust you?  We welcome your comments below.


[1] Mellody, Pia, with Andrea Wells Miller and J. Keith Miller, Facing Love  Addiction. p. 157

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Something is Broken
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