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Restoring Trust After an Adulterous Affair

Truth in Love 288

What has been broken can be restored by God because of God's power and for God's glory.

Dec 7, 2020

Dale Johnson: Today, I’m delighted to have with us one of our board members. Kevin Backus has been a long-time member of ACBC, and he serves as the pastor of Bible Presbyterian Church in Grand Island, New York. He’s also a chaplain with law enforcement in New York, and I’m so grateful that he’s here. He also teaches at Western Reform Seminary in Tacoma, Washington, also at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, and he teaches a few courses for Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Kevin, I’m so grateful that you’re here. This is such an important topic that so many people have had to walk through, the difficulty and the destruction of an adulterous relationship. So, brother, thank you for coming, for speaking on this topic, and encouraging folks who are walking through that difficulty.

Now, I want to begin if we can, Kevin, talking about this issue because often what happens in a broken relationship like this is people lose trust, but I think it’s helpful that we define our terms first. So, what is what is trust? What is it to trust in a person, and how does that type of trust actually develop? 

Kevin Backus: Trust is essentially defined as a firm belief in someone else. You have a confidence that they’re going to be acting with your best interest at heart. They have an ability to demonstrate the kind of care that you believe you’re looking for in that relationship, and that you’ve got a pattern, a track record, that their actions back up that confidence that you have. It’s really rooted in a belief in a person or an institution, if it’s of that kind, but it comes always through a period of time to see the evidence of what you’re looking for. I think sometimes we think there’s a certain amount of trust that’s owed to people just because of a position that they hold. That’s not how you enter into marriage. Before you’re standing before your minister and taking your vows, you’ve had a long period of time—whether you’re conscious of it or not—where you’re evaluating whether or not you can have trust, confidence, belief in the person that you’re about to spend your life with. 

Dale Johnson: Sometimes the one who’s committed the affair, they’ve come to a place where they are repentant, and they sort of assume, “Okay, I’ve turned. I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not engaging in this activity. I’m coming back to you.” They assume that trust is something that ought to happen automatically, but even when a couple decides to reconcile, and even when the offended party is willing to reconcile, trust is not something that’s automatic. So many people think that it is. Talk about that idea that trust is not necessarily something within the marital relationship that’s automatic. 

Kevin Backus: Yeah, usually when this happens, the person who’s the offender has dealt with this issue. They’ve gone back and forth in their brain. They’ve been guilty for years. They’ve been thinking about for months, trying to figure out how they’re going to address this, and they have the conversation and think, “Okay. That’s it. It’s all over, and now we just reset to where we were before.” But in the first place trust grew over a period of time. In this situation when there’s a willingness to rebuild it’s still going to take a period of time to give both parties a chance to regain confidence in one another. 

Dale Johnson: That’s right, and I think that, as you mentioned, that takes time, takes experiences; they walk with that person through this reconciliation. Now, it’s hard enough as a counselor sometimes to ask a spouse to trust someone who’s previously offended. So, in that case, are we asking them to be vulnerable or gullible if we’re asking them to trust this previous offender? 

The only Being that we can have absolute confidence in would be the Lord. That's the only ironclad trust that we've got. Click To Tweet

Kevin Backus: Well, you know, there’s some vulnerability in every relationship, but we’re not asking them to be gullible. In fact, some of the steps we’ll talk about will be things that will confirm and give an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of behavior that shows a person to be trustworthy. The Proverbs talks about the fact that the fool believes everything, but the wise, the prudent, considers his steps well—that’s Proverbs 14, 15, and 16. We’re not asking them to be foolish. We’re not asking for blind confidence. Quite honestly, the only Being that we can have absolute confidence in would be the Lord. That’s the only ironclad trust that we’ve got, or relationship we’ve got, and everyone else is a limited confidence, and trust in people is always relative. So, this is going to be an area we want to take some steps to help give an opportunity to build the things that will lead to having trust.

Dale Johnson: That’s such a helpful distinction, Kevin, as you described that growing in the process of trust. We’re not just asking them to have blind trust as so many people might think when there’s s a counselor asking someone to reconcile or to follow out this relationship. So, you mentioned some steps, and I’m curious, I think this is going to be helpful, what are some of those steps that we can help a couple work through to build trust? 

Kevin Backus: I think one of the first things is that we should address the motivation they have for wanting to rebuild this relationship. There are often motivations that are very self-focused. I think we can consider, “What is a good testimony for the Lord?” We consider the grace of God, which is not limited, and the hope that we can give them that in the future that what has been broken can be restored by God because of God’s power and for God’s glory. Quite honestly, as far as motivation goes, just the the idea that one party who has been offended can say, “I want to believe you. I want to have trust in you,” can be tremendously encouraging and hope-giving and helpful along the way. So, addressing that’s the first thing. 

Believing—helping a couple believe in the promises of God, and you know, the Scripture’s replete with that, so I won’t go into those, but there’s so many promises that God gives us about His help to us in these times as we’re seeking to follow Him and honor Him. We can certainly believe that God knows how to deal with people who are faithless and deceitful and the issue of those, who Proverbs tells us, who hide sins and cover it. They’re not going to prosper. So, we have our confidence in God as we walk through that. 

I think we really have to help a couple understand the nature of sin. So often when I have been involved helping people in this time in their life, their idea of what led them into this affair to begin with is very foreign to Scripture. “Well, you know, I don’t really have to worry about it because this woman was just my husband’s perfect ideal woman—eye color, hair color, figure, everything—and that’s why this happened. It’ll never happen again.” Well, it does. You know, that’s not the reason that you got involved in the situation. The basic issues about sin, going to James 1, talking about the development of the lust in the heart and how that out works out in life, is something that has to be understood in order to be addressed.

A lot of times when we’re teaching people about counseling, there’s the old wheel illustration that talks about a problem and all the ways that it works out in various areas in their life. This is one of those sins that dominates a life. If we’re going to help a couple be successful, they need to understand how this sin has bled over into and affected their relationship with the Lord, their relationship with their extended family, not just the the marital relationship. That it’s probably affected their finances and so many other areas that we want them to take a look at, and of course, in today’s day and age, their health and the concerns that come up there. That would be another area. 

Then, I think once you understand about those sins, you begin to look at the basics of confession. “I sinned,” or, “I did this,” “I’m sorry,” “It was a great mistake,” “I’m disappointed in myself,” is not a Christian confession. As a counselor, I so often think we’re believing the Christians because we talk about confession, we talk about forgiveness so much, we assume counselees know what that means. I don’t think that’s true. I mean, it certainly has proven not to be. I think there’s very good reason to examine what are the particular sins, and then to help people address specifically how to go about confessing a sin. 

I always like to refer back to Peacemakers. They have the seven A’s of confession, and it’s a very helpful tool to give to a counselee, to walk through what needs to be addressed when they really begin to unpack this. Seldom in the first meeting you have, have people really unpacked all the areas that have been involved, and then made an honest confession about any of those things. Then, particularly as well, although we tend to talk about an offender and offended, and we want to emphasize that there’s not an excuse for sin and I’m 100 percent responsible for the sin that I’ve committed. There are also things that the partner may have done that have made it harder for their spouse to be faithful. Not always, but sometimes. I think it’s appropriate for them to be able to take a hard look at that as well. To take a look at, as you’re addressing this, what may have been a part of your relationship that has exacerbated this? What might have made it more difficult for there to be faithfulness in the relationship? 

Once you get to that point where you’ve unpacked the sin that’s been involved, you’ve taken a look at the ways that it’s shown up in their lives, then I think it’s helpful to be able to structure a program of some steps that they can take together as a couple to begin to rebuild that relationship. I think a part of that is going to be, for Christians, that they’re going to involve their local church, they’re going to involve their pastor, they’re going to involve the elders in the church however that’s structured so that there can be accountability to the body. There can be the resources and help of the church that comes alongside God’s people. I believe that it’s very helpful for, in ACBC, I think we emphasize counseling couples together. Not letting this become two people seeing two separate counselors, and it becomes very difficult to make sure that that they’re actually on the same page and working together, and you’re getting a good track record on what’s happening in their lives, in the relationship. 

A couple things that I encourage people to do at this time would be to develop a plan for some accountability. That’s where you’re going to begin to provide some opportunities for trust to be rebuilt. For example, I kind of lump a few together. I would encourage them to be willing to be made accountable, if they’re offender, to be willing to be accountable, to accept rules for accountability, enter wholeheartedly into it, not to enter like a petulant child who’s being punished. The flip side of that is that the spouse not to treat it as punishment, not to treat it as every time, you know, I’m looking for an opportunity—one guy described it as you’re trying to climb out of the well, and I’m going to stomp on the fingers because I like to control what I’ve developed—but to have some rules for that accountability. 

I think a few areas for accountability in particular would be in time, the use of time, a person’s whereabouts, and in their finances. Not everyone’s used to that. Sometimes you have to teach some time management and get people to start keeping a schedule and planning a schedule in advance and letting their spouse know, being willing to be checked up on throughout the day. I think it’s helpful. Where you are, how you use your time, as well as finances, you know, if you’re going to have an affair, it’s going to cost some money generally. There are going to be meetings in places, and you can keep a careful check on those things. 

I think during this time you want to emphasize that you need to be scrupulously honest about things, painfully honest in some sense. I’m not sure how it works at your house, Dale, but the end of the day I come home, my wife and I see each other, we say, “Well, how’d your day go?” My wife tells me a few highlights what happened in her classroom, and I tell her some of the non-confidential things that happened in my life, but there’s a lot of things that I don’t think to mention. For example, “I made a run to the bank today,” or “I went and got gas in the car today today,” but if you’re dealing with this kind of a situation, and you leave something like that out, and your wife’s friend says, “Oh, I saw your husband over at such-and-such,” and you left it out, I can guarantee where the mind is going to go. 

With permission, I’ll mention a family that was going through this, and the husband was very limited in finances because he was saving money up to get his wife a special gift, that is a very nice gift. He wanted to do it over months because he wanted to show how much he appreciated the confidence his wife is showing, her care, and grace. She realized something wasn’t happening right with the money, and she asked him. By the time he told her, it was a little too long, and it was worse than if he’d never gone out of the way to get the gift. I encourage people you might want to say, “Hey, you know, your birthday is next week. You might not want to know the answer to that, but if you want to know I’ll tell you right now,” and keep a very detailed record of what you’re doing during all those times. 

The other thing, and I know there’s a lot, I don’t want to take too long, I’ll just limit it with this. I talked about hedges with couples. There are areas where, in most of these cases, if you get to know your spouse well enough you can go back and in retrospect you look, and you go, “How did I not see that these things were going on? How did I not see that?” One person was saying, “I could tell my husband spent a lot of time reading the Bible, and all of a sudden he wasn’t.” Or another one, “My wife stopped hanging out with all of our Christian friends.” Those are some common things, and if you can look at that, that’s not the sin, but you can tell it’s a pattern that may be leading up to that. You go to a swimming pool, you don’t put the marker, “The Deep End” right on the edge of the deep end, because kids like me are going to slip under trying to put their foot on the other side. You set it back a ways. I’d say, these are hedges. Let’s agree that if you see these things happening, we’re back in here, and we’re dealing with some of those things. 

Dale Johnson: So wise, and, listen, you may need to rewind this thing and to hear some of that counsel again, some of the steps to take, because these are delicate situations. People are are tender, people are vulnerable when this type of stuff happens, particularly in covenant relationship. We need to walk into these situations tenderly. I think you can hear in Kevin’s voice how tender he’s trying to deal with these things, but giving wise biblical counsel. So, I want to encourage you to pay attention to the counsel that’s given and how we think biblically through these delicate, difficult, but hopeful situations.