6 Reasons to Love Your Unrepentant Spouse

When an unfaithful spouse shows sincere repentance, the other spouse may decide to forgive and continue to love. But who would choose to love an unrepentant spouse?

Kim Pullen made that choice. And she's glad she did!

I am pleased to introduce Kim Pullen to you today as a guest blogger on MannaForMarriage. Kim Pullen is an author, speaker, and teacher who advocates for healthy marriages. She helps spouses overcome the devastation of affairs and pornography by focusing on a dynamic, intimate relationship with God. Thriving in a 26-year marriage that was once traumatized by adultery and a four-year separation, Kim shares hope and healing with spouses who feel isolated due to their partner’s sexual sin but don't know how or where to begin their recovery journey.

6 Reasons to Love Your Unrepentant Spouse

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.

unrepentant

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, and 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 never could 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.

  1. 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 is excruciating. 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 worshiped 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 professed undying devotion to God, who is the Lover of my soul, I betrayed Him as much as my husband betrayed me.

unrepentant

  1. We 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 that 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 to you is the most loving thing you can do for them.

  1. Love Moves 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!

God sees all of our sin and our spouse’s sin as if we’re doing it right in front of Him (Psalm 90:8). He can’t be fooled or mocked (Galatians 6:7-8).

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.

  1. 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 chose to believe that 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).

  1. 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).

Fear because we’re afraid of being rejected and abandoned (Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20).

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).

If you identify with Kim's story, please visit her website at HopeForSpouses.com, or her Facebook page (HopeForSpouses). You can also contact Kim at kim@hopeforspouses.com. 

Thank you, Kim!

Disclaimer from Kim: 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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21 thoughts on “6 Reasons to Love Your Unrepentant Spouse

  1. My husband and I dated for 11 years before getting married last year. I got married to him a virgin. Now that we were married 10 months, I looked through his phone because I felt the Holy Spirit directed me to. I noticed my husband had been having an affair with his coworker. I woke him up and asked him. He lied for two days. The. Came out with the truth when I threatened to go to her job. He revealed to me that he had actually had an affair with two women while we were married. Two months later after lots of fights and arguments and destroying property, I still his phone and Learned about affairs during our engagement and dating life. My husband has had an affair with multiple women from the beginning of our dating till our marriage. He seems unrepentant. I have my virginity to a unrepentant womanizer. I want to get a divorce so bad just so I too can live my life. Of course still obeying Gods warnings. But I feel like I have spent my last 13 years catering and loving a man who doesn’t even respect me. I am so so hurt by his damages. I’m hurt by his lies over and over again. I am very aware that God is protecting me and guiding me through this. I don’t hate God. I’m just confused as to why he would let this happen. We grow up learning what to do and what not to do. Yes I admit I put way too much value on my virginity because I didn’t expect to get treated like this. How is God’s glory even taken seriously when people look at my story? They will look at me and say, “oh see that’s why shouldn’t keep your virginity” . It’s like no good outcome comes out of life no matter which path you choose

    1. Thank you for your comment, Carol. I am sorry that you have experienced such great pain in your marriage. I commend you for looking for God’s direction because He is the only One who can heal our broken hearts, restore our marriages, and meet our deepest needs.

      It is understandable that you are disappointed and confused! We don’t usually know a quick-fix to our complicated situations, but we do know this: God is trustworthy. His ways are good. He knows us completely, and He knows how to love us well. He is absolutely trustworthy.

      We often focus on our circumstances, but God is focused on our hearts. He is not trying to get us to follow a list of rules; He is trying to win our hearts. We want a certain situation now, but God is seeking our maxxed-out joy in relationship with Him forever.

      God does not take your pain lightly. He is attentive to you, and His heart is strong for you.

      You wondered about God’s glory in this broken situation. I am not minimizing your pain when I say that this is an amazing opportunity to reveal God’s glory! As you trust the goodness of God during this difficult time, you are showing others that you have an incredible God who is able to sustain you in suffering. As you lean on Him and His promises, you show that you have a God of powerful love. You can reflect the glorious faithfulness of God. You can reveal His forgiving heart.

      There is great hope! But you need the guidance and support of others who can walk you through the steps of recovery and healing. I encourage you to find professional, godly counsel. If you don’t have a good church with resources to help you, you can call Focus on the Family: (800) 232-6459. They have trained counselors who will provide initial guidance and then help you find someone in your area for further counseling.

      You can also schedule a call with Kim Pullen, the author of the article you read. Her website is HopeForSpouses.com. You can also contact Kim at kim@hopeforspouses.com.

      I invite you, too, to join us as we fight on our knees for our marriages every week: http://www.mannaformarriage.com/prayer/

      I am praying for you!

  2. My husband hurt me severely In the past. He didn’t cheat but was spending a lot of time with another woman and hid it from me. I don’t believe they are close now, but when I think about every little lie he told me I become upset. I’ve confronted him with this over and over. And he’ll either lie, get defensive, or admit to a partial truth.

    How do I just let go of it? She’s not a threat now but when I think about it, I start burning on the inside and want to leave him. We’ve set boundaries and from what I’ve seen he’s stuck to it.

    1. Dee, thank you for your comment. I commend you for persevering despite the pain you have experienced.

      And how wonderful to know that there is healing! God knows how to set us free from that “burning on the inside.” He knows how to heal our memories and remove our fear and bitterness. He helps us to forgive.

      God will heal our painful memories, if we let Him. This does not remove all the hurt, but it does remove all the harm (to our inner thriving). It involves letting God own the pain and letting Him fulfill His incredible promises to us. Deuteronomy 23:5 says that God turns curses into blessings for us because He loves us. 

      (You can read more about that in Radiance, which you can find at Amazon, or which you can access as 2 PDFs near the bottom of this page: http://www.mannaformarriage.com/wives/ There is also a chapter in Devoted about  healing our memories.)

      The process of forgiveness is also wonderfully healing. Here is a 3-part series on forgiveness, as well as another article on conquering bitterness:
      http://www.mannaformarriage.com/forgiveness-spiritual-wmd/  

      http://www.mannaformarriage.com/struggle-forgive/  

      I pray that the Lord will bless you with comfort and healing, Dee, and that He will also bring great healing to your marriage.

  3. I appreciate all that’s being said here but I’m sorry … to be loving them looks like spoiling them and pampering them after they have broken your heart. I’m struggling to understand.
    I feel like they have have to repent before they get any commitment from the spouse they hurt. Maybe I’m taking out of pain that never seems to go for the past 9 years . I really want out … I’m tired of getting hurt repeatedly. Pls advise , thank you
    Grace

    1. Hello, Grace.

      Thank you for your comment. I am sorry for the pain that you have experienced for a long time now, and I can certainly appreciate the fact that you are emotionally exhausted, heartbroken, and desperate for relief.

      I would encourage you first to look for those who can support you and minister to you. Do you have a good church that can be helpful to you, or some Christian girlfriends who can pray with you? Have you been able to find a good counselor? (If not, you can call Focus on the Family. A trained counselor will speak with you by phone initially and will then recommend someone in your local area.)

      You pointed out that loving an unrepentant spouse “looks like spoiling them and pampering them after they have broken your heart.” If a woman ignores her husband’s bad behavior or makes excuses for him or even facilities his wrong doing, is that love? No, that is not true love. A wife who truly loves her husband is committed to his health (mental, spiritual, relational, physical). She cares more about his genuine well-being than his temporary comfort. Because she loves him, she might have to do things that he doesn’t like (such as call addiction professionals or other authorities, or refuse to participate in certain behaviors). 

      True love is sometimes “tough.”  Love means being committed to the good of another person. A mother loves her children sometimes by giving them treats, but also by making them go to bed or by putting them in time-out. In both the pleasant and the unpleasant cases, she is committed to their ultimate good. Loving and forgiving your spouse doesn’t mean that you throw out needed boundaries and helpful processes. It means your spirit is open to healthy reconciliation and restoration.

      Truly loving an unrepentant spouse (as opposed to the fake loving of appeasing, enabling, or ignoring) actually protects the loving spouse. Her heart is protected from resentment and self-pity. Bitterness will destroy her! But love (true love) will guard her heart and will keep her spirit healthy. True love helps her to set healthy boundaries in her marriage, to see herself as God sees her (priceless and cherished), and to let go of her husband as the one who must meet her needs.

      I am praying for you, Grace. (I will also send this to your email address.)

      God is attentive to you, He loves you fervently, and He is trustworthy.

      Blessings to you,
      Tami

  4. Hello. You talk a lot about boundaries, but you don’t give any examples. THAT would be helpful. Too often in the church we’re told to love, but we don’t get practical examples of loving boundaries. I’m going through it right now and not happy about loving an unrepentant husband, but God is working on my heart. We begin counseling tomorrow. I would very much like to know what kind of boundaries I can set with an unrepentant husband whom I am still living with.

    1. Hello, Amanda. I am sorry for the pain you are walking through in your marriage now. I commend you for your soft heart towards the Lord and for your desire to please Him. I know that He will be faithful to honor you as you honor Him.

      Thank you for asking about boundaries. Boundaries in marriage are simply guidelines designed to protect and nurture a healthy relationship. Boundaries are not attempts to control or to punish; they are designed to promote flourishing. They guide us to respond in helpful, healthy, and loving ways instead of reacting out of fear or anger.

      For example, consider a woman whose husband is using porn. There are several things that she can do, but she should certainly maintain these boundaries: “I will not buy porn for my husband or keep it in our house. I will not view porn with my husband or engage in pornography-driven acts with him.”

      If her husband is an alcoholic, she can refuse to buy alcohol or have it in the house. She can decline to make excuses to his boss or to cover-up in other enabling ways. Boundaries can be positive actions, too: she can choose to attend support groups for herself.

      Here is a great boundary for any married person: “I will not travel or go to lunch alone with someone of the opposite sex.”

      If a spouse is addicted to drugs, a healthy boundary might involve calling a drug interventionist. Different situations may require different boundaries, but the goal is always the same: to protect the relationship and to promote what is healthy for each person (emotionally, spiritually, relationally). Again, boundaries allow people to respond in helpful, loving ways, rather than reacting out of fear or anger.

      Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have written a book called Boundaries in Marriage, which may be helpful to you. Also, here are several articles/podcast on the topic:

      https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/how-to-build-and-maintain-a-hedge/

      https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/one-christian-womans-response-to-vice-president-pences-commitment-to-follow-the-billy-graham-rule/

      https://www.drjamesdobson.org/Broadcasts/Broadcast?i=ec41f054-56ac-4264-8192-45de387453a9

      http://www.legacyatwork.com/app/webroot/pdf/Boundaries_in_Marriage_0809.pdf

      I am praying for you, Amanda. May the Lord give you wisdom, comfort, and strength; may He pursue the heart of your husband; and may He work beautiful and miraculous healing in your marriage.

  5. My husband of 20 years left 3 weeks ago and is still seeing the affair partner. I am believing and trust in the Lord to work this out. My husband says he loves us both but has only been seeing her for 4 months. I’m so tired of the back and forth emotions. How kong do I wait om him to decide? And how long do I wait in the Lord? I don’t want to move in haste but follow what the Lord would will.

    1. LeeAnna, I am so sorry for the pain you are experiencing in your marriage. I commend you for trusting God and for your desire to honor His will. 

      Are you and your husband part of a church that could confront him in a Biblical way? Is your husband willing to see a counselor? 

      You can express to your husband your commitment to him and your commitment to your marriage vows. Part of your commitment to him is your refusal to join him in destroying himself, which he is doing through his unfaithfulness. And your commitment to your marriage means that you will always fight for your marriage but you will never help to tear it apart. 

      I want to encourage you to find godly counsel and support. There are people who can help you take action in a healthy and honoring way. It is always important to trust God and to wait on Him, but that does not mean being passive, or enabling or excusing bad behavior. Your husband’s destructive behavior must be confronted honestly. You can take action that is strong yet loving–action which does not seek control but which seeks healthy reconciliation.
      If you do not have a church that can help you, you may want to call Focus on the Family. They have trained counselors who can provide some initial guidance and encouragement: (800) 232-6459. They do not charge for their consultation, and they can refer you to a counselor in your local area. 

      Kim Pullen also provides an initial phone call to help you find clarity and direction. https://go.oncehub.com/KimPullen

      I am praying for you, LeeAnna.  There is great hope! God is attentive to you, and He loves you with an unfailing love. May He cover you now with His tender mercies.

  6. I am in Lisa’s situation. My wife is unfaithful and unrepentant. She says she loves me but is not in love with me. Please pray. I sincerely love my wife. I wish she could see how I long to ease her hurts and love her better than I ever have.

    1. Brad, thank you for your comment. I commend you for your commitment to your wife, and I appreciate your willingness to forgive.

      We will certainly be praying with you and for you. I know this is a very painful time for you. The Lord is a God of reconciliation, and He specializes in restoration (Amos 9:11). May the Lord strengthen and guide you, and may He will work powerfully in your wife’s spirit and in your marriage.

      Perhaps this article would offer some encouragement to you: http://www.mannaformarriage.com/hope-hurting-husband/

      I also wonder if Focus on the Family might be helpful to you. They have trained counselors who can provide initial guidance, if that is something you are interested in: (800) 232-6459.

  7. My husband refuses to stay out of the OP life and even takes her to church on Sunday’s. How am I supposed to deal with just the way he chooses to live his life and expect me to just accept it? I have been struggling with his adultery for several years now and he has even gone as far as having two children to her. He tells me to thi k positive and stop thinkibg what he is doing because its not what I think. But how am I supposed to think nothing of it. He refuses to attend church with me and our children as a family

    1. Margret, I am sorry to hear about the heartache that you have experienced in your marriage.

      I don’t know the details of your situation, but I understand that your husband is committing adultery and is persisting in an illicit relationship. Accepting your husband as a person does not mean accepting his immoral behavior. Instead, this often requires some type of confrontation and the setting of healthy boundaries. This is called “tough love,” but it is godly love because it means seeking someone else’s true good. What your husband is doing is hurting you and your children, and it will destroy your husband.

      Do you have a supportive church family? Do you have a Bible-teaching pastor? I am praying that the Lord will lead you to those who can help you in a healthy, safe, and redemptive way.

      If you don’t have a church that can help you, I recommend that you contact Focus on the Family, which is a Christian ministry that can suggest many helpful resources. If you call them, one of their counselors will speak with you (without charge) and will also refer you to a professional counselor in your local area. You can call Focus on the Family at 1-800-232-6459.

      You are precious to the Lord, Margaret. He cares about your situation, and He loves each one of your family members.

      It is amazing that we can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we can receive God’s love into our lives, and we can experience His Presence with us every day. As we live according to His plan, He gives our lives purpose and meaning. Zephaniah 3:17 says that He will be like a Mighty Warrior who will rescue us, delight in us, and sing over us with love.

      I am praying for you, Margret, and we will pray for you on our weekly prayer call, too.

  8. I get the need to love our spouses and the other aspects of this article, but I am struggling with the boundaries. What kinds of boundaries should be set when your husband is in an adulterous affair? Like one of the previous posters, I would also like more information on practical application of loving my husband despite all of this.

    1. Dani, I am very sorry for the deep pain that you must be feeling, and I am praying for you. I commend you for your honoring spirit.

      Loving a spouse means asking, What are this person’s needs? How can I best minister to those needs? We know that your husband needs your acceptance of who he is (not acceptance of his adultery!), your forgiveness, and your commitment. He also needs wise, honest confrontation.

      In general, the problem that fuels adultery or porn addiction is not a sex problem or a spouse problem; it is a self-identity problem (and sin problem, of course). Sexual addictions are destructive attempts to deal with inner pain.

      A trained counselor who knows your situation will be better able to guide you in the specific boundaries that would be most appropriate and helpful. Focus on the Family can connect you with a counselor by phone, or you can find a counselor in their network who is in your local area:
      https://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/promos/counseling-services-and-referrals

      https://ccn.thedirectorywidget.com/

      Boundaries in Marriage, Hope After Betrayal, and Love Must Be Tough are books that may be helpful to you. I know that Kim Pullen (author above) would also be eager to encourage you and advise you in any way she can.

  9. Are you able to describe how to love an unrepentant unfaithful spouse in practical terms? I think I understand the basic thrust of this directive, but how to implement it?

    1. Thank you for your good question, Katie. I think loving in this situation would begin with 1) the desire to forgive and 2) the willingness to work on the relationship. It would probably involve looking for good counseling and setting healthy boundaries.

      Please feel free to email me directly, if you’d like (MannaForMarriage@gmail.com).

      Blessings to you, Katie!

  10. My husband has been unfaithful and said he doesn’t love me. I need someone to pray for me and talk too who understands and not judge me for still staying with him inspite of our situation

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