The second chapter of Reconcilable Differences by Virginia Todd Holeman is titled, Marital Crossroads.
It is the first chapter in the section, Commitments That Nurture Reconciliation. After sections called Reconciled to God: The Divine Love Story and Reconciled to One Another where she uses Paul's words from 2nd Corinthians (An aside, Ann and I have a passage from this on the cover of our seminar manuals)
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.
She picks up our story in the section An Attitude of Gratitude.
When we paused their story in chapter one, Alan (Ben) had just confronted Elizabeth (Ann) about her affair. She was filled with guilt and shame. He felt deeply betrayed. What could possibly motivate Alan to reconcile with Elizabeth? All the injured parties I spoke with wrestled with this question. Some may pursue reconciliation out of a sense of duty or to avoid criticism. Others may stay married to avoid guilt and shame. While these are reasons people may stay together, they do not created radical transformations of heart and home.
The question boils down to this: what motivates injured parties to extend forgiveness and transgressors to seek forgiveness?
Studies have yet to examine repentance as fully as they have studied forgiveness. Nevertheless, researchers have discovered that empathy and humility motivate the deepest levels of extending forgiveness to another. In other words, people who have been forgiven see forgiving the other as a way to resolve interpersonal dilemmas. We remember what it was like to need forgiveness from somebody we had hurt. We recall our sense of release and relief when that person forgave us. The greater the interpersonal debt we have been forgiven, the greater the model we have for becoming forgivers. As we continue with Alan and Elizabeth's journey, observe the role gratitutude plays in Alan's decisions around forgiving Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and Alan's Story, Part Two
Somehow Alan and Elizabeth made it through the first few gutwrenching months. Alan felt so betrayed by his wife that he wasn't sure he could forgive her. He told his chaplain about his marriage dilemma. Alan remembers: "The chaplain told me two things: 'Your marriage isn't over yet, and God is not through using you...You can make it through this, and you can have a better marriage than before, because your marriage isn't dead yet.'"
Alan headed the chaplains advice. He decided that he would give God three years to do something significant with his marriage, because the affair had lasted three years. He says, "It's not the best kind of attitude to rebuild a marriage, but it's better than nothing. It was based in gratitude to God for rescuing me in my life. So it came from that. It did have a good foundation, although, looking back, it feels arrogant. But at the time, that was enough...The biggest piece of it was God. And that's where we were. It was just not in my power to forgive. I couldn't will it. I wanted to will it, because I didn't like feeling miserable and in pain."
For fourteen months, Alan and Elizabeth lived in marital limbo. That's when Alan reluctantly attended a Promise Keepers rally. During one of the talks there, he began to think about the kind of legacy he would be passing on to his son if he divorced Elizabeth. Alan says:
God started working on me, and I just had to ask myself the question, "What do I want to pass on to my son?" And in that, more than anything in my life, I wanted to be close to God and I wanted to pass that on to my son. That was a decision that felt first like more of a decision for God than anything. It was just very deep, and it was a very huge moment. This is what life is about; this is my core identity...I remembered God's forgiveness. I went back and offered forgiveness to Elizabeth, and then she could relax and begin to grieve over what she had done. That was the biggest piece of our forgiveness process.