This is a difficult problem and I understand if there can be no definitive answer. I will try to share all details that may be pertinent.
I have been married for over twenty years. Very early on in our marriage, I committed adultery. Several years later she convinced me to be a Christian. I have never been able to tell her for fear of losing her.
In the last several years, I have been angry with her, withdrew completely, and fell away. Having endured this whole time without a relationship at all from me, she met someone and needed the attention he gave. She wasn't looking -- he happened along at a vulnerable time. She fell in love, moved in with him, and committed adultery. This man is still in the middle of his second divorce and she tells me that his divorces were both scriptural based on what he told her. He is not a Christian.
I became aware of what was going on, and somehow through God's providence, I began to really see what my anger had been blinding me from, so I asked her to reconcile and went forward to ask to be restored. She knew what she had done wasn't right, but I do not blame her because the fault lies at my feet so it was easy for me to forgive her. She has since returned to our house and told me she did not return for me but to get away from what she was doing. I have still not told her about my own earlier sin although I want to. I just don't want her to make a rash decision and return to the condition she was in. She says she holds no more feelings for me and deeply loves this other man, although she says that her feelings may change. We are currently on friendly terms and trying to talk about the mess I created. She expresses a desire to possibly remain apart on her own.
I can remain unmarried for the rest of my life, but I don't think she can. It's not the sex she really desires, it's the proper relationship I have failed to give her. I am deeply concerned for her and my soul.
As you can see, I have really messed this up and no matter how this turns out, it will be a lifelong burden.
Please help as this is really hard for both of us at this time, and I ask for prayers.
The adultery occurred before you became a Christian, so it would have been forgiven when you were baptized. There really isn't a reason why your wife needs to know that it happened unless you want to mention that you understand what happened.
The real issue is that you haven't been a proper husband to your wife. "But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (I Corinthians 7:2-5).
You recognize what you did wrong and how you contributed to her choosing sin. Thus, the simple answer is to change how you are treating her. She rightly desires the companion she had married, so be companionable. Talk to her about her day. Ask her thoughts on various matters. Give her a hand with some of the household chores. Take her out on a date. Bring up the good things that you remember from your shared past. Each is just a small thing, but it shows that you care and think about her.
Given time, the wounds will heal.
Thank you for your words of encouragement. I have already told her about it. She thinks she has the option to divorce me and scripturally remarry, but it is my understanding that we either have to reconcile or remain separate and unmarried. I ask because we need someone who is not emotionally involved to give a Biblically objective answer.
Your adultery occurred before you became a Christian. That was forgiven and if your wife refuses to acknowledge that, then she violates Matthew 6:14-15. Her adultery you have forgiven. Thus, you are correct that if she chooses to end the marriage, she has to remain single (I Corinthians 7:10-11). She made a commitment before God and she remains accountable to her vows.
Sorry to bother you again. I have been doing a lot of studying trying to correct what I've done wrong and encourage my wife to reconcile. I have had a hard time finding information concerning the following issues.
One part is: If Jesus only made one exception for putting away (Matthew 19:9) (and that to be done only by the innocent) and both parties are guilty of the sin of fornication, then would our only option be to reconcile since repentance of fornication is to return to our marriage covenant? And that remaining apart violates our covenant that we should be following since neither is dead?
I understand some time is to be given in this situation, especially if one has pushed the other away at some point, but would it not be a sin for either spouse to continue to love and desire to be with the one they have fornicated with? Even though it may take time to get over that person?
I am grateful for your work in doing what you do and I have been trying to read all the answers on marriage, divorce, and remarriage and your articles of the same. There is a large amount of study just on your website that I hope to get through.
There was a time when it was the innocent party who sued for divorce because the justification for divorce had to be proven in court. That no longer is the case in most countries and you more often today find the guilty party is the one filing for divorce so he or she can marry another person. See Does it matter who files for divorce?
I know you continue to feel guilt over having committed adultery early in your marriage. I have repeatedly tried to get you to see that your adultery was in the past and has been forgiven. It is not a factor in the current situation.
Yes, the ideal situation is for you and your wife to reconcile. You are correct that it won't be an easy process nor will it happen overnight. You are also correct that you are not currently fulfilling your marriage covenant by living apart, but it may take time to resolve problems enough to move back together again.
Repentance would mean that a person has completely turned away from their sin. Longing to return to the sinful situation is not repentance. "For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter" (II Corinthians 7:11). If your wife still desires the man she committed adultery with, then she hasn't yet repented of her sin.