If a woman accepts her husband back in desperation, can she later divorce him?


First of all, I want to ask your indulgence as I address a "delicate" topic. I do not know how to propose this question without mentioning "sex" or "intercourse". I do not want to offend anyone. I have come across this situation again and again and would like your input on it. (In order to avoid writing his/her constantly in this post, I will just take it from the viewpoint of an erring husband and innocent wife. However, rest assured that I realize these situations go both ways!)

It seems to be the "traditional" view that, once an "innocent" spouse has intercourse with her errant spouse, she has "taken him back" and, in so doing, forfeited her "option" of putting her spouse away for adultery. I do not find any Scripture to support this view. I have spent many hours talking with many women in this situation and have found the following to be true in most, if not all, cases:

  1. When a woman finds her mate has been unfaithful, oftentimes she takes all the blame upon herself and, in a knee-jerk reaction, "throws herself" at him sexually to "satisfy" what she apparently had failed to satisfy in the past (a co-dependent but, sadly, typical response).
  2. Women who have always counted their spouse to be their primary friend and confident, though deeply violated by their husband's behavior, turn to him for comfort because he is supposed to be her refuge (on this earth) and it is, in many cases, nigh to impossible to turn to anyone else (about this particular situation). Women might naturally (and automatically) turn to their spouse for comfort for their own pain and yet have no thought yet about "taking him back" or "putting him away".
  3. I have known sex-addicted "Christian" men (who are masters of manipulation) who have just been "found out", to coerce their vulnerable, emotionally-devastated spouses "into bed" just so they can't put them away (according to the "traditional" view)!

There are other scenarios that I am aware of but my mind has gone blank on me, but I think you get the idea.

Let me hasten to clarify what I am not saying: I have also seen this happen, someone commits adultery, the spouse never actually "forgives" the adultery but continues in the marriage and kind of "keeps it on account". Then, later in life, when someone new and interesting comes into their life OR the marriage becomes unbearable, etc., they want to go back and grab that adultery and claim it as their justification for dissolving the marriage. I have no doubt that this is a sin! I would never support that. The situations I am describing above are situations that take place hours or days or even a few weeks after the adultery is discovered when the "offended" party is in an emotional whirlwind and unable to make rational decisions.

I am also assuming that it is agreed that "forgiveness" (which is required by God, upon repentance) and "taking back an errant spouse" (which is no required by God) are not one and the same!

This type of loss requires a grieving process just as any great loss in life does. In the first stage, "numbness;" women are not capable of making the big "lifelong" decisions. Please note that I am not trying to change Scripture! If Scripture is pointed out to me that supports the "traditional" view, I have every intention of promoting it and teaching it! I just think that brethren are binding something that God does not bind. I think that, even if Christians have had intercourse a few times due to any of the reasons stated above (and I'm sure there are others) when she gets everything sorted out, she could still truly put her spouse away for fornication!

There is so much that an offended spouse needs to determine, observe, and decide before making the decision to resume the marriage or to put her spouse away. Here are a few:

  1. if she can heal sufficiently to resume the marriage and meet her obligations to her spouse sexually
  2. if she still loves him and if he loves her or if he loves another
  3. the "likelihood" that the behavior will continue
  4. whether sexual addiction is involved as opposed to a "one-night stand" (which still constitutes adultery!)
  5. the likelihood that her spouse will be willing to do the work necessary (get the help he needs) to conquer his sexual addiction (if that is what is involved)
  6. etc.

God, Himself, acknowledged the depth of betrayal and violation in the act of adultery. He allows divorce for adultery. He doesn't say "unless they have had intercourse." An offended spouse needs time to make this very difficult decision.

I am a female. I know some believe that females should not engage in spiritual discussions with males; otherwise, they are usurping authority. I do not particularly want to get into a discussion on that subject, thereby missing the point and subject of my post. If you are a male and respond to this question, please make clear to me whether you believe I can respond to your post without offending you. I am truly interested in your scripturally-based feedback.


I've thought long and hard about this question. I found it difficult to answer because there are several basic assumptions being made that I don't believe are correct. Without those assumptions, I don't think the question is able to stand.

First, there is an assumption that sex ratifies the marriage covenant. Such isn't stated in the Bible. Sex is involved in the binding of the two people into one, but sex doesn't make the marriage, start the marriage, or continue the marriage. See "Does a marriage begin when it is consummated?" for a more detailed explanation.

Second, there is an assumption that divorce and remarriage are allowed even when the sin of fornication has been repented of and forgiven. It seems inconsistent to me for anyone to say they forgive another, but then continue to hold them accountable to the debt created by the sin. I'm not just talking about welcoming an erring spouse back into bed. I'm referring to the whole concept of what it means to forgive.

In addition, there is the matter of whether a Christian should withhold forgiveness when asked. "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). A woman who refuses to forgive her erring husband has placed her own soul in jeopardy.

The exception clause in Matthew 5:32 is worded as to a person who is currently charged with or held guilty of fornication. It doesn't apply to someone who used to be guilty of fornication sometime in the past. Thus, it seems to me that the exception clause applies to someone committing fornication and remains unrepentant of his sins. See the lesson "The Sermon on the Mount: Divorce" for details.

What about the spouse who repeatedly cheats, but then repeatedly asks for forgiveness? I believe Jesus' statement to Peter still applies, as truly difficult as it might be. "Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."" (Matthew 18:21-22). It is one thing to talk about it in theory, but quite another to see that it applies to you in even hard circumstances.

God used the concept of divorce to illustrate His dealings with Israel's sins. I think we can all learn lessons from the illustration. "They say, 'If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man's, may he return to her again?' Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me," says the LORD. Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see: where have you not lain with men? By the road you have sat for them like an Arabian in the wilderness; and you have polluted the land with your harlotries and your wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain. You have had a harlot's forehead; you refuse to be ashamed. Will you not from this time cry to Me, 'My father, You are the guide of my youth? Will He remain angry forever? Will He keep it to the end?' Behold, you have spoken and done evil things, as you were able." The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: "Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, 'Return to Me.' But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also."" (Jeremiah 3:1-8). God put up with a lot of treachery from His people. He worked hard at getting them to return, despite their sins. It was only after long effort and Israel's unrepentant attitude that God "divorced" Israel.

Yet, we don't take the marriage covenant nearly as seriously. Nor are we treating it as a true covenant. A part of a covenant was the idea that when one party has trouble meeting the terms, the other party gives extra aid so that the covenant can remain intact. Instead, people see one slip and declare, "There's my out!" That is where the deeper problem lies.

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