Divorce breaks the hearts of those involved — couples, children, parents, friends, church, and the heart of God. One of the greatest underlying events blowing apart marriages is adultery. This is a frank and focused message on things to do when the sin of adultery has occurred. The fervent passion of the author's ministry is on saving marriages and making them healthy and holy again. You may or may not agree with everything here, but we encourage you to at least make a commitment to not remain at a disinterested distance when couples you love have their lives coming apart.
To better understand extramarital affairs, I sorted them into three categories. The Short-Lived Affair lasts from one night to several months and is primarily about sex. Subcategories included Revenge Affairs, Affairs of Opportunity (at the right place at the right time to do the wrong thing), Self-Esteem Booster Affairs, and more. The Allowed Affair has become more prevalent with the "graying of morality" in our culture. It was once called "Swinging" and now its participants just call it "The Lifestyle."
The most difficult kind of affair to overcome is the Relationship Affair. It typically starts as friendship that evolves into shared emotions and eventually shared bodies. Those in Relationship Affairs usually are in love with each other.
Madly in love.
This is why so many Relationship Affairs lead to divorce — no matter how strongly you tell the person that s/he is sinning and no matter how hard the abandoned spouse tries to save the marriage. Because of such passages as Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, churches usually grant the offended spouse the right to start over with a new mate, and few blame him or her for moving on with life.
May I offer another possibility?
Wouldn't it be better for everyone — cheated, cheater, children, church, and community — if there were a way to rescue the straying spouse, heal the hurts, and guide husband and wife back to a marriage of love and commitment? We in the marriage business know that if a marriage survives an affair it will be stronger and more loving than it was before the affair.
Salvaging a marriage when a spouse is in love with someone else usually isn't accomplished by pointing the adulterer to scripture, logic, or consequences. If I had space, I'd explain why. (You can read about it in chapter four of my book "Your LovePath.") The short version is that they are driven by strong and compelling emotions that they're convinced you don't understand. Therefore, they disregard you, along with your Bible, lectures, and piety. Very often they'll even tell you that God sent the lover to them.
So what do you do to save these marriages?
Based on my experience (75% success over the last decade), I suggest the following to both the abandoned spouse and to all Christians attempting to help:
- Believe that an affair — even an exceptionally strong Relationship/Love Affair — is not necessarily the end of a marriage. It may be, but it doesn't have to be. Don't give up. Keep praying and doing the right things, no matter how hopeless it may seem.
- Don't beg, cajole, or attempt to manipulate the adulterer. S/he is already emotionally on edge; emotional actions from you exacerbate the situation. Be firm, but always loving and calm.
- Don't try to convince him or her that the lover is a bad person, or primarily responsible for the affair. That might work in a Short-Lived Affair. However, it typically causes a person in a Relationship Affair to develop an "us against the world" union with the lover.
- Drag out any divorce proceedings as long as possible. The intense emotions involved with being "madly in love" last anywhere from six to thirty-six months (see "Your LovePath" for scientific evidence). Though the straying spouse may become angry and try to manipulate the abandoned spouse into divorce ("I'll make things tougher for you if you don't go along with me ..."), the abandoned spouse should be strong, endure the other's wrath, and drag it out as long as possible. There is a very real possibility that the abandoning spouse will eventually lose the intensity of desire to be with the lover.
- The abandoned spouse should demonstrate his or her ability to survive and prosper without the abandoning spouse. S/he must concentrate on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This accomplishes two things. 1) The abandoned spouse needs this for him- herself. 2) The abandoning spouse often is drawn back to the abandoned spouse when s/he continues to be strong and self-sufficient.
- In fervent prayer ask God to bring chaos, financial distress, and anything else He will do to cause pain as a result of the sinner's actions, and to create circumstances so that it is difficult for him or her to continue in the affair.
- The abandoned spouse should procure an attorney that will protect his or her rights, finances, and the like. The attorney should make the divorce as painful as possible — financially and otherwise — to the abandoning spouse. Expect that spouse to react with anger. However, making sin have strong negative consequences is the right thing to do.
- The church should practice discipline, though in our day and age that hasn't nearly the effect it had in Bible times. It's so easy now to walk down the street and go to another church. However, if done in love and compassion, it still may have the needed effect.
- Practice intervention. (If you need more information on how to do this, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you a pdf with step by step details.)
- Convince the straying spouse to take one last action before ending the marriage. Sometimes the abandoned spouse does this by offering a concession such as "I'll give on this point in the divorce if you do this." Sometimes a friend, church leader, or even the person's child may convince him or her that for conscience sake s/he should do one more thing to see if there is any hope.
In my weekend turnaround workshop for marriages in crisis, LovePath 911, we have many couples who come because someone convinced the abandoning spouse to attend for conscience sake, or to get some concession. Over nearly a decade we've witnessed one seemingly hopeless marriage after another turn around during that weekend. They don't have to want to be there; they just have to be there.
Whether you use our services, your own counselors, or someone else, the message is the same. We MUST NOT give up on marriages because we think that either spouse is beyond rescuing. Don't give up on the power of God and what He can do if only we do our part.