By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
There is perhaps no greater marital adversity to overcome than infidelity. With an expectation of complete and total loyalty and faithfulness, betrayal of marriage vows shatters the very foundation of the relationship.
While the one committing the infidelity may believe their choice to cheat is justified because of certain qualities they perceive missing in their marriage, the repercussions of pain never justify those actions. Rebuilding the marriage, if even possible, may take a long, long time.
Infidelity is, tragically, commonplace. Approximately 50 percent of couples will experience unfaithfulness in their marriage, with gender not being a significant factor. Both men and women cheat. Both men and women act out sexually. Many marriages are fraught with numerous instances of betrayal.
Why do people cheat on their mate? While the reasons differ, there are patterns that can be considered and even used to prevent infidelity. Studies exploring why men and women cheat suggest the following factors:
- Lack of functionality: fighting over the same issues again and again
- Lack of intimacy: ineffective communication, with feelings of distance, resentment and turmoil
- Lack of acceptance/ significance: ignoring your mate’s need for acceptance, appreciation and significance
- Lack of excitement: allowing the relationship to become stale, lacking that spark of adventure
- Lack of sexual enthusiasm: allowing the sexual relationship to become boring, routine or even nonexistent
While these factors help us understand why unfaithfulness occurs, they never justify it. If these issues are not attended to, any marriage could be vulnerable to an affair. Unfortunately, many discover these problems after it is too late.
Recently a writer sent a question addressing the issue of infidelity head-on:
Dear Dr. David,
I really need some help recovering from my soon-to-be ex-husband’s affairs – plural. I desperately wanted to save our marriage and be able to rebuild from this blow. Unfortunately, he did not want to save our marriage because it was too much work and chose instead to move in with his girlfriend.
Divorce has never been an option for me and it is very hard for me to accept this. I don’t know how to heal and move on. It seems like he has caused all this damage and hurt but has gotten off scot-free. He is accepting no blame; he has his girlfriend, is buying a new house with her, has his kids part-time, bachelor life the rest of the time, and doesn’t sit home on his weekends without the kids crying like I do.
It all seems so unfair. I know life isn’t fair. But this is where I get stuck. He has done all these horrible things, but he’s not suffering. I am. I just don’t know how to heal and move on from this.
What is noteworthy about this email? What can any of us learn from her horrific experience? Let’s consider a few ideas:
First, no one escapes the repercussions of infidelity.
While it may appear that one is getting away with bad behavior, this is rarely the case. Patterns of bad behavior are just that—patterns to be played out again and again. Unless one fully faces their failures, deals with the issues and seeks transformation of their lives, they are destined to repeat them.
In the account above, assuming the man is unrepentant, he is likely to act out again in the future. The beliefs and attitudes that gave rise to the problem are likely to be repeated, bringing about further trouble. No one truly escapes the consequences of their actions.
Scripture supports this idea: “Righteousness guards the one who is blameless, but wickedness subverts the sinner.” (Proverbs 13: 6)
Second, both usually have some responsibility in the problems leading to infidelity.
It is human nature to blame. We want to find fault, to explain why something happened. We are very tempted to think in black and white terms, with one being right and the other being wrong. This is rarely the case, even in desperate circumstances such as infidelity. (This never excuses infidelity!) It takes great maturity and self-reflection to explore a larger perspective, seeing what part each played in the troubling situation. Growth and recovery, however, demand that we explore the part we played in the marriage problems.
Third, it takes two to fully heal a marriage after infidelity.
Having stepped back and made a decision to heal, which all do not choose to do, a plan for healing must be agreed upon. Healing takes both. One cannot do it alone. Healing the marriage means walking together through the immense grief, loss of trust, and profound changes that occur to the marriage. When a couple chooses to heal, marriage counseling is usually necessary. New boundaries will need to be put in place as they sort through the complex layers of betrayal. Working with a skilled clinician/pastor, they will do the work required to rebuild trust.
Fourth, emotional healing is possible.
Fortunately, we have been created in such a magnificent way that healing is possible--not without scars and painful memories, but we can heal. I have witnessed countless individuals and couples, having experienced betrayal and trauma, discover healing. Healing requires dedication to a healing process. Through the guidance of supportive friends, wise counselors, reading, and support groups, recovery is possible.
Finally, no matter what, commit to move forward with your life.
Whether or not your marriage can be saved, your life can be. You can determine to move forward with your life. You can live out the Scripture that “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord.” (Romans 8: 28) While you cannot see how betrayal of this magnitude could possibly cause you to grow, it can. Life can take on new meaning. You will have a new testimony and a greater appreciation for life and even love. Commit to move forward, no matter what.
Have you experienced betrayal in your marriage? We would like to hear from you. We at The Marriage Recovery Center are prepared to walk with you through any challenges. Please feel free to contact me at MarriageRecoveryCenter.com or email us at [email protected].