Couple Walking” By Mattox at freeimages.com
The call comes just as Sue was leaving her classroom for the day. It is stranger she doesn’t recognize. She could hear the tension in his voice as he said, “I think your husband, Ted, is having an affair with my wife.” This begins a terrible nightmare that will spiral downwards very quickly. She experiences anger, remorse, guilt, rejection, depression, and confusion. Her husband was a man of high moral principles, but his moral compass failed him as his emotions, pride, and lust got the better of him. Both of them knew their marriage was a struggle. With three kids active in sports, music, and church, they barely had time to speak to each other, much less meet each other’s needs. Sue was swamped with her work, plus trying to keep the home decent and clothes clean. Ted felt tremendous financial pressure to provide for the ever increasing needs of the family. But they love their kids, believe in God, and deep down, still love each other.
What happens next will affect the rest of their lives. They could take the course which most marriages do when adultery has invaded their home, or they could choose to be an example of forgiveness and reconciliation. Both partners must consider all they have to lose if they abandon the marriage. A divorce wreaks havoc for years. It comes with great consequences for the spouses, and especially the children. There is hope. Many couples have overcome an affair and had greater marital intimacy and satisfaction following an affair. Jesus does say that fornication is the only acceptable reason for ending a marriage and being able to marry another acceptably (Mat. 19:9). But Jesus is certainly not saying this is best, or even desirable. Rather the whole context of Jesus’ instructions are centered around emphasizing being faithful to your marriage bond, rather than figuring out how to get unbound from it (Mat. 19:4-6)! The marriage can be saved, but some drastic and intentional steps must be taken by both partners. If you find your marriage in such a position here are six steps to take to save your marriage.
The first step that must be taken is humility. The one committing the adultery must have a contrite and broken heart. It is tempting for them to rationalize and justify their sinful actions. This will only serve to deepen the hurt afflicted on the injured spouse. As the old saying goes, “they have made their bed, they must lie in it!” They have to be willing to take the anger, emotions, and consequences that come because of their actions.
The second step, and one that is often difficult to do because of the emotional ties that have been established, is to completely and radically end the affair. The affair has been able to develop because of emotional and physical needs that the other person is fulfilling. Affairs typically have a euphoric component that makes the wayward spouse rationalize their behavior because they feel happiness and pleasure like they haven’t in years. Their pride and ego is puffed up by the affair. They likely feel like they cannot be happy without it. The affair, most likely has gone on for several months from the initial beginning to its exposure. Thus the participants have become trained in sneaking around and are comfortable with lies and deception. In order for the marriage to be saved the affair must come to an abrupt end with no more contact between the lovers. A letter, text, or email should be sent to the other partner, after being read by the spouse, informing them the relationship is over and that they do not want to see, speak, or hear from them. The Bible is clear that the way to deal with sexual sin is to flee from it and conduct radical surgery (1 Cor. 6:18; Mat. 5:28-30). The failure to do this step often prevents the marriage from being saved. The wayward spouse often struggles to cease all communication with their lover. They are emotionally confused and are often double-tongued saying one thing to their spouse and another to their lover.
The third step is confession and transparency to begin the healing. Confession is key to cleansing the individual and the couple. Just like a wound that must be painfully cleaned before healing can begin, so the couple must experience some difficult conversations. The adulterer must confess their actions to God and their spouse. They must acknowledge their sin, the pain they have inflicted, and the unjustifiable nature of their deeds (Psalm 51). They must be willing to be transparent and open regarding the relationship. Their spouse should be able to ask them whatever they wish to know, being careful not to ask if they don’t want to hear the answer. The spouse must answer honestly, openly, and forthcoming about their past actions, including sharing text messages, emails, meeting places, and the duration of the affair. The offending spouse must fight the temptation to want to rush the offended through this process. This may take weeks and months with multiple conversations often rehashing the same information. There must be transparency and openness. A Christian counselor, preacher, or church elders can be very helpful in assisting in this step and offering counseling.
The fourth step is establishing accountability measures to ensure the affair remains ended and to begin rebuilding trust. The spouses should work together to develop practical measures to provide accountability. This should begin with removing the notion that a spouse has the right to privacy. The affair was likely allowed to grow and develop because of a lack of accountability. This must be changed for it to end. So all passwords should be shared, and all accounts should be accessible to the spouse. The phone of the spouse should be regularly made available. Each spouse has the right to know where one another is located at all times and what they have been doing. Trusted friends and mentors can aid the couple well if allowed to do so. It may be a minister, another Christian couple, or a couple who has survived an affair previously. But accountability measures must be put in place between the spouses, but also with other Christian men or women to help during this time of great crisis and temptation.
The fifth step is analysis of the marriage relationship. An affair has thrown the family into turmoil and rocked it to the core. There is a desire, especially by the adulterer, to get back to normal. Statements such as, “I just want us to go back to normal” may be uttered, because they don’t want the focus to stay on the affair and their wrong. But “normal” is what led to this point! As a couple, you don’t want to go back to the way it was, you wish to rebuild and grow to new levels. You have a foundation to build upon and you have great reasons to motivate you to build, but you need to seriously look at fixing the problems that led to this great consequence. This means that you need to analyze your relationship. This involves both partners admitting past shortcomings and learning how to better serve and love one another. It will likely be necessary to have the help of a counselor or preacher. You can read great marriage books like His Need, Her Needs, or Five Languages of Love. But it all comes down to priorities. You have to get God back first in your family. You have to focus on one another and ensure your marriage is nourished and cherished. Couples must make time for one another.
The sixth step in this process is understanding forgiveness. Forgiveness is about canceling the debts that others have incurred against us (Mat. 6:12-15). Forgiveness, like agape love, involves a decision of the will to release the offending person of the debt they owe. It is not forgetting. It still acts with the knowledge of the wrong. It is not the removal of all hurt feelings and emotions. Feelings like bitterness, anger, and trust, are issues that will have to be resolved over months of processing. So the couple that has undergone an affair must understand forgiveness. The offended spouse chooses to forgive or cancel the debt. They choose to do this out of love, because God commands it, and to release their own bitterness and hatred. They will often have to remind themselves of this daily and practice “re-forgiving” regularly. The offending spouse who committed the adultery must also understand forgiveness. They cannot do anything to change the sin they committed. They must accept God and their spouse’s forgiveness. But they should also understand that this decision to forgive does not mean their spouse’s anger, hurt, and bitterness are gone. It does not mean that trust is restored and they are allowed privacy and a lack of accountability. NO! It means the other person has chosen to let the wrong go in regards to exacting revenge, and in willingly seeking reconciliation. This reconciliation will be a process where the emotions and trust will be processed over time. But it is only able to be done, because forgiveness has been granted and the past released.
Years have passed, Ted and Sue are grandparents. They are influential and active members of their congregation. They teach Bible class and are friends with many of the young couples with children. The church has been shocked with the news that one of the young couples is experiencing the pain of an affair. Ted and Sue schedule a visit. Sue recounts receiving the call that day years ago. Ted with tears coming back to his eyes tells of how he had been wrapped up in the deceitfulness of sin. They then tell the story of how they chose to save their marriage. They sought help and took advice. They cried, yelled, and vented during those tumultuous times. Ted confessed. They listened to one another. He ended the affair and they rebuilt their marriage. They share how they are so thankful they took this difficult path, because it has paid huge dividends with their kids, their own happiness, and their relationship with the Lord. Ted and Sue beg the young couple to do the same. They promise to walk with them by their side to help.
There is hope. Don’t give up on your marriage, even when an affair has destroyed it!