This week I am in Round Top, Texas with some very special women I meet with each year for fun, prayer, reflection, refreshment and accountability. I was hoping for warm weather after barely making my flight out of Philadelphia Saturday morning but the cold weather blew down here too. Brrrrrrr
Pray for me while I’m here. That I would hear from God, that I would sleep well, that I would connect with other women in a deeper way and would come home refreshed.
This Week’s Question: Do you have a book on what steps need to take place after sexual infidelity in order for the marriage to truly heal? My husband says he’s sorry but I’ve heard that before. If I didn’t know about the affair, I’d think we had a fairly good marriage but now I don’t know what to think. I want to forgive him but I don’ t know how to forget what he’s done. It hurts so bad. Help if you can.
Answer: I am so sorry. Sexual infidelity is betrayal of the deepest kind and tough to truly recover from. I think that’s why Jesus said it was one of the few grounds for biblically divorcing a spouse. For a marriage to truly heal from this devastating breach in trust, hard work must be done by both persons in the marriage. I haven’t written a book that specifically deals with adultery as a stand alone issue, but between How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage you will find the crucial stepping stones that will help you and your husband rebuild your marriage.
You may also want to look at Dave Carder’s book Torn Asunder. Dave talks about three different kinds of affairs – the one night stand, the emotionally attached, and the chronic yet meaningless affair. He gives specific steps couples need to take to address each type.
However, couples often needs additional help when there is infidelity. Without outside accountability and support, most couples do not do the work needed to deeply heal the damage even if they choose to stay married.
Adultery is always evidence of a deeper and more sinister problem at work in the heart and mind of at least one of the individuals in the marriage. Before a marriage can be rebuilt, that issue needs to be identified, owned and worked on.
Let me give you an example. Many years ago the city of Allentown, PA was held spellbound by the drama surrounding a giant sinkhole that threatened to topple an entire office structure called Corporate Office Plaza. The sinkhole had developed in the middle of the night and quickly spread over 50 feet wide and 18 feet deep.
The first clue that something was wrong came when operators of the city's reservoirs noticed a 2 foot drop in water levels in the middle of the night. Crews were sent out to search for the leak and discovered a widening sinkhole which was swallowing up the water. Very early, before any business life entered the city , the menacing sinkhole began its destruction in the street. Corporate office plaza began to sink and crumble. Huge shards of glass and bricks tumbled to the pavement below as the building began to buckle and crack, teetering on the verge of collapse.
“Can this building be stabilized?” people cried. “Can we at least go in to salvage our things?” This happened in February and many of the offices were used by accounting firms in the middle of tax season.
But no, Corporate Plaza was ruined. Destroyed from deep within by a force that was unobserved and unknown until too late. The damage was subtle at first and then without warning, dramatic.
When adultery is revealed, what looked like a good marriage on the outside suddenly and dramatically begins to crumble. The marriage no longer is standing erect and the very foundation upon which that structure has been built, is questioned. Where was the love, trust, commitment and loyalty? What has happened? What has gone wrong? How do we fix this? Is it even fixable?
Just like Corporate Plaza couldn’t be safely rebuilt without addressing the sinkhole problem first, a marriage cannot be rebuilt without addressing the inner issues going on in the heart that led to someone to choose to betray and lie to his or her partner.
Here are ten (10) steps that need to be taken.
1. Is there not only remorse for the sin but repentance? Does the spouse who committed adultery take ownership for his or her choice – no blaming? (That doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious marital issues that need to be addressed that may have contributed to feelings of anger, resentment, and loneliness in the marriage that made the choice to go elsewhere for love feel reasonable and acceptable).
2. Is there a willingness on the part of the spouse who committed adultery to do the work of self-examination to understand better why he/she made that choice so that the triggers and excuses are addressed? Is he willing to look at the deep heart issues that allowed him to make this choice – the sinkholes in his life like pride, entitlement, selfishness, anger, poor impulse control, sexual addiction, family history issues?
3. Is there a genuine sorrow for the pain he/she has caused the spouse? Often times the “caught” spouse is in pain because they’ve been caught, they’ve been humiliated and shamed, they fear the loss of their family or financial security through divorce but there isn’t any real acknowledgment or awareness for the pain they’ve caused their spouse.
4. Is the adulterous spouse willing to sit with their spouse and listen, really listen to their hurt and heartache over this and show compassion, empathy and care no matter how long it takes?
5. Is the injured spouse willing to forgive?
6. Is he/she willing to also take a hard look at ways he/she may have contributed to neglect in the marriage or other unresolved problems that created emotional distancing to develop. What were the sinkholes in the marriage before this happened?
7. Is he/she willing to be honest with her feelings of sadness, hurt, anger and do the hard work to work through them and move past them? So often there is pressure to sweep these under the rug and forgive and move on without doing the hard work.
8. Is he/she willing to acknowledge the positive changes their spouse is making toward building trust and healing the marriage.
9. Is he/she able to understand that this whole thing is a process, it takes time, hard work, and often goes in fits and starts so that it isn’t always a smooth ride?
10. Is the spouse who has committed adultery willing to be patient with the process as his/her spouse isn’t able to let it go, gets retriggered with old memories or current reminders, or can’t immediately feel trust or warm feelings for her spouse? Does he show empathy and compassion or irritation and impatience? Is he willing to do what it takes to rebuild her trust?
If a couple goes through these stages, I believe a marriage that has suffered infidelity can come out stronger and healthier than before. Sadly, too often we want the quick fix and aren’t really willing to do the hard work to repair the damage. But think of it this way. If Corporate Plaza was rebuilt without addressing why the sinkhole was there and how to prevent that from happening in the future, it would be vulnerable to the same problem happening all over again.
Friends, if this has happened in your marriage, what stages did you go through to bring healing or were these short circuited and healing never happened?
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I agree with all but #6. There is never an excuse for adultery. If the one committing adultery has an issue with his/her spouse of any kind they should address it with their spouse before being tempted to stray. If there was neglect of any kind, it is up to the neglected spouse to point it out and if necessary suggest counseling. Adultery will only make matters worse. It will never solve any problem.
My first husband committed adultery for 6 years beginning with the wedding night, with many people and never stopped. Obviously in this case, there was no chance for neglect to happen, but I don’t feel that anyone should take responsibility for another persons sin. The victim in an adulterous marriage could be guilted into believing it is their fault. I was told that if I gave him what he wanted he wouldn’t stray. Back then I believed it. Not any more.
Brenda, I think I made it pretty clear in steps 1-5 that there is NO excuse for adultery – a person who makes that choice needs to take full responsibility for his or her choice and the pain it caused their spouse. However, for the marriage to be healed fully, if there were mutual things going on in the marriage that were broken before the affair, that also needs to be addressed or the marriage won’t heal – it will just go back to the place it was before the affair. When someone chooses to act out their marital unhappiness by having an affair, it is deeply troubling and wrong and not the spouse’s responsibility for his decision, however if the “wronged” spouse has also contributed to the marital unhappiness,he or she needs to take some ownership of that or the marriage won’t fully heal.
One more thing, many women are “blamed” for their husband’s sexual misconduct whether it be adultery or pornography. If only she was a better wife he wouldn’t make that choice – but he has choices to make if he is unhappy and one of them is to talk to his wife about his unhappiness and get help to resolve the issue instead of acting out. If someone uses their spouse as an excuse to act out, that is wrong. However if a marriage is going to be truly healed. you can’t take responsibility FOR the other person’s behavior, but as married individuals you do have responsibilities TOWARD one another and for a marriage to thrive, both people in the marriage need to be faithful to those responsibilities.
Leslie, how does #6 and your answer above work for an abusive marriage where no matter what the victim says or does not say, does or does not do, he/she can never meet the expectations of the offending spouse with the abusive attitudes of entitlement, superiority, and centrality? Does the victim not already condemn him/herself and work desperately hard to do and be ‘right’? Will a victim hear ‘work harder’ when he/she reads #6 – ‘injured spouse, take a hard look at how you contributed to unresolved problems’?
If the marriage is going to heal I stand by #6. Even in abusive marriages there are no perfect spouses and I have worked with couples where the man is abusive. His issue. He needs to work on it, period. Yet the marriage problems were things they both contributed to. If their marriage is going to truly heal – not just be free from abuse, then they both need to do some work.
The same is true of adultery. However, if the abusive or adulterous partner refuses to take steps 1-5, then step six would not be appropriate to take because there is no foundation of growth, change, repentance, awareness of his spouse’s feelings laid and therefore # 6 would be unsafe and inappropriate. You don’t do step 6 if the first five steps have not had significant progress. Does that make it clear?
I agree with you 100%. I don’t care what a woman does or doesn’t do in a marriage, it’s wrong for anyone to cheat. I agree the injured spouse has to be willing to forgive and move on if the marriage is going to work but I completely disagree that a woman has to take some responsibility for it. He did what he did because he chose to, he could have easily chose to tell his wife how he felt before he went and found someone else to “relate” to.
I agree if a person – man or woman is unhappy in a marriage – cheating is NEVER the solution. It is a poor choice. However, if the marriage is unhappy or troublesome to the one who chooses to cheat, if he or she expresses that unhappiness to his or her partner and nothing changes, it doesn’t mean cheating more acceptable, but it means that the marriage can’t be repaired without both people doing what they need to do to repair it.
I agree completely! There is never an excuse and many books and articles like to put some blame on the betrayed, which when I said I do it was for better or worse and if worse is happening you better come tell me…. Not sleep with several different women and not tell me you are not happy. I had no idea.
If a husband claims he cheated on his wife because she pulled away from him (or some other reason), then why doesn’t anyone ask why the wife pulled away from her husband? In most cases, if the husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church then the wife will have no problem honoring and respecting her husband. It is Biblical.
My husband has not cheated with another woman, but he does have a prescription drug addiction that he keeps from me and doesn’t want me to discuss with him at all. He is emotionally abusive to me and our children. It is very hurtful to be lied to and then blamed for your spouse’s sin. The pain is very deep and real especially when there isn’t a clear path for healing if healing is possible.
Read my testimony. Here is my story to the world on how i got my love back and saved my marriage. I really love James so much that i can not even do without. I was married for 7years with 2kids and we lived happily until things started getting ugly and we had fight and argument almost every time… it got worse at a point that he filed for divorce… I tried my best to make him change his mind & stay with me because i love him with all my heart and didn’t want to lose him but everything just proved abortive… He moved out of the house and still went ahead to file for divorce… I pleaded, cried and tried everything but still nothing worked. The breakthrough came when someone introduced me to this wonderful man who eventually helped me out with spell… I have never done things like this before but just decided to try reluctantly because I was desperate and left with no choice… He did special prayers and used herbs… Within two days james called me and was sorry for all the emotional trauma he had cost me, moved back to the house and we continue to live happily, the kids are happy too and we are expecting our third child. I have introduced him to a lot of couples with problems across the world and they have had good news… Just thought I should spread my experience cause I strongly believe someone out there needs it. You can email DR Thomas via (drthomasherbalhome21@gmail. com) Don’t give up just yet, the different between “Ordinary” & “Extra-Ordinary” is the “Extra” so make extra effort to save your marriage/relationship if it’s truly worth it.
Yeah, been through this at least twice in my 12+ year marriage. I realized the third time (that I knew about) that he was never really repentant of any of his affairs. He was never willing to do any of these ten steps… he only wanted a quick fix and for all to be forgotten as quickly as possible. To him, I was to blame. To him, he had a right to commit adultery because of whatever reason he could think of at the time. He still continues to blame me!
I had to come to the realization that he was never a man of integrity… even though he pretended to be. After becoming a totally doormat wife and allowing our marriage to become very destructive… I learned that I just needed make better choices for myself and my children. He would not change… so I had to. We were divorced December 3, 2013. I am learning to be strong again. And I realized that I deserve much better that how I was treated. Thank you for your newest book… and Divorce Care… my children and I are doing much better!
I realize that this question/answer is for infidelity. I agree it’s probably the most horrible form of betrayal within a marriage. However that is one form of betrayal and yet there are others out there. How about emotional betrayal as well as a spouse who has lied. Either way trust has been broken. Would you say Leslie that these 10 steps also apply to these other forms of betrayal when trying to rebuild a marriage?
Generally the 10 steps could apply to any serious breach in the marriage. I think that if a marriage has “always been broken” which is much of what Brenda talks about, then the latter stages are less applicable because the marriage was never build on a good foundation. However there are times – mid-life crisis for example, where a marriage that has been relatively secure and loving takes a nose dive and to rebuild would take those ten steps.
Though not all of us have issues of outright infidelity in the marriage, I imagine that if we read this deeper we can see how these steps apply with other destructive or damaging marriage situations. Thank you Leslie.
I added this excellent article to our website with full credit to you and a link back to your website.
Leslie, I guess I have never seen anyone who had an affair because of a broken marriage. I have only seen those who did it because they plain out wanted to. They wanted their cake and eat it too. They wanted the perfect spouse and dinner on the table when they got home and then leave for desert after that. No questions were to be asked. It just was what it was. The little woman pretends that all is well, while the man and his allies let her know that if she were better in the bedroom he wouldn’t have to go out to get what he wanted.
I know you have a great deal more experience with a variety of couples. I just haven’t seen any different.
I have a question that dovetails with Brenda’s story. I have endured many years of verbal abuse/emotional abuse/manipulation, and it has escalated over the past few years. At this point, I feel like we have talked about these issues to the point that there is nothing more to talk about. After a particularly bad year two years ago, I was VERY close to leaving and he knew it. I think he really realized for the first time the depths to which he had hurt me, and the damage he had done. But despite that, I think that the verbal abuse and fighting is worse than ever now. He says he knows he has hurt me, but whenever I begin to build even the smallest amount of trust in him again, there’s another blowup and he says words that wound and destroy me. I don’t understand how he can continue to do this to me. So I guess my question at this point is, what’s the point of even trying any more? I am worn out and weary from all the years of strife and discord, and no matter what I have tried to do- and I mean I feel like I have tried just about everything- nothing really changes. Ever. Like Jen said in her comment above, it just seems like he never really will change. I have stayed because I never wanted to put my children through a divorce, but I know that all of this drama is destroying them too. I am sick of investing my life and emotional energy into this relationship. Is there really even any point in trying to salvage or rebuild anything?? Can long-term, destructive relationships ever really be turned around?
Not by yourself. So as you keep trying and he keeps dropping bombs how’s that going to result in any healing? It’s like you clean the house every day and he drops a bomb on it every day. How much longer can you keep going? He has to stop dropping the bombs and help you clean up the damage and then work together to rebuild. If he won’t, or can’t, you can’t rebuild it on your own. The only thing you can salvage is your safety and sanity as well as your children’s.
When only one person is saying I do and meaning it the marriage is built on sand and not rock.
#6 Is challenging yet a must not only for the marriage but
For my own spiritual growth. God desires TRUTH in the inner most parts of my heart for complete restoration.
It has been a painful process yet with each revaluation I’m
Stronger, wiser and more depended on GOD.
Unfortunately my marriage of 26 yrs didn’t survive but I have.
Thank You Leslie!
After several months of counselling for our troubled marriage my husband recently confessed a period of six years within our marriage that he was sexually active with men. That it stopped twelve years ago which was five years before we started going to church. I freaked out but here nine months later I want to try to understand and go back to counselling and he wants out. Only he’s still here and I don’t know why. I am trying to forgive and actually praying for our marriage but it can’t be healed when I’m the only one trying. I’m torn between praying and waiting for a miracle and telling him to leave if he feels it’s over b/c this is tearing my heart out living in limbo. The steps make sense if both partners participate. He refuses to talk about these problems and says he’s leaving in the spring. Of course, there’s more to this story but for now I just don’t know what to do.
Any advice on marriage recovery in the context of severe mental illness?
My spouse and I are working on these steps following his affair of 20 months. He has been in counseling for over a year. I saw the same counselor myself, and we have been seeing this counselor together. We were separated for several months last year when he asked for a divorce. He changed his mind and we agreed we wanted our marriage to heal.
Problem: repeated lies regarding continued contact with the other woman and my lack of trust. He even lied about the contact during one of our counseling sessions when I asked the question directly.
My struggle is reconciling issues of sin and forgiveness; coping with his chronic mental illness; wanting my marriage to thrive while slowly realizing that it may never be one of “mutuality” to use Leslie’s terminology.
Factors that complicate the process of marriage recovery include his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissism. I never felt free to express my ongoing hurt, anger, insecurity, doubt and disappointment because my expression triggers such intense feelings of pain and guilt in my spouse. His emotions cause a chain reaction of other behaviors that cause more distress for me. I find it easier to keep quiet with him although I have been honest with the counselor.
Today, if I kindly question a text or phone call that seems suspicious but was innocent, the result will be an internal emotional storm for my spouse that has often become external over the last two years. Needless to say, weathering the storms has taken a toll. I am still conditioned to expect an emotional and verbal tornado though it does not happen often now. It has been replaced by his silence and emotional retreat.
He has lied repeatedly but apologized repeatedly for the affair. He hates himself for what he has done; however, he would eventually confess the electronic communication to me after she promised to never contact him again. Unfortunately, she has similar mental health issues. She continued to reach out to him even after he repeatedly asked her to stop. They met each other’s emotional needs and “understand” the other’s irrational thinking in ways that we spouses cannot, according to him.
He says he hates himself for doing those things he does not want to do, including wrong feelings. It fuels a cycle of guilt, anger at himself, and depression that is very discouraging for me. He has dealt with chronic emotional pain since childhood, but the effects of the infidelity nearly cost his own life several times and our marriage. We both fight feelings of hopelessness that our marriage can ever be healthy.
I see that my spouse is trying to improve our relationship and that with our elementary-aged daughters. He verbalizes his intentions to make changes and some days he is successful. I think he is doing the best that he can, but there are many bad days for him.
Based on the history, I jump to the conclusion that he feels guilty for possible continued contact with the other woman. My suspicions of the continued relationship were never wrong in the past.
I have not asked the question directly for over two months, but I still wonder. There is no verbal assurance from him of no contact. Even if he said “no” I would have doubts.
Two months ago I asked him to set up an accountability relationship with another man. This has not happened. He has no close male friends and only recently began to attend church with me again…a new church of my choice.
If I ask again and he outright refuses, what then?
f he says I need to trust him, what then?
Where is the place for grace and forebearance in a marriage in which a spouse has severe mental illness.
Step 9 indicates a need to acknowledge that recovery from infidelity is a process with stops and starts. Counselor would concur. Does this mean I must overlook occasional, regretful text exchanges with the ex-girlfriend while we are both working on the marriage through counseling, reading, discussions, etc.? I think not, but I hate to walk away from a marriage of 22 years while we both have some hope and there is some improvement.
Does contact with her negate the “progress” we appear to be making? The counselor and my spouse describe him as “complicated.” Marriage recovery would be much simpler if mental illness was not a factor.
The counselor said I am in for a long, rough road if I choose to stay in the marriage.
The last two years have been excruciating painful for me but his pain (and hers) always trumps mine. Not that it is a competition, but who can argue the enormous burden of emotional pain so great that my spouse repeatedly verbalizes his desire to die (two hospitalizations). Yes, he has a psychiatrist. Yes, he takes medication though anti-depressants have not helped.
I struggle to put all of this in perspective. I have your books on destructive relationships and destructive marriages. I understand the concepts of staying well and leaving well. Following through is so difficult.
I suspect the boundaries and consequences that may be successful for others will not have the same outcomes in my case. A rational, emotionally healthy person would respond appropriately. I fear my spouse may take his life, lose all hope of recovery or give up the efforts to change. I am basing this on actual verbal expressions from him, not unfounded fears.
It is so very hard to be in a relationship with someone who struggles not to allow very intense emotions dictate words, attitudes and behavior. It is a lonely place for him and for me.
Lynn, there are no easy answers or quick fixes and what one person can live with another person can’t. I think the one person your husband could ask to hold him accountable is your counselor. When he is impulsive and texts or contacts her, the counselor needs to help him figure out something else to do with those feelings because obviously if he continues to do so, it not only hurts your marriage and you, it hurts him as he feels incredible shame, guilt and self-hatred, bordering on suicide. Satan knows our weak areas and will bombard you both with temptations while you are trying to repair.
It’s very important for your husband to get some individual help learning to regulate his emotions so that they don’t get the best of him – whether his lustful feelings or his suicidal feelings because he can make some life-altering decisions in a period of strong emotional intensity.
You cannot take responsibility for his choices, although you will surely suffer some of the consequences. You will need to pray and ask God for his grace, wisdom, forbearance, and timing for how much? How long? I think if you see your husband sincerely trying, even though it’s slow going, then that may be your answer. If he refuses to work at it, refuses to take his medication or see his doctor, etc., then it may just be too toxic for you to continue to live with even as you continue to pray for his well-being.
Thank you so much for posting this. I am in a very similar situation where mental illness is at the heart of destructive behavior and complicates healing. It can instigate tremendous feelings of instability, insecurity, and hopelessness. I dare say it often causes me to doubt my own sanity and mental health.
It is amazing and somewhat comforting to learn that I am not the only one experiencing such a complicated and difficult situation. I wish I knew of more resources regarding the Christian perspective in dealing with mental illness in marriage. Especially those illnesses (bipolar depression, borderline personality disorder, etc) that inspire such emotionally destructive behaviors.
My prayers are with you and I include you in my continual prayer that God reveals each step He wants me to take and gives me the faith and strength to take it, so that He will be glorified through this trial.
I’d like to make comment on your article about taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It shouldn’t be selfish Jesus, Paul and many others took time for rest, but to hear it in the church it is selfish. We are to always be thinking about others. JOY Jesus, others, yourself. Note we are last in all circumstances.
Many in the church would have us using all of our vacation time from secular work for volunteering in the church or elsewhere. Yet the pastor managed to take a cruise, visit the Grand Canyon and a couple of other adventures last year.
We all need down time. Leslie, you especially. You always seem to be somewhere promoting the cause. You need time for rest too.
If my Dr. had it his way I would not work full time, but the bills must be paid and the Lord hasn’t given me another option at this point. I also make meals for those in need, pick up my elderly friend for appointments, shopping and to get her to church. Somehow that isn’t enough. We should be more like Martha. I think there should be a healthy balance between Mary and Martha. And resting at Jesus feet does the heart and soul much good.
Praying for you Leslie. I’m sorry I was such a pain about #6. I know for some that are trying to mend a broken marriage it is good, but I also feel that we should be doing self examination on a regular basis and not just when our spouse messes up.
6. Is he/she willing to also take a hard look at ways he/she may have contributed to neglect in the marriage or other unresolved problems that created emotional distancing to develop. What were the sinkholes in the marriage before this happened?
I don’t know if I agree with 6 either. if someone raped me would I have to take responsibility for that too. if my husband hit me would I have to take responsibility for that too? If someone robbed me would I have to take responsibility for that too? if a child was molested would they have to take responsibility for that too? the reality is that people are devious and do things to hurt us. Many times people do wrong things that has nothing to do with the other person. If my husband takes drugs and has been hiding them for years from me am I responsible for that too. if my husband yells and screams and messes with my mind to create confusion am I responsible for that too? I do not agree with 6. I believe it would be best not to lump everyone and every situation into number 6. there are many times that people need to be responsible for their own issues. this seems like it allows the perpetrator the right to blame another for their actions. to justify their actions. I was almost raped at 14 and I was also molested by several men and boys. I will NEVER ACCEPT ANY RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE OTHER PEOPLE’S ACTIONS. NEVER. I DISAGREE WITH 6. THERE ARE PERPETRATOR’S OUT THERE and I will never accept or admit a smidge of fault on my part when someone does devious things. number 6 is wrong.
Janet you are taking #6 out of context. These are 10 steps, and the first five are important before you would get to six. Yes people can be victimized all the time and it’s not their fault nor do they have to take responsibility. However if you are repeatedly victimized, I would think it would be important for you to look at what’s going on from your end. Do you repeatedly leave your doors unlocked (robbery), do you not call the police (rape), do you not tell secrets and get help because you’re afraid..?
So if your marriage is rocky to begin with, and a spouse has an affair, that affair is not a good solution to a rocky or unhappy marriage and that is totally his responsibility, however, if the marriage has been rocky and neither one of you did anything to try to improve it, then if YOU BOTH want to HEAL your marriage after the affair, you will BOTH need to take some ownership of the marriage and why it was rocky. That’s all I’m saying by # 6.
I’m curious about accountability. If a spouse has cheated, has acknowledged it was wrong and is interested in taking the steps to move past/forward, how exactly should the accountability factor be handled? Should their faithfulness be “questioned” on a weekly or monthly basis? Should they be held accountable to a trusted male friend? Is it counter-productive to discuss it with the wronged spouse?
Anne, great questions. First, accountability works best when the person who has messed up wants it and invites it. Otherwise it feels like you’re trying to change someone who does not want to be changed. So if the person in the marriage who was unfaithful says, “I will be accountable for how I spend my free time, or the places I visit on the computer, or not developing friendships with other women” or whatever the particulars are, then they invite someone to “hold” them accountable to that goal. Accountability works best when the person knows they are weak in certain areas (food, sex, work, time management, prioritizing, etc), sets some goals to change those ways, and then invites people into his or her life to “hold” him accountable to that change.
When we give our marriage vows, in a sense we are pledging to be accountable for keeping those vows to our spouse. When one spouse repeatedly breaks the vows, the other spouse holds them accountable through consequences. If they refuse to change then we get the messes we’re talking about in this blog. But to put a marriage back together again as well as rebuild trust, accountability is a good tool to help us stay focused and aware of the changes we need to make. Otherwise it’s easy to get busy, fall into our old habits, stay in our old rut and never really do the work to make the change.
I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and did not understand how to end the abuse. I was honoring my covenant with God to stay in the marriage. The abuse has destroyed my self-esteem and my physical health. I was so uneducated in God’s view of emotional abuse and what we as women are entitled to under His word. I was barely alive when my husband verbally and emotionally abused me in a 19 hour argument, called me names, accused me of horrible things. This had happened many times before, I call them rippings – he would rip me apart and leave me in a puddle. I responded the wrong way. I didn’t know how to get out of the marriage. I didn’t know how to get help. I had an affair because I knew he would leave me alone. I have since come to my knees before the Lord and recognized my contributions to the break-up of the marriage and our family and admitted to my pride and many other sins. I should have stood up to him or handled the matter in a different way. We had a tremendous amount of stress in our family at the time from a prior incident. I had given up everything, including church, my volunteer work, my friends to please him and it was never enough. I have a long road ahead of me for healing our children, healing his feelings for me and healing myself. I am now getting help. I would encourage you to follow Leslie’s steps and try to put the marriage back together. I am alone and I have lost everything. It is hard work to put a relationship back together, but if the relationship was once there, it can be worked on and salvaged as long as both parties can be heard and validated. It is much harder to go your separate ways, tear your children apart, and live with the loss and loneliness. Yes, I had therapists and a psychiatrist. The mistake I made was they were not Christians and therefore, their advice was worldly and wrong for a believer. You can forgive. The forgiveness is for you, not for him. First, you acknowledge it and say it out loud. Then, you let the Holy Spirit take over. I have learned just because you forgive does not mean you put yourself in the position to be hurt again. Don’t do what I did. Put in the hard work. Yes, it is hard and a terrible betrayal. There are two parties in the marriage and in our case, we both had issues contributing to the big sink hole under our foundation. Don’t get busy with everything outside of your household, focus on your relationship with God, your husband and your children. The wages of sin are death and I am now in a living death. I am so sorry for all of the hurt, betrayal, embarrassment and pain I have brought to my family. There is no forgiveness in my case and now, only time will tell if I will ever have a relationship with my children again. My heart aches more now than it ever did in the marriage, under the abuse. Work hard, reach for help and honor God. His ways are the best and my life is now an example of what happens when you betray your own heart and beliefs. I pray for those of you who have been betrayed your hearts would be healed and knitted together with the love and power of the Holy Spirit and that He would minister to you in ways you cannot explain. Forgiving and honoring God to have the relationship He wants you to have in your marriage and relationship with your husband is the best advice. Hang in there. I promise you it is better than the other side.
Good morning, Leslie,
Occasionally I follow your blog – I get some emails that alert me. I have also received your book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.” This morning, I read the question about adultery. Although I am now divorced, I wonder if there are other marriages that have been infected by what seems to me to be an incredibly insidious form of adultery, which comes as a backlash to childhood sexual abuse. Behavior that I have heard over and over – “I am just so drawn…”to going into rest areas to see and be seen by men.(as an example). Maintaining a marriage into which the the past marches as though it is perfectly OK. Things occurring prior to salvation that I would label “pleasures of sin” never totally being let go. So that sex was not about love, rather about lust, and that I, the wife, should have satisfied as my “wifely duty.” My ex-husband continually harasses me about the “fact” that I had no Scriptural grounds for divorce. And of course, the enemy of my soul seems to laugh in my face about this -“you are a failure…you jumped ship…(after 17 years of marriage, many attempts and suggestions to seek Godly counsel)…shame on you…” and on and on! Am I wrong in calling this type of behavior adultery? To say nothing of hearing in our marital bed “so-and-so did this…” so and so being past relationships with women, as though I should behave like “so-and-so”. Oh, I am so aware that I was a “heart…that beat so imperfectly” and behaved imperfectly as well, and as such brought my own baggage into this marriage. I think naming these behaviors correctly would help me a lot in setting my heart free and at rest. Thanks!
The Scriptures say that the marriage bed should be undefiled. I think all the forms of sexual impurity that you mentioned defile the sexual relationship God intended between a husband and wife. When you bring a third person into the bed (in the form of past relationships, fantasy from porn, or current struggles with homosexuality or sexual lust) it creates an insecurity and shame – I’m not good enough, I’m not doing enough, I can’t please him/her, etc. Jesus expanded the definition of adultery – to even looking at someone with lust. That doesn’t mean we aren’t all guilty of sexual sin at times, but let’s call it what it is and not minimize it’s lethal impact on a marriage because it’s not “technical” adultery.
Leslie, my husband has had 2 affairs during our 23 year marriage (that i know about) and has also struggled with pornography. The last affair was 2 years ago. He says he has also not looked at porn for a while. I the don’t trust him or believe him. Inthe past, I have been counseled to basically forgive and forget. There have been no steps taken by my husband to rebuild trust. He has no accountability with anyone. He has 3 computers and no safe eyes type programs. Now that I am asking him to help rebuild the trust and our broken marriage, he refuses to do so and is really ignoring My requests, saying these are unreasonable. In your opinion, what steps are needed to rebuild broken trust in a marriage and what would that process look like? I have heard it can take a couple years, even when the right steps are taken. Thank you for your help.
I think the steps to rebuilding trust are embedded in the 10 steps necessary to heal a marriage. The trust that needs to be rebuilt is not just I trust you won’t cheat on me again, but I trust that you care about my feelings, I trust that you will listen to my pain, I trust that you will not minimize or brush my pain under the rug or tell me I’m being unforgiving or ungodly because I can’t just get over it so fast. I trust that you will be honest with yourself when you are feeling tempted. I trust that you will be honest with me. I trust that when I’m not doing so well with the memories of this or the triggers, you will be patient and sensitive to the healing process.
That kind of trust takes time to build because sometimes it was never in the marriage to begin with. When these crisis occur in the marital bond, this is the TIME your spouse is MOST open to the need to do this kind of work. Therefore, when we suck it up, or minimize our own pain, or just try to move forward, they get the idea that this is not such a big deal. Then two years later when you say, “hey let’s do this work” they think it’s your problem.
I agree with Jen G. The husband likes to blame the wife. Non repentant, and justified that it was our fault that he strayed. It is wrong to think that “if I do the Christian thing and take him back..” that the second chance will make things all better, and God will make it bigger and better than it has ever been. Didn’t happen with me! I got an unrepentant man…sorry that he was caught and humiliated, but not willing to do all that he could to heal my emotions. After 22 years of marriage.
It took him over two years to go to counselling (which he had promised as a condition to reconciliation) which did not help my emotional state. These kind of men are emotional bullies. I thought I had forgiven him, but as his true colours of unrepentance have shown up over the last 4 years, I know I harbour resentment and unforgivness. With out a Good-Get to the Root Cause counsellor, which we did not have, but more of a push it under the rug and move on counsellor, healing is doomed!
Sad to say that too many counselors, Christian and secular are the push it under the rug and let’s move on type. The roots need to be dug up and pulled because if you just cut the weed, it grows right back.
My husband’s first affair was in our first year of marriage. At that time I was willing to stay as long as he promised to never do it again. We read a few marriage books, became very involved in the church and grew spiritually, but I never actually did the work necessary to heal. I was extremely insecure and felt unloveable. In the following years I knew that things were not right between my husband and I, but I didn’t know what exactly was wrong. We were struggling with infertility and that “monster” was the scapegoat for all of our problems.
After adjusting to the life altering event of having our first child, things still seemed “off” to me. In our 13th year of marriage I discovered he was addicted to pornography and had multiple affairs.
I knew that regardless of whether I remained married to my husband I needed to heal completely and I understood that it would require a lot of work. Two years later the pain is still raw, but I am very thankful for the journey of healing and spiritual growth I have been on. Even though I am still not sure our marriage can survive and it would devastate me to lose my marriage, I can honestly say that the spiritual maturity I have gained and the close relationship I was “forced” into with the Lord, has been worth the pain that lead me here.
Thankfully, at this time in our lives my husband and I can check off all ten of the things on this list. That does make things easier.
I would say the most important steps to me have been 1) My husband realizing the root of his destructive behavior and working with counselors to stop the behavior (He was also diagnosed with ADHD and learning life skills and taking medication has really helped him to not make stupid, impulsive decisions) and 2) Me realizing that the way I “dealt” with infidelity early in our marriage wasn’t really dealing with it at all. It was just me stuffing away my pain and trying my best to be a godly wife so that my husband would reciprocate and be a godly husband. I had to learn that my husband’s issues started long before he ever met me and that nothing *I* did could force him into handling his pain and stress in appropriate ways.
I so appreciate your work, Leslie. Thank you.
Thanks Pat for sharing your story.
In my marriage there was no repentance – there was sorrow, but not repentance. Therefore, the adultery kept happening and it took good, solid community and a lot of prayer and counseling for me to get strong and courageous enough to do something about it.
My spouse would not take a good hard look at himself to find out why he did the things he did. He would not do the work of self-examination.
I never saw him acknowledge my pain he caused. In fact, I think he got enjoyment out of telling me every time he cheated. I didn’t realize this until months of counseling and community. I was so trying to be the good, forgiving wife.He was not willing to listen to my heart. Instead he would wonder when I was going to get over it already. I was willing to forgive. And I was willing to see how I contributed to the demise of our marriage. I was not honest with my husband about how I felt. I was afraid of him and didn’t feel like I could be honest with him. He was threatening and scary. I denied how I felt so I could keep my marriage together even if that meant I had to do all the work. Finally, I realized, as I said with a lot of community, prayer and counseling, that I matter. I MATTER! How I feel matters! What I think matters! I forgave quickly the first 11 times he cheated and did not to the hard work of feeling what was in my own heart. This is heartbreaking. My husband made no positive changes I could acknowledge. After getting strong enough to use my voice and ask him to move out the 12h time he cheated, I kept on working on being who I truly am and letting him show who he truly is. Sadly, he is not a man of good character. But I worked so hard to make him seem that way!!! My husband would not do a thing to rebuild my trust. He would buy flowers and get angry if I didn’t jump up and down and invite him to bed. He would say, “I said I was sorry!!” These patterns developed over time, of course. But I am breaking them and being the woman I truly am and it feels so good!
Joanne, You should have never heard those words or even known that so and so even existed. That was completely selfish on his part. Sex was meant to be a pleasure for husband and wife and for the creation of new life. What he did was demeaning. Sex is not a “wifely duty”. Husbands are to also satisfy their wives. I have never once heard that called a “husbandly duty.”
Re: ” I think that’s why Jesus said it was one of the few grounds for biblically divorcing a spouse.” I don’t know that Jesus actually gave any grounds for Biblical divorce.
In Matthew, Jesus says, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce,’ BUT I SAY TO YOU that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
This doesn’t condone divorce in the case of adultery. Read another way, if the reason for divorce is a spouse already committing “unchastity” (adultery), then the divorcing spouse is not making the other commit adultery (because s/he has already done so).
Mark 10 affirms this interpretation. There, Jesus says: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Because this blog is so widely read and by Christians, I thought it important to introduce this interpretation into the topic. I do think that this interpretation makes sense in light of all of Scripture, such as the book of Hosea and also Jesus’ discussion of why God permitted divorce, which wasn’t because of adultery, but because of hardness of heart. For the Christian, this is something to be most mindful and prayerful about.
I do think these verses of Jesus where he says “except for the reason of adultery” have been widely misinterpreted. Read in context of the entire sentence along with Jesus’ other statements about adultery, it makes more sense, I think, that He’s only clarifying that the spouse who has already committed adultery isn’t forced into adultery by divorce (and remarriage).
Thanks Susan for a different way of looking at things. I always love a fresh set of eyes. However, I do think adultery is a serious marital problem but it does not always lead to divorce, nor should it if the spouse is truly repentant and willing to rebuild the broken trust. However unfaithfulness – unfaithfulness to one’s marital promises is serious business. God continually rebuked Israel for her “unfaithfulness” to him often using the metaphor of adultery and finally declared divorce against her for her unfaithfulness. Hosea did not divorce Gomer but he did separate himself for her and she experienced the consequences of her poor choices. One person can stay married all by herself but one person cannot have a good marriage all by herself (or himself). As I say in my book things are not the same for every person or every marriage that experiences unfaithfulness- however it manifests itself. However, for some women and men, staying silent and keeping up appearances and pretending all is well in the marriage is the absolutely worst thing to do and not only hurts them it hurts their partner and sometimes their children. . I think the church has so often discouraged honesty, authenticity,and vulnerability because we don’t know what to do with people’s real messed up lives and homes. So problems fester, go underground and get worse, making marriages fragile and unsafe.
I agree with you on everything you say in response to my comment, Leslie. I don’t disagree that people hurt and suffer deeply in their marriage due to infidelity and other breeches of trust.
I only wanted to clarify that I don’t believe Jesus condones divorce. That is a more serious matter – misinterpreting or changing Jesus’ words – indeed.
We need to strive to understand clearly what Jesus is saying we should do – and not do; I wouldn’t want any Christian to pursue the matter of divorce thinking Jesus condones it or allows it if He hasn’t explicitly said so.
May God bless your ministry, Leslie. I know you are helping many – myself included.
Not sure exactly how to start or word this, but i may have asked before but sometimes these entries stir up questions or just needing a confirmation that im doing the right thing. My 13 year old marriage began becoming abusive about 6 years ago (that i noticed). Last year i went to my pastor and of course that infuriated my husband. Now my husband and I go to separate churches. I have gone on occasion with him for our childrens sake but i dont feel right. I feel like when im with him im suppose to put on some show and i cant do it. Then i feel like i look miserable and dont want to do that either. He wont let me bring my kids to my church (he physically will pull them away from me) or he talks really bad about the church to my children. He accuses me of having an affair with the pastor, tells my children hes a sexual pervert and a child abuser, and that i love him more than them, we at yhat church are all pretending to love and serve God, he called my pastor a pharasi etc. Most people are very supportive, but occasionally someone will say im being stubborn by staying at my church, that we should be going somewhere together. I feel i need a free safe place to worship, but the issue with my children is killing me. They are so confused. He also will say things such as ive never been a good wife, or ive never been affectionate. When i say no to sex he pulls the God says not to withhold sex. But there is no trust. I have filed for divorce hoping to separate & we could get help but he wont leave. Apparantly thats never going to happen. We went to 10 counseling sessions together, but he said he doesnt have to change anything until i stop going to my church and unfile the divorce. This has been our marriage, i have to be the one to do everything different. Be better at everything when i cant possibly meet his expectations because they always change. I have tried to look at my part, but its difficult when I KNOW half of what he says is not true or twisted.
He also just had our 17 year old son arrested. He antaganizes and badgers us until we snap, then points the finger at us. Thats what happened with my son. He ended up punching a hole in his bedroom wall. He has never been violent his entire life. Now my husband says he has to put a restraining order on him to protect our other kids and yet he tells me he wants him to come home (hes staying with friends of mine). I dont get it. He sai he was glad to go to jail to get away from him. My husband calls me an enabler because im trying to help my son. Then hell be nice to me but i just found out he called the DA to bash him and talks bad to our little ones in private then tries to kiss me and asks what my problem is. Im so frustrated. I just want it to be over but at the same time dont want to not have hope. My pastor says to separate but i filed 5 months ago and nothing is moving forward & he just puts us through more hell. I feel like this shouldve been his time to work on reconciling and he made things worse now i just want the divorce. I cant afford to live on my own and neither can my husband but im trusting God. Thats why i was hoping if they would tell him hes got to leave due to the abuse at least he could stay with his mom, maybe being physically separated would do something. I dont see that either though. i dont have anywhere to go unless i get my own place and then were paying double. But he has no problem telling me im financially irresponsible for doing this. However i cant live like this. So i know i rambled but i guess it was the matter of him accusing me of being “unfaithful” in many ways that sparked my writting. He wont see how his abuse has been unfaithful to me & my children. Thoughts?
Wow, I think I’m going to use your question for this week’s blog so check back on Wednesday.
Kelly, Can you get a restraining order. Have you documented any of the instances or the verbal abuse and false accusations. Perhaps a children’s counselor would step in and acknowledge this behavior is hurting them emotionally. Can you somehow get him on film or audio during his rage? Anything to let a judge see what your family is going through. If you have a local underground railroad or like organization they may be able to help you push it through faster. If you can get the order, the police will escort him out and not much care where he goes.
I don’t know what state you live in, but check with an attorney before moving out. I made that mistake because I was so tired of the abuse. Once out of the house, he would not allow me to come back to the house and this cut off relationships with my children. Please, check with an attorney before you do anything and get Christian counseling.
I will be praying for you.
Yes, ive been documenting everything. My counselor (a christian ive been seeing for a little over a year) is writing a letter and i do try to record some of the conversations. Its hard to when im caught off guard, ill try to push record and he gets paranoid of me recording him and will talk about every wrong response ive made and even make things up.
Im not moving out until i know i can get custody. Im pretty sure my documentation can help with that but to make him leave might be another story.
Subjective information is very difficult to prove. The law wants objective info. I have also spoken to a DV advocate.
This article is very helpful. I learned a few months ago that my husband of 14 years had a 3 year affair with someone we knew. We are working to rebuild and both him and I are willing to do the hard work, but it’s still taking time. It’s like one step forward one step back. Sometimes I just want to wallow in my pain and misery, but it’s not the right thing to do if we are to truly move past this. This article was very informative and I appreciate reading it.
My husband had a two year affair and when I found out … From her, I also found out that he had an alcohol and cocaine addiction. She was the dealer. I don’t understand why he didn’t buy and walk away. He tells me he felt nothing for her. Just needed drugs. I can’t wrap my head around that if he slept with her and wasn’t getting anything out of it. He paid for his drugs. Since finding out he has been to rehab and clean. Takes random tests and has been totally different and dedicated to me and our children. How do I understand this? I don’t believe things were this way. What do addicts feel? Is this normal? I’m trying to understand since this is this the only way that I know I can truly move on. But I saw photos of them together. He told so many lies during that time. So many things happened. I didn’t know anything about the addiction or the affair since he works out of town a lot. He was able to hide a lot.