It doesn’t get any clearer than this: Exodus 20:14 says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (KJV) Most, if not all, Christians agree with that commandment. What “real” Christian wouldn’t? However, not long ago, Christianity Today took a survey of 1,000 subscribers and found that 23 percent had engaged in extramarital sex.
According to Focus on the Family, 60 percent of affairs start at work. Fifty six percent of men and 34 percent of women that were involved in affairs described their marriages as happy according to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher. Those are pretty scary statistics, but unless you find yourself in that position, you have no idea how infidelity can affect you.
Many couples describe the sensation that their spouse has been cheating on them to be similar to a bomb going off. Suddenly, everything you thought you knew about your spouse isn’t necessarily true. Some will find themselves saying, “If he’s been cheating on me, then what else hasn’t he told me?” or “She says that it’s over, but how can I be sure?”
Broken trust can be devastating to any relationship, but even more so for the seemingly perfect couple. Some Christians suffer in silence because of guilt or shame. Others run as far away from the marriage as possible. Can a marriage affected by adultery be restored?
To rebuild a broken marriage takes solid commitment in the midst of what at times can be a red hot boiling pot of emotional turmoil, from both partners, says Mike Genung, author of Road to Grace.
For the marriage to find healing, the wife, when she’s ready, (not when she’s been manipulated, guilted or cajoled into it), must come to the place of forgiveness. The husband must build a new foundation of trust and be willing to walk with his wife as she heals. He will have to choose between the marriage and his pride, meaning he has to be willing to allow her the complete freedom to express her rage and hurt without defending what is his indefensible position.
Of course, it is not only men who cheat. Many a husband can find himself in the same situation and in a new state of confusion, especially if he decides to stay and work on his marriage.
During the repair stage, you normalize and stabilize emotions, says Erik Johnson of Family Challenge Ministries.
Rather than filing for divorce, plotting revenge or considering self-harm, it’s best to make no major decisions at this point. Life is distorted when seen through the lens of shattered dreams. Waiting for emotions to level out before making irrevocable judgments is difficult but prudent.
While it is true that God can simply repair a marriage instantly, more often than not, it doesn’t happen that way. God has given us free will and we can choose to change or not. It would be a lot easier if He did all the work for us, but people don’t grow and marriages don’t heal without personal sacrifice.
As each spouse becomes involved in the change process, they can begin to evaluate their love (and their spouse’s love) by their efforts, rather than emotions, says Greg Swenson, Ph.D.
This gives hope, at a time when neither spouse feels they can ever feel the same about the other. An important part of the recovery process is to see the difference between mature love and immature love. Infidelity can be seen as a regression to the excitement and pleasure of “falling in love.”
This beginning phase of marriage is important, but not sufficient for the progression of marriage through more difficult phases. Rather than develop the qualities required for mature love, such as found in 1 Corinthians 13, a person may be tempted to find a new partner, because being in love is less demanding than committed love. The person involved in an extramarital relationship needs to be frequently reminded of the fallacy of comparing an extramarital relationship to a married relationship.
The marriage experience is much more complex. It involves the mundane as well as exposure of the most unattractive aspects of our nature.
Time and time again, although not as often as we would like, we see that marriages can be restored. Unfortunately, it may take a lot longer for the healing to begin than the length of the actual affair.
“It took two years before my wife was able to feel completely at ease when I traveled again,” continues Genung. “My all-out efforts to break free from lust were critical; if I’d have continued to slip with porn or committed adultery again then she would have had no reason for hope, and our marriage would have been over.”