Dear Dr. David:

I have been married for two years. Prior to being married we were high school sweethearts and had been dating for two years. I recently found out that he has been cheating on me the entire time with several different women. He says that he wants to change and sounds sincere, but he has also said this many times before. I want to believe him and stay with him, but I just don't know what I am supposed to do. He continues to hang out with friends that lead him into trouble. The Bible says to forgive someone seventy times seven, but it also says that infidelity is a reason for divorce.  I do not know which path is the right one to go down.  Please help. ~
Confused and Hurt

Dear Confused and Hurt,

I am saddened by your letter. Your situation brings up some important issues here that beg us to take a step back for a moment and revisit God's design for Christian marriage. Marriage is not merely a legal contract, but a covenant made between two persons; it is a public and permanent proclamation that says you belong fully to one another and only one another. This covenant is meant to be a living representation of Christ's love for the Church (Eph. 5: 21-33). In order to give oneself fully and sacrificially, in imitation of Christ, there must be a commitment to fidelity. Your husband cannot fully give himself to you if he is involved with others. It is even more disturbing that you say he has been cheating on you the entire time - this implies he walked down the aisle with no intention of honoring the fidelity he pledged that day, of entering into a true covenantal relationship. But now that you know the full truth about your husband's affairs, you stand at a crossroads where you have choices. Let's examine them.

I sense that you feel helpless. In fact, you’re not helpless and there are many courses of action, not just one. Let’s examine the problem from a few different angles.

Your letter gives no indication as to the root causes of his infidelity. Have you two had serious, heart-to-heart conversations about why he is cheating on you? He offers easy answers, "sounds sincere," but then does it again. Obviously the "cancer" within him has not been extricated. Both of you have failed to grapple with the severity of the problem.

Have you sought any kind of help for this serious problem? Things will not change by themselves. There are reasons why men, or women, cheat on their mates. None of them are excusable. I think of unfaithfulness as seeking illegitimate expression for legitimate needs. Have you two looked deeply into your relationship to determine relationship problems, as well as individual issues you’ve brought into the marriage? Have you sought in-depth counseling not only to heal from the unfaithfulness, but to strengthen weaknesses in the relationship, or personality, that gave rise to the problems? If not, you’re enabling this dysfunction to continue.

Too often couples seek quick, superficial remedies to deep problems. Having put a Band-Aid on the problem, they seem surprised to find the problems surfacing again. While it takes significant time, money and energy to really heal and solve problems, deep answers are much more rewarding than quick solutions.

You and your husband must seek invasive, emotional and spiritual surgery. You must examine the relational and character issues that give rise to repeated infidelity. If you accept quick, easy answers, you will undoubtedly be disappointed when he cheats on you again.

Some of my most difficult work is working with couples in Marriage Intensives where I challenge them to look below the surface and face painful issues. We explore unexpressed resentment that leads to sexual acting out. We examine poor boundaries, where they choose to associate with others with poor boundaries, leading to the opportunity for unfaithfulness. These couples often naively see these friendships as safe, when they are not. A little resentment, combined with poor boundaries, added to opportunity, leads to disaster. Couples must shore up these weak areas in their marriage if they want to prevent trouble in the future.