Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

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The Myth Continues: Focus on the Family Blames the Victim

There has been a firestorm erupting over an advertisement from Focus on the Family for a new book about a marriage that was reconciled after adultery. The book is titled How God Used the Other Woman: Saving Your Marriage After Infidelity.

I don’t have any problems with the book (I have not read it). I am very thankful there are marriages out there that have not only survived adultery but are thriving. I love stories of reconciliation where the unfaithful spouse repents and does what is necessary to save his/her marriage. There’s no greater testimony of God’s grace than these stories—and they bring hope in the midst of very painful trials.

However, the advertisement for this book states:

Her husband’s infidelity didn’t mean the end of Tina Konkin’s marriage. Her willingness to answer the question, “What role did you play in this?” saved her marriage.

Let me start by saying I have tremendous respect for Focus on the Family and its founder, James Dobson. However, I do believe this advertisement furthers the myth that it takes two to cause an affair. It heaps blame on the victim instead of placing the blame where it belongs: on the unfaithful spouse.

I have heard from a number of readers who have reached out to Focus on the Family in the midst of their pain, and the results have been mixed. Some have been told they must stay and pray for reconciliation; others have been told they are free to leave. Every situation is unique, but this tendency to blame the victim for a spouse’s adultery must end now.

It seems that sexual sin is the only time culture allows us to blame the victim. We hear stories of rape where women are blamed because of what they are wearing or where they are. And we constantly hear the stories of how spouses are blamed for their partner’s infidelity. They weren’t loving well. They nagged. They didn’t provide well enough. They gained weight. Whatever it might be, the innocent spouse is blamed.

We don’t blame the victim of a drunk driving accident for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don’t blame the murdered spouse for causing the abuse that escalated to death. We don’t blame the victim of a robbery for leaving their home unsecured. But we continue to blame the faithful spouse for his/her spouse’s actions which perpetuates the lies and further destroys the victim.

I have no doubt some affairs start because a spouse is withdrawn or not giving enough attention to the marriage. I have no doubt some stray because they are hurting from abuse or negligence. Even in these situations, the faithful spouse should not take the blame.

But, in many other cases, adultery happens as the result of one hardened heart. There’s a loving, faithful spouse sitting at home, carrying the burden of the marriage while the other spouse is intent on his/her own selfish desires. Maybe his/her mind is warped by porn. Maybe he/she is just looking for a thrill. Maybe he/she is discontent in life in general and fails to see the gifts right in front of him. Maybe he/she is seeking to numb the pain carried from childhood.

Why do we continue the myth that it takes two people to cause an affair?

Yes, it takes two to have an affair: the two people involved with one another outside the bounds of their marriages. But it is never the fault of the faithful spouse sitting at home.

Let’s take a couple of biblical examples:

This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings. 1 Samuel 25:3

There’s no record of Nabal having an affair in scripture, but we do see a kind, loving, supportive woman who was married to—let’s name it—an emotionally and mentally abusive man. His anger and instability had absolutely nothing to do with Abigail. Yet, she suffered from his abuse on a daily basis.

Sadly, the story of Nabal and Abigail is far from an isolated case. Our culture today is rampant with men and women who are cruel and abusive, destroying their spouses while pursuing their own selfish pursuits. Like Abigail, there are many kind, loving spouses who suffer through years of abuse, faithfully clinging to the hope God will change their spouse’s heart only to end up being devastated by adultery.

Here’s another one:

Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. 2 Samuel 11:2-4

There are several things to note in the story of David and Bathsheba. First, it was the time for kings to go to war (vs. 1), and yet David opted to stay home. He was not where he was supposed to be. Second, he was told from the beginning that Bathsheba was married, and yet he insisted on fulfilling his selfish desires. Third, from what we know about Uriah, he was a fine, upstanding man. He was serving his country. He was loyal. Even when David told him to go sleep with his wife, he refused because his integrity kept him from indulging in selfish pursuits while his comrades were at war (vv. 9-11). He was the victim of adultery.

Now, I realize Bathsheba would have risked severe consequences if she betrayed the king in those times. However, David was known as a man after God’s own heart. Surely, if she had refused his advances, he would have acted in a godly manner. But, regardless, David pursued a married woman. David’s heart was hardened despite being a man who had everything he could ever want. There was an affair, and two families were forever changed because of hardened hearts.  

Here’s the truth: It only takes one hardened heart to destroy a marriage, but it takes two people working together, submitting to God and to one another, to have a successful marriage. It takes two people seeking God, fully surrendered to God, to overcome the pain of adultery and rebuild a marriage. If the guilty party is unwilling to repent and change his/her ways, the marriage will not survive.

Galatians 5:19-20 in The Message sums it up well:

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.

Men and women indulging in adulterous relationships are consumed with the work of the flesh. They are not seeking God, nor are they seeking the good of their spouses. They are out to serve the mighty god of self regardless of whom they hurt. These people are the ones to blame, and we must stop blaming the innocent spouses!

As I said earlier, I have respect for Focus on the Family, but they need to take a long, hard look at the advertising for this book. Anyone who tells you to look at “your role” in your spouse’s affair is letting the adulterous spouse off easily. The correct question is to look straight at the adulterer and lay the full blame at their feet. Make sure they know they are the reason the marriage (and their spouse) is in shambles. Point out their hardened hearts and tell them they need to change.

And instead of blaming the innocent spouse, offer words of hope and encouragement. Let the spouse know it’s ok to stay if the guilty party truly repents. But, these circumstances are in no way a reflection of who he/she is or what he/she has done. They are the result of hardened heart that has chosen to walk away from God and His perfect will.