Habitual Adultery - Is There Any Hope?
- 2013 22 Mar
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.
You note that the scriptures challenge us to forgive again and again. The implication, however, is to forgive those who honestly seek reconciliation—your husband seems to want to get into your good graces without making any changes that would protect you both from harm in the future. While forgiveness is important, you are forgetting many other scriptures that admonish us to be wise in our associations with others as well as the use of healthy boundaries.
Proverbs 13: 20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." You give no indication that your husband has set boundaries between he and those that lead him into harm.
In regards to healthy boundaries, you seem to be enabling your husband to maintain his destructive lifestyle. The Apostle Paul speaks clearly about such matters in Galatians 6:7. "A man reaps what he sows." By "forgiving him" again and again, without true character change, you are not allowing him to experience the consequences of his actions. You are enabling him to bring destruction into the sanctity of your marriage.
I suggest it is time to take sharp, clear actions. It is time to let him know you love him, but cannot allow unfaithfulness to taint the sanctity of your marriage. I suggest you draw a clear line—he must seek counseling to understand his character issues that lead to unfaithfulness; he must dissociate from those that lead him into harmful actions; he must work diligently with you to create safety and trust in your marriage. If he refuses to do these things, you and your marriage remain in danger, and you cannot be a party to that.
In all of these critical decisions, seek the wisdom of the Lord—He promises to give us wisdom liberally. "If you look for it (wisdom) as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." (Proverbs 2: 4)
Dear Dr. David,
I have read some of your articles on Crosswalk.com but they usually address from a woman's position. What about the man whose wife cheated on him? My wife and I were married for sixteen years and the divorce was finalized this past March. I did not want this divorce and fought against it nor do I really believe in them. When my wife and I started to date she knew that I wanted to be in the ministry as did anyone who knows me. I started Bible studies, lead prayer groups, preached, and so on, have been active in the church. During our marriage she slept around, drank, and did drugs. I knew of three of these affairs but felt that if each of us followed God's Word and leading plus went to get Christian marriage counseling then the marriage would become stronger. Please help me understand what happened in our marriage. ~ Discouraged
Please see my comments in my response to the previous writer, as they apply to your situation.
In short, many marriages are in trouble for lack of some basic, healthy boundaries. Unfaithfulness occurs for various reasons, most predictable and preventable. When we examine a marriage in trouble we often find issues such as unhealthy communication styles, poor conflict management skills, a lack of healthy boundaries, a lack of sacrificial giving, and failing to take danger signs seriously. I am often saddened at the many marriages which falter, but where the couple has failed to heed the warning signs by getting in-depth counsel. Most couples are like the frog in the boiling pot—they feel the water getting hotter, but hope things will magically turn around. They won’t, and don’t. Cosmetic changes do nothing for us. God demands a heart change—a Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
My hope for you is that you will critically review your marriage, explore your part in the dissolution, and make necessary changes. Vow that you will learn from the experience; that you will always seek God’s heart in every matter; that you will love sacrificially, but wisely set boundaries. Insist that any future mate shares these same values. God bless.
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.