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Fighting Myths

Dena Johnson Martin

Sometimes I feel like a broken record.

I recently read a Facebook post in a Christian group. The author was asking a question about how and when to explain to the kids the reasons behind the divorce, namely adultery. Most of the comments—whether right or wrong—were kind and gracious.

Until that one person had to weigh in.

“I’m just popping in to remind you that healthy women don’t have affairs unless their needs aren’t getting met at home.”

I felt the anger rising within me. Why is it ok to blame the victim of adultery? We don’t blame the victim of domestic violence of the victim of a drunk driver. Why do Christians (or anyone) continue to believe the myth that adultery is the result of unmet needs at home? I know I was taught this line of thinking as a kid.

I kindly began typing. “It is a myth that adultery is the result of unmet needs. It only takes one hardened heart to walk away from the covenant of marriage. Look at the story of Abigail and Nabal. We have got to stop blaming the victim of adultery. We wouldn’t do that in any other situation.”

Satisfied that I had answered both kindly and truthfully, I walked away.

Until the response came in.

“I knew there would be at least one person in here. “Healthy” is the operative word here. We need to get off our high-horse. ‘Mommy was so evil and daddy was perfect.’ These kids need to know that no one is perfect.”

As I read the words, I felt my blood pressure rising. I felt the anger welling up from deep within my soul. I began to think some very un-Christlike things about this woman. I began to hope that her husband had an affair so she could have a real understanding of what it’s like to be betrayed in the deepest, most intimate ways. I began to secretly hope that God would see her arrogance and pride and humble her as only He can.

Hey. I’m all about honesty. And in the moment, that’s exactly what went through my mind.

I’ve had some time to reflect on it, to let my anger dissipate, to pray for this woman who simply does not know just how ignorant she is when it comes to the causes of adultery. Are there people who have affairs because their needs aren’t being met? Sure! But honestly, I think that’s the rare cause. Can we all take steps to improve our marriage and our intimacy? Absolutely. But if my partner is bent on fulfilling their own selfish desires, there’s nothing I can do to stop him. He has free will.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on this woman’s statement, and I wanted to simply address this myth once more. It is truly one of the myths that is so deeply ingrained in our culture, perhaps even more so in Christianity.

And it is a lie from the pit of hell.

So here are a few thoughts on the myth that it takes two to cause an affair.

Healthy adults don’t have affairs. Period. Had this woman stopped here, I would have whole-heartedly agreed! But she went on to say that healthy adults don’t have affairs unless… If healthy adults only had affairs when their needs weren’t being met within the marriage, I probably should have had an affair on my ex-husband years before he actually did.

Healthy adults are looking out for the best interest of their marriage. Healthy adults are committed to solving problems. Healthy adults recognize when something is going awry in their marriage and they work together to fix it. Healthy adults are open to correction. Healthy adults are constantly examining their lives and looking for ways to improve themselves and their relationships. When there are two healthy adults in a relationship, there is no adultery.

Adultery is often very one-sided. When’s the last time you read Galatians 5? Have you read it in The Message?

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. I could go on.  

When I was in the midst of the chaos, I read this passage and had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I was overwhelmed with just how accurate the description was. You see, we have two options: we can live our lives filled with the Spirit, or we can give ourselves over the works of the flesh. So often, we see one spouse who is attempting to surrender to the Spirit while the other is consumed with the works of the flesh. And that is what causes adultery.

Blaming the victim heaps unneeded pain on top of the guilt and the shame. One thing I can promise you is that the victim of adultery is questioning everything she has ever said or done. He is wondering why he was not enough to keep his wife satisfied. She is asking what she could have done differently to keep her husband from wandering. The guilt. The shame. The pain. The confusion. There simply are no words to explain what you feel when your spouse betrays you in this most intimate way.

And then we choose to tell the victim she wasn’t meeting her spouse’s needs? I’m sorry. Don’t put that on anyone when they are in the pit of despair. The adulterer needs to own up to her actions. He needs to figure out why he felt the need to go outside the covenant relationship. If she is truly repentant, she will never lay the blame at the feet of her spouse. He will own it. Every single part of it.

Should the victim look at her own actions? Sure. Should he see if he made mistakes? Absolutely. But the victim is in no way responsible for the actions of a wayward spouse.

Victims need our unwavering love and support. We are all called to love—to love extravagantly as Christ loved us. We are told in scripture they will know we are Christians by our love.

Victims of adultery are in desperate need of our love and support. They need someone to come by, to offer a kind word. They need us to remind them they are created in God’s image. They need us to tell them they are worthy of love. They need to fill their minds with reminders of who they are in Christ Jesus. They need to know they are chosen, created for a purpose, a masterpiece deeply loved by God.

If we are so busy reminding them their failures caused this mess, they will never be able to see or accept the love God has for them. Our job is not to be the jury and the judge but to be the hands and feet of Christ. That means we should reach out, meet their physical needs, share the truth of God’s love, and hold them closely as they walk through the pain of adultery. Few things compare to this type of love and support.

If you have held to the myth that it takes two to cause an affair, I beg you to get alone with God. Ask Him to reveal to you where you are believing lies, human tradition, myths, rather than the infallible Word of God. You just might be surprised what God shows you is lurking in the deepest recesses of your mind.