If your marriage has experienced emotional or physical infidelity, you’re probably feeling crushed, confused, and even traumatized. When your spouse promised, “Till death do us part,” that promise didn’t include anyone else, yet many marriages suffer from infidelity on the part of one or both spouses. According to the New York Times, about 15% of married women and 25% of married men will commit adultery at some point during the marriage.
Some couples choose to divorce after an affair, while others decide to try again. One study found that 23.6% of married couples decided to try to save the marriage after an affair. If you are part of that percentage, it’s vital to recognize that affair recovery requires wholehearted commitment from both spouses.
Recovery will involve a process of reconciliation, repairing broken trust, and rebuilding intimacy. If you are struggling to know what to do in the aftermath of your spouse’s repair, keep reading to find out more about Christian marriage counseling for affair recovery.
What is Infidelity?
What does adultery mean? The dictionary definition of adultery is “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” According to this definition, adultery can include anything from a one-night stand to a long-term affair, but the word is usually used to describe the physical aspect of infidelity.
There are many ways to be unfaithful to your marriage outside of the physical act of intercourse with another person. If your spouse has been unfaithful in other ways, you’re familiar with the pain and brokenness of trust caused by any form of infidelity.
Infidelity is defined as “the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner.” As opposed to the limited definition of adultery, infidelity means unfaithfulness in the general sense. It means that you’ve broken trust and broken your vow to “forsake all others” besides your spouse.
An affair is “a romantic or passionate attachment typically of limited duration.” If your spouse has had an affair, that means they are most likely emotionally and physically consumed with another person. Finding out about an affair usually causes extraordinary pain for the betrayed spouse.
No matter whether it’s adultery, infidelity, and/or an affair, if your spouse has cheated on you, you’re probably experiencing a sense of betrayal, hurt, anger, and grief. Maybe you’re asking questions like, “How could they do this to me?” or, “Am I not enough?” or maybe, “Should I get a divorce?”
Your pain is valid. Being cheated on is traumatic, especially if the infidelity was kept a secret for a long time. If you are considering your options for trying to save your marriage, keep reading to find out more about adultery and affair recovery from a Christian perspective.
Adultery in the Bible
The Bible clearly forbids adultery. It’s one of the Ten Commandments: “Do not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The Book of Proverbs describes in detail how destructive adultery is (6:28-29, 32). Adultery is generally seen as a biblically sanctioned reason for divorce (Romans 7:2-3).
And, throughout Scripture, the heart issue of adultery is what’s important. In the Old Testament, particularly in the prophetic books, idolatry is often described as adultery of the heart towards God. Jesus says that even looking lustfully at a woman is a type of sexual sin (Matthew 5:27-28). Marital faithfulness and sexual virtue are given high priority throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
For Christians, adultery is clearly forbidden, and even in the secular world, cheating is generally seen as immoral. Cheating on your partner or spouse not only breaks trust and can cause deep emotional pain, and it can also lead to physical consequences such as sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancy.
Most adultery doesn’t begin with a person deciding to cheat on their spouse. Instead, it starts with outwardly innocent interactions – perhaps some seemingly innocent flirting, a purportedly platonic friendship, a little too much time spent together.
Then, an emotional bond starts to form. This is especially likely if the marriage is experiencing problems. A close friendship outside the marriage can seem exciting and like an escape.
This example doesn’t mean that marriage problems cause infidelity. Marriage is a long-haul relationship, which means there will be ups and downs. That’s why a lifelong marriage requires a commitment that endures through times of difficulty and even boredom.
An emotional affair can offer a temporary “high” or an escape from the mundane aspects of everyday life, not just marriage, but child-raising, working a 9-5, and other responsibilities.
So, when does a friendship turn into an emotional affair? Consider this definition from Gary Newman, author of the book Emotional Infidelity: “An emotional affair is when a person not only invests more of their emotional energy outside their marriage but also receives emotional support and companionship from the new relationship.” Statistically, about half of emotional affairs eventually become physical.
If your spouse has had an emotional affair, discovering it can be just as heartbreaking as finding out about physical adultery. However, there is hope for your marriage to heal, especially if your spouse is repentant and motivated to repair the damage done to your relationship.
Today’s world of ubiquitous Internet usage has added a new dimension to infidelity. From casual pornography usage to porn addiction to extramarital relationships, a spouse can be unfaithful without ever leaving the home or meeting an affair partner in person.
However, it can be difficult to identify online adultery. For one thing, pornography use is extremely common, so much so that many people believe it’s abnormal not to watch it. How can you address your spouse’s pornography usage, and when does it cross the line into infidelity?
Is Using Pornography the Same as Cheating?
Some Christian resources (for example, Covenant Eyes, an Internet filter and accountability service) contend that using pornography is a form of adultery: “Seeking out porn is engagement with a digital prostitute.” This belief doesn’t mean that porn use is grounds for divorce, they say, which is an important distinction.
Nicole Colby, writing for the women’s lifestyle publication Verily Magazine, says that pornography use is a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed: “Sexual acting out devoid of relational connection – with another person in the flesh or on a screen – is indicative of a deeper intimacy issue rooted in trauma, attachment wounding, and even addiction.”
In other words, sex is meant for the relationship of marriage, and when sexual fulfillment is happening outside of marriage, even if it’s just with pixels on a screen, there’s a deeper problem that can negatively impact the relationship.
Not all people who use pornography are addicted to it. But considering its effects on dopamine levels in the brain, porn does have the potential to be incredibly addictive. Focus on the Family outlines five common stages of porn addiction:
- Early exposure
- Acting out
The last three stages of addiction as described here can be dangerous. When more and more perverse material is needed to achieve the “high” porn provides, immoral and even illegal lines can be crossed.
If this has happened with your spouse, it may affect your sexual relationship in significant and ongoing ways. Christian counseling for pornography addiction may be helpful in an individual setting in addition to couples counseling.
It’s also possible that infidelity can extend to personal relationships developed online. An online affair can range from emotional to explicit. These affairs are very real and can also lend themselves to addictive patterns and may eventually move offline as well.
Just because a virtual affair seems abstract and outside the realm of everyday life doesn’t mean it can’t damage your marriage and family. It’s still a betrayal of the marriage vows. If your spouse has engaged in an online affair, counseling can help you assess the damage done and whether both of you are committed to rebuilding the relationship and setting new boundaries.
Can My Marriage Survive Infidelity?
Affair recovery is possible; many marriages are able to move past adultery, heal, and become even stronger in the long run. Some marriages, however, remain in name only, while never fully recovering trust and intimacy after the destruction of adultery.
If you want true healing from an affair, recognize that it is possible, but there are stages of healing needed in order for genuine restoration to happen. First, it’s important to understand the extent of the infidelity. Is your spouse being 100% honest with you? Was it a one-night stand or a long term relationship? Is/was there a significant emotional connection?
And, when you know the answers to those questions, it’s even more crucial to assess whether your spouse is fully repentant. Are they honest, humble, and willing to abandon the behavior/relationship immediately? Or are they blame-shifting, deflecting guilt, and still clinging to remnants of the affair?
How did you find out? Did they admit it to you, or did you find out in some other way? Are they angry they got caught, or are they grieving over the brokenness they’ve caused? Next, it’s important to ask yourself whether you want your marriage to be restored, and why. Are there children involved? Do you believe your spouse is truly repentant, you still love them, and you have hope for the future?
Adultery is generally seen as grounds for divorce by most churches, but even if there has been an affair without physical betrayal, recovery can still be very difficult and complex. It’s important to be aware of this reality from the initial stages of affair recovery.
If your spouse has confessed to adultery and has expressed his or her willingness to change and work on the marriage, this is a wonderful first step. Christian counseling for affair recovery will help your marriage walk through the healing process.
If you desire healing for your marriage after adultery, know that the process will be painful. It will be necessary to talk through each spouse’s emotions, explore what led up to the affair, and build trust with full transparency.
This process can feel like walking through a minefield. The betrayed spouse will have to process his or her heartbreak and betrayal, while the betraying spouse will need to deal with the guilt, shame, and remorse from the situation. The opportunity to work through these issues in the safe and compassionate setting of a Christian counseling office can make all the difference in your marriage recovering from adultery.
There are many success stories of affair recovery, in which God has created beauty from ashes and helped a marriage recover from one or both spouses’ unfaithfulness. Your counselor can also help you set boundaries in place to safeguard your marriage from infidelity going forward.
If you have experienced betrayal from your spouse, your grief and heartbreak are real, but there is still hope. Contact us today to find out how you can take the first steps toward affair recovery.
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