Infidelity in marriage is commonplace, with some studies saying that at least a third of married men and a quarter of married women have been involved in affairs, and these are the individuals that admitted it.
However, the fact that infidelity is widespread doesn’t mean that infidelity is meaningless or doesn’t have an effect on people’s lives. On the contrary, infidelity has a profound effect on peoples’ lives.
What is infidelity?
Infidelity is when the covenant promises made between spouses are broken by behavior such as sex outside the marriage or forming inappropriately emotionally intimate relationships with other people. This can happen in person or virtually through the many technologies we have at our fingertips.
When someone commits infidelity, it breaks trust and violates the boundaries of what makes a marriage a marriage. Being someone’s spouse means some things are reserved exclusively for your spouse and sharing that with another person is a betrayal of the relationship.
The grave sin of infidelity can be motivated by any number of things, including feeling unhappy in the relationship, hatred, pride, etc. Or it may be opportunistic infidelity, which is when the infidelity is unplanned but for which the door is opened due to lowered inhibitions from behaviors such as alcohol consumption or drug use.
Whatever the reason, when men and women have affairs, it damages their marriage in profound ways. Due to the deep unity implied in the marriage bond (they are “one flesh,” as Jesus says in Matthew 19:1-12), anything that comes between a husband and wife will cause distress of some kind.
The effects of infidelity on the spouse who’s cheated on.
When infidelity happens, attention naturally pivots to the spouse that’s been cheated on to see how it affects them. People are different, and each marriage has a history that includes stories of pain and joy. It’s not possible to predict how infidelity will affect a person with accuracy, but some typical ways infidelity affects the spouse that was cheated on includes the following:
Distrusting their own judgment.
It’s common for the aftermath of infidelity to include a loss of confidence in one’s judgment. A person may blame themselves for not seeing the signs of what was happening.
Loss of trust.
Accompanying this distrust of their own judgment is a loss of trust in their spouse. Infidelity is a deep betrayal, and with that comes the inability and struggle to be vulnerable with that person. It can be difficult to trust their spouse or other people again.
Self–recrimination and blame.
The spouse that’s affected by infidelity will often blame themselves for what happened. They may wonder if the affair wasn’t their fault somehow, and question if the problem lies with them not being enough for their spouse.
They may also feel a sense of shame over the infidelity becoming known in their community or family. Marriages have problems, and any one of them can be at the root of the infidelity. However, it’s important to remember that infidelity is a sinful choice, one that their spouse made, and one for which they are therefore entirely responsible.
In the wake of an affair, the spouse that’s been cheated on may find themselves engaging in behaviors such as over- or under-eating, and taking on too much or too little exercise.
They may even engage in high-risk behaviors such as having unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, as well as drug and substance abuse. These behaviors may be rooted in unhealthy coping with distress and the mental health challenges that infidelity can initiate such as depression, anxiety, rage, and post-traumatic stress.
Low self–esteem and confidence.
Along with a loss of trust and distrust of one’s judgment, infidelity can also affect a person’s levels of confidence. Infidelity rocks what once may have seemed certain, leaving a person feeling disoriented and uncertain of themselves. This can filter down to their work and social relationships, affecting their ability to interact freely with others and perform at their previous level.
Though it may be difficult, one can restore their sense of self and recognize their strengths. It’s also important to address any trust issues and take the time to heal from the distress caused by infidelity, and in this having a strong support network that includes family and friends, as well as professional help in the form of counseling.
How infidelity affects children in a marriage.
If there are children in the marriage, they can be affected by infidelity in a variety of ways. Some of these include:
Loss of trust in the cheating parent.
The relationship between children and the parent who cheated can suffer when they come to know what happened. They may understandably lose trust in and respect for that parent, especially (and even rightly) in cases where that parent is unrepentant. Infidelity is a betrayal of family life, and children can be affected by the loss of integrity in their family unit.
Distress in the other parental relationship.
In addition to the loss of trust and respect for the cheating parent, the children may also develop a jaundiced view of the parent who was cheated on, with the assumption they did something to foment the affair. This may imply the loss of parental connection on either side.
Depending on how much they find out, how old they are when they know, and if the affair leads to divorce, they may experience significant emotional turmoil. Divorce upends family life, and it results in a broken home.
Replicating the behavior.
While children may lose respect for one or both of their parents in the wake of infidelity, the unfortunate result is that children exposed to parental infidelity may end up replicating that behavior themselves when they are in marriages.
Other effects of infidelity in marriage.
Infidelity affects the parties in the relationship in other ways, including the following:
Poor sexual health.
If the affair included unprotected sex, it could result in such things as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections that may require chronic treatments.
Affairs often have a financial component to them, including the purchase of gifts, meals, hotel rooms, groceries, and gas for extra trips. Sometimes the cheating spouse will spend money on cosmetic enhancements, and all this takes money from the family.
In addition, dealing with the aftermath of infidelity can also be financially taxing, as counseling to restore the marriage or the legal costs of divorce are also a financial burden. If the affair results in an unwanted pregnancy, that may mean more financial resources that will need to be directed toward the upkeep of the child.
Communal impact. Marriage vows are typically made in front of witnesses. There are people in the community, whether it’s the church or your neighborhood, who may look up to you and your marriage. Within the church, people belong to one another, and what affects one affects all.
Paul wrote that “…a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (1 Corinthians 5: 6, NIV), indicating (among other things) that even sin that occurs in private affects the community of believers; sometimes it can embolden others toward sin or weaken their resolve as they struggle to honor God and their marriages.
How infidelity affects the spouse who cheated.
Having an affair can take a mental and emotional toll on a person. Being duplicitous for weeks, months, or even years exacts a price. Some of the impacts of infidelity on the spouse who cheats include:
Feelings of guilt.
These may immediately relate to betraying one’s spouse or letting one’s family and community down but must also extend to feelings of guilt about disobeying the Lord since all sin is ultimately against God.
Mental health challenges.
They may experience greater levels of depression or anxiety, and sometimes this stems from guilt or from feelings of helplessness and their inability to exit the affair. These challenges may also result from dread about what might happen if people find out.
Addressing infidelity in marriage.
The sin of infidelity may happen for any number of reasons, and while it may be uncertain whether the marriage will survive, if there is genuine godly repentance on the part of the offending spouse, the couple can rebuild trust and strengthen their marriage, though it will certainly be difficult. It’s important to seek help, as reconciliation, healing, accountability, and the restoration of trust take time and wisdom to navigate.
Recovery from infidelity in marriage is possible, but it is a challenging journey. Individual counseling or marriage counseling can provide you with space to process what’s happened so that you avoid making rash decisions. In addition to that, professional help can assist you in understanding why the infidelity occurred, and how to strengthen your marriage and rebuild connection and trust.
“Sitting on the Boardwalk”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Blonde by the Water”, Courtesy of Maryia Plashchynskaya, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Roof”, Courtesy of Tomé Louro, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Staring Out the Window”, Courtesy of Felipe Cespedes, Pexels.com, CC0 License