Few things are more devastating or destructive to a marriage than infidelity.
It’s worse than the death of a spouse, because when a spouse dies, it’s not intentional, it’s not a betrayal, and you don’t keep running into them or dealing with them.
- Wrecks a dream.
- Destroys trust.
- Fractures a bond.
- Taints communication.
- Poisons the relationship.
It’s like a jet plane ramming into the twin towers of marriage, leaving massive destruction in its wake.
A July 2020 post in Psychology Today, titled “Infidelity: Figuring It Out,” gives the followings stats on infidelity:
- 22% of married men admit to straying at least once.
- 14% of married women admit to straying at least once.
And the rates are probably higher when you include emotional and sexual involvement apart from intercourse.
When you think of infidelity, you typically think of someone having intercourse with someone other than their spouse/partner. But infidelity encompasses more than just intercourse outside of marriage.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines infidelity as: “The action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner.”
Any time a person turns to someone other than their spouse/partner to secretly meet their emotional and/or sexual needs, it can be viewed as infidelity.
THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Here are some things you need to know about infidelity…
Infidelity produces deep and excruciating pain.
There is no pain as intense as being betrayed by the person you exclusively trusted with your body and soul. As I said, it’s a pain greater than losing your spouse to death…because death is not an intentional choice against you.
Infidelity puts trust on life-support.
Trust is the lifeblood of any relationship. Without it, the relationship can’t survive. The revelation that your spouse has secretly turned to someone else for emotional and/or sexual satisfaction leaves trust in shambles and the hope of rebuilding trust questionable.
Some marriages cannot survive infidelity.
Though I have helped many couples work through infidelity and go on to build a strong marriage, some marriage cannot survive that kind of betrayal. Sometimes it’s because the spouse that cheated can’t do what it takes to rebuild trust, and sometimes it’s because the spouse that was betrayed can’t get past what happened and trust their spouse again. (More on this below.) Either way, not every couple survives infidelity. Perhaps this is why even the Bible lists infidelity as an acceptable reason for a marriage to end.
Some marriages can survive infidelity.
As I said above, I’ve helped many couples work through the pain of infidelity. It’s a long and difficult process, but if both spouses are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, the marriage can not only be saved…it can become stronger and better than ever.
Infidelity is a message about the spouses and their marriage.
I’m not excusing the infidelity. (I’ll get to that in a minute) But there was something going on with the individual spouses and the way they were relating to one another that set an environment conducive to infidelity. One of the keys to remaking a better marriage after the infidelity is to understand what was happening to create that environment and to work to change it.
Infidelity is a choice, and cannot be blamed on anything or anyone other than the person who chose to be unfaithful.
As I said above, infidelity cannot be excused. The unfaithful spouse could have chosen other options. They could have expressed their dissatisfaction with their spouse or the marriage. They could have confessed their temptation to stray and asked for help. The unfaithful spouse could have gone to counseling or insisted that the two of them go to marriage counseling. Ultimately, they could have ended the marriage if they were that unhappy. There are always choices other than betraying your spouse. The responsibility for the infidelity lies squarely on the shoulders of the one who chose to be unfaithful.
THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO
Infidelity does not have to end a marriage. If both spouses are willing to commit to one another, seek counseling, and do the hard work, they can rebuild a new and better marriage.
With the help of a counselor, here’s what spouses need to do to work through infidelity…
From the very outset, the unfaithful spouse must completely resist all impulses to contact the infidelity partner in any way. They must also reject all attempts for the infidelity partner to contact them. All contact between the two must be cut off for rebuilding to work. Realistically, this will not be easy for an unfaithful spouse. They have experienced something exciting and seemingly fulfilling with this other person, and even if they cut off all contact, they will still grieve the loss. This is hard for the betrayed spouse to watch, but it’s a natural part of the process.
Once the infidelity has come out into the open, every detail must be revealed.
When I’m helping couples recover from infidelity, I have one session in which the spouse who was betrayed can ask their spouse any and every question they feel necessary…even down to questions about the times, places, and types of sex they had. Admittedly, this is painful for both spouses, but the greatest pain has already been inflicted with the infidelity. If the trust is ever to be restored, there can be nothing hidden or secret. This type of revealing also helps the betrayed spouse eventually get past asking incessant questions that can eventually damage the recovery process.
Once every question has been asked and everything has been disclosed, then the couple needs to move on to reviewing their marriage…from the beginning to where things began to run off the rails.
Typically, there’s a subtle drift between spouses. Often, this drift begins with the onset of kids and career focus. Spouses begin to talk less and take each other for granted. Fatigue becomes a bigger factor. The sexual relationship is given less and less attention. Stressors and tensions slowly increase.
Whatever the reasons, spouses need to review the evolution (or devolution) of their marriage to understand what happened to set the stage for infidelity.
Having done the review, the couple then must change the habits and structures that contributed to the weakening of their marriage. This may include…
- Working on new communications skills and strategies.
- Investing more in childcare or other systems so they can spend more time together.
- Developing better conflict resolution skills.
- Getting some individual counseling for personal issues that might be causing problems in the marriage.
Working through infidelity is hard, but just working through infidelity without doing the work of rebuilding a better marriage simply sets the stage for future failure.
A WORD OF WARNING
I believe it’s possible for a marriage to survive infidelity with counseling and hard work. But there are some couples who come to counseling to work through infidelity that don’t make it. When this happens, it’s typically for one of two reasons…
- The spouse who was unfaithful can’t tolerate the scrutiny necessary to rebuild trust. For a while, the unfaithful spouse has to be totally open with their whereabouts, their cell phone, their social media passwords, etc. Their life has to be under a microscope for a while so that their spouse can rebuild trust. If they can’t tolerate this scrutiny, they won’t be able to rebuild.
- The spouse who was betrayed can’t let go of the offense and move forward. When the unfaithful spouse has done everything they can to prove they’re trustworthy, the responsibility for moving forward then shifts to the spouse who was betrayed. The betrayed spouse then must choose to forgive, let go, and move forward. If the betrayed spouse can’t do that, the marriage probably won’t survive.
These two things can ultimately wreck a couple’s attempts to recover from infidelity.
A FINAL WORD
This is what I want you to understand…
If there’s been infidelity…it doesn’t have to be the end of the marriage.
That’s not to say that every marriage will survive infidelity, but they can, with counseling, hard work, and support. That’s both my goal and my prayer.