Life After Adultery

I thought about you a good deal during the summer. Attending the Covenant Keeper’s convention in Tulsa again reminded me of the brave warriors who are standing in faith for spouses and families across this nation and beyond. During those days there and since then in letters and emails, many have asked me about what to do after a spouse returns home from one or more adulterous affairs. It seems this is a good time to address that issue.

First of all, for a woman the betrayal of adultery is not so much sexual as it is emotional. To have your husband share his heart, his life, and his very soul with another woman is much more painful than the fact that they had sex together. For a man the pain of the sexual betrayal of his wife is much more painful. It is hard in this short space to cover all aspects of life after adultery, so I will address a few pertinent points.

The betrayal: When adultery is discovered, one of the first things a spouse realizes is how much he or she has been lied to. You remember dates and times and stories that you now know were not true. You wonder how you could have been so dumb to believe what you had been told when the truth should have been so obvious. Your emotions roller coaster from the depths of pain and despair to an anger you didn’t believe was within you. The person you love most on this earth not only chose someone else over you but played you in the bargain.

The rejection: Once the full realization of what has happened hits you, you begin to wonder why you were not enough. What was wrong with you that your spouse had to find someone else. You begin mental comparisons and try to figure out what that person has that you do not. Your self esteem hits rock bottom and you may even wonder if anyone ever would want you.

The anger: Anger takes a lot of energy and so it usually is not the first emotion to surface in a woman. Men, on the other hand, usually experience anger much more rapidly when a wife is unfaithful. I remember I used to fluctuate between wanting to die and wanting to kill my husband and the woman he was with at the moment. One night I threw an entire box of glasses at the garage door because I didn’t know what else to do with the rage I felt in my heart. Anger and frustration often seem to travel hand-in-hand as the inability to “fix things” sets in.

There are many more emotions and reactions to adultery, but for now I want to focus on what happens when a spouse leaves the adulterous affair and comes home. I want to stress that these are ideas and suggestions. You need to ask the Lord what He wants for you and follow His voice in your life.

Sometimes a couple feels that returning to a “normal” sex life in their marriage will help with the healing process. More often than not, this is not the case. For one thing, if you are still feeling insecure about your ability to please your spouse, this can turn into a time of real performance. Instead of expressing deep love for each other, it can become a time of “I’ll show you how great this can be.” That motive is never a satisfying or lasting basis for physical intimacy. On just a practical basis, in this day and age, a spouse who has been sexually active outside of his or her marriage should be tested for STDs before physical intimacy resumes in the marriage.

Secondly, if other issues have not been addressed, trying to cover them with sex is not going to help your relationship. Trust is a biggy. It has been broken and trampled upon in your marriage and it must be restored again. Rushing into a physical relationship will not help build trust. In the Song of Solomon three times (2:7; 3:5; and 8:4) it warns to not awaken love too soon.

We often recommend to couples that they begin “dating” again. Go out together, to dinner or a movie, go for walks in the park. Spend time together in places where physical intimacy is not encouraged. Learn to like each other again. TALK to each other. Rekindle your romance. Encourage your spouse to pursue you, to win you over again–not in a manipulative way, like holding out a carrot for good performance, but out of a genuine desire to love and be loved at a much deeper level.

Hopefully during the time you were standing for your marriage you walked through healing with the Lord. The wounding and rejection of the adultery can be fully addressed long before a spouse comes home. If that is not your situation, then spend time with the Lord and allow Him to heal any remaining wounding in your heart. Your renewed relationship needs to be built on a healthy foundation.

And last, but not least, place your trust for change in the Lord, not your spouse. Jeremiah 17:5 says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength…” If you base the rebuilding of trust in your relationship on what your spouse does or doesn’t do, you will probably be disappointed. Plus you will put severe pressure on your spouse to perform correctly in order for the relationship to continue to heal. It is not by might or by power but by the Spirit of the Lord that your marriage will heal.

Trust God to work in your own heart and in your spouse’s. God is bigger than the problems and it is His overcoming power that will bring change to each of you and to your marriage. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” As you rebuild trust in your marriage, you need to lean on the Lord, trust in Him, and not try to figure it out yourself or place the burden of performance on your spouse.

The enemy will work overtime during this time of restoration because he does not want to see the healing occur. If your spouse is late, if you can’t locate your spouse, if anything out of the ordinary happens, your mind will begin painting pictures of what could be happening. Don’t go there. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). You have authority over your thoughts. Don’t let them run wild.

Keep your eyes and your heart fixed on the Lord and trust that He is working in your spouse to change him or her from the inside out. Walk in love and faith. Give God time to accomplish His will within your lives and your marriage. Love, Marilyn