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Should Adultery End a Marriage?

Should Adultey End a Marriage?

from the archives

In the last month or so, my husband and I have heard about two marriages we know ending. I don’t know all of the circumstances and I don’t want to, either. I do know, however, that one marriage suffered from an adulterous relationship. The thought of my husband having any kind of affair makes me sick to my stomach. Absolutely sick. For married people, the idea of your spouse committing adultery is a nightmare and something we avoid even thinking about.

A sexual affair violates the covenant of marriage. It is sharing your most personal and intimate self with another, who is not your spouse. It breaks trust, forces people to choose sides, causes great emotional and physical stress, can lead to depression, and in many cases, divorce.

But is adultery an automatic reason to divorce? Can a marriage can survive an affair and, more than that, should it?

To be clear, I do not want to debate the topic of whether divorce is permissible or not. I know many Christians have varying beliefs on the subject of divorce. But, for the purposes of this post I am going to assume that, based on verses like “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate,” we are least in agreement that divorce is not ideal.

Regardless of whether or not you think Christians should or can divorce, one thing is clear: God does not like divorce. And how could He? He designed marriage. He desired for a man and a woman to join as one in the act of marriage, both literally and figuratively speaking. I believe it breaks His heart when we divorce, in part, because marriage was designed, in part, to be the representation of Christ’s relationship with the church.

Of course, I can only share from my own personal feelings on the subject of adultery. If my husband came home tomorrow and told me had cheated on me with some unknown woman, that it had been a one night stand, and he did not love her, what would I do? One of two things–I would either scream like a crazy person, cuss like a sailor and hit him while filled with rage and tell him to get out; or I would crumble to the floor, a pile of brokenness and ask him to leave. Neither is great.

Here comes the hard question though, “Would I forgive him?” I can say right now, without having actually suffered through the heartache of adultery that, yes, I would forgive him. I would also make every effort to restore and reconcile my marriage.

Easy to say, I know, because it hasn’t happened. I know, I am answering based on a hypothetical question. I am referring to a one-night stand and not an ongoing long-term affair. No, I cannot image the actual pain, loss, and grief I would feel if my husband were, in fact, to have an affair. My life would be devastated. I would probably want to leave. The word “divorce”  would probably drift through my mind. My parents divorced, so maybe it would be easy for me to just walk away and never look back.

“…what God has joined together, let no man separate…”

And I would hopefully hear that verse drift through my mind, as well. People want to say that adultery is, without question, a reason to end a marriage. No marriage can survive an affair, they say… but that’s a lie. I know of marriages that have been resurrected after an affair and wholly restored. If the Lord of the universe who raised Himself from the dead cannot raise a marriage from the dead, then we are all doomed.

So, while I cannot pretend to know the emotional and spiritual torment that an affair would cause in my marriage, I do know that I do not automatically support divorce in light of an adulterous relationship. I have heard Dennis Prager discuss this topic and he has pointed to the fact that there are many things more damaging, long-term, in a marriage than a one-time affair might be. It is hard to imagine, yes, but reasonable.

Take, for instance, a couple or one spouse who publicly humiliates and berates the other, over the course of years. There is just as much, if not more, emotional and physiological damage done to that spouse over a lifetime of public humiliation, versus a one-time affair. People do not as often divorce over public humiliation or emotional abuse, but why not? Partly, I think because it is more often, a slow and gradual increase and so tramples one’s self-esteem over years.

An adulterous relationship, however, is usually a one-time sucker punch to the face. We do not see it coming. It is a surprise. It hurts. It knocks the wind out of us. The emotional blow to our self-esteem is so great and so rapid that people are ready to just walk away without a second thought. Our pride is instantly wounded and it is our pride that we are often yielding to when we divorce due to adultery, not always, but often.

Here is the other key to my thinking however: Divorce is never an option in my marriage. Divorce is not a backdoor or a side door. There is no door. Now, I know people may throw at me every possible horrific scenario as to when divorce might be okay, like physical abuse or sexual abuse. I am not going to entertain those hypothetical situations here, partly because, in this post I am talking specifically about adultery. Also, however, I don’t believe my own marriage is at risk of those types of abuses and so dwelling on them is neither helpful nor edifying.

When divorce is not an option in your marriage, it naturally takes away some of the fear and worry of something like adultery. I have said, I would be devastated if that were to happen in my marriage but, because I do not accept divorce as a so-called “solution,” I know that I would have to look to other things to bring about healing or reconciliation in my marriage, like Christ Himself, who promises us nothing less.

What are your feelings on this touchy subject? Do you think adultery is a “good reason” to divorce? Do you think divorce is not an option? Why?

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