An Unfaithful Spouse

Every so often a similar story emerges.  Details may vary, but the common thread is depressingly familiar.  A married Christian man is attracted to a co-worker; they become infatuated with each other.  He is confronted by concerned fellow employees but denies anything is amiss.  Eventually his wife finds irrefutable evidence of his adultery.  Though the affair had ended years before, it is now time to face the ugly reality.

The man’s wife, also a Christian, is crushed but forgiving.  She is willing to work on the marriage, but it will take a long time to sift through multiple layers of character flaws and habits that weakened him to temptation.  After months of counseling, she  sees troubling signs that he is not being completely honest.  Finally, she catches him in a clear lie and everything collapses. 

She gives him an ultimatum:  everything must now come out in the open.  Family, friends, brethren and co-workers must be told  in order to create accountability for him.  He drafts a letter of confession to his congregation and resigns as a deacon.  He tells his extended family.  The reaction of his children is heart-breaking:  “How could Daddy do such a thing?  Doesn’t he love you, Mom?  Doesn’t he love us?  Why would he hurt us like this?”

There’s another strange thread to this all-too-common story.  The man’s wife far surpasses the “other woman” in character, who has several children by multiple men; her indiscretions are known all around town.  A “fling” that happened over a several-week stretch has now born its hideous fruit, and a man’s reputation, spiritual influence, marriage and spiritual equilibrium have all been seriously jeopardized or outright ruined. 

First, the positive.  Forgiveness of such sins, even particularly heinous ones such as adultery, is available through the blood of Christ:  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us … and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).  No one should take a harsh, “How could you?” approach to someone who has thus fallen.  We are all capable of great transgression.  Even David, a “man after God’s own heart,” fell into carnal lust and fulfilled his desires with the wife of one of his most loyal and courageous warriors (cf. 2 Sam 12). 

Further, such great falls can become watershed moments in the lives of those who truly love God.  Yes, one can love God and fall into grievous sin.  The love for God does not excuse or mitigate the sin, but in our weakness we can lose our spiritual bearings.  We can become hopelessly mired in denial over what we have done, or we can turn to God and seek restoration.  Paul cites his own case as an example of hope to all believers who fall:  “For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16). 

Now, the negative.  The challenge of repentance is deeper than confession of sin itself.  Repentance requires a change of persona, attitudinal framework and self-identity that led to the sin.  This is not easy, and in the case  above – not a hypothetical one – the guilty party has to confront the flaws that led him down this slippery slope:  arrogance, bitterness, verbal abuse, walls of denial, insecurity and, perhaps worst of all, chronic lying to create a plausible rationale for what he knew was wrong and what everyone else saw through anyway.  This, I fear, is where many fail to negotiate the full measure of repentance though they may regret the initial sin. 

Also, while forgiveness may be granted by God and man alike, there are often lingering consequences of sin.  First, word gets around.  People, especially in a small town, will remember the sin and perhaps even embellish it, distort it or fill in the gaps with their imaginations.  This man will always be “the guy who cheated” on his wife.  This seriously compromises one’s influence for the kingdom – perhaps for the rest of his life.

Second, while the restoration of one’s spiritual relationship with God is paramount, the injured spouse will live with the pain and scars for the rest of her (or his) life.  I have witnessed the aftermath of adultery in several cases.  The anger, doubt, lack of trust, insecurity, feelings of inadequacy, unattractiveness or undesirability (“Why did he need someone else to satisfy him?  Aren’t I good enough?”), traumatic memories, being publicly known as the rejected spouse, etc. will destroy the innocent one’s peace and stability. 

As noted, this same story is repeated many times over, in different congregations, families and communities, and yet the same old deceit, lust and illicit desire still wreck lives, families, marriages and sometimes churches.  How can we be so downright dumb?!  There’s no other word for it.  We all know people who have followed this path; we see the wreckage and destruction.  Some will say, “I’m glad that’s not me” – and then turn around and repeat the same disastrous mistake.  Why does this happen, and how can we avoid it?

We must first be honest about our own weakness.  Perhaps not everyone  is vulnerable to this particular temptation, but many are due to a sex-saturated environment that constantly assaults our resistance.  And more women seem to fall into this sin than ever before.  Adultery is no longer a male’s domain.  Second, we must continually cultivate love and appreciation for our spouse.  They have made a commitment to us; they deserve the exclusive place we promised them in our wedding vows; they are the ones serving us day by day.  Third, we must also keep the romance alive in our marriages lest in our boredom and diminished view of our spouse we fall prey to the mystery, novelty and adventure of forbidden fruit. 

While we all have the right to expect fidelity in our spouse, ask yourself the question:  “Might my spouse find someone else more attractive/interesting/satisfying/fulfilling than me?”  If we fail to maintain our attractiveness (not just physically) after the “I Do’s,” then we might find ourselves on the receiving end of infidelity.  No, it’s not the fault of the innocent party, but two people who realistically understand the rigors and challenges of decades of marriage will wisely work together to maintain the spark that fired their passion for each other in the first place.