Carrie Underwood, former American Idol winner and now-famous country singer made a fortune off her hit, “Before He Cheats”, describing her violent and destructive reaction to discovering her man at a bar with another woman. She speculates about how he is wooing this other woman while she, herself, slashes his truck tires, busts out his headlights, and basically destroys his prized pickup. Apparently, this song struck a chord with America. The song rocked the music charts, stayed #1 for 5 weeks, and won the People’s Choice award in 2007 for “favorite country music song”.
Infidelity in marriage has always been a major problem. In ancient days and in some cultures it was accepted as the norm….even expected…that a husband would take a lover in addition to his wife. Of course, that attitude has changed in our society and in our time but infidelity continues to be prevalent, wreaking havoc on thousands of marriages each year. Now that the internet is basically in every household, infidelity from both men and women has exploded in frequency. The fact that the workplace has become more and more gender-integrated has also contributed to the rise of infidelity as men and women have greater access, closer proximity, and travel together more than ever before. The bottom line is that men and women have more opportunities to cheat now than ever before.
It is an understatement to say that infidelity is incredibly hurtful to a marriage. In fact, many marriages never recover from on spouse’s adulterous adventures. Often, others encourage and support the “innocent” spouse to pursue divorce immediately. After all…”fool me once, shame on you…..fool me twice, shame on me”. That seems to be the mantra for our society.
Yet…is the issue that cut and dry? Is it so easy to catch a spouse cheating, drop them like a hot potato, and just move on with life? Bada-bah….bada-bing!
I’m not convinced. As hurtful as adultery undeniably is, we also know that divorce is excruciating, especially when children are involved. The aftermath of divorce, for the family, can be as destructive as the incident of infidelity. Research shows that divorce has long-term, negative effects on children in their behavior, security, academic life, and overall mental and emotional well-being.
So, are these the only two choices in response to infidelity? To stay married while infidelity continues or to endure a similar amount of pain through divorce?
I submit that, although a long and arduous journey, restoration of the marriage should be an option that is seriously considered. If the offending partner is truly contrite and humble and the victimized spouse is willing, true restoration CAN happen. In fact, in the process a marriage can often face issues that should have been faced years before and, when both spouses stick with it, restoration can take the marriage to never-before seen heights of connection and intimacy.
Here are some key characteristics that help in restoration:
o Both spouses must desire restoration: If one spouse is emotionally “done” with the marriage, then restoration is far-fetched. Both parties must truly want to do the work (and it IS work) it will take the restore the union.
o Humility must abound: The partner who committed the transgression MUST take ownership of what they’ve done, refuse to minimize it, and realize how much they have truly wounded their spouse and family. On the other hand, the “innocent” partner must be careful to also show enough humility to resist the temptation to continue to use the infidelity as an aggressive weapon against his/her spouse over the long haul.
o Forgiveness as a Foundation: Although this is a slow process, true forgiveness is very important to restoration. The wounded party must work through their feelings until they are able to “release” the offender from “owing” them for their hurtful choices. Again, this is not easy nor will it be immediate and that’s okay. However, it should be one of the goals in therapy.
o Accountability/Support System: Both the offender and the wounded spouse should take steps to find healthy, safe people that can keep them accountable and that will support them through the restoration process. For the offender, this means finding people who he/she can be open and honest with but not fear being condemned by. Secrecy feeds infidelity so the offender must find a support group who will listen to him, guide him through slip-ups, and offer him truth and grace all at the same time. For the wounded spouse, it is equally important to find a group who will support them. They will also need accountability in making sure they are handling their end of marital restoration in a productive and not counter-productive way.
o Transparency: Part of marital restoration is making sure that the couple comes to the point where both spouses are safe enough for the other to be transparent with. The offender must avoid secrecy and the offended must be safe enough in their reactions to encourage that kind of honesty. Again, this is where accountability partners can really help.
o Commitment: The journey to restoration is difficult, long, and fraught with ups and downs. Often, it is three steps forward and one step back. Both spouses must be willing to stay with it, even during the backward steps.
o Trust must be rebuilt: My father used to say, “Son, trust is like a tree…..it takes a long time to grow but it can be chopped down in a day”. He was so right. A renewal of trust comes from changed behavior over time. The offender must realize that even if he/she is making positive changes that they will not be believed for quite some time. However, they must continue to work hard on maturity and growth so the wounded spouse can see that and learn to trust again. On the flip side, the wounded party must ALLOW for trust to rebuilt, which means a gradual opening up of the heart to the person who hurt you the most. This is not easy for either side but a relationship can never rise higher than the trust level.
o The entire marriage must be evaluated and overhauled: I love the following quote from Dr. Dave Carder, author of “Torn Asunder”:
“In most marriages, the breakdown is not only one spouse’s fault. Rather, the causes appear to be a constellation of general life experiences. Many times, the faithful spouse is inappropriately blamed (especially if it is the wife) for ‘pushing’ the infidel into the affair. Though, I have seen cases where that was true, most of the time it’s a gradual distancing between both partners that lies at the root. For men, the felt need is often loss of playfulness, a lack of flirtation, and an absence of adoration or respect from the wife. For women, it’s typically the loss of tenderness, care, and concern expressed by the husband. Since most of us marry to “get more” of our new spouse-more time together, more fun together, more lovemaking-you can see where disappointment can enter the picture. Most infidelity is about what we call ‘the five ‘A’s in nurturance-accommodation, affirmation, adoration, affection, and appreciation. It’s that whole package of emotional nurturance and care, and that’s what happens in marriages. We get so busy we stop taking care of each other. We get so busy, we stop having fun with each other, and that sets the stage-boom-people are in trouble.”
Admitting that there were multiple factors in the marriage that led up to the hurtful choices of infidelity is a hard step. There is a risk that the adulterer will use this to justify the affair. There is also the risk that the wounded spouse takes all the blame. However, usually there truly are multiple reasons a person chooses to cheat. Evaluating the deficits in the marriage does NOT remove the guilt of the offender. It does not put the blame on the innocent spouse either. However, what it DOES do is allows the couple the opportunity to identify weak areas in their marriage; areas of disconnection, neglect, and distance. It gives the couple a chance to transform their marriage into a relationship that has not only survived the horrors of infidelity, but a marriage that has closed its former gaps, renewed commitment, and one that can move forward to a more loving and healthy relationship than ever before.
About the Author: Aaron has devoted his life to reaching out and helping people grow and mature through difficult life situations. He has over twenty years of experience in assisting people to grow stronger emotionally and spiritually and to put the pieces of their lives back together. Aaron has invested in the lives of others through clinical counseling, pastoral ministry, public speaking, leadership training, educational instruction, youth camps, student conventions, athletic coaching and small group ministry to equip and empower others. He combines a genuine love for people with an outgoing personality to create a safe and caring environment designed to make a positive difference in the lives of the individuals, families and organizations he serves. Aaron lives in South Orlando with his wife, Michelle, and their three children, Eddie, Joshua, and Emmalee. To find out more about Aaron’s services please visit http://www.lifeworksgroup.org or http://www.legacycounselingservices.org. You may also call him at 407-647-7005