The healing journey requires a personal commitment to work through the pain and shock of your spouse’s unfaithfulness.
The basic tools needed for this process are best remembered by using the acronym FAITH.
F = Fear not
A = Assess your support system
I = Insist your spouse decide
T = Talk to a trained Christian counselor
H = Heed biblical principles
F = Fear Not
Fear is one of the first emotions experienced by those who have been shocked by their mate’s infidelity. Other emotions, such as anger, pain, and confusion, may appear on the surface, but fear is often lurking underneath it all. Fear often causes either an under- or overreaction. These two extremes may seem like opposites, but, like a coin with two sides, under- and overreacting are two sides of the same dysfunction.
Let’s look at two women I’ll call Angela and Stephanie:
Angela’s marriage started out like a Cinderella story. For generations, her side of the family had lived happily-ever-after lives. David and his family were well respected for their business savvy and civic leadership. Angela was a stay-at-home mom, caring for three small sons, while David’s efforts nearly doubled the sales for his family’s company.
Sadly, the couple’s perfect image was simply a thin veneer covering the terrible truth behind closed doors. David, unfortunately, was not only a workaholic, but also a sex addict. Weekly business trips became the norm and X-rated hotel movies became nightly fare. Eventually, David needed more and more to maintain his “high.” Strip bars and phone sex came next and, although he carried overwhelming torment, shame, and guilt, he never could kick his addiction.
Angela found evidence bit by bit throughout their marriage until eventually she could no longer avoid the truth. She began to figure out the times David was unfaithful because when he returned home he was more sullen and irritable than usual. Angela’s inner pain and loneliness ripped her heart to shreds. David’s unwillingness to connect emotionally drove her to severe bouts of crying, but fear gripped her every time she thought of leaving. She had walked away from a career years before and wondered how she could keep her sons financially secure. She also worried about what her family and friends would think. David tried to keep his ugly secret from her and she kept their ugly secret from the outside world.
Stephanie was intently searching the Internet for stats to use in a presentation when she stumbled upon sites used by her husband, Michael. She became nauseated by the sexual scenes she saw and was horrified to discover even more violent and repulsive material when she checked the history file. Her mind filled with visions of her sister’s suicide attempt following her own husband’s adultery. Stephanie immediately called Michael’s office and demanded he come home at once. She refused to answer his anxious questions and slammed down the phone. When he rushed into the house, worried and shaken, she screamed hateful, angry words about his pornography use and called him horrible names. Stephanie demanded he move out of the house or she would ruin his career. All attempts by Michael to confess his addiction and consider a solution were met by Stephanie’s escalating anger.
My suggestion to anyone in these types of situations is: “Resist the temptation toward fear.”
Underreacting, like Angela’s response, results from a frozen-in-fear state. This paralysis: 1) prevents the clear thinking required to make healthy, godly choices and 2) inhibits taking a proactive approach which might effectively start the healing process.
Overreacting, like Stephanie’s response, adds insult to the already injured relationship, resulting in more damage than what was initially dealt by the adulterer himself. Over-reacting also shows up when you assume the worst before hearing all the facts.
The enemy of our souls uses the terrible, but effective, tactic called FEAR, which is simply False Evidence Appearing Real. Don’t play into his hand. The antidote to FEAR is Jesus’ promise to His followers: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”1 Now would be the time to plant your feet firmly in the bedrock of God’s love and His provision for you and your family, even when it appears your world has been blown apart.
The next letter of our FAITH acronym is:
A = Assess Your Support System
Sadly, many people, like Angela, jump from an underreacting “Fear Base” position to that of a “Cover-up Agent,” hiding from others. However, if ever you needed the support of trusted friends, now is the time. As someone wisely said, “A Christian without a support system is like an accident waiting to happen.”
Women, by nature, tend to maintain a more active support system than men. But, even women seem to reject that same support when they need it the most. Why is this? First, if they are like Angela, they carry guilt and shame that rightly should be carried by the unfaithful spouse. This wrong reaction then leads them into a second unhealthy response: They buy into their unfaithful spouse’s system of hiding the sin. Third, fear convinces them that others would abandon them if they knew the truth about their marriage. Therefore, they conclude they don’t need an authentic support system, but rather fair-weather friends to maintain the good image.
Remember, God wants us to hate sin as much as He does. How much does our Heavenly Father hate sin? So much that He would have His only Son (without a trace of sin) carry our sin to the cross to suffer and die for it. Let us never be so callous as to first, wink our eye at sin, or second, cover up another’s sin in an attempt to hide it from our family, other believers or God.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. —Hebrews 4:13.
Others are more like Stephanie, who jump from an overreacting “Fear Base” position to that of a “Broadcasting Agent.” Let me be very clear on this point: When I recommend not hiding the sin but rather talking about it, I am not suggesting becoming another Stephanie, announcing your spouse’s infidelity at the next family reunion or from the pulpit on Sunday.
What I am saying is you need trusted prayer partners of the same sex to help you through this difficult time. Pray and ask for God’s help in deciding whom you should trust with the information about your marital crisis. Ideally, you already have a trustworthy and biblically-balanced spiritual mentor. Call on two or three Christian friends to carry you, as you pour out your grief and suffering. The Bible says there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.2 Allow them to pray with you and provide the backbone needed for the times when you may waver or take a shortcut.
A word of caution
Please, be extra cautious and do not lean on a friend or coworker of the opposite sex. You are more vulnerable than usual right now. Many a heartbreaking story has ended with men or women going to another for comfort only to end up in their arms—and then in their bed—committing sins similar to their spouses’. Also be wary of people who insult your intelligence by oversimplifying your marital dilemma. As was said earlier, infidelity is a complicated and convoluted issue.
You also may be hearing a variety of voices from well-meaning people who are sincere, but sincerely wrong! Wounded spouses have given me a long list of bizarre suggestions provided by friends, parents, or pastors.
A few of these include:
- “The sooner you forgive, forget, and move forward, the quicker he will lose interest in his mistress.”
- “Pray more; your wife’s sex addiction is directly in proportion to your lack of faith in what God can do.”
- “Lose weight (or gain), change your hair color (or style), or wear sexier lingerie.”
- “He’ll stop picking up prostitutes if you make him jealous by flirting with his best friend.”
- “Expose her sex habits to your young children; that will shame her into stopping.”
I have also heard a hundred different reasons why the infidel’s secret sin should now also be the hurting spouse’s secret.
Here are some of the more creative excuses:
- “Don’t tell anyone what she’s doing because you’ll ruin her career, or reputation in the family or church.”
- “We can’t talk about it now. Our daughter is engaged; we are too busy planning for the wedding.”
- “Grandma is getting up in years; we don’t want her to think badly of us.”
- “Burn his pornographic magazines and videos. That will be his wake up call and no one will ever need to know.”
There will likely be a lot of confusing information in your head at this time. Pray for God’s help in removing excuses, denial, rationalization, minimization, and various codependency traits. Remember that supportive friends and family can keep you accountable at weak times when strong emotions or bad advice detour you from personal and relationship goals. Balanced people without a hidden agenda can help you stay balanced.