Seven issues of concern to the therapist working toward the reconciliation of a marriage torn by an affair are discussed. They include (1) options for the marriage, (2) ensuring closure of the affair, (3) trust, (4) amount of disclosure by the offender – the term used here to refer to the unfaithful partner, (5) forgiveness, (6) individual issues, and (7) renewing physical intimacy. God’s high view of marriage is set forth as motivation for the Christian therapist to favor reconciliation over other options for the marriage.
The affair has been discovered. The shell of a marriage has fallen. That which had at least the illusion of wholeness has broken into a million pieces. The couple decides to “save the marriage” or to “make it work” for reasons that are yet to be unveiled. They come to a therapist that they trust has a high view of the sanctity of marriage and ask, “How can we put it back together again?” It would be a very unusual therapist indeed who didn’t at one time wonder, “Can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put this marriage together again?” By God’s grace, many marriages are not merely patched up, but can be reconciled to a level of intimacy exceeding what either spouse had ever known before.
If God has made the family such an inviolable unit and if the quality of the marriage is so crucial to the health of the family, then Christian therapists ought to have a unique passion for being a competent instrument of God to facilitate this healing process. We need to be sensitive to the key issues involved and to intervene in ways that optimize renewal of trust and vulnerability that will be lasting. Precious little is written on the practical aspects of doing therapy as compared to the statistics of affairs, types of affairs, or dynamics of affairs. While the motivation of the couple is a necessary condition for renewal, it is not sufficient. “Wanting to” is not always enough to bring about self healing. The wisdom and skillfulness of the therapist’s interventions could be the added ingredient that enables the couple to accomplish what they want to before the Lord.
This paper seeks to address the key issues in reconciliation and presents some ideas on how to deal with those issues. No presumptions are made concerning the ultimate completeness of these ideas, but hopefully they will stimulate other therapists to think more completely, creatively and openly about their critical role. It is toward this forum of shared experiences that this paper is written. Because most extramarital affairs are by the husband’s unfaithfulness (Lawson, 1988), the pronoun “he” will be used, though “she” is just as applicable.
Dealing with the options for the marriage
Each partner eventually decides to follow one of three courses for the marriage: (1) end the marriage in a divorce, (2) remain in the marriage, but with an attitude of “grin-and-bear-it,” or (3) work through the crisis by building intimacy. At the early stages of therapy, it is important to clarify the attitude of each partner. The attitudes of the spouses toward therapy will influence their level of participation in the healing process. Ables (1977) suggests that the two factors determining these attitudes are “(1) the feeling of adequacy versus helplessness to improve their marital situation, and (2) the degree of enthusiasm versus pessimism that help can be achieved through a third person” (p. 35).
The ideal situation is where each spouse wants to rebuild the marriage in line with God’s ideal. But what if one partner wants to work and the other is more invested in looking good? For example, if the offender is inclined to simply tolerate the burdensome marriage to avoid hurting the spouse, he will direct his energy differently from the working spouse. It is not uncommon for a passive person to take this more short-term superficially compliant approach in order to avoid being decisive. If I suspect this attitude, I talk to that person individually about the limitations of his approach. The presence of the spouse around this kind of compliant person inhibits much of the truthfulness of feelings that needs to come forth. The offender has not yet let go of the idealizations underlying the affair and will most likely sabotage therapy. If the couple represents two differing attitudes toward the marriage, they need to make those differences clear before working further in therapy.
Another less than ideal situation that is very common is a marriage in which there is a severe discrepancy in power. Most deteriorated marriage relationships experience a tense power struggle that defies resolution. The more negative attitude has the greater power. Even though it is not constructive power, it is nonetheless powerful. For example, the more positive spouse who wants to rebuild the marriage is powerless in the face of the spouse wanting a divorce. No amount of work one person does to bond the marriage will be effective as long as the other is determined to break the ties. Therefore, it is important to focus greater energy on the more negative spouse when the two positions differ. If he is committed to divorce as an option, I work toward building a Godly, more attractive view of marriage, often separating realities from fantasies and idealizations. To help facilitate this reorientation, I often recommend they read Petersen’s (1983) The Myth of the Greener Grass. Conway’s (1978) Men in Mid-Life Crisis is also a helpful reference for men in that stage of life. During this period, the person’s developmental arrests will emerge as he projects his deeply imbedded perceptions and associations. Similarly, if he has decided to “grin-and-bear-it,” I try to highlight from his own material how incongruous his superficial behaviors are in relations to his attitudes, which tenaciously cling to the idealizations of the affair. When an objective therapist points out a client’s inconsistencies, the client usually experiences tension and may even feel phony. This discomfort can motivate his to give up his duplicity in favor of a more stable, single-minded attitude. Hopefully, this nonjudgmental exposure to inconsistencies of his life will guide the negative person more toward the working orientation of his spouse.
Realistically, ambivalence is the more common position taken by a confused, angry and disillusioned victimized partner. Sally does not know if she wants to stay in the marriage. She is not sure she loves Phil any more. She begins to wonder if she ever did, or if she ever could. For this person, their Christian commitment may be the only “glue” to hold them in therapy. This is a time to praise a person’s faith for being willing to make a decision based on their faith alone, not on the weight of their circumstances. It is also a time to discuss the purpose of marriage from a Christian view. One person offered the insight that God’s purpose for marriage is not gratification, nor experience of love, nor sense of well-being; rather, it is for sanctification, or becoming more Christlike. When the painful ordeals of rebuilding a marriage are seen in the light of maturing into more Christlikeness, reconciliation may not seem so futile, and James’ perspective on trials and growth can become more real. I also have noticed that with even small gains in the genuine expression of caring, the ambivalent partner is often energized and motivated.
I have found that it is important to refrain from “preaching the truth” during these sessions. While the zealous therapist may derive a sense of gratification at exhorting the errant one, moralizing is not likely to be helpful for the development of the client’s personal convictions to do what is right. I doubt that any Christian who has been involved in an affair is unaware of its wrongness. The offender is already in a mental attitude of opposition to what others (including God) say is the right way to be living. Overzealous exhortation at this point may even push the guilty party into deeper self-justification. There is ample literature in Christian bookstores concerning God’s teaching about His desires and standards for marriage so that exhortation is usually not needed. Motivation by intimidation or shame yields only short-term gains at best.
Although separation is often utilized as a stepping-stone to divorce, there are times when an objectively planned time apart can be used to sort through the issues more clearly. Particularly when a couple tends to escalate their conflicts into abusive combat, they may need a month or two apart while they work on control issues. Separation would, in my opinion, always be designed to prepare for clarity of thought to maximize the chances of returning to the marriage. It should never be utilized as an opportunity for the offender to maintain the relationship with the lover.
Regardless which attitudes spouses embrace, some changes in orientation must be made if the marriage is to succeed. Tally (1985) highlights two prerequisites to reconciliation. “First, you have to change roles” (p. 101). For example, if one spouse is relational and the other is task oriented, these roles must be exchanged. “Second, you have to recognize the role of significance and security” (p. 103). If reconciliation is to be effective, the woman must meet more of the man’s needs for significance and the man must meet more of the woman’s needs for security. The issues that follow represent guidelines to dealing practically with these two prerequisite principles.
Dealing with Ensuring Closure of the Affair
A sharp knife cuts clean, and decisiveness leaves no frayed ends. I believe strongly that if the marriage is to have a chance to knit together again, the offender and the lover must first sever their ties completely. Ables (1977) expresses this truth clearly; “Marriage, in terms of romantic charm, cannot compete with an affair . . . the person having the affair adds to marital discontent and drains off energy that could be directed toward improving the relationship” (p. 225). He turns to his lover to feel good in much the same way an alcoholic turns to drink rather than facing a conflict directly. Willi (1982) concurs with the importance of this value judgment by excluding the lover from therapy. “Since I have not yet found adequate evidence to believe that a triangular relationship can evolve smoothly for all three members, I am inclined to support the demarcation principle” (p. 179).
Severing the ties may involve drastic geographical relocation. It certainly means cessation of verbal and written communications. Since rationalization and idealized fantasy are so strong with affair participants, they are likely to minimize the dangers of lingering emotional connectedness. “We’re just going to remain friends and keep in touch through letters, but there is nothing sexual to it any more” is a commonly heard rationale for maintenance of emotional ties. Maintaining active friendships and confidences allows the secret liaison to flourish. It is precisely this heart-level connectedness to a needy third party that stands in the way of unreserved dedication to the spouse.
This process of letting go often represents a deep-seated loss to the offender. Saying good-bye to an old life-style, no matter how destructive it had been, can involve a grief process of major proportions. Therefore, the therapist should be sensitive to the possible need of the offender to do searching grief work. This work would involve developing a keen awareness of all the positive sensations associated with the affair. For example, it may mean saying good-bye to all the pleasurable feelings that he experienced without having to work very hard to achieve. It may mean saying good-bye to a convenient escape, an alternative to the pain of working through conflicted emotions. At this point of grief work, it is important to be subjective and non-judgmental, allowing the person to develop a clear picture of all the positive aspects of the affair as he perceived them, independent of the effect those experiences may have had on the marriage. It is his subjective experience for which he needs to grieve the loss. Obviously, this work should be done on an individual basis.
The trust that the betrayed one needs to develop requires emotional fidelity from the spouse. The nagging questions, “Has he really let go of her and does he really want me?” underlies and controls the redevelopment of trust. Simply stated, holding on to the lover in any form is evidence that the offender has not let go of the affair enough to warrant or deserve the trust of his spouse.
On the other hand, if the married couple will submit to a third party that will help maintain fidelity, they can minimize the centrifugal forces of temptation and distrust. This accountability could be to a therapist, but also could be to a church group or another couple. This strong-other person functions in much the same way as the sponsor of an alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous. Accountability is the key to fidelity.
Dealing with the Anger and Rage of the Victim
Betrayal elicits rage. Kate “ . . . wanted to get out of the care, to run, but couldn’t. I threw my empty soda cup at him and then took off my rings and threw them at him, too. Then I pulled the collar of my sweater up over my face and cried” (Bryce, 1988, p. 60). Kate’s intensity of rage is not uncommon for one who discovers a spouse’s unfaithfulness. The effectiveness with which the betrayed partner works through rage profoundly contributes to the durability of the renewed ties. Unresolved anger is like a rotten spot inside a tree limb. Even though the limb may look healthy in its grown-over state, it can snap like a toothpick in a storm. The victim has been affronted at the level of his or her dignity. The shock of realizing that one’s object of trust was not worthy of that trust, will send tremors through the bedrock of a person’s orientation to life and self. Consider that trust is one of the first developmental issues put into place in a person’s psychosocial structure. Therefore, the anger is reasonable and must be channeled effectively.
Therapy techniques for rage reduction are well developed. The issue of concern for the therapist is to be attuned to the particular ways the client handles anger ineffectively. The person who denies anger and tries to deal with the problem cognitively needs help with emoting. The self-punitive person who turns the anger toward himself needs help with directive the energy outwardly and nondestructively. Encouragement to externalize the acidic and corrosive emotions in a safe environment is one of the kindest and most helpful contributions a therapist can make.
On the other hand, to allow the counseling sessions to be reduced to badgering the offender would be a serious mistake. I often teach basic communication skills in order to keep the interactions focused on issues of substance and to deal with some of the deeper, more personal causes of the marital discord. There are times, however, when individual therapy is more productive than conjoint therapy (Willi, 1982). If the couple uses material uncovered in the conjoint session as ammunition for hurting each other, they may require the safety of individual sessions to begin to look at themselves. I prefer to use individual sessions as remedial, returning to processing issues conjointly as soon as possible.
While working with the victim to manage the anger appropriately, the therapist can help the offender realize the extent and nature of hurt that the affair has caused. Typically in the mind of the spouse involved in the affair, admission of guilt marks the end of the matter. Getting on with business of the marriage is all that is left. There is no need to rehash history or to “beat old issues to death.” In the mind of the victim, however, exposure of the affair marks the beginning of a long agonizing process. For that person, issues need to be processed thoroughly. Values need to be clarified and reworked. It behooves the offender to use the anger of the offended spouse to guide his thinking into the very issues he tends to avoid dealing with. For example, what kind of affair was it (cf. Lawson, 1988, pp. 52-54)? How did the offender perceive his spouse (and children) during the affair? How did the offender go about deceiving his spouse to keep the affair secret? What character flaws led to the offender’s self-oriented behaviors with such insensitivity to the spouse? (“How could you do such a thing?”)
As the issues of anger are cleared away, the issues of trust emerge more prominently. Anger at being deceived is the main barrier to trusting in another because these two dispositions are mutually exclusive.
Dealing with Trust in the Aftermath of Betrayal
The offender who is willing to rebuild the marriage is on probation. His actions and statements are going to be scrutinized against the criterion of genuineness. Since he has a history of saying things that were in the service of ulterior motives, he will not be taken at face value. All this is as it should be. The offender needs to realize the probationary nature of his position without, on the one hand, becoming defiant and oppositional or, on the other hand, becoming too contrite and placating so as to encourage the spouse to become demanding.
The victim, in contrast, is naturally inclined to seek information that will justify the withholding of trust. More often than not, the victim is not looking for information at all, but simply wants to extract vengeance. After the appropriate grieving over the betrayal, this person needs to be encouraged to look for reasons to trust again and be willing to reinvest herself.
How does a person build trust? By doing what he says he will do. How does a person tear down trust? By not doing what he says he will do. If Jane says she will be home from her appointment at 6:00, but she doesn’t come until 6:45, then Jack’s trust has been eroding by the corrosive effects of his imagination for forty-five minutes. If Jane then resents having to explain the lapse in time, she further contributes to his suspicion. He begins to recall other times she was secretive or evasive about where she had been while he was being deceived. The pattern to recovery is clear. While Jane works on allowing her probationary life to be scrutinized, Jack needs to work on seeking information that will serve to justify his potential trust, not to continue to seek prosecution and punishment.
Control issues become particularly sensitive during this probationary period. The offended spouse “wants to dictate what can and cannot be done rather than what can or cannot be tolerated” (Ables, 1977, p.233). That spouse’s hurt will come across as anger that is punitive and controlling, restricting the movements of the offender. Since the preservations of autonomy is so often a salient preoccupation of the offender, he will most likely react to these controls defensively and even aggressively. Consequently the basic issues of hurt and disillusionment in the offended spouse are not recognized or resolved. The therapist can help the offended spouse to communicate hurt as hurt (not as vengeful, controlling rage) and to use language of limits and tolerance (not ultimatums). The therapist can help the offender then to be sensitive to the hurt and distress that lay behind the controlling statements. The offender can therefore manage his behaviors responsibly and autonomously in light of his spouse’s feeling, not being controlled or determined by those feelings.
Another problem pattern in the renewing marriage is the victim’s suspicious association with certain cues. For example, if Jane acts withdrawn and quiet, Jack my be convinced that she is thinking about her lover and that she may rendezvous with him soon. In therapy, Jack needs to learn how to accept behaviors for what they are, resisting his tendency to read Jane’s mind or to project his own fears onto Jane’s behaviors. He will also have to work hard at believing what Jane says about her inner thoughts or motives. Naturally, this process is often slow and arduous because Jack probably had been overlooking too many signs of trouble during the affair. In this resolve to “never let it happen again,” he is prone to overreact. The therapist’s role is to encourage balance with a view to reality orientation. Considering the probable lack of good reality testing with individuals involved in an affair, this role of the therapist is one of the most important and pervasive functions in the healing process. Tally (1985) devotes an entire chapter in his book to suggest techniques in facing reality. In it, he says, “To help you inject sanity into how you react and what you do, you must get with someone who will be honest with you. You do not need a cover-up; you need reality” (p. 105).
Dealing with the Disclosures of the Offender
The last thing the offender wants to do is to lay open the dynamics of the affair after it has ended. Discussing the affair with the one from whom he has kept it secret for so long is even more difficult. If he had been comfortable with that level of openness, trust and vulnerability in the first place, he probably would not have found himself in an affair. Also, he probably never thought about many of the personal issues his spouse is interested in. So even if he were willing to disclose, he may not have the necessary insight into his true motives to satisfy his spouse. Further, he is emotionally invested in making the entire affair a “closed case” as soon as possible. Yet it is precisely his willingness to be open, above board, and honest, that the victim is looking for as a basis of a renewed level of trust. Thus, the therapist must help the couple get past the seeming impasse of the one’s unwillingness to disclose pitted against the other’s critical need to know.
Guidelines need to be established to ensure that the information that is shared does, indeed, need to be known in order to rebuild trust and that the information is in the service of building intimacy. I have often had several individual sessions with the reluctant offender to clarify these guidelines before continuing the conjoint therapy modality. The first guideline that needs to be clarified is “How much does the victim want to know and need to know?” Some individuals do not want to know anything because they are aware of their own inability to handle such sensitive information about such a repulsive situation in their life. When this is the case, however, they need to be reminded that as they grow in their ability to cope with more truth, they may at a later time want to ask for more information. On the other hand, if the victim wants to know about factors that contributed to the betrayal he has a right to know. Further, knowing about these factors can be used effectively to rebuild trust and to ensure prevention of a recurrence.
The second guideline is that the particular behaviors and events that took place as part of the affair should not be discussed. Such details as where we met as lovers, where we slept, what we said to each other, and how we were physical serve only to feed the mental imagery of the victim. The victim will be hampered by these “burn-in” mental pictures, which are usually embellished by fantasies.
The third guideline is that comparisons should never be made. Knowing what the offender found attractive about the lover that he did not find attractive about the spouse serves only exacerbate the victim’s sense of inadequacy and powerlessness.
The fourth guideline is that any open discussion that will help expose the unconscious needs of the offender that left him vulnerable to the affair can be very helpful. When Steve realized that he had a deep need to be told repeatedly how fine a person he was, he became aware of why his lover was so enticing and why he tended to withhold emotions from his more critical wife. Therapy can then focus on the realistic need for praises and enhancing statements and on resolving the inordinate aspects of Steve’s needs for someone to inflate his sagging self-esteem. All this can be done without getting into the comparison trap. This context can be conducive to explore the splitting that typically takes place in an affair. Explore how Steve allowed his potentially holistic relationship with his wife to reduce to a dreaded partial relationship with a “bad other.” Also explore how he fleshed out his fantasies to make a partial relationship into an idealized relationship with a “good other” lover. The limitations of the affair need to be clarified, lest the affair become a model against which the adequacy of the marriage partner is measured. Realizing that no spouse could ever compete with an idealized partial relationship can help promote the transition back to reality.
The fifth guideline is a delicate one to keep in balance. The victim must see a willingness on the part of the offender to disclose and to manifest an attitude of exploration for the sake of understanding and resolving the many confusing issues. If he is inclined to limit his responses to short, carefully worded responses to his spouse’s interrogation, the spouse will be inclined to wonder, “What is he withholding? The only way I will get the information I need is to ask specific, penetrating questions that have no loopholes through which we can squirm. Therefore, I will intensify my interrogation and leave no stone unturned.” On the other hand, if the offender is participating in a mutual effort to explore patterns, the victim is likely to relax the intensity of the interrogation and be more inclined to trust the “I don’t know” kinds of statements.
Each couple will have to work out their own version of custom-made guidelines based on their own needs and capacity to cope with the forthcoming information. Ultimately, the goal of disclosure is to understand why it happened so the couple can be in control of preventing a reoccurrence as well as knowing personal growth areas for the intimacy enhancement of their own relationship.
Dealing with Forgiveness
Infidelity is a severe breach of trust that causes offense to the betrayed party. No one would argue that forgiveness is the bridge crossing the chasm of broken trust. Surely, apology for the offense must be offered and regret expressed. But how is this done? When is it best negotiated? Premature and superficial forgiveness can result in the preservation of unresolved hurt, increased guilt over lingering anger, and perpetuation of an ingenuine level of toleration that can actually inhibit the development of needed intimacy and honesty.
The statement, “I am sorry,” can reflect a wide range of possible meanings, which must be clarified. If the statement means, “I regret getting caught,” or “I regret that you got offended,” the person is reflecting very little personal remorse for the offended spouse. The solution to the problem that this person would offer, then, would be for all these other people who have been offended to simply dismiss their anger and to overcome their hypersensitivity. That is, others need to change while I remain the same. This attitude will obviously frustrate the efforts of therapy to establish a balanced intimacy. On the other hand, if the statement reflects a truly broken and contrite heart, the ground is prepared to proceed with a lasting forgiveness.
Three aspects of forgiveness are important to bear in mind. For it to be healing and lasting, forgiveness (1) must be offered in view of the offense, (2) is a process and not an isolated act or transaction, and (3) may be multi-level (i.e., forgiveness may be increased if a more severe offense has been discovered.)
Forgiveness must be connected to an offense that is being forgiven. When God offered forgiveness in Christ, He was well aware of the full extent to which our sin offended His holiness. But a betrayed spouse may require some time to realize the many ways they have been offended by the affair and to what depth the hurt has penetrated. At the same time the spouse asking for forgiveness should be able to link the forgiveness with the specific offenses. In other words, he needs to have a clear view of what he is asking forgiveness for.
While the process of forgiveness need not drag on indefinitely, the couple would do well to allow for reexamination of issues at a later time if some additional offenses are discovered. This process can be likened to a dentist cleaning out the decay from a cavity before filling it with amalgam. Usually one treatment will suffice. But in the event that some decay is left remaining under the filling, or if some additional decay develops, the distasteful process of reopening the infected area must be engaged. Pretending that the forgiveness is a once-and-for-all act, never to be dealt with again, can lead to a festering decay in the marriage. On the other hand, a decayed relationship that has been cleansed by a thorough-going process of forgiveness is free to progress to higher levels of honesty, trust and intimacy.
Sometimes a person discovers some hurt that had as yet been undiscovered. What are they to do in response to that deeper offense? Should they refuse to admit that it is real, since they have already forgiven the other person? Should they assume that the original forgiveness was not genuine? Instead, they should validate the work that has already been accomplished and simply be willing to forgive more deeply for an offense that has been recognized more deeply.
Dealing with Individual Issues
The affair is not just the problem of one person. The affair, like any marital problem, is a manifestation of individual problems that have developed out of the particular chemistry of the couple. It is helpful to reframe the affair as an opportunity to look closely at each person’s areas of needed personal growth. In the early stages of therapy, this is very difficult to do because both individuals are inclined to think in terms of blame and responsibility. For example, Frank was unwilling to examine any of his behaviors that contributed to Betty’s vulnerability, because he saw that as equal to admitting to his being responsible for her affair. “It was her doing, and she is the only one who needs to change anything,” is a typical comment. Frank struggled hard against the final realization that being a contributing factor is different from being the cause. He was able to make significant progress when he broke through this barrier. For example, he discovered that he demonstrated very little affection or kindness toward his wife, but demanded sex frequently, criticizing her harshly for her lack of enthusiasm. He even admitted telling her that her body was not her own, that it was intended for his pleasure. He could then begin to look at issues of his own insecurity and powerlessness.
Some of the key personal issues that relate to such a broken marriage are self-esteem, power, security, dependency, reality orientation, moral development, locus of control, and connectedness. It is important to link deficiencies in these areas to deficiencies in the person’s psychosocial development. The patterns and dynamics of the affair are fundamentally manifestations of unresolved developmental conflicts. The affair is the symptom of the problem, not the core of it. If the deeper problems go unexamined, the residual pattern will simply emerge again at another time with a few variations. Strean (1980) provides an example of linking these patterns back to the classical psychoanalytic stages – “the oral, anal, phallic, oedipal, latency, pubertal, adolescent, and genital periods of development” (p. 21). An excellent resource for the cognitive therapist is Talley (1985), who offers practical steps to bring about reconciliation. I think the specific theoretical orientation is not as critical as the consistency of thought and penetration to the meaning under the manifest level of behavior.
Renewing Physical Intimacy
Patience, understanding and self-control will be in high demand for this phase of rebuilding. The emotional and physical vulnerability involved with sexual intercourse provides a prime target for unloading any salvos that might be left from unresolved anger or vengeance. Setbacks and disappointments will be frequent. The tendency to hold the marriage partner responsible for anything that goes wrong will be strong. But if both partners are willing to proceed slowly with realistic expectations, the renewed physical intimacy can help contribute to the broader trust issues. In some marriages, the physical relationship may be the strong point that initially holds the couple together. In other marriages, it may be the last aspect of the relationship to develop. Often, problems with intimacy that have been present in the marriage all along will emerge with greater-than-ever intensity, but the couple may be better able to deal with them in their current disrupted state.
Useful Scripture Passages and Concepts
Marriage, from the Christian perspective, is a sacred bond. It reflects the relationship between God and His people. The husband is reflective of God while the wife is reflective of the people of God (Ephesians 5:22-33). The sanctity of the marriage contract is maintained by sexual fidelity. Any other sexual involvement is a perversion of God’s design. Hence, Christians have a point of reference by which to orient their lives and guide their decisions.
Alternative arrangements, though justifiable according to some people’s rationale, cannot possibly be Christian. For example:
|“Under some circumstances, extramarital sex can be constructive to the marriage. It’s possible for two people who have a rich and rewarding relationship in almost every way not be on the same sexual wavelength. An outside liaison may enable a spouse to release some sexual tension and take a lot of pressure off the marriage” (Singer, 1980, p. 172).|
Scripture is particularly helpful in providing attitudinal orientation to confused and hurting people who are churning in the midst of an emotional tornado. For example, most people evaluate “good” on the basis of comfort and “bad” on the basis of pain. In order to go through the excruciatingly painful process of reconciliation, the couple needs to understand that they are experiencing a painful process that is good in God’s eyes. Many times they will continue working only because they believe that God wants them to. God honors that kind of faith.
Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-5 provide a glimpse of God’s view of how suffering can be a positive experience. Philippians 3:10 shows that suffering is apart of knowing Him, the highest goal and purpose of man. In particular, Christ’s sufferings involve dealing with rejected love. Even though His love was perfect and was rejected on such a grand scale with such profound implications for all mankind, we can know Him more experientially by seeing our rejected love similar to His. The entire book of Hosea shows how God, by example, honors his commitment to an adulterous nation. Matthew 18:21-22 gives us the “seventy-times-seven” guideline for forgiveness. Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5:22-33 provide the basis for God’s purposes and ideals for marriage.
The theme of reconciliation provides a common thread throughout all these passages. For God clearly wants those who are distant from Him to draw near and those who are alienated from one another to unite in a bond of love. “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us a ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, NASB). How appropriate that we, who will be among the blessed “who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9, NASB), should participate now in this ministry of reconciliation.
Ables, B.S. (1977). Therapy for couples. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Bryce, H. (1988). After the affair: A wife’s story, Leadership. 9 (1), pp. 58-65.
Conway, J. (1978). Men in mid-life crisis. Elgin: David C. Cook Publishing Co.
Lawson, A. (1988). Adultery: An analysis of love and betrayal. New York: Basic Books.
Petersen, J. A. (1983). The myth of the greener grass. Wheaton; Tyndale House Publishers.
Singer, L.J. (1980) Stages. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
Strean, H.S. (1980) The extramarital affair. New York: The Free Press.
Tally, J. (1985). Reconcilable differences: Mending broken relationships. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Willi, J. (1982). Couples in collusion. New York: Jason Aronson.
[This article originally appeared in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 1989, Vol. 8, No. 4, 63-72]
J. Lee Jagers (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary; Ph.D., University of North Texas) is a psychotherapist in a private practice in Dallas, Texas. He holds a diplomat status in the American Psychotherapy Association. His specialties include couples therapy, individual psychotherapy, and treatment of chemical dependency.