Should a spouse who has had an affair be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and infections? My husband recently ended an affair, and we are working toward reconciliation. It's a touchy process and I don't want to do anything that might suggest a lack of trust or indicate that I haven't forgiven him. At the same time, I don't think my concerns are unreasonable. What should I do?
This one is easy to answer. Yes - both you and your husband should get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. What's more, you should do so at the earliest opportunity. We have good reasons for framing our response in such definite and unequivocal terms. Let's take a look at them before evaluating the assumptions that seem to be preventing you from moving in this direction.
When marital unfaithfulness has occurred, one of the most important elements of the reconciliation process - perhaps the most important element - is a willingness on the part of the offending spouse to take responsibility for his actions and face up to the real-life consequences of the mistakes he has made. Those consequences can assume a number of shapes and show up on several different levels. They can be physical and medical as well as emotional and psychological. You can't expect to put your marriage back together unless you're prepared to deal with all of them.
If your husband's affair brought him into contact with sexually transmitted diseases, you will both want to know about it right away. If an STD has been contracted, this could have huge implications for the sexual dimension of your relationship for the rest of your lives. This is a matter of special concern to you, since some of these diseases can lie dormant in a woman's body for a long time before manifesting any symptoms. It's in everybody's best interests to bring the facts to light as soon as possible - before there's time for further damage to be incurred.
Apparently you're aware of all this. You've already been thinking about testing, and you feel strongly that you have reasonable grounds for concern. Why, then, should you be hesitant to bring up the subject with your spouse? You've given us the answer, of course. In your own words, you're operating on the assumption that to request testing is to express "distrust." You're also afraid of coming across as "unforgiving." But are these assumptions and anxieties valid? We don't think so.
In the first place, medical testing has nothing to do with trust. It's just a simple, straightforward, practical way of ascertaining the facts. Are the infectious agents that cause STDs present or not? That's what you want to know, and we've already established that it's crucial to find out. If the test comes back negative, no harm has been done. But should it turn up positive evidence of an infection, this information will be invaluable to you in your efforts to avoid further suffering.
Second, there's a sense in which trust is a moot point at this stage in the game. By becoming involved in an extra-marital affair, your husband has already proven himself untrustworthy. If he is still a man of character in any sense of the term, he ought to be willing to admit this and face the consequences head-on. That's the only way he can realistically hope to rebuild his relationship with you.
Finally, you need to bear in mind that forgiveness and trust are two different things. You can forgive your husband for his past waywardness, but this doesn't mean that you should give him carte blanche for the future, nor should you necessarily take his word for it when he insists that he'll never go down that road again. Through his actions he has forfeited a degree of his freedom and respectability. Real healing and reconciliation between the two of you can't occur unless he's ready to be held accountable. Trust can be restored if accountability is maintained over a long period of time, but not otherwise. That's just the way it is.
We should add that physical and sexual repercussions may be the least important aspects of an affair's aftermath. The emotional and psychological sides of the problem are often of far greater consequence and can be more difficult to resolve. If you're serious about rebuilding trust and putting your marriage back on a firm footing, don't stop short with medical testing for STDs. We highly recommend that you and your husband move beyond this first and most basic step by initiating a rigorous course of therapy with a trained and qualified Christian counselor. Meeting with a good counselor is really a necessary step to help uncover any unresolved issues in your relationship and get to the bottom of whatever it was that led to the affair in the first place.
Focus on the Family's Counseling Department can provide you with referrals to therapists who fit this description. Our staff counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can reach them for a free consultation at this number.
This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family.
Unfaithful: Hope and Healing After Infidelity (book)
Moving Beyond Ordinary in Your Marriage (broadcast)
Hope for Every Marriage (broadcast)
Hope Restored® marriage intensives - Focus on the Family offers marriage intensive programs in a retreat setting, designed to rebuild and restore marriages experiencing significant distress.