How should I respond to my husband's repeated infidelities and his blatant request to date other women? We've had a troubled marriage for years. Recently he confessed to extra-marital affairs. I've forgiven him for adulteries, but now he says he wants to develop "outside relationships" while continuing to live in our home. I'm desperate to save our marriage, so I don't want to provoke him unnecessarily. Can you help me?
You're in a difficult position. We can only imagine the feelings of rejection and abandonment with which you must be wrestling. Please know that our hearts go out to you. If the following response seems almost painfully direct at times, remember that this is because we really want to help you in any way we can. Serious ailments call for radical treatment.
Several phrases jump out at us from the wording of your question: "extra-marital affairs" in the plural (this seems to indicate an established pattern of behavior); "I've forgiven him" (this leads us to wonder whether you've actually grappled with the problem or simply swept it aside); "I'm desperate" (this underscores your own sense of helplessness); and "I don't want to provoke him" (this suggests that your reaction is based almost entirely on fear).
This language reflects a co-dependent mindset. Whether you realize it or not, you are enabling your husband to continue in his unacceptable behavior. Forgiveness is a wonderful Christian virtue, but it's only the beginning in a situation like this. If infidelity has become an established pattern in the history of your relationship, it won't go away until the two of you decide to address the root causes of the problem together. This in turn won't happen until you get rid of your "victim" mentality and take the bull by the horns. Don't allow your husband to heap guilt upon you or blame you for his sinful actions. Instead, confront him with a very direct question: "Are you or are you not willing to work with me to save this marriage?" If he is willing, he has only one choice: he has to cut all ties with "other women" immediately. There is no room for discussion or debate on that score.
You say that you don't want to "provoke" him. But a "kick" of some kind is exactly what he needs. A man who feels he has the right to violate his marriage vows, live a life of habitual infidelity, and betray his wife while continuing to live with her under the same roof is seriously misguided. This is controlling, manipulative, and emotionally abusive behavior. It shouldn't be tolerated a moment longer. You need to force a crisis and give him an ultimatum. If he wants to "date other women," he's going to have to find someplace else to live. He has to understand that his adulterous behavior will not be allowed to continue under any circumstances. If separation is what it takes to open his eyes and stimulate some self-examination on his part, then so be it. At this point there is no other hope for your marriage.
If you haven't already started counseling, now is the time to do so. A trained Christian counselor can help you travel this rocky path and find your way to a brighter future. Our Counseling staff will be happy to discuss your situation with you and provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area. You can reach us at this number.
In addition to counseling, a healthy Christian support system is vital. God wants us to lean on one another during times of trouble. Many churches sponsor support groups for individuals in your circumstances. We'd strongly urge you to avail yourself of the help and encouragement they can provide. You will be inspired to see how others have weathered similar storms. In turn, you will be equipped to help the hurting women who come behind you. If your husband considers himself a Christian, you should also enlist the support of the church community in confronting him on his unacceptable behavior in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17. Then you'll be in a better position to stand firm.
One last thought. If you have children, they need you now as they've never needed you before. Make up your mind to deal with this situation for their sake if not for your own. After all, if your husband is willing to abuse you in this fashion, it may not be long before he begins abusing them as well. As deeply as you're hurting, it's important to find ways to stand strong for your kids. They deserve a healthy and stable parent, and that parent is obviously not their dad! So cling to God and your Christian friends and pray without ceasing for the courage you need in order to make it through each new day. The enemy has already gained an important foothold with your husband. Don't allow him to make you and your kids his next victims.
In this iQuestions video from Focus on the Family, Dr. Gary Chapman talks to the Christian who is separated and shares how this process can bring healing and reconciliation in marriage.
Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair (book)
Practical Advice for Protecting Your Marriage (broadcast)
Marriage Alive - The Web site of Dave and Claudia Arp, a husband and wife team who strive to help couples build better marriages and families.