Focus on the Family

Affairs/Marital Infidelity

by Brad Lewis

Maybe it's happened to you. You're fed up with your spouse, so you start chatting with that attractive person of the opposite sex in the next cubicle. You've known him for years, and it's so easy to talk. He just listens. Pretty soon you're sharing intimate problems, and now the co-worker is telling you how hard you have it. Maybe you should just leave your spouse ... and maybe the two of you should go out to lunch to talk more about it all. With this person, you're finding what you need and want: a sympathetic ear, someone who understands you and all you're going through, maybe even the first meaningful physical touch you've had for months.

Obviously, while not all office relationships lead to affairs, and not all affairs start at work, this scene demonstrates in an overly simplified and time-compressed way how some people start down the path of cheating on their spouse.

Whether you've been married for 30 days or 30 years, you're never really immune to an extramarital affair. So, how many married people are cheating on their spouses? Well, definitive numbers are hard to come by, but most polls and estimates typically report that more than one-third of men and about one-quarter of women admit to having had at least one extramarital sexual act. If you factor in cases of "emotional infidelity" — where a spouse engages in an intimate (yet not sexual) friendship with a member of the opposite sex — the numbers are much higher, probably greater than 50 percent.

Still, nearly 80 percent of Americans say adultery is always wrong and only physical abuse does more harm to a marriage. Indeed, the discovery of an affair more often than not leads to divorce.

Kerby Anderson . "Adultery." Probe Ministries International. http://www.probe.org/docs/adultery.html

If anything, the growing influence and availability of the Internet has only made things worse, with as many as one in 10 Internet users reporting that they are addicted to cybersex or other online temptations. After all, online sexual encounters offer the thrill of a make-believe romance along with the added benefit of anonymity. And because many online affairs don't involve actual physical contact, participants can convince themselves that cybersex isn't really adulterous, that they aren't really cheating on their spouse. Truth is, however, that even a "virtual" affair can wreak havoc on a marriage or a serious dating relationship.

Why affairs happen

Affairs don't only happen for sex. Some reasons people get trapped in an affair:


Warning Signs of an Affair

Though affairs are often unpredictable, there are recognizable symptoms of a troubled marriage.

by Beth J. Lueders

Elena discovered that her husband wasn't just shopping on eBay® all those late nights on the computer. Steve just happened to see his wife kissing the kickboxing instructor in the gym's parking lot.

Most extramarital affairs do not start out with the candid revelations: "my husband is out of town" or "my wife won't suspect a thing." Generally something has gone awry in a marriage before a dissatisfied spouse utters these seductive lines.

Factors That Can Lead to Unfaithfulness

The following are factors that can lead to marital unfaithfulness:

Quick Infidelity Quiz

If your marriage partner exhibits several of these following behaviors, your marriage may be in danger of an affair:

Many factors can drive a marriage to the rocks. Help ensure an enriching relationship for a lifetime by taking steps today to guard the fidelity of your marriage.

One of the best recommendations for troubled marriages is enlisting the help of a licensed, Christian counselor. Often, involving a third party — especially one who's trained to counsel — can force root issues out into the open and guide you and your spouse on the road to healing. Focus on the Family donors have also made it possible for us to offer limited live counseling support over the phone. To find out more about speaking with our counselors at Focus on the Family, please visit our Counseling FAQ.


Restoration: Four Hurdles You Must Face

Understanding these critical issues will help you work through the healing process.

by Dr. Bruce McNicol, Bill Thrall

Jim sits across from his wife, Kim, who is sobbing deeply. They are each trying to find words that will help them go forward.

It's been three months since Jim confessed to Kim his adulterous behavior with two different women. It's been two months since Kim learned that she knows one of the women. Jim had initially decided he didn’t want to hurt Kim by telling her it was her friend Bonnie. But he later decided nothing but the entire truth would begin releasing them from the deceit that was destroying them.

Today, as they sit across from each other, Jim has already said he's sorry and asked Kim to forgive him. He has tearfully promised he will never do it again. Kim is full of emotion, but still very emotionally disconnected from Jim. She knows she loves him, yet she is plagued by a disturbing lack of peace. Why hasn’t forgiving him brought her heart to rest? The two have agreed to stay together and to negotiate the problems. They both know Kim must once again trust Jim, but how? Why is she still in so much pain?

In order to successfully navigate the road to reconciliation, Kim and Jim must overcome four essential hurdles. If you and your spouse are trying to rebuild your relationship after an affair, you will most likely face these same hurdles. Awareness and understanding of the challenges that lie ahead can be your first step toward recovery.

Hurdle #1: Wrong Thinking

Many people mistakenly think that adultery is simply a wrong action, but it is also a violation of God’s divine order for marriage. A person who has had an affair must seek his spouse's forgiveness, not just for the adulterous act, but also for violating the marriage covenant, or sacred commitment. An intact marriage covenant creates an atmosphere of security and trust. That security and trust is what Kim needs in order to give herself freely to Jim. Only a restored sense of security and trust, borne of Jim asking and receiving forgiveness for breaking the covenant, can begin to restore Kim's confidence, peace and joy.

Hurdle #2: A Multi-Faceted Struggle

It is important to realize that a wounded spouse, such as Kim, will struggle with multiple issues. On one hand, her own sexual identity has become confused. Because of Jim’s act of immorality Kim finds herself asking deep in her soul, What is wrong with me that he would want someone else? There is also the issue of shame emerging in her spirit: shame that he would want any other woman, and especially that it was her friend Bonnie. How could it be Bonnie? Bonnie of all people! Another facet of Kim's struggle is her confusion over her lack of peace. Although she has forgiven Jim's acts, she needs to process and eventually forgive him for the ways she has been affected by his violation of their marriage vows.

Hurdle #3: Getting to the Real Problem

On the surface, it may appear that one's behavior is the problem, and that a promise "to change" is the solution. However, the real problem with someone like Jim is the fact that in his mind, he granted himself permission to break his marriage vows. To address only his behavior and overlook this issue of permission will leave both Kim and Jim in limbo. Without getting to the real problem, both spouses are destined to continue feeling as though something is wrong, but neither will understand what. They will limp along, wondering why their relationship is so tentative and distant.

Hurdle #4: Inability to Trust or Be Trusted

This ties in closely with Hurdle #1. Once a marital covenant has been breached, trust will be difficult — but necessary — to restore. Without trust, a couple cannot know intimacy. To set the stage for restored trust, Jim must be able to humbly admit that he is unable to manage his sin or keep his promises, and that he is deeply addicted to the pleasure of sin. At that point, he will be in a position to receive God's freeing grace and empowerment to choose differently. By being humble and openly dependent on God, Jim will also be putting himself in a position where Kim can begin to trust him again. As renewed trust grows between them, the couple will be able to enjoy rich intimacy, true fulfillment and sustaining joy.

By conquering these hurdles together, hurting spouses can overcome the damage of infidelity. By learning to trust God in a new, much deeper way, they can enjoy a stronger, more fulfilling marriage.


Rebuilding Trust in the Aftermath of an Affair

The task of restoring a marriage is multi-faceted. For us, healing began at our church door.

by John E. Paul

The carcass of the plane lay strewn across the ground, gnarled sections spread around like a jigsaw puzzle. This scene played through my mind as I thought about the destruction that I had perpetrated upon my own family by my unfaithfulness. I tried to imagine the daunting task of putting the pieces of my marriage back together in the wake of the affair.

Aviation investigators often reassemble the fragments of a crashed plane to try and discover the cause of the crash. In some cases they are able to restore nearly every scrap to its place. Of course, the finished product looks nothing like the original. Not only is the whole greatly marred, but upon close examination, even the pieces have great defects.

Likewise, the task of restoring a marriage is multifaceted. Though each case is unique in some aspects, I have found — through counseling, reading and interaction with others — that similarities abound. For us, healing began at our church door.

Apart from our Christian fellowship and God’s guidance, I honestly believe that we would have become one more casualty. Elders and friends gathered around us like a protective mother hovering over her wounded offspring. I can recall very clearly some of the major interventions, and many minor ones along the way. Numerous Christian friends upheld us in prayer.

The Practical

Initially, we sought professional counseling. From there we turned to literature. Some helpful titles were: When Good Men Are Tempted, Surviving an Affair, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, and Love is….

I was fortunate in my job to be off during the summer. Being together 24/7 was extremely difficult for my wife and me, but it was also a tremendous catharsis. I cannot count the hours we spent together reading, discussing and crying. We have a trampoline in our backyard, under an oak tree. We spent many summer afternoons lying there under God’s canopy, seeking to knit our lives back together.

I rarely went anywhere without my wife — and when I did, I carried a cell phone and made sure that I was with someone who could verify where I was. Later, the Lord provided a timely job opening for me. I was able to relocate and remove myself from the presence of the other woman.

The Spiritual

My spiritual journey has been so deeply personal that I am not sure my words will capture my heart. Prior to my infidelity, I had ministered at a conservative seminary for nine years, and had been intimately involved in my church. This background made the healing process more difficult for my wife in some ways, because the things I pursued spiritually appeard to be the same things I had done in the past. In my wife’s words, "They didn’t work then to keep you from sin — why should I trust them now?"

Being an "isolationist," I had to force myself to seek solid male Christian fellowship. Daily I am in the Word. Prayer has become paramount in my life, both as a weapon of war and an oasis. Wednesday night prayer group at our church has been a healing balm.

The last thing I do before I sleep at night is take my wife in my arms and pray.

The Lifelong Journey

Our daughter made arrangements for us to renew our wedding vows in Maui, Hawaii. With the sunset as our backdrop in McKenna Cove, my wife and I promised our faithfulness, as we had done 20 years earlier. We honeymooned at Snoqualmie Falls when we returned.

Like the shattered plane, some pieces have been put back into place. However, sin comes with a price, and our marriage is forever changed. Restored sections lack the original luster and many scraps still litter our lives. The reconstruction has begun. The process is a lifelong commitment.


Despite the fact that 93% of Americans rate having a happy marriage as one of their most important objectives in life, a disappointingly high percentage of marriages fail in divorce and half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years of marriage.



Affairs/Marital Infidelity

A continued list of helpful resources, links and organizations.

Popular questions on this topic: