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Let’s start with the bad news. There is nothing you can do to make the pain go away. It is frustrating. It is surreal. It is a helpless feeling. It is despairing. God said that a man and a woman should come together and form one flesh (Genesis 2:24-25). If they “covenant together” the way He said they should, they are no longer two people but one. The only thing that should separate them is death.
Death is like an amputation or the radical division of two people. It reminds me of an amputee who reaches down to scratch his leg, only to realize that he has no leg. It is frustratingly awful. Death is real. It communicates brokenness and that things will never be the same. This reality is why the grief of the surviving spouse can be so great. He mourns the radical separation of their one-flesh union that was caused by death.
This illustration also explains the intricated complicatedness of adultery. It is not supposed to be this way. Adultery is not God’s plan concerning His morals. One of the differences between separation by death and separation by infidelity is the lack of finality regarding adultery. A spouse may die, but an adulterer does not. The adulterer radically separates from the marriage; he may join himself or herself to another “flesh.” The pain of this reality is seemingly unbearable. The dawning experience of this new event will change your life forever.
The victim of adultery must guard his heart. The mind can go places that it was not meant to go. The thoughts can run wild and even more so because there is a mystery in play—your questions are many, and your answers are few. Whenever there is a mystery, the heart is prone to wonder about what is not known. A person can over-speculate and lay awake at night overthinking and over-worrying about what happened.
Why did they do it? Where did they go? When did it start? Where was I? Why didn’t I know? And probably the most hurtful question of all, “Did my wife enjoy having sex with him?”
A person will suffer through adultery in proportion to their temptations toward insecurity and fear. The more insecure you are, the more frantic, anxious, and inconsolable you will be. Conversely, the more stable you are with the Lord, the more trusting you will be for what God is writing into your life.
Adultery will bring you the starkest contrasts between fear and faith. It will pull your heart toward the pit of despair, or you’ll press more into God than ever before. Do not be mistaken: it will be your faith in God that will determine how you “survive adultery.”
The truth is that God is in your situation. He was not “out of action” or preoccupied with other things. God is never preoccupied with other things. That kind of thinking flies in the face of sound theology. The one thing you don’t want to do is separate from God during the one time in your life when you need Him the most. Adultery will tempt you to do that. For reasons that you will never know in this life, God has allowed you to go through infidelity.
I can’t communicate these hard things to you in a satisfying way. And God will not explain it to you either. He is not obligated to disclose what He allows. The real truth is that He can’t reveal what He is allowing to happen in your life. If He explained Himself, you could find some rest in the explanation and known outcomes of your suffering. In such cases, your faith would not be in Him but in the interpretation of things and the known results and answers that He provided.
Your faith must be in Him alone. Christ called Peter off a boat to walk on water (Matthew 14:29). Christ did not tell him how it would go or even why He was asking him to walk on water. He called him to walk by faith and later rebuked him because he did not do it well (Matthew 14:31). Christ is calling you to walk by faith too. Yes, He’s calling you to do the impossible. The reason He is calling you to do this is that He wants to prove to you that He is the only one worthy of worship. He wants you to know Him for who He is—the Son of God (Matthew 14:33).
Like Peter, walk toward Him rather than away from Him in your time of need. Though you did not cause this, you are in this, and you must walk toward the Lord. Let Him take you by the hand. Let Him restore your soul.
Here are a few things that I have experienced or observed when helping those who are trying to survive adultery. None of these things will be complete or satisfying to you. I’m writing an article, not a book. However, I trust the Father will use these rambling thoughts to help you to press on in Christ.
Will you trust God? – Don’t lightly skim through what I have previously said about faith in God. I cannot overemphasize your need to trust God at this moment—and a thousand other moments that will present themselves in your future. You may feel good today, but tomorrow you’ll be in the tank of despair. You will need renewed faith for each day. Your heart needs to be buoyed by daily reminders of God’s active goodness and help in your life. You will not be able to predict or plan when moments of despair shall inevitably come.
It will be in these spontaneous, unsuspecting moments that the temptations will catch you off guard. Suddenly, without warning, you’ll need the empowering grace of God that can reorient your mind around the hope that you will find in Him alone. My appeal to you is to renew your faith in God each day by asking Him to help you to trust Him. Ask others to help you to trust Him.
You can’t make it end – No matter how hard you try or how hard you cry, the pain of this will not go away anytime soon. Adultery does not work that way. One of your enemies will be time, and time will move slower than you ever imagined. Do not despair in these moments. God will give you sustaining grace. If there was ever a moment when this adage applied—time heals all wounds; this is one of those moments.
When the soul is in the depths of despair, time stands still. It is at this moment that you must believe that God is working for His glory and your benefit. Will you trust Him? Will you place your confidence in Him right now? I did not ask, “Will you stop hurting if you believe?” I probed if you would merely believe. The pain will continue, but your believing must not stop. You do not want your faith to stop, especially at this crucial time of unmitigated misery.
Adultery does not mean a ticket to leave – Yes, there is an adultery clause (Matthew 19:3-9). That exception does not mean you are supposed to use it. Divorce will not necessarily change anything. Be very careful before you go there. It’s rarely wise for a person to make a life-altering decision amid a traumatic event. Though there is a clause, that clause is a fragment in a book about reconciliation.
The Bible is a reconciliation book. That is its story. From Genesis to Revelation, God is presenting to us a plan for redemption. I suppose He could have taken an escape clause and started over. The Lord did not. He began to implement a plan of redemption. Before you play the divorce card, give it some time, and seek wise counsel. See what else God has in mind. You may be surprised at what He may be thinking (Job 23:13-14).
Don’t seek comparable revenge – I’ve seen too many times where divorce is more about punishing the guilty spouse than understanding the mind of God and what He might want to do in the marriage. Sometimes you want to hurt the other person, whether it be by sinful anger or other means. One of those means could be to go out and have sex with someone. Why not? She did it. I’ll do it back. This kind of thinking is graceless and God-less. It completely misses an authentic and practical application of the gospel (Philippians 2:3-5).
Guard against seeking revenge, which could truncate what God desires to do in your marriage. Extend practical grace to a guilty sinner. Remember, you were one who received God’s amazing and transformative grace, too (Romans 5:8).
Don’t ask for details – Sometimes, a spouse will begin drilling their adulterous mate, seeking details about what he/she did with the other person. While there are some things you will have to know, there are other things that you do not need to know. If you choose self-control by not asking too many questions, it will prove beneficial. Later, you will not have to forget what you did not know. If you don’t remember specific facts, you’ll never struggle to try to ignore them. It may seem wise at the moment to know all the details.
That is not true. As hard as it is to believe there is coming a day when all of this will pass. You’ll be blessed to know less, and you can resist by God’s grace and with the future in view.
Your marriage is not what defines you – Don’t make marriage an idol. You’ll know if you have made it as one by the proportion of struggle you have in reorienting your mind and life back to the Lord. If you lose your spiritual balance and cannot recover, your marriage or loss of it has more power over you than God. That is a definition of idolatry. Though adultery may feel like the end of the world, it is not.
Find a community of faith – Adultery is a call to action from the “community of faith.” You are not meant to go through this alone. That is not God’s way. You cannot accomplish the things I am calling you to do by going out and shaking yourself or by chest-bumping like football players to Go-Fight-Win. You will fail. Nobody gets up from adultery and walks a straight line by themselves; it’s not humanly possible. You need help from friends and God. The temptations are too many, and the pain is too deep.
Don’t miss what God is doing – In 1988, I experienced the immeasurable pain of adultery. God stretched my soul in places that I never thought possible. What I have written here are some of the things I learned during that dark season of my life. I understood David when he asked,
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Psalm 42:5-6).
To be “cast down” is to be turned upside down, possibly in a slight hole. The word “cast” is the term a shepherd uses who finds a sheep in an upside-down condition. Because of the sheep’s high center of gravity, he cannot turn himself back over. Think of a turtle on its back, and you’ll get the idea. I found myself cast down, and I could not get back to my feet. But God was there. He was working. He brought me through the long nightmare of my soul. I did not come through correctly. I stumbled all over the place as my Father persevered for me.
But know this; if you have read, watched, or listened to any of our resources and benefited from them, it was because those things were born out of the crucible of suffering. My Father gave me a snippet of what He called His Son to do, as you read here:
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).
I realize this article will not be enough for you if you have experienced adultery. It can’t. But we offer practical help. I have produced thousands of resources on our site about adultery, anger, forgiveness, divorce, reconciliation, the sovereignty of God, suffering, revenge, and many other topics.
If you think those items will serve you, please go there. Also, whichever path you take, make sure you choose a way that has a God-centered community that can practically speak into your life. My prayer is that you will be amazed as you continue to press into God and watch Him turn your ashes into beauty.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).