A Survey Alert From Chump Lady

Today, Chump Lady passed along a survey that an eager graduate student in psychology is doing on infidelity. Here is the link to Chump Lady’s post: http://chumplady.com/2014/07/forgiveness-troll-says-take-a-survey/

Below I am quoting from Chump Lady’s post where she agrees to take the survey and post it to her readership:


Then when I finished the survey, I saw this.

“The topic of this research is the effect of the specific aspects and characteristics of an affair on an individual’s forgiveness of his or her unfaithful partner. Forgiveness is an important process for the reconciliation of an intimate relationship. Previous studies have found that forgiveness of one’s partner is dependent upon a variety of factors, including empathy, commitment, and relationship satisfaction with his or her partner. The present study is exploring if forgiveness is also impacted by the specific characteristics of an affair, such as the length of the affair, how one discovered the affair, the type of affair, and why they think their partner had the affair. There may be differences between men and women in forgiveness.These findings may be helpful for counselors working with couples struggling with the aftermath of an affair.”

I wrote back to the researcher and told her I did not agree with the premise of her research, and moreover I found it offensive.

I realize this person is going into a helping profession and probably thinks she is doing some good healing broken relationships with “forgiveness,” but I honestly don’t think she’s thought this out and is going with the general Reconcile or Die school of marital therapy.

I replied. (And Divorce Minister — I gave you a plug. I’d rather let someone with a M.Div point out the theological tenets of cheap forgiveness.

I agree with Chump Lady that this is an offensive survey with offensive premises. While I agree with the graduate student that forgiveness is important for reconciliation, I see putting this first for faithful spouses in cases of infidelity as irresponsible and damaging. It continues to put the burden upon the faithful spouse as the primary reconciliation agent. That completely misses the point that the cheater is the one who took action to destroy the relationship and needs to take action to clean up the mess he/she made. It is not the faithful spouse who has demonstrated empathy and commitment deficit issues. They did not cheat. The adulterer/adulteress did. Minimally, the cheater needs to stop lying, blameshifting, and cheating. They need to confess their sins and repent to use Biblical language.

In my opinion, I find it irresponsible for either a psychologist or a pastor to focus on forgiveness towards marital reconciliation until they are 100% sure the cheater has repented and stopped their sinful and damaging behavior. To not insistent on repentance is to participate in both the damaging of the faithful spouse and the damnation of the cheater’s soul as he/she continues in their sin. No one is served in seeking reconciliation without repentance in the cheater.

If reconciliation of marriages ravaged by infidelity is the goal, the road map is clear Biblically: repentance in the adulterer/adulteress as THE ISSUE.

Here’s my comment on Chump Lady’s blog:

Thanks for the plug, Chump Lady.

So much is off on this survey idea. To begin, the survey is open to people like myself who did not reconcile the marriage. I fundamentally disagree with presupposition that my non-reconciliation had anything to do with my ability or non-ability to forgive my ex-wife. Even if it was present, I will remind all that correlation does not mean causation.

On a theological level, I push back on the idea of cheap forgiveness as well. Mathew 18 principles ought to take effect in the case of Christians cheating. This means confronting the cheater until they repent and turn from their cheating ways. Jesus tells His disciples that this is how to deal with such sin in the camp. He does not instruct them to keep on forgiving the offender and pretend everything is fine. Confront them and escalate it to the point where if they do not change, you treat them like a social pariah. If I remember right from my education and reading, this punishment in Jewish culture was WORSE than the death penalty.

Finally, I take issue with conflating forgiveness and reconciliation. They are not the same thing. Forgiveness is like getting to “meh.” The wrongness and my need to get my pound of flesh from my cheater et al. no longer controls me in forgiveness. Reconciliation is a different matter. It takes two to reconcile and only one to forgive. Such forgiveness would be needed to reconcile but it is a necessary and NOT sufficient condition. You still need the cheater to repent. Also, I would point out that reconciliation does not necessarily mean staying in the marriage. It means an end of animosity. If a cheater continues to sin against you, his/her actions makes that state next to impossible to achieve as they are acting at war with you still.

Those are just a few quick thoughts on this matter from the top of my head.

And I am not surprised this survey is going out. In my chaplain training, I am seeing psychology reach into theology by studying forgiveness as a way to heal. It’s hip. Personally, I agree forgiveness is important for all. I hope everyone achieves “meh.” But I see the methodology and faulty presuppositions about forgiveness/reconciliation as unhelpful muddling whatever good this survey could have. Also, I see it as a subtle blameshift back onto the chump–”Oh, your reconciliation efforts failed…must not have forgave him/her.” Yeah, like that is the main problem after adultery. That’s not how I read Scripture.



6 thoughts on “A Survey Alert From Chump Lady”

  1. Pastor David, your forward thinking is so refreshing. Maybe it’s because you have traveled this road or maybe your interpretation is spot on just like CL.

  2. I took the survey and thought it was pretty benign. I don’t think the questions had anything to do with “empathy or compassion” though as the grad student’s email said it did. There was nothing in the questions to gauge empathy or compassion, they won’t be able to draw conclusions in those areas from the survey results. I also don’t think the study is going to provide accurate results when it comes to how time in the relationship and post DDay affects how someone feels. The questions didn’t clarify time. She asked how long ago I found out, then to fill out the questions. My answers to the questions would have been different after I first found out. If they really want to gauge how time affects answers then there needs to be separate questions: answer this with how you remember feeling at discovery, then answer them with from present day.

    My story is pretty mild compared to everyone else’s as mine happened in high school. That’s pretty pathetic on the grand scale of things. But I know I had to get a new best friend and I was so angry that I ran a mile in 6min 30 seconds instead of the 8min pace I’d been going at. That’s a pretty big deal to cut 1min 30 off your time in one run. I found a new best friend, we’re still BFFs 10 years later and lo and behold, her boyfriend cheated on her with the same girl that mine did…

    I think it’d be interesting to see what results come back from the spouses of those that have survived infidelity. My husband’s ex didn’t cheat on me, but she did a number on him. There are days when I’m more upset at her than he is. I’d be more likely to show more compassion towards her if she was actually remorseful (which she’s not). Has he forgiven her? Yes. Do I forgive her? Meh. I suppose so. But I will in no way excuse anything she did. I will have no problem calling her BS as I see it and I think she should lose her LMFT license.

  3. Bravo! Most people do not fully comprehend repentance. It is saying you are sorry, and the repeating that daily….with your actions. In other words, you stop. You stop the offending behavior (in this case adultery) because you care enough, you meant you were sorry. YOU stop. You change. And with really serious things like adultery … It is going to take time, perseverance and patience on the part of the person repenting. Most folks who commit adultery … For the same selfish reason they indulged in the selfishness of adultery in the first place , do not have what it takes to repent. They blew up the bridge. They need to fix it. They need to do the heavy lifting. What most adulterers want under the seal of forgiveness is an approval sticker or sanctification “that in this case” because “we re different” it was okay to violate a covenant, an oath. Most adulterers when seeking forgiveness have absolutely no intention of admitting that they were wrong, let alone changing the offending behavior.

  4. I really like your use of language, and instead of saying “betrayed spouse” or my lingo (chump), you say “faithful spouse.”

    That is brilliant. Instead of being measured by a deficit or a crime against us (we were betrayed, we were chumped, we’re victims) — it leads with a descriptive truth — we were FAITHFUL. And our faithfulness stands in contrast to the cheaters’.

    Simple, but effective. I like it.

    1. Wish I could take full credit for it. But it wasn’t as conscious a decision on my part. I just like it better than the more forensic “innocent spouse” or “innocent party.” I think those labels have too much baggage. Occasionally, I will call the faithful spouse the “wronged spouse” as I do think it is helpful to keep in mind pastorally that the situation and the faithful spouse specifically require justice. A wrong needs to be righted in a justice sense. (Obviously, though, the adultery and lies can never be undone.)

      But thanks for noticing! I think it is helpful for us to keep such language in mind in making character hip again as you suggested with Dr. Simon. Faithfulness (or loyalty) are virtues worth having in ourselves and in our friends. Plus, it subverts the cheater narrative and lie that the faithful spouse is worthless. No, they are the ones with character. They were faithful. Many decent people still value that even if the cheater did and does not.

  5. Fully agree with all of the above and also like “faithful spouse”. Will change that in my blogging. Thanks a lot….Pastor David and Chumplady!

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