He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:11-13, ESV
It is as old as the Garden of Eden. The blame shift. Perhaps if God sees how bad this other person is then He won’t be angry with me for what I did?! Look over there, God!
God did not take the bait. Both Adam and Eve suffered the consequences for their sin. God did not fall for their blame-shifting ploy.
For anyone who has survived adultery and/or divorce can likely attest, the task of constructing a narrative of “what went wrong” is a common one. Adultery has shredded and exploded the old narrative of life for the faithful spouse just as if the cheater had ignited dynamite in the faithful spouse’s heart.
If you are like me, you are left wondering when the lies began and how many partners your spouse actually had while she was still married to you. It is just one of the many traumatic aspects of discovering your (former) spouse’s adultery.
I had to do this in front of brother pastors to retain my minister’s license. So, I not only had to deal with the sudden and traumatic loss of safety, trust, and my spouse, but I had to defend my calling and career to strangers who were painfully ill-equipped–as I discovered–to deal with situations like mine in a healthy manner.
Basic pastoral training teaches pastors to hear “both sides of the story” before making a judgment in providing pastoral counsel. Unfortunately, many do not take (or miss) the advance sessions on caring for victims of adultery. These pastors do not pay enough attention to the dynamics present in the Garden of Eden. They fail to grasp a guilty conscience–like Adam’s–often shifts blame onto another when confronted. As we say in my line of work, the unfaithful spouse is not a “reliable reporter.”
If someone is an adulterer/aduleress, it ought to go without saying that he or she is also a liar. It is impossible to commit adultery without lying. So, to hear their side of the story after learning of their adulterous actions is to invite them to lie to you. This is not good for either the faithful spouse nor the soul of the cheater.
The only Biblical step to take once adultery is known and confirmed is a call to full repentance on the unfaithful spouse’s part.
As the renown secular infidelity researcher, Dr. Shiley P. Glass, Ph.D. writes in her book on infidelity entitled, Not “Just Friends,”
Just as justifications and feelings of entitlement pave the road to infidelity, moral values and commitment to fidelity are the barriers on the highway to extramarital involvement (255).
A call to repentance reinforces the high value God places on honoring marriage and His crystal clear stance against adultery (e.g. Matthew 5:27-32, Hebrews 13:4, and Deuteronomy 5:18). It reminds the cheater that he or she has a choice in this matter. They can now choose to turn from their sin or continue to violate the marriage and God’s call to righteousness. In other words, a pastor can call the cheater to recommit to godliness by calling the cheater to repentance.
In my opinion–born from personal experience and extensive reading of infidelity literature–a failure to address full repentance from adultery pastorally only invites the unfaithful spouse to justify or excuse their sins. Also, it encourages further damaging of the faithful spouse who becomes the lightning rod for the unfaithful spouse’s guilt and attempt to off-load it.
This helps no one spiritually or emotionally.
It is best to follow God’s example in the Garden of Eden:
Ignore the blame-shifting.
Note the actions and deal with them accordingly.