Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. – Hebrews 13:4, NIV
Today, I am going to share on one of my pet-peeves. Treating adultery as if it is a private issue between only the faithful spouse and his/her cheater. It is not. Just as a marriage is not a private arrangement, but one constituted before God and the public. The violent ravishing of a marriage covenant has MAJOR social implications as well. An A-bomb just got detonated, and the destructive shock waves continue to reverberate through the social connections of the couple for years and years to come.
As the writer of Hebrews makes clear to the congregation (to whom this letter would have been read out loud), marriage is to be honored by ALL. Notice he did not just address husbands and wives. He addresses ALL. My speculation on the reasoning behind such an address is an acknowledgement that everyone has a stake in maintaining healthy marriages. Adultery does not just hurt the faithful spouse; it hurts the whole church family including both spiritual and natural family members. God is firmly against adultery for good reason!
Personally, I know I came out of my first marriage mercifully after six years and no known children (i.e. I have reason to suspect hidden miscarriages). However, my rather tame trauma experience still bears out this spiritual truth about adultery effecting the whole social system.
For me, I think of my family and true friends when I think of those impacted by my former spouse’s sins against me. I think of my mother and her worrying whether or not I would take my life when I was at my lowest. (By the way, I attribute my relationship with Jesus as getting me through that particularly dark valley.) I think of my father who told me the discovery of adultery and my ex divorcing me was harder on him than the death of his own mother, my grandmother. Also, I think of a dear, close friend who tried his hardest to keep us together but became disillusioned when he saw my ex–by her actions–preferred adultery and lies over her marriage and truth. And those are just a few examples of how such sin impacted my social system. I know many, many more were impacted than those I just mentioned. My current wife being one of them.
So, let’s be clear: Adultery is not a private matter just between husband and wife.
It hurts more than just the faithful spouse.
My heart goes out to the faithful spouses who have children and to the children whose family has just been blown up by adultery. How can such demonstrated contempt towards the faithful spouse not hurt the children? And the line adulterers/adulteresses say about staying for the children, I hate that. If they truly loved their children, they would treat their dad/mom with respect and love. They would not wound them in the most intimately treacherous way known to human relationships.
And here’s a novel thought: how about the cheater begin by repenting to the children as well? They could start by rebuilding what they destroyed through honoring the faithful spouse to the children. How about they own how deeply they wounded their faithful mother/father? How about they repent of how that has hurt the children as well?
Not talking about it is not going to make the hurt go away. It is just going to send a clear signal to the children to be ashamed of their feelings on this matter.* In my profession as a hospice chaplain, we call this disenfranchised grief–i.e. the children are not allowed to grieve the loss of their parents marriage as they were not the ones married. Teaching the unbiblical teaching that adultery is a private matter between husband and wife just reinforces such disenfranchised grief in the children. This needs to stop.
God called the Israelites to “purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22b, NIV). He called adultery evil and treated adultery as an affront to the whole nation.
Maybe we should start listening to Him on this matter as well?
(footnote written by Mrs. DM, MA in Early Childhood Education)
*Children need to be told age appropriately. They know when something is going on. Toddlers don’t have the vocab yet to communicate well but you can still talk to them about it. If you’ve ever seen a toddler in transition from vacation to home or play time to dinner time, you know full well that their challenging behavior goes up a notch when big changes happen. Reinforce messages like “I know you’re mad, I’m mad too. I love you and I am here for you.” Preschoolers have larger vocabularies now AND this is prime time for learning emotions. Teach messages that it’s okay to be angry, sad, upset etc. They’re taking their cue on how to handle emotions from you. Show them it’s okay to cry. If you lose your temper at them then apologize for it. Show them how to apologize.
Preschool years are known for high levels of curiosity and unabashed questions, you’ll never again in development find an equal level of curiosity. They’ll ask what and why and they need explanations. Keep it simple, start by asking them what they already understand. You can fill in the gaps from there. Keep the language focused on actions: “daddy has a girlfriend and it’s not okay to have a girlfriend when you’re married.” “What’s going to happen mommy?” “I don’t know sweetie. But I will never leave you. I love you very much. You can come to me with any questions.” “Did mom leave because of me?” “No dear. Mom left because of mom. You’re my #1, we’re together, we can get through this.” Avoid language that pins one spouse against the other, triangulates the kids or uses them as pawns. Don’t ask for them to keep secrets either. That’s not fair. Kids under age 8 don’t have the capacity yet because Private Speech hasn’t yet developed to enable them to think to themselves.
Same goes with Elementary on up. Find out what they know. Be honest. Keep it simple, focused on actions, avoid name calling. Teach them how to handle their emotions, get open conversation going. They need to know they have a safe place with you. When you have older kids (12+), it’s an insult to their intelligence to keep them in the dark, especially when they’re adults. They can form their own opinions of what they think of the cheating parent.
Regardless of their age, your kids need to grieve their losses as well. Accept the emotions they show you, even if you don’t agree. Respect their process.