Forsaking all others

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. – Genesis 2:24, KJV


In my fear of being labelled “controlling,” I had a difficult time while my marriage was imploding recognizing healthy jealousy and boundaries. And I suspect I am not alone in experiencing such difficulty.

Today, I am writing about “commonsense” boundaries that wasn’t so common to me while I was in the thick of my first marriage mess.

WARNING: Setting healthy boundaries may make your spouse/ex angry!

That is why it is important to know the truth. It helps you fight the lie that having a healthy boundary is “controlling.”

In many traditional wedding ceremonies, the couple is asked individually whether they will “forsake all others” in a statement of intent. This statement is a call to leave all other mates. It is also reminiscent of the Biblical mandate to leave father and mother as well.

Leaving all others–family included–outside the marital relationship is very important for the marriage union.

This is a healthy boundary.

This means no “work husbands” or “work wives.” This means no “dates” with the opposite sex in the romantic or sometimes even social sense. This means no cultivating “Plan B,” “Plan C,” “Plan D,” etc. as far as potential relationship alternatives to one’s spouse.

“Forsaking all others” also means you are committed to listening to spouse’s feelings regarding your “friendships” with the opposite sex. 

If a spouse has voilated the “forsaking all others” with a particular relationship–whether emotionally or physically–it is a healthy boundary for the marriage to end that relationship completely. That is not controlling. It is a matter of valuing and protecting the marriage relationship over a relationship that already went inappropriate.

If a cheating spouse demands to stay friends afterwards with the OM/OW, such a demand says the cheater has contempt for the faithful spouse and values this other relationship over the marriage. In other words, I would consider it a matter of unrepentance on the cheater’s part to make such an insistence. This is certainly not an act towards rebuilding trust in the violated marriage.

If your spouse does not feel right about your relationship with another man/woman, it is wise to listen to your spouse. This one is tricky. For me, I did not want to be viewed as controlling, and this one can become controlling if abused–i.e. “You are not allowed to have any friends.” The point is not to eliminate all friendships–of course–that is controlling. The idea is to express awareness of potential marriage threats. It is possible your spouse is unaware of the danger. That said, if a spouse shares their honest misgivings about an opposite sex relationship, the appropriate response is to listen empathetically. By sharing those misgivings, a spouse is saying they really value the marriage and feel like it is threatened.

If a spouse responds to your misgivings regarding a relationship with “You’re not the boss of me!”, then your intuition probably struck too close for their comfort–i.e. cheating is likely happening either full-blown or in their heart. I had one of these moments following a marriage counseling session with my now, ex-wife. She likely was not cheating with the individual about whom I expressed my misgivings–namely, I felt uncomfortable with her replacing me with this other man as her date at a social event. That said, she was already involved to some extent with her later admitted, adultery partner. It was a healthy boundary for me to share my misgivings. That was not controlling but a valuing of the marriage bond. Her response ought to have clued me into realizing the ship named “Infidelity” had long sailed.

In conclusion, much of what I have written may come across as commonsense. But it is hard to hold onto this “commonsense” in the midst of infidelity discovery and accusations being hurled to keep the faithful spouse off the cheating scent. A reasonable spouse does not accept a third-party in the marriage relationship–either sexually or emotionally. Such relationships need to be excluded permanently for the health and safety of the marriage. If a cheating spouse views that as “controlling,” then they clearly did not understand what “forsaking all others” really meant when they promised it.


20 thoughts on “Forsaking all others”

  1. An interesting twist to add to what you are saying. In my faux marriage, my ex had an enmeshed, emotional incest thing going on with his grown daughter. I should have heeded the red flag early on in our relationship, before marriage. He did not forsake all others by betraying me when talking to her, talking behind my back, etc. Really sick. But now I am coming to see, with the help of this post, that there WAS infedility going on in my marriage, although most people would not consider what I just described as infedility. Try being on the receiving end of it. Feels like infedility to me. Of course, him being a narcissistic abuser, there were many other things wrong in the relationship. But I did want to point this out. Thank you for clarifying.

  2. Excellent description of boundaries. In my Divorce Recovery group we are studying the book “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend and it is an excellent resource to understand boundaries better in a biblical way. I highly recommend it.

    I wanted to share my STBXH’s response to me setting boundaries because it is different than the responses you mentioned. I noticed that he and his Sunday School teaching partner were texting a lot and spending too much time together on a mutual hobby. I very seriously told my husband I did not like it and I wanted it to stop. I asked him to limit his time with her to teaching only, no texting, no other time spent together, no talking on the phone, and I wanted him to unfriend her on Facebook. He seemed empathetic, said he would never want to hurt me and agreed to all of my boundaries. Only problem is, he never acted on those boundaries, he kept doing everything thing I asked him not to do, he just hid it and the next thing I know he is leaving our family and I find he is staying the night at her condo. I’m fairly sure their relationship is over (I hired a P.I.) but it did irreparable damage to our marriage because he was never repentant for it. If I ever marry again, boundaries will be vital to me for a successful relationship.

    1. BHB,

      Glad you have such support and that your group is using a classic, BOUNDARIES. As to the other response, that falls under look at actions over words. Sadly, we have to do that a lot as infidelity survivors. We’ve already discovered the words of their marriage vows meant so little to them.

      Hugs and blessings,

  3. Interesting how the cheating “Christian” spouse is so hard-hearted and confounded in his/her thinking. My ex-husband, when asked during our marriage counseling to express the qualities about me that displeased him, replied, “My wife (of 27 years) is jealous of my other women. But my other women are all high class. What’s her problem?” He had come home from extended business trips on two occasions wearing unfamiliar wedding bands. “Apparently,” two other women were heavily involved with him.

    Later, I learned that his infidelity ranged across the world and across social media. He had a multitude of “matches,” hundreds of Facebook “friends” and clandestine “interactions” every week. (He was keeping a third email account through his workplace and using business funds to pay for his infidelity.)

    Years later, his apology consisted of two sentences: “I should have worked harder on our marriage. Will you pay my rent?”

    These days he’s attending a large, popular church in Houston and claiming to be a considerate, evangelical Christian. I thank the LORD for the option of divorce and HIS gracious provision for me through that battlefield.

    I also have a piece of advice for my single friends: Don’t involve yourself with another man or woman who claims to be single without searching out the facts!

    1. Pam,

      I hope that MC called him on having Other Women at all! And if he/she didn’t, I hope you didn’t go back for more cheater-ennabling sessions. And I am glad you found the mercy of divorce from this deeply, morally flawed man. Yikes!

  4. I was a pastor’s wife and I am convinced that my own non-jealous nature combined with the taking nature of the church led to a complete lack of boundaries in this regard. I sometimes wonder, if I had ever really stood up for myself would he have strayed? But the church trained me so well to give. That the needs of those we served mattered more than my needs or those of my children. And, to be fair, those of my husband. But I had no boundaries by the time he actually strayed. And I hold the church in part responsible for that. The message I was given the few times I spoke up for myself and my family was that we were there to serve and that was just how it was. We didn’t matter, really. Pastor’s wives are at once on display and also invisble. Put up and shut up, basically. So I did. Because we worked for God, you know, and He would make it come out good in the end. And my H did as well. Except after a while he ended up doing young women who he was “helping”. Oh he feels so bad now. Of course. Because he lost everything and we are all he has left. Having healthy boundaries is a major focus of mine going forward.

    1. WUP,

      Your husband did not “stray.” He CHOSE to repeatedly violate your marriage by defying God’s commands. Please, don’t beat yourself up over his sins. He’s answerable for them, not you.

      As to standing up earlier, I hope you find that you can forgive yourself. I, too, wished I had found my backbone sooner. But I am not going to beat myself up over my ex’s sinful choices. Not my responsibility. She–and your husband–knew enough that they knew their choices were immoral. Whether or not we stood up is not the issue. Their lack of character is.

      Hugs and blessings,

      PS By the way, him “doing young women who he was ‘helping'” is a professional ethics violation. It is abuse of the pastor’s office, which just adds to the point that this is on him. In my seminary training, we would call that “ministerial sexual abuse.” Very bad stuff.

  5. Great topic for a post DM. I am so sick of being called controlling by my unfaithful wife. I’ve heard it all – you’re not the boss of me, I have a right to a part of my life that doesn’t include you, I’m sick of your f’ing rules. All were very painful, used it to gaslight, demoralize, defend and even justify infidelity.

    I could never understand it. It seemed so clear to me, that no old high school friend or prior work acquaintance is worth it. If my wife expressed concern, which she did at times, I distanced or removed them. No questions or problem. For her though, she fought every request tooth and nail – even after discovering infidelity.

    Warning to others – this is a very clear sign as you say, that the commitment has vanished and they are cheating in their heart if not in the flesh.

    1. Untold,

      Being in that place is no fun. Glad you were able to see it as it was in the end. Such behavior certainly says something about what they treasure–i.e. the other relationship–and what they do not–i.e. the marriage. It is unfathonable for people like ourselves because the choice is an obvious one for anyone who values their marriage.

  6. Great topic!

    “If a cheating spouse demands to stay friends afterwards with the OM/OW, such a demand says the cheater has contempt for the faithful spouse and values this other relationship over the marriage. In other words, I would consider it a matter of unrepentance on the cheater’s part to make such an insistence. This is certainly not an act towards rebuilding trust in the violated marriage.”

    This is so key. The first time we went to therapy he would never say he would stop speaking to his “work wife”/OW. Clearly an early sign.

    Even now that we are divorced, he can not comprehend my disapproval of him having our son hang out with OW and her kids, but they are “just friends”.

    He fails to see it as an act of utter disrespect to me. He stays “friends” with the woman he left his family for although now they are “just friends” and fails to see how it could emotional affect my son and even her children later in life. I see it at complete selfishness on both their parts.

    1. Agreed, Moxie, it is VERY selfish on both of their parts! But it does tell you a lot about his mindset that he cannot comprehend how the relationship might be troubling to the kids considering it’s what destroyed their home. Very sickening and sad.

  7. To some degree, my wife had an emotional affair. She said it was one-sided, but never told me who it was. I think I know, and am certain it wouldn’t have been mutual if I’m right. It has all been quite minimized. My sins, real and imaginary however, are proof that I am controlling and a bad, ungodly husband.

    Anyway, the thing that really got to me over our many years, is that she was never willing to truly give up her family. She led me to believe that she was interested sexually, and that she would have no problem with leaving her controlling, manipulative family. They are very broken and dysfunctional. But, after she had a husband that she could use (or blame) when she didn’t want to go along with her parents, she then needed a way to never have to honor or listen to me. Her family, and anyone who thinks poorly of me, really, only reinforces her opinion that I don’t merit her lohalty, devotion or affection.

    The amazing thing to me is just how much the church has fought me. They see the depression and call it “false humility”. Some have even told me (books and counseling) that we don’t really *need* love, it’s just a strong desire. I’ve been told to forgive automatically, and that only God can ask for repentance. What is a rebuke if not a request to repent? I have told elders about the long-standing problems and complete emotional abandonment, and nothing was done. My wife helped them infer that I was possibly cheating, and that I might hurt her. Their response was to essentially get all the men in the church in one room where they “ambushed” me and refused to accept anything I said. If I’d been a good husband, my obviously saintly martyr of a wife would obiously submit lovingly.

    I don’t see a way that won’t end up badly. I just keep asking God for help and protection.

  8. I am having a really hard time. My wife found her biological family two months ago. Most of them she has developed a normal relationship with. But one ‘brother’ she took to texting 24/7. Sharing favorite everything’s and quickly becoming her ‘twin’ wandering off alone together at family get togethers. Driving three hours each way just to hang out with him and leaving me and the kids at home. He went on a bender and she spent the day crying and bemoaning him not texting her. Like seriously sad. I feel completely cheated on and replaced. I mentioned it. She fought with me about how she just wants to be close to her family and I won’t let her (which isn’t true, she has an adopted family with normal adult relationships and friendships that I never stop her from hanging out with or whatever) I have no idea how to set a limit without it being a fight.

  9. I didn’t realize I was doing something bad. I used to text my Pastor constantly. Little cute emoticons and just talking about our families, his kids, etc. I had no idea that it was really “cheating” My husband didn’t like it, his wife didn’t like it – I didn’t know.

    1. The big question is what was done after both made it clear that they “didn’t like it.” Also, it is on the pastor for not setting the boundary with you as a congregant earlier as he considered the contact inappropriate. I don’t know enough about the situation to render an opinion either way.

  10. If you’ve exhausted every effort to reconcile a dead marriage, bc the other spouse has been controlling, oppressive, emotionally abusive, critical and mean-spirited, not to mention manipulative and fake fassad outside the home for 11 yrs…but still to no avail bc the other spouse has not been willing to admit any wrong, and gets defensive at the mention of it…advice!?

    1. Sounds like the next step would be to confront with a third party who understands the situation. That might mean a godly, wise church elder, a pastor who understands domestic abuse situations, and/or a marriage therapist. It should be someone who is not a family member. And it should be someone your husband respects, if possible. That is what I would suggest. And I’d make sure you have a safety plan in place prior to the confrontation in case his abuse escalates to physical violence.

  11. My son’s wife of five years just revealed her polyamorous status for the first time and after they had a daughter. Claims she has always been of this persuasion. But had never told him before. He has been extremely distressed and she has insisted that he too is polyamorous and has worked on him coming to terms with their new ‘marital reality’. She has him brainwashed in my opinion. How can a father support his son in this situation? His mother, my ex, abandoned him aged 6, my daughter aged 9 and me 25+ years ago. Son’s wife knows all that history and is abandoning him all over again.

    1. How awful! If she always was “polyamorous,” then why did she vow and agree to enter a monogamous marriage?

      My point is that you all have legitimate reasons to be upset with her. If she knew this about herself, then she should have been up front about it and not kept it secret from your son. Her believing this about herself does not change the fact that she lied by breaking her marriage vows to him regarding forsaking all others.

      The difficult truth is that she does not seem one bit sorry about lying to him and putting his well-being at risk. Coming to terms with that “new ‘marital reality'” is highly unwise unless that coming to terms means ending the marriage and getting distance away from her. Her trying to get him into the “polyamorous” lifestyle just strikes me as her trying to feel less guilty. Cheaters do this.

      What is a father to do? Be a good friend. Listen. And be willing to share the blunt truth if invited by your son. Do not let him blame himself for being victimized by her. He and his family history is in no way responsible for being victimized by her!

      Also, just because he has such a family history does not mean he deserves to be lied to and forced to accept a risky (sinful) lifestyle that he did not agree to from the start. Good, monogamous women exist who actually honor their word and do not put their husbands at risk of contracting STDs from their clandestine polyamorous rendezvouses.

      All of that is not going to change the fact that this is a heart-breaking situation. Sorry that I do not have a solution where you can protect your son and granddaughter from this awful pain. Just remember that you are not to blame for this either, and you are not alone.

      Blessings and a bear hug,

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