Temptation To Treat Affairs As Symptoms

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6, NIV

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Even with good books addressing infidelity in the counseling world, I am disturbed by a trend that treats emotional affairs and/or physical affairs as symptoms of a bad marriage relationship as opposed to sin. I have read many pages where the author talks about delving into “what is missing” in the relationship as if that causes the infidelity as opposed to the actual choice to sin and the underlying character flaw in the cheater that made that an acceptable choice.

What further floors me is how often pastors or Christian leaders get this part wrong. Was it a relationship deficiency that caused the first humans to choose sin? No.

It was a flaw in the first humans’ character that caused sin. They wanted to be like God. And they liked how the fruit looked.

Choosing infidelity is never an acceptable choice for someone who claims Jesus as Lord. I do not care how difficult the marriage relationship. No excuse exists that makes adultery or having an emotional affair acceptable. At least, that is how I read the Bible.

The only one who can prevent future infidelities is the person who choose to cheat in the first place or not. Spending time in the counseling office after infidelity–whether emotional or physical–focusing on “marital deficiencies” can easily send the message to the cheater that he or she is ultimately not responsible for his or her infidelity. It was the faithful spouse’s failures in the marriage that caused the infidelity. That’s a damnable lie.

A strong message must be sent that working on relational skills and issues in the marriage has nothing to do with the decision to commit adultery or have an emotional affair. Such a decision is a sin and always unacceptable for a follower of Christ. Always.

Working on the relationship issues is about making the marriage a more pleasant and God-honoring place for both spouses. It is helping both spouses mature. This has nothing ultimately to do with the cause of infidelity because sin is born of the heart of the sinner, not outside circumstances or environment. That includes the environment of the marital relationship.

I think the temptation to analyze the marriage relationship for deficiencies is especially strong when an admitted emotional affair has taken place. The fuzzy nature of defining an emotional affair and thereby seeing it as sin makes this error easier to commit. I saw this error in action with some awful, Christian counselors in my own personal experience.

Clarity is needed here:

Is it sin? Where does sin come from? How does God instruct us to deal with sin? Is it true repentance if the sinner is blaming the person he or she sinned against even subtly? Are we really helping this couple pastorally if we give them the impression that the state of the marriage caused the infidelity as opposed to the spouse that chose it?

Pastors of all people ought to treat sin as sin and counsel accordingly. 

10 thoughts on “Temptation To Treat Affairs As Symptoms”

  1. I fully agree with you DM. I would also put it to pastors and elders that when a faithful spouse shares concerns with you that there is an issue in their marriage, listen to them, I mean really listen. I remember sharing with my eldership about concerns in my marriage and the emotional distance I felt from my then husband. Their advise was to look at what I could change in me and, that my husband and I should make sure we have a regular date night. My husband saw this as my needing to change because he acknowledged no issues in our marriage so if I was raising them then clearly the issue was me. And as for date night? Well I later discovered that my now XH was having date night just not with me.
    I personally think my pastors and church elders Like many others care more about damage control than addressing real issues. Because they don’t want to be seen as being mean to the adulterous spouse they apply the additional labels and justifications to minimis the truth. This ultimately is on them.

    DM you are spot on when you say that if someone is truly in Christ there is no justification for choosing adultery. As a faithful spouse this is sometimes difficult to get your head around, especially when there is contradictions to this being spoken over your life by those who hold positions of authority in your church.
    But I trust that God will hold these people to account for their action.

    1. It is my hope, Thankful, that the tide is turning in leadership. I am writing this blog and the future book–God-willing–to fight that battle in ending such naive and hurtful thinking. The word does need to get out…plenty of hurting sheep who don’t need another beating from the undershepherds.

  2. Excellent DM. As I’d posted previously, in counseling, my (then) pastor told my ex and I that as The Head, the responsibility of the marriage and the emotional state of my wife, was on me. I was the one put on probation, which gave her justification, entitlement, and a sense she had no responsibility to do anything to correct what was wrong. When I went to him individually about the affair, he didn’t blame me for that, but he back peddled like an NFL cornerback, reminding me how she didn’t really want counseling in the first place. I advised him his services were no longer needed, and submitted a letter of resignation from the diaconate, and left that ministry.

    1. Deacon B,
      I am equally saddened and angered by your post. That a pastor can act in such a way and consider themselves to be in alignment with Christ is heart breaking.
      My pastor never came out with what you received but peddled an equally horrific piece of BS. A month after my husband confessed to 8 years of adultery with multiple partners and I put him out of our family home our youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. My then pastor stated that my daughters illness was due to my then husband leaving his family spiritual uncovered. This was later reiterated to a fellow church goer who emailed the pastor with heart felt lament over my daughters illness. Which I was copied in on.
      I don’t know why it was my child who got cancer but what I do know is that through it I have seen many people for who they really are and that God honours the faithful.

      I am glad your broke ranks with these distorted people. My you be greatly blessed in the years to come.

      1. Thanks, Thankful. Blessings to you and your family as well, and especially your daughters healing, in Jesus’ Name….

    2. Deacon B,

      Yeah, I hate that abuse of Ephesians 5 about the Headship piece. We cannot control another person’s feelings or choices. Plus, we are answering for our own actions in the body and not someone else’s on Judgement Day (2 Cor 5:10). This ridiculous counsel that seems too common. Glad you left. Hope you found another church home that was more supportive!


  3. Thank you for all your articles DM. They keep me from falling back into the shared responsibility lie. My ex husband blamed me in a hateful way for his adultery. Even to this day, he doesn’t see his “friendship” with the woman as wrong or what it was an “emotional affair.” He says only the sex was wrong. So he continued the emotional affair. He still has no compassion for my feelings over it all. And now that his “friend” has broken things off with him, he blames her too. I do feel responsible for things I did wrong in the marriage. I’m not going to say that I was the perfect wife. He said I was critical and focused on negative things too much. I just know that no matter how miserable I might be in a marriage, I could not betray my spouse and God by cheating. I don’t know why I still love him after everything he’s said and done. Maybe it’s the man he used to be that I still love.

    1. Jessica,

      Because we are all sinners, there is sin in every marriage both in wife and husband. But that does not mean every marriage will be ravaged by adultery or infidelity. The unfaithful spouse choose that option and is fully responsible for such choices. You are not responsible for his adultery or ongoing inappropriate relationship (EA). It is a pretty low threshold to give up an adultery partner after discovery. His refusal does not strike me as repentant behavior. And do not be too hard on yourself loving him or the image of him you have. That is part of the grieving process as well. I write about those conflicted feelings in talking about King Saul (here: http://www.divorceminister.com/what-then-is-this-bleating-i-hear/). Keep your head up! You were faithful. And you are not at all responsible for his choices to sin regardless of what sin you brought into the marriage. It did not cause his sin. He chose it. And he will answer for it.


  4. Wow. I needed this. My husband is in an affair and claims that it’s as much my fault as his because of the state of our marriage. He claims I’m equally at fault. He ignores the pain he’s causing because in his mind the pain of coming back to me and our 3 young daughters is worse.
    I found your site a few months back and have appreciated your posts. Thank you.

    1. Most welcome, shannon! My heart goes out to you and your daughters. You are NOT at all responsible for his choice to cheat on you (and the kids)!

      Hugs and prayers,

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