With the release of the Ashley Madison list of adulterers recently, much of my counseling has turned towards the aftermath of adultery. People on the list are scared, angry, and surprisingly, many of them have shared with me an overwhelming sense of . . . betrayal.
After all, they trusted their adulterous partners to conceal their sin from their families and loved ones. Now, with the lists being perused daily around the world, anonymity is forever lost and only the devastation remains.
“I trusted the Ashley Madison site, I have used it for years and never had a single problem,” my client shifted in her seat before she fumed. “Now, one of the men I have seen, only a couple of times mind you, saw his name on the Mississippi list and immediately confessed to his wife.”
“You seem angry about his confession?” I replied.
“He told her everything, every detail about every romantic encounter he had, including me! He had no right to bring my name up to her. I never even thought about that guy after the last time we met. He was nothing special, definitely nothing to brag about in bed, so why did he have to betray me to his wife?”
“Yes, she looked me up on Facebook and messaged my husband. She threatened to contact my employer. If she does I will lose my job. That woman could ruin my life!”
I offered. “Have you considered your lover may have confessed to his wife in order to repent of his sin and try to save his marriage?”
“Lover? Please—he was stupid. I used a fake name and an address of a friend who helped me get the credit card. IF that woman had minded her own business—my husband would never have found out!”
For those of you who have just discovered your spouse has committed adultery. I have outlined below a few steps to help you along the way.
Step One: Don’t stand in the way of God.
I have witnessed in my counseling practice so many times in the past that a spouse who helps to conceal the adultery often does so at the sacrifice of their own spiritual healing. I have also seen a pattern of repeat offenses when the adultery is simply “swept under the rug.”
Do not sacrifice your self-worth in Jesus Christ on an altar of lust and deceit by helping your spouse cover their tracks for some noble sounding, albeit unrelated reason such as; protecting the family, protecting their job, protecting their good name in the church, etc.
If your spouse committed adultery and they are discovered at work, in the church, in the community or among extended family members, please remember. Do not stand in the way of the natural consequences of God. Allow natural consequences to take their course.
Many times, I have heard adulterers say something like, “I never stopped cheating because I knew my wife/husband would never make me leave or tell anyone. They need me to keep my job, ministry, good name, etc., as much as I do.”
If you want to stop the cycle of adultery, then don’t try to hide it!
Step Two: Guard Your Heart
Do not seek to discover every possible detail related to your spouses’ adultery. Run to Jesus and do your best to calm your spirit. “Let everything be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).You have every right to know and insist on hearing the truth. Only you can decided how much detail you need at this critical time in the relationship.
However, in an effort to help protect your heart. I sincerely believe the fewer details you know on the front end the better off you are. There are many books out there that say you should explore every detail to get the entire, miserable story and perhaps in time this can be done. But I have found the more detail that is demanded at the time the adultery is discovered, the less likely a marriage counselor can help to save the marriage later on if you choose to do so.
In other words, protect your heart. At this moment you are weak, vulnerable, and angry. Now is not the time to ask question like; what kind of lingerie did she wear, is he better sexually than me, what hotel did you use or did you do things sexually you have never done with me?
Consider this before asking the adulterer for more details. “Will the answer to this question help me begin the healing process or will it increase my anger and drive me further away from my spouse?” If it isn’t going to help you today, then please wait. Instead, write all your questions in a journal and save them to discuss with a trusted pastor or counselor later on. The very act of writing in this journal can be therapeutic for you.
Step Three: Time is on your side . . . so slow down
Make no permanent decisions in the midst of this crisis or at the time of the discovery. Please understand, if divorce is an option today, then it will still be an option in the near future, right? Give yourself, and God, time to comfort your heart and to enable wise, Christ-centered decisions later on.
Now is not the time for you to make a “list of demands” in order to forgive and move the marriage forward. Honestly, now is also not the time to be talking of reconciliation or even forgiveness at all. Do not say to the adulterer “I forgive you” because at this moment it is simply not true. Besides, a false sense of forgiveness will insulate the adulterer from the consequences of their betrayal. Again, give yourself time to pray, think, and clam your spirit.
If you can’t stand to remain in their presence another minute and divorce seems like the only alternative, please consider this instead. You can ask for a separation if you need time and distance to think, but demand full accountability. Know where they are and insist they stay with someone you trust. Know who they are talking too and accept nothing less than full disclosure of all media devices and technology. If the adulterer is not willing to do this, they may be still hiding the full truth from you or they are unwilling to reconcile.
Now is the time to contact a Godly friend, but remember. Only talk to people who talk to God and only talk to people who have a proven history of discretion and confidentiality. You are not protecting the adulterer, you are protecting yourself, your children, and your mental health.
Do not post your crisis on social media in any form! This is so devastating and you will create a drama that will do nothing but harm you and your family. Within almost two decades of counseling, I have witnessed so much damage done to a marriage in the aftermath of adultery by people confiding in the wrong person. If someone is encouraging you to divorce, punish or act in any way contrary to the word of God then stop confiding in them.
Beware of anyone who offers you counsel from a bitter spirit and a wounded heart!
Step Five: Seek Godly Counseling.
Arrange a time to meet with a Godly pastor, counselor, mentor, etc. to help you reason out the full extent of this hurt and begin to allow your heart to consider what the immediate future holds for you, your marriage, and your family.
I have never counseled a couple to seek a divorce, I do not believe God’s word gives me that right as a Christian counselor. I have seen many couples who perhaps should never have been married, but it is not my right to instruct the dissolution of a Christian marriage covenant.
There are many Biblical examples of adultery being a “cause for divorce,” but even in adultery, it is not a demand to divorce. For example, in the Gospel of John the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman give us a clear picture of the heart of God as it relates to adultery.
‘But early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so Jesus stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then Jesus stooped down again and wrote in the dust.When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman,
“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
When Jesus told the adulterous woman to, “Go and sin no more.” Where did he send her? I believe with all my heart he sent the woman back home to her husband and family. You see, she had a husband and perhaps even children who watched her forcibly taken through the streets by the angry mob.
Her family knew the punishment for adultery was death by stoning. The guilt of adultery, the shame on the family within the community, and now the death of a loved one at the hands of a vengeful mob, led by the temple priests. Little did they know how everyone’s life would change that day by an encounter with Jesus Christ.
I can only imagine how the grieving family felt when they saw her return. I like to believe the conversation could have gone something like this.
“Woman, why have you returned?” Her angry husband shouted from the doorway of their home, anxiously glancing around for the angry mob that only hours ago stormed through the village.
With tears flowing down her cheeks, she whispers. “Husband, I was set free.”
“Where are the priests? Where are our neighbors? Does not the law of Moses demand your death by stoning?!”
“Never sinned?” His countenance softened and his pulse slowed as he thought. Never sinned? How could Jesus say that only a sinless man could cast the first stone? Looking deep into his wife’s eyes, he saw something changed, something unique. The kind of change that can only be found at the feet of Jesus.
Her children raced around their father and hugged her as the oldest daughter asked. “Mother, are you not to be punished for your sin?”
“Jesus has forgiving me,” the adulteress collapsed in grief and humiliation. “Now, I beg you my husband and my family, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, please forgive me.” Hugging her children, she declared. “God has set me free and as God as my witness I will obey the command of our Lord.”
“What did the Lord command of you?” her oldest son asked.
“Go and sin no more.”
Confused, the husband replied. “How can you, how can any of us live a sinless life?”
“Only in Jesus, husband,” she smiled. “Only in Jesus can we be forgiven for our sins.”
Can every marriage be saved? No, of course not. Should every marriage be saved, perhaps not? If the adulterer will not repent or if the spouse is unable to continue in the aftermath of adultery, then the marriage may not be salvageable.
Should you try to save the marriage? In my opinion, yes. You can start by asking yourself is my faith in God, is my love for my family and the love I once felt for my spouse enough to try to save this marriage? Seek help in this crisis, and give yourself time to heal.
David R. Donaldson, Ph.D.
Marriage & Family Counselor