Synopsis: Bennett’s dilemma, What most couples are not doing about adultery, Adultery’s bigger definition, Bennett’s relief, Adultery commonality, Three major questions to grapple with, Accepting multiple causation, Changing mindsets, Adultery of the heart, Agony, struggling and no divorce love.
You see most of the people who don’t divorce after adultery are glad they stayed married. Not only that, but most of the people who do divorce because of adultery a year later are not at all sure they did the right thing. Many wish they had stayed and worked on their marriage a lot more than they did. At least that’s what I see in my practice, and there’s also pretty good research that largely backs me up on this. It seems that more and more people don’t think adultery is worth getting a divorce over, even though adultery is usually an enormous, hurt-filled problem”.
As used here, the word adultery means having secret, sexual or powerfully romantic, emotional relations with someone other than your spouse in a way that involves betrayal, lies, deceptions, a lack of self disclosure and honest sharing, usually accompanied by the creation and maintenance of false and incomplete understandings.
Bennett said, “I’m so glad to hear something different than what I have been hearing. I want us to be one of those couples that didn’t let adultery break them up. I am going to go home and ask my wife to come to couple’s counseling, and tell her I am willing to do everything I can to help us get past this issue if she will just give it a try with me.” To make a long story short, he did just that and they came to couples counseling together, and now after some pretty hard work they’re doing great. In fact they both suspect they are probably doing better than they ever would have had they not learned to handle their adultery problem with lots of new and better ways to do healing love, and re-start their love relationship in bigger and better ways.
Are you aware that the majority of marriages in the Western world, and especially in the USA, go through at least one major event involving adultery (cheating, affair, unfaithful, etc.) and most do not divorce over it. Of course, for many couples it is immensely difficult and there is a great deal of agony, struggle and recovery work to do. (See the entries under “Dealing with Love Hurts”). The good news is many couples do the work it takes, and though it is a hard way to get there, their marriage becomes stronger and better than it ever was before.
If you’re facing an issue like the one Bennett was facing here are three hard but important questions to ask yourself. Is your love greater than your hurt? (Great love conquers great hurt!). Is the love you have with your spouse more powerful than what you have been taught to think, feel and do about adultery? (What you have been trained to think, feel and do may defeat love if you let it!). How did you help your spouse go toward adultery? (possibly by demonstrating your love for your mate too poorly, too narrowly, too infrequently, or possibly by behaving with very anti-love actions?). Notice in this last question we have said “help” not cause. Primary causal responsibility rests with the primary actor, but other people and assisting factors are to be considered for a full understanding.
Seldom is it wise to see one spouse as 100% victim and the other as 100% perpetrator when it comes to why someone commits adultery. In couples group therapy Jerry said it quite well when he remarked, “I stopped getting her flowers, writing her love notes, telling her how much she meant to me, taking her where she wanted to go on dates, and in just about every way I no longer showed her the love I felt for her. So, of course, she had an affair. What else could I expect?” Linda said, “I did worse than that. I kept putting my husband down, criticizing him, not acknowledging his achievements, taking him for granted, I didn’t really listen to him and sometimes I purposefully frustrated him about sex, and was way to prudish. I did almost every single thing you call anti-love behavior. The other woman did the opposite of all that, so guess what, he committed adultery with her. I might have done the same thing if I were in his place.”
There are lots of other important question/positions, but I suggest starting with these three: If you’re love can be bigger than your hurt that’s a fairly good indicator that you both may be able to recover together. If you develop your own thoughts and chosen actions beyond what you were taught to do, adultery can be responded to in all sorts of new, different and healthier ways. If you can discover and ‘own up to’ how your actions probably helped adultery happen, and then improve, there’s lots of hope. These questions are not usually easily or quickly answered, and each leads to other questions you may need to struggle with. But they often help people move toward the love healing needed.
People’s mindsets are changing in regard to the magnitude of difficulty having sex outside of marriage represents. Gloria said, “When I found out he had sex with someone he met at work I thought it meant he didn’t love me anymore, and that he wanted to replace me with her. That was devastating and terrifying to me. Eventually I discovered he just wanted to see what sex was like with a woman different than me. That was disturbing but not nearly as horrifying as what I had first thought. Now we are working it through, and I think we’re going to make it”.
I got asked a sort of peculiar question at a weekend retreat workshop I was conducting on love relationships. A participant asked, “Just what is the importance of one penis in one vagina as opposed to multiple penis’s in multiple vaginas”? How would you answer that? Follow up questions in that discussion were, “Do we give too much importance to penises in vaginas or other sex acts”, and “How is it that in some parts of the world people enjoy their spouse having sex with others, while elsewhere others can’t even stand the idea of that happening”. Perhaps those are questions you might do well to ponder. It is true that in some cultures and at various periods in history adultery has had almost no importance at all, while at other times and places it has had enormous significance. There are even societies in which there is no word for adultery in their language, while in others there is a whole vocabulary indicating widespread importance.
If you are struggling with an adultery issue in your life, a great big thing to examine is the influence of your societal, subconscious programming or conditioning concerning the subject of adultery. You see, your feelings and many of your thoughts may have been pre-programmed into you, and in a sense may not even be your own, true, self-derived thoughts and feelings. Likewise, what is your training and your subconscious programming concerning love and loving forgiveness? Do you find yourself more in the “love can conquer all and, therefore, forgive all” category, or are you in the “adultery is marriage’s unforgivable sin” category? Which of those do you really choose to be in and which is the most healthful for you?
Let’s look at ‘background’. There are those who think that in olden times the only real reason adultery became the singular, allowable reason for divorce was because the ancient religious elders who made the rules were sexually insecure, immature and quite possibly sexually inadequate. If that’s true they quite easily were threatened and, thereby, motivated to make big, strong rules protecting themselves. Naturally, to reinforce their defense they said it was God’s will, and they were but the messengers. Others point out that patrilineal societies tend to have much stricter prohibitions and punishments for adultery than do matrilineal societies. Then there are the cultures in which not having sex with guests, visitors and the like, outside of the pair bond is grounds for divorce. Also consider the societal groups in which everyone is expected to be having extra pair bond sex, and those in which a woman having children by different men is held in higher esteem than a woman having children by only one man.
Here in modern times and places there is a growth in finding ‘adultery of the heart’ to be far more grievous than ‘adultery of the body’. Marla said, “Just so long as he doesn’t bring home a disease I don’t care who he does what with, except he better not fall in love with her because that’s totally forbidden in our relationship”. Thomas remarked, “My wife and I can have sex with somebody else but three times is the limit. After that it might get too emotional and neither of us wants that. We love each other tremendously and want each other to have all sorts of pleasures, and at the same time we want to safeguard our love because it’s so precious.” People who think like this in the Western world are a minority, but be not mistaken it’s a growing minority.
There also are a growing number of couples who tell of their love of each other being far more significant than mere sex with others. “Adultery is a forgivable sin if you really love somebody, so that’s what I’ll work at,” said Jonathan who was struggling with this issue in his marriage. “Adultery is just not worth getting a divorce over,” said Sondra who was also battling to save her marriage. “When you have kids getting a divorce because of adultery is just plain selfish and shortsighted. If you really love them and your mate see if you can stick it out and make something better happen,” remarked Brenda whose marriage was coming back together. Charles proclaimed, “We have a great deal of love for each other so we’re not going to let adultery defeat our love, and that’s all there is to it”. So, you can see many couples have a strong “no divorce love”, or at least a no divorce over adultery love relationship, which wins the day for them.
Why explore other times, other cultures and other people’s ways of doing love and sex? Because it is one way we are more likely to make informed choices in our own love relationships instead of reacting out of subconscious programmed determined ways.
You may be finding it hard to wrap your mind around these ideas, and your heart may be aching, and your gut churning, because for most people grappling with adultery issues is one of the hardest things they ever do. Adulterous behavior for many leads to almost unbearable agony, great fear, and a great sickening of the heart. Even so, the message here is take heart. While most couples will face a real-life challenge in this area most will, with love and hard work, get past it and many will end up in a better functioning love relationship than they started with. My bias is the smart, the practical, and the most loving seek out the help of a love knowledgeable, nonjudgmental couple’s therapist and get past the difficulties together with help and insight. With competent couple’s counseling they do this far faster, more thoroughly, and with less pain than they otherwise would have.
Also very important is the fact that by way of counseling they do it with far less destructiveness for all concerned. Even though adultery can be terribly painful to a couple, divorce or breaking up is quite frequently not the best answer. Of course, if there is little true, healthy love, lots of emotional and/or other abuse, repeated lies, betrayal and deception, and an unwillingness to truly work for improvement a couple may be psychologically divorced already. However, adultery’s effects so very often can be overcome by a strong ‘no divorce’ committed love when two people keep working to grow their healthy, real love.
In regard to adultery a ‘no divorce love’ is one that makes an established, shared love more important than relations outside that established shared love, more important than fear, more important than hurt (but not more important than harm), and more important than social pressure and past teachings. It also must be one in which those in the established, shared love are willing and able to mutually work on the improvement of their love relationship giving it extremely high priority in their lives.
It is my sincere hope that these thoughts will be helpful to you and those you share these thoughts with.
As always – Go and Grow with Love