Owners of Ashley Madison, the infamous adultery-facilitating website, bill themselves as being a source of “online personals & [a] dating destination for casual encounters.”
They’re also a site and source of misery and lies. And now, thanks to hackers, millions of their users have had their private sins made public.
During my career as a minister and clinical psychologist, I’ve worked with hundreds of couples grappling with the excruciating pain and heartbreak of infidelity. The reality is there’s nothing new about sexual sin. Those who thought they had discovered a more “sophisticated” and creative way of deceiving their spouse realized that, sooner or later, our sin always finds us out (Num. 32:23).
In fact, in recent years, I have even counseled individuals whose spouses have used Ashley Madison to broker an extramarital affair.
To be sure, Ashley Madison is simply the latest vehicle being used to facilitate sexual liaisons. But while the vehicle may change with the times, the outcome is almost always the same. The person being cheated is oftentimes consumed by feelings of shock, outrage, humiliation, confusion, rejection and betrayal. The trauma is so intense many marriages do not survive.
What causes adultery?
Let’s analyze the anatomy of an affair. What would cause someone to even use Ashley Madison in the first place?
Why do such a significant percentage of married people cheat? And more importantly, what can be done about it?
For most men, adultery is generally about the proverbial thrill and chase of the sexual conquest. So-called one night stands, business trip dalliances and office flings comprise the vast majority of husbands’ unfaithfulness. Men are particularly vulnerable to temptation within the first few years after the birth of a child when marriage dynamics inevitably adjust, leaving many men feeling secondary to their dependent infant.
For most women, adultery is primarily about seeking emotional connectivity and romance; thus they are more likely to engage in emotional affairs. Diminished self-esteem resulting from feeling emotionally neglected, under-prioritized and/or taken for granted by their husband can increase their temptation to look elsewhere to feel special, appealing and desirable.
Marriage therapists hear a common justification for adultery: “I don’t have feelings for my spouse anymore” or “I’m not in love with him/her.” Since we inevitably reap what we sow, I can assure clients if that’s how they feel today, they had quit investing in their marriage yesterday.
The truth is, wise farmers (and spouses) keep seeding, watering and fertilizing to reap a bountiful harvest. Loving feelings are the result of loving actions.
How can we do this?
Plant a kiss on your mate. Again, but much longer. Flirt. Laugh. Plan a fun and romantic date (like you used to!). Play. Take a walk together. Share your heart. Pray together. Rekindle the spark, reignite that old passion. Tend your own garden by regularly cultivating your own relationship.
When we neglect our spouse’s marital needs, we inadvertently make them feel vulnerable and unfulfilled. Yet both spouses are singularly responsible for their own commitment to the marital covenant, which explicitly promises to “forsake all others” and stay unconditionally committed to the other person no matter what.
Adultery is fundamentally about one’s own character and integrity – and that has nothing to do with your marriage partner. Proverbs 6:32 explains that the person who commits adultery lacks judgement and destroys themselves.
As millions of Ashley Madison users have discovered, the temporary adrenaline rush that may accompany an idealized fantasy is not grounded on the secure bedrock of unconditional commitment; thus it is destined to fall on its sandy beach floor whenever the first storm of life passes by. In the secretive, illusionary self-deception of adultery there are no sick kids in the middle of the night, in-law hassles or mortgage stress. Furthermore, both parties intuitively know they can never trust the other person, because both know the other is a covenant breaker. Consequently, the divorce rates for second marriages are significantly higher than for first marriages. Adultery not only doesn’t make sense, it can’t work.
Hope after infidelity
How do we address the broken vow? Many seek divorce, and in some circumstances – especially when the unfaithful partner is unwilling to work on the marriage – there is little choice. However, in many instances opting for divorce is somewhat analogous to amputating a broken limb. A much better alternative to amputating the broken bone is to set the break, cast it and conduct physical therapy.
This is where marriage therapy – which is much less costly in every way than attorneys’ fees – comes in. As orthopedists know, the calcification around a properly set broken bone becomes stronger than the surrounding bone tissue—ultimately making the bone stronger than it was before. This amazing and miraculous illustration of God’s redemptive forgiveness and healing power is true relationally as well. I have seen it many, many times in my own practice.
So don’t believe the lie, succumb to the temptation or be enticed by the counterfeit. Remember: life is short – stay faithful to your spouse!
If your marriage has been rocked by infidelity, please contact us at Focus on the Family. You can also download our free resource, “Four Things to Do When Your Marriage is in Crisis,” created in conjunction with Focus on the Family’s National Institute of Marriage.
We’re here to help you take the first steps to healing.
Dr. Jared Pingleton is the director of counseling services at Focus on the Family. He’s a minister and clinical psychologist, and the author of “Making Magnificent Marriages.”
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