If you suspect your spouse is having an affair or is being emotionally unfaithful, do not despair. An affair does not have to mean the end of your marriage. In fact, consider this:
- Approximately 20% of affairs last less than two months
- Approximately 50% of affairs last more than one month, but less than a year.
- The remaining 30% last more than a year
- Very few last more than four years
- Around 3% result in marriage
There are specific steps you can take if you have reason to believe your spouse may be unfaithful. There is no guarantee your marriage will recover, but these steps will give you the best opportunity to recover after the affair ends. These steps make the assumption that both of you have, at minimum, professed that you’re a Christian.
Step 1) Find out the TRUTH!
Just to be clear, it is very typical for the disloyal spouse to deny they are having an affair, even if you walk in and catch them “in the act.” They jump up and as they’re putting their clothes on they’ll say “It’s not what it looks like!” So this step is not so much to use as proof to make the disloyal spouse confess, so much as it is proof to the loyal spouse that they are not making a mountain out of a molehill…something REALLY IS going on.
One word of caution: accusing someone of a sin is serious business, so be sure keep an open mind and be sure that you pursue discovering THE TRUTH. Make sure you gather proof–evidence–to either prove or disprove that your spouse is cheating. In some states it is illegal to tape someone without their knowledge, so you may want to check your state’s laws on electronic surveillance before you go “high tech.” In general some typical “evidence” could be looking at emails if the disloyal leaves their email open (print them!), looking at receipts and a calendar to see if they were where they said they were, or logging onto your joint cell phone bill online and looking for 2000 minutes to the same phone number.
Adultery is the one exception allowed for divorce. The loyal can morally divorce; the disloyal cannot. At any time between now and step 5, the loyal can morally choose to legally acknowledge that the adultery committed by the disloyal resulted in ending the marriage, and thus morally divorce. From this point forward, we advise that you follow the Matthew 18 model for dealing with sin:
Step 2) Confront one-on-one
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15)
Once the loyal spouse is convinced via evidence that there is an emotional or physical affair, and it’s not just all in their mind, the next step is to go to the disloyal directly and tell them to their face that you know about the affair and have evidence in a safe place that proves it’s real irrefutably. Don’t tell them where it is or what it is necessarily, just make the statement that you know about it. Then state right out loud that in order for the marriage to work there can not be infidelity and ask them point blank to end the affair.
During this step, it is advisable for the loyal spouse to “stand for the family”. This means that marital funds go toward financing the family, not toward paying for the affair. It also means that the marital home is for the family and the children, not for moving the loyal out and moving the affair partner in! There is no reason for the children to leave their home, their bed, their neighborhood, their friends, their school because the disloyal is choosing to abandon their marriage vows!
Ending the affair means that they can never, EVER contact the other person ever again, and they agree to be accountable for their time by sharing passwords to their accounts (facebook, all email accounts, cell phones…etc.). On the occasion there is a disloyal spouse who will fall apart just upon being discovered and who have been looking for a way to get out of it but didn’t know how. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 3.
Step 3) Disclose to one or two witnesses
“But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (Matthew 18:16)
When you have confronted your disloyal spouse about the affair and asked them to end it, and they either refuse to do so or have not done so (maybe they took it more “underground”), the next step is to disclose the affair to one or two respected authorities whom the disloyal is likely to look up to and listen to…someone who is likely to be pro-marriage and tell the disloyal that having an affair is not acceptable…that they should end it and work on the issues in their marriage. This one person is most likely your pastor or minister, but may possibly be one of the disloyal spouse’s parents, a teacher or boss.
Meet with the one or two people in confidence; explain that you need help; and then explain that your spouse is having an affair and give them the facts. If you can, show them the evidence. Then ask the respected person to help you and give you any support they can offer to encourage your disloyal spouse to “come home.” The idea here to keep this to a few specific person who are pro-marriage, wise, and trusted by both of you so that any potential for embarrassment is minimized and so your disloyal has the opportunity to “do the right thing.”
This is the point at which the loyal spouse would start working with the pastor or counselor on examining their own issues, working on examining what went wrong with the marriage and why, and working on any habit they may have that is unhealthy in a relationship.
On the occasion a disloyal spouse will listen to the person they trust and respect, and end the affair. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 4.
Step 4) Expose “to the church”
“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17a)
When someone that your disloyal spouse respects has spoken to them about the affair and encouraged them to end it, but they have hardened their heart and refuse to end it, the next step is to expose the affair “to the church.” Ideally, for a believing couple, this means to take the witnesses and evidence and go to your church’s ruling body–the elders,the presbytery, the consistory, the representative authorities of your church. The church leaders are supposed to be well trained in Scripture and theology and have great wisdom and experience, and thus this step should discover and remedy complaints that are frivolous and groundless. If the church leadership finds that a complaint is frivolous, then they have a responsibility to rebuke the complainant. On the other had, if the church leadership finds that the complaint is true, then they have a responsibility to reprove the unfaithful spouse and act!
In the less ideal situation, if your spouse is not a believer, or if they claimed to be but you are not sure if it was just a claim, go to those who will likely be affected by a potential divorce. The idea behind this exposure is not to drag your disloyal spouse’s name and reputation through the mud (their ACTIONS are doing that!) but rather to refuse to keep the affair a “secret” and to bring the ugly truth of the unfaithfulness to the light of day. In many ways an affair is like an addiction, and in the disloyal’s mind they may be thinking something like, “Oh yes we might be disrupting four people’s lives, but don’t I deserve some happiness too?” What they DON’T realize is that a divorce will not affect four people –it will be a like the ever-widening wake of a nuclear bomb, affecting possibly hundreds of people!
For this step though, there will be a focus to the exposure.The loyal spouse should contact their own family (parents and siblings), the disloyal’s parents and siblings, the loyal spouse’s employer, the disloyal spouse’s employer, and the other person’s spouse and inform them that the disloyal spouse is having an affair, that it is serious, that the marriage is in trouble, and ask for help. The focus and main concern here is to contact those who may be harmed by the affair, give the facts, and ask them either to support the loyal or talk to the disloyal and tell them to return to the marriage.
And by the way–YES you speak to your employer so they know why you seem distracted, cry at work, and aren’t as productive–and you contact the disloyal’s employer because they are seriously in jeopardy of a sexual harassment lawsuit! Business property, time, and resources are being used for unwanted sexual contact (you, as the spouse, do not want it) and they need to address it or they could be sued. And YES you contact the other person’s spouse and ask, “Are you aware that my spouse is having an affair with your spouse? I have evidence… ” Nothing ends an affair faster than the other person’s spouse screaming and putting their foot down!
Now, your disloyal is likely to be pretty upset with you for exposing their affair. A) Affairs are much more “fun” when they are a clandestine romantic rendezvous and not brought to the truth of being adultery! And B) you are trying to cut them off from the sin to which they are “addicted”–the affair. But your marriage can survive your disloyal spouse’s anger–it can not survive ongoing adultery. On the occasion is a disloyal spouse who realizes that everyone knows about their affair–and the affair partner’s spouse screams and puts a stop to it–and the affair is killed. If this is your case, consider yourself blessed and move to the phase of recovering your marriage!! If it is not, move to step 5.
Step 5) Consider them an unbeliever
“and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17b)
The difficulty of being married to an unbeliever difference in goals, difference in worldview.
…that still means “love your enemy” and “give them the gospel.” (At this point there should be church discipline where the whole congregation is told why they are being disciplined and encouraged to exhort them, but few do that anymore)
This is a crux–a crossroads!! Beyond this point, either you divorce or commit to reconciliation and choose to stay with the unbeliever.
Step 6a) (You choose to reconcile)
“To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.” (I Corinthians 7: 12-13)
“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (I Peter 3:1-2)
They may or may not have yet stopped their affair and are considered an unbeliever.
Step 6b) (You choose divorce)
“But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” ( I Corinthians 7:15)
They have not stopped their affair and are considered an unbeliever.
Once the affair is over, there is still more work to be done to recover the marriage…but that is another topic!