For a partnership to function, it’s important for the people that are part of it to trust one another. That’s true in most relationships, from business partnerships to marriages. In any partnership, trust is important because of the vulnerability that the partnership involves.
Violated trust can threaten the foundation of any relationship. When one or both people in an intimate and committed relationship engage in an affair, it sends shockwaves that can either undermine the relationship entirely or else prompt them to reflect on their relationship to strengthen it.
Understanding what infidelity is
When speaking about infidelity or affairs, being clear about definitions is important. Everyone has their own understanding of what constitutes unfaithfulness, and a couple may have a unified perspective on what is okay or out of bounds. During premarital counseling, one important conversation that needs to take place is about boundaries within the relationship, and an aspect of that is being clear about what constitutes infidelity.
A person who has been cheated on before may not consider the idea of flirting in person or via text messages to be harmless. Perhaps they don’t consider it harmless precisely because that was what led to the infidelity.
Each couple should have ongoing conversations about boundaries because a couple may have things they consider inappropriate to engage in with other people, whether it’s hugging, kissing, texts, giving gifts, etc. Infidelity can thus be physical or emotional. Aside from the obvious line of sexual intercourse with others, infidelity can include whatever crosses and violates boundaries set by the couple, even including unspoken boundaries.
Having said this, it must be remembered that God’s standard for what constitutes the marriage covenant and what can undermine it is authoritative. Regardless of what the couple may have agreed on for their relationship, they must always hold God’s standards as the final court of appeals in all things.
Reasons why infidelity and affairs occur
Infidelity in any relationship happens for a variety of reasons. Men and women cheat to meet a broad swathe of needs, and each couple must explore their specific circumstances to unearth what happened and why. Some of the more common reasons why people have affairs include:
For a long time, this was recognized as one of the more common reasons why people had affairs. The thinking is that marriages are self-contained, and the only reason people look outside the marriage for companionship, intimacy, or anything else is that something is lacking in the primary relationship. The affair is thus meant to fill a gap.
Affairs do happen for this reason, and they also occur because of a desire for revenge, out of anger, or from feeling trapped and wanting to blow the primary relationship up. If one spouse has an affair, the one who was cheated on may decide to get even or deal with their feelings of hurt by having an affair of their own.
Proverbs 9:17 speaks about the attraction of doing what we shouldn’t do, saying, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Of course, these words are placed in the mouth of an adulteress, making them precisely the opposite attitude one should take. They point to the truth that people enjoy transgressing boundaries, and that goes for affairs and infidelity as well.
The renowned Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel echoes this biblical truth, highlighting how the sly glances, secret messages, and trysts carry an intoxicating power that bathes an affair in an aura of mystique and sense of urgency that the primary relationship doesn’t have.
An affair doesn’t necessarily mean that the primary relationship is defective or that the person who had the affair is unhappy. The fact that it’s out of bounds can be what makes the affair attractive, and the reason people pursue them.
Office affairs or one-night stands can happen simply because the opportunity presented itself. Sometimes affairs aren’t premeditated, but they occur without warning. It must be noted, though, that succumbing to the opportunity that presents itself is simply the last step in a process that may have lasted weeks, months, or years in which a person has failed to repent of lust, find satisfaction only in their wife, and cultivate self-control, among other things.
Pursuit of self-knowledge
When we become adults, we don’t stop growing. We find new ways to express ourselves and continue to develop our self-understanding. One such area may be regarding sexual self-expression and exploration. A person may engage in infidelity because they want to explore different things with another person outside the covenant relationship. At this point, the desire for self-knowledge has become idolatrous and thus sinful and can lead to emotional or physical affairs.
Trying to recover what was lost
Lastly, affairs can also happen as a person picks up the threads from a past life or a door they already closed once. In the age of social media and an online presence, it’s never been easier to look up and connect with old flames. What can begin as simple curiosity or nostalgia can evolve into rekindling old relationships and wondering what might have been. That can itself then lead to crossing lines towards infidelity.
In each situation, the reasons why an affair occurred will differ, and tracing the path that led to the infidelity will help a couple understand what happened and how they can strengthen their relationship.
The impact of infidelity and affairs
One of the main effects of an affair is that it violates a covenant. Crossing an emotional or physical boundary raises questions about whether the relationship is still viable. The marriage covenant is a complex relationship, and an affair can make the couple begin to question the dynamics of their relationship.
While there may be a clear victim in the affair, with the help of a trained therapist the couple can explore the dynamics of the relationship that may have contributed to the affair. In that way, an affair can prompt much-needed reflection for the couple. An affair can also foster or exacerbate an emotional disconnect within the relationship. How a couple addresses it will impact whether they foster that disconnect or seek restoration.
Can your relationship recover after infidelity?
An affair doesn’t have to be a death knell for your relationship. A marriage can recover after infidelity, but it won’t be back to business as usual. Sometimes, by putting rules in place for greater transparency and accountability, or by becoming more deliberate in communication and forging an emotional connection, a marriage can emerge stronger from an affair.
It will require work, including the work of forgiveness, but if a couple is willing, they can restore their marriage. There are exercises couples can perform that can enhance their communication and intimacy, and these are derived from couples counseling. The couple can also opt to go for therapy to have a safe environment in which to process what happened in their relationship.
However, if one or both parties aren’t willing or able to make it work, an affair signals the ending of the relationship. They can still choose to go for counseling to help them process their feelings, as well as chart a way forward to end the relationship well, especially if they have children together.
How Christian counseling can help to bring healing
With a commitment to helping couples find real and lasting solutions to create a thriving relationship, a skilled and experienced marriage counselor will help you to work toward ending destructive behaviors, improve your communication and intimacy, nurture the strengths of your marriage, and help you to cultivate a new perspective to bring flourishing to your marriage.
Using techniques such as Emotionally Focused Therapy which aims to change damaging emotional responses and promote learning to relate to one another in healthy and productive ways, your counselor will work with you using the most appropriate methods that suit your unique story, needs, and goals.
Whatever your situation, to establish a firm foundation for your relationship or to simply process what has happened, it may be worthwhile considering how Christian marriage counseling can help.
Christian counseling offers a comprehensive approach to marriage counseling that uses both evidence-based counseling techniques and the spiritual resources of prayer and Scripture. Browse the directory of counselors and make an appointment to begin your journey towards restoring your marriage.
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