Infidelity is something that has become so common in our society that we have almost grown numb to it. Based on the research, prevalence rates in American marriages range anywhere from 20% to 40% depending on the study (Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobsen, 2001).
Despite our culture’s saturation of unbiblical sex and even promotion of infidelity (ex: ashleymadison.com), the truth is that a sin is sin, no matter how we try to ignore or justify it.
1 Corinthians 6:18 says,
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
Infidelity is not only harmful to those around us, but also to ourselves. It is a serious, rapidly growing problem in our world today, and in order to work toward a solution, we must first gain a better understanding of what, exactly, it is.
What is infidelity?
Infidelity, in the broadest sense, is unfaithfulness to one’s significant other. But it also covers other relational sins such as lust and pride, for these things are what cause affairs to happen in the first place. That means that an affair is not just something that happens on the spur of the moment. A Psychology Today article puts it this way:
An affair is planned, even if you’re not conscious that you planned it.
Committed relationships are not like ticking time bombs, where it’s only a matter of time before infidelity strikes. Affairs are deliberate betrayals that may have a variety of causes, but all of its effects are harmful to everyone involved.
What are the causes?
Some excuses that people often use to justify an affair are that they have ‘fallen out of love’, have long been dissatisfied, are ‘bored’, are underappreciated, feel sexually deprived, or are afraid to just leave their partner. The reality is that none of these excuses are viable in any way, shape, or form.
First of all, it is not even possible to ‘fall out of love.’ Why? 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” If you think you have ‘fallen out of love’, then you have really been in lust all along.
Dissatisfaction and boredom are invalid excuses because they imply ungratefulness and neglect, both of which can be remedied with a little persistence. While affairs are not completely sex-based, sexual deprivation is one of the top reasons they occur. If you are willing to forsake your spouse or future spouse simply because they ‘just aren’t doing it for you’, you have a shallow excuse of a relationship. Relationships are about sacrifice and devotion, not just physical pleasure.
Finally, the fear of simply leaving is a difficult thing to experience, because leaving is almost never the answer, and the real answer requires confrontation, honesty, communication, and the willingness and faith to move forward with God.
The Latest Studies on Infidelity.
A substantial amount of research has been conducted on the scientific nature of infidelity and cheating. Here are some of the key findings (Marin and Christensen, 2014):
- Men are hurt more in the sexual sense by partners who commit infidelity while women are hurt more in the emotional sense.
- Divorce and marital instability are significantly increased when one person commits infidelity secretly but is caught versus a couple where that acting partner commits infidelity but reveals it to the partner later on.
- Even when infidelity occurs, couples who remain married after infidelity report an increase in relationship satisfaction over time.
- 42% of all couples who divorce after infidelity report having more than one extramarital sexual contact during their marriage (Janus and Janus, 1993).
Lets go through each key finding starting at the top.
The first finding has been widely reported and the explanation as to why this might be is quite simple, biological gender differences. Researchers propose that the reason men are hurt more in the sexual sense is because they have less of a chance of having children with their partners and continuing their bloodlines. Women are hurt more emotionally because if their partners leave them due to dissatisfaction, they will have no one to help raise their children.
The second finding could be a result of a number of different factors. Obviously, infidelity is harmful no matter how you put it. However, when a partner who committed infidelity comes forward, its usually less hurtful then finding out about it later by yourself. This has more to do with trust then anything, the ‘lesser of the two evils’ if you will. Another possible reason, a partner who commits infidelity but comes forward perhaps in the view of the other partner might make the relationship more ‘salvageable’ as well. Finally, another factor that might explain these findings is that a partner who commits infidelity but comes forward might also feel truly sorry (remorse) for the event and therefore more likely to work towards restoring the relationship.
The third finding is very interesting. You might suspect that after infidelity occurs, marital satisfaction would gradually decline. Keep in mind, the couples in this study were couples who reported not having an extramarital affair after the single infidelity event occurred. The findings would probably be different if one partner continued having an affair. As with many things, time can be a natural healer especially when both partners are committed to moving forward from it.
The final finding sort of supports the idea that a partner who continues in an extramarital affair will likely increase the chances of divorce.
What is the solution?
The solution may seem simple in print, but it is far from easy. Fortunately, God is on our side, and He will give us the strength to endure through our struggles and come out of them as better people. Before you take any action, stop to remember why you chose your significant other in the first place.
Make a list of things they have done for you and teach yourself to appreciate them more each day. Then, make a list of things you can be doing for them. The last list to make is a list of reasons why you are drifting toward infidelity, and then outline the harmful effects of each. Perhaps the most important thing to do is communicate your feelings and concerns to each other.
Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT) or Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy (TBCT) has been proven to be affective in one study. Approximately two thirds show improvement with therapy and one third showing complete recovery.
Overall, couple therapy combined with patience, a willingness by both partners to recommit, communicate, be honest, and work towards moving forward, will increase the likelihood that your relationship or marriage can be restored. Above all, make a concerted effort to refocus your relationship on Jesus who set an example of love and gives us hope that truly all things are possible with Christ on our side.
If you’re a Christian who seeks to help someone who is struggling with infidelity…
Remind them that infidelity is not the answer and that any relationship can be mended with love. Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” Remind them that no matter how tempting it can be, infidelity can only lead to heartbreak for everyone. Be accountable; if you catch them slipping into adultery, kindly rebuke them and help direct them in the way of the Lord. Be a mentor and a builder of faith, and most importantly, be a friend.
If you’re a Christian who is struggling with infidelity…
Pray. Ask God to guard your heart and keep you on the right path. Pay attention to the person that God has put in your life for a reason, and don’t take him or her for granted. Know that no adulterous fling can bring you fulfillment like a lasting relationship can. Finally, know that you are loved unconditionally by Jesus Christ, and be inspired to show that kind of love to those around you.
Have you experienced infidelity in your relationship or marriage?