Christian Counseling: Handling a Spouse's Affair

The Doctor Is In Question:

My daughter's dad & I have been having problems with him seeking other women. I'm asking for help on how to deal with this emotionally, how to talk to him about my feelings or what he wants out of our relationship, & most important how/what to tell our daughter if we decide that we are no longer going to try to make our relationship work. I love him very much & I not only want him in our daughter's life but mine as well. Please help me.

The Doctor's Response:

It is always tragic when a spouse has or is seeking to have an affair, especially when there are children involved. Managing such a situation requires tough solutions and hard, immediate actions. 

As the saying goes, “The one who loves the least has the power in the relationship.” This means the less one loves the easier to challenge the relationship, since they have less to lose, but the more one loves the more one has to lose. Therefore, the latter will tend toward being cautious, take more pain than perhaps is necessary and be subject to the other’s conduct and possible control of the relationship.

Love, as intended by God, is unconditional. Yet, it is not without tough boundaries that limit the relationship or may even bring a necessary end to a relationship. Scripturally speaking, when a spouse has an affair it is recognized by God as having been broken. One is free to walk away since the behavior has resulted in spiritual divorce. A spouse who is also a victim is not under bondage to the marriage any longer. But when one loves the other he or she doesn’t want to let go, may not feel he or she has the emotional strength to let go and, unfortunately, subjects himself or herself to serious long-term pain that can have a life-long, negative affect on the whole family.

The time to let go and move on with one’s life is after determining there are biblical grounds and that the offending spouse doesn’t want the marriage and/or is not willing to work on it. Letting go is not dependent on whether or not one has loving feelings. For example, generally, our secular society says if you lose loving feelings, it’s time to find someone else. Marriage is not based on feelings, though they play a large role. Staying in a bad relationship when a spouse is actively pursuing an affair can communicate unintended, detrimental messages to observing children. They need to see a parent effectively handle a tough situation, which helps prepare them for a future, successful marriage.

If one person in a marriage has a problem, then both have a problem. Sufficient is just one who sees a problem and right is that person to lay it out in plain communication with appropriate boundaries, such as: requiring the offender to immediately end any harmful behavior, requiring getting help (however, if the offender refuses, then the offended should enter individual counseling) and no sex until it is determined an adulterer is free of any STDs and has ended any contact with a paramour. Each person should know his or her own limitations to coping with the relational troubles—what one cannot live with and without—and state those boundaries to his or her partner, along with consequences should the boundaries be disregarded. The consequences are not punishments, but information and reality aimed at protecting the offended spouse and the family from any undue pain, as well as the future of the marriage.

As regards children, without knowing the age of children it is difficult to comment effectively. Generally, shielding young people from knowledge about a family break up is prudent, if one is unsure that’s what is going to happen. Once a separation or divorce has been determined to be the next course of action, briefly, calmly and factually explain only the general points at hand. Be discerning, and briefly address their questions without excessive detail. Once during the talk and also at the end let your children know you will be okay, as will they. A healthy dose of assurance and support will be needed throughout the conflict. If you see changes in their personality, sociability, school grades and/or use of substances, get them help as soon as possible.

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