Adultery

Couple in romantic place

Staggering numbers of people are engaged in adultery, and grievously, this includes the church. Kerby Anderson explores several myths about adultery and offers sound suggestions for preventing adultery by meeting spouses’ needs.

Spanish flag This article is also available in Spanish.

Adultery and Society

The seventh commandment says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Nevertheless, this sin has been committed throughout history. Today, though, adultery seems more rampant than ever. While tabloid stories report the affairs of politicians, millionaires, and movie stars, films like “The English Patient,” “The Prince of Tides,” or “The Bridges of Madison County” feature and even promote adultery.

How prevalent is adultery? Two of the most reliable studies come to similar conclusions. The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior estimates that “More than one-third of men and one-quarter of women admit having had at least one extramarital sexual experience.”{1} A survey by the National Opinion Research Center (University of Chicago) found lower percentages: 25 percent of men had been unfaithful and 17 percent of women. Even when these lower ratios are applied to the current adult population, that means that some 19 million husbands and 12 million wives have had an affair.{2}

Whatever the actual numbers, the point to be made is that adultery is much more common than we would like to admit. Family therapist and psychiatrist Frank Pittman believes “There may be as many acts of infidelity in our society as there are traffic accidents.”{3} He further argues that the fact that adultery has become commonplace has altered society’s perception of it. He says, “We won’t go back to the times when adulterers were put in the stocks and publicly humiliated, or become one of those societies and there are many in which adultery is punishable by death. Society in any case is unable to enforce a rule that the majority of people break, and infidelity is so common it is no longer deviant.”{4}

Perhaps you are thinking, “This is just a problem with non-Christians in society. It can’t be a problem in the church. Certainly the moral standards of Christians are higher.” Well, there is growing evidence that adultery is also a problem in Christian circles. An article in a 1997 issue of Newsweek magazine noted that various surveys suggest that as many as 30 percent of male Protestant ministers have had sexual relationships with women other than their wives.{5}

The Journal of Pastoral Care in 1993 reported a survey of Southern Baptist pastors in which 14 percent acknowledged they had engaged in “sexual behavior inappropriate to a minister.” It also reported that 70 percent had counseled at least one woman who had had intercourse with another minister.

A 1988 survey of nearly 1000 Protestant clergy by Leadership magazine found that of the 300 pastors who responded, 12 percent admitted to sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and that 23 percent had done something sexually inappropriate with someone other than their spouse. The researchers also interviewed nearly 1000 subscribers to Christianity Today who were not pastors. They found the numbers were nearly double: 45 percent indicated having done something sexually inappropriate, and 23 percent having extramarital intercourse.{6}

Adultery is in society and is now in the church. Next, we’ll look at some of the myths surrounding extramarital affairs.

Myths About Adultery

Marital infidelity destroys marriages and families and often leads to divorce. Public sentiment against adultery is actually very strong as approximately eight out of ten of Americans disapprove of adultery.{7}

Yet even though most people consider adultery to be wrong and know that it can be devastating, our society still perpetuates a number of untruths about adultery through a popular mythology about extramarital affairs. At this point we want to examine some of the myths about adultery.

Myth #1: “Adultery is about sex.” Often just the opposite seems the case. When a sexual affair is uncovered, observers often say, “What did he see in her?” or “What did she see in him?” Frequently the sex is better at home, and the marriage partner is at least as attractive as the adulterous partner.

Being pretty, handsome, or sensual is usually not the major issue. Partners in affairs are not usually chosen because they are prettier, more handsome, or sexier. They are chosen for various sorts of strange and nonsexual reasons. Usually the other woman or the other man in an adulterous relationship meets needs the spouse does not meet in the marriage. Dr. Willard Harley lists five primary needs for a man and five primary needs for a women in his book His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. He believes that unmet needs, by either partner, are a primary cause of extramarital affairs. He has also found that people wander into these affairs with astonishing regularity, in spite of whatever strong moral or religious convictions they may hold. A lack of fulfillment in one of these basic emotional areas creates a dangerous vacuum in a person’s life. And, unfortunately, many will eventually fill that need outside of marriage.

Frank Pittman, author of the book Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy, found in his own personal study that many of his patients who had affairs had a good sex life, but came from marriages with little or no intimacy. He concluded that, “Affairs were thus three times more likely to be the pursuit of a buddy than the pursuit of a better orgasm.”{8}

Sex may not be involved in some affairs. The relationship may be merely an emotional liaison. Counselor Bonnie Weil warns that these so-called “affairs of the heart can be even more treacherous than the purely physical kind. Women, particularly, are inclined to leave their husbands when they feel a strong emotional bond with another man.”{9}

Myth #2: “Adultery is about character.” In the past, society looked down on alcoholics as having weak character because of their problem. Now we see it as an addiction or even a disease. While that doesn’t excuse the behavior, we can see that can’t be merely labeled as bad character.

There is growing psychological evidence that adulterous behavior in parents dramatically affects children when they reach adulthood. Just as divorce in a family influences the likelihood of the adult children to consider divorce, adulterous behavior by parents seems to beget similar behavior by their offspring. Is this not one more example of the biblical teaching that the sins of one generation being visited upon the next?

Myth #3: “Adultery is therapeutic.” Some of the psychology books and women’s magazines circulating through our culture promote extra-marital affairs as positive. This myth that an affair can revive a dull marriage is a devastating lie. Depending on which source you are reading, an affair will: make you a better lover, help you with your mid-life crisis, bring joy into your life, or even bring excitement back into your marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth. An affair might give you more sex, but it could also give you a sexually transmitted disease. It might bring your marriage more excitement, if you consider divorce court exciting. Remember that adultery results in divorce 65 percent of the time. “For most people and most marriages, infidelity is dangerous.”{10}

Myth #4: “Adultery is harmless.” Movies are just one venue in which adultery has been promoted positively. The English Patient received twelve Oscar nominations including best picture of the year for its depiction of an adulterous relationship between a handsome count and the English-born wife of his colleague. The Bridges of Madison County relates the story of an Iowa farmer’s wife who has a brief extra-marital affair with a National Geographic photographer that supposedly helped re-energize her marriage. The Prince of Tides received seven Oscar nominations and shows a married therapist bedding down her also-married patient.

Notice the euphemisms society has developed over the years to excuse or soften the perception of adultery. Many are not repeatable, but ones that are include: fooling around, sleeping around, flings, affairs, and dalliances. These and many other phrases perpetuate the notion the adultery is guilt-free and hurts no one. Some have even suggested that it’s just a recreational activity like playing softball or going to the movies. Well, don’t pass the popcorn, please.

Forbidden sex is an addiction that can–and usually does–have devastating consequences to an individual and a family. Adultery shatters trust, intimacy, and self-esteem. It breaks up families, ruins careers, and leaves a trail of pain and destruction in its path. This potential legacy of emotional pain for one’s children should be enough to make a person stop and count the costs before it’s too late.

Even when affairs are never exposed, emotional costs are involved. For example,adulterous mates deprive their spouses of energy and intimacy that should go into the marriage. They deceive their marriage partners and become dishonest about their feelings and actions. As Frank Pittman says, “The infidelity is not in the sex, necessarily, but in the secrecy. It isn’t whom you lie with. It’s whom you lie to.”{11} 1

Myth #5: “Adultery has to end in divorce.” Only about 35 percent of couples remain together after the discovery of an adulterous affair; the other 65 percent divorce. Perhaps nothing can destroy a marriage faster than marital infidelity.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. One counselor claims that 98 percent of the couples she treats remain together after counseling. Granted this success rate is not easy to achieve and requires immediate moral choices and forgiveness, but it does demonstrate that adultery does not have to end in divorce.

Preventing Adultery: Her Needs

His Needs, Her NeedsHow can a couple prevent adultery? Dr. Willard Harley in his book His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage provides some answers. He has found that marriages that fail to meet a spouse’s needs are more vulnerable to an extramarital affair. Often the failure of men and women to meet each other’s needs is due to a lack of knowledge rather than a selfish unwillingness to be considerate. Meeting these needs is critically important because in marriages that fail to meet needs, it is striking and alarming how consistently married people seek to satisfy their unmet needs through an extramarital affair. If any of a spouse’s five basic needs goes unmet, that spouse becomes vulnerable to the temptation of an affair.

First, let’s look at the five needs of a wife. The first need is for affection. To most women affection symbolizes security, protection, comfort, and approval. When a husband shows his wife affection, he sends the following messages: (1) I’ll take care of you and protect you; (2) I’m concerned about the problems you face, and I am with you; (3) I think you’ve done a good job, and I’m so proud of you.

Men need to understand how strongly women need these affirmations. For the typical wife, there can hardly be enough of them. A hug can communicate all of the affirmations of the previous paragraph. But, affection can be shown in many ways such as: kisses, cards, flowers, dinners out, opening the car door, holding hands, walks after dinner, back rubs, phone calls–there are a thousand ways to say “I love you.” From a woman’s point of view, affection is the essential cement of her relationship with a man.

The second need is conversation. Wives need their husbands to talk to them and to listen to them; they need lots of two-way conversation. In their dating life prior to marriage, most couples spent time time showing each other affection and talking. This shouldn’t be dropped after the wedding. When two people get married, each partner has a right to expect the same loving care and attention that prevailed during courtship to continue after the wedding. The man who takes time to talk to a woman will have an inside track to her heart.

The third need is honesty and openness. A wife needs to trust her husband totally. A sense of security is the common thread woven through all of a woman’s five basic needs. If a husband does not keep up honest and open communication with his wife, he undermines her trust and eventually destroys her security. To feel secure, a wife must trust her husband to give her accurate information about his past, the present, and the future. If she can’t trust the signals he sends, she has no foundation on which to build a solid relationship. Instead of adjusting to him, she always feels off balance; instead of growing toward him, she grows away from him.

Financial commitment is a fourth need a wife experiences. She needs enough money to live comfortably: she needs financial support. No matter how successful a career a woman might have, she usually wants her husband to earn enough money to allow her to feel supported and to feel cared for.

The fifth need is family commitment. A wife needs her husband to be a good father and have a family commitment. The vast majority of women who get married have a powerful instinct to create a home and have children. Above all, wives want their husbands to take a leadership role in the family and to commit themselves to the moral and educational development of their children.

Preventing Adultery: His Needs

Now, let’s look at the five needs husbands have. The first is sexual fulfillment. The typical wife doesn’t understand her husband’s deep need for sex anymore than the typical husband understands his wife’s deep need for affection. But these two ingredients can work very closely together in a happy, fulfilled marriage. Sex can come naturally and often, if there is enough affection.

The second need for a man is recreational companionship. He needs her to be his playmate. It is not uncommon for women, when they are single, to join men in pursuing their interests. They find themselves hunting, fishing, playing football, and watching sports and movies they would never have chosen on their own.

After marriage wives often try to interest their husbands in activities more to their own liking. If their attempts fail, they may encourage their husbands to continue their recreational activities without them. But this option is very dangerous to a marriage, because men place surprising importance on having their wives as recreational companions. Among the five basic male needs, spending recreational time with his wife is second only to sex for the typical husband.

A husband’s third need is an attractive spouse. A man needs a wife who looks good to him. Dr. Harley states that in sexual relationships most men find it nearly impossible to appreciate a woman for her inner qualities alone–there must be more. A man’s need for physical attractiveness in a mate is profound.

The fourth need for a man is domestic support. He needs peace and quiet. So deep is a husband’s need for domestic support from his wife that he often fantasizes about how she will greet him lovingly and pleasantly at the door, about well-behaved children who likewise act glad to see him and welcome him to the comfort of a well-maintained home.

The fantasy continues as his wife urges him to sit down and relax before taking part in a tasty dinner. Later the family goes out for an evening stroll, and he returns to put the children to bed with no hassle or fuss. Then he and his wife relax, talk together, and perhaps watch a little television until they retire at a reasonable hour to love each other. Wives may chuckle at this scenario, but this vision is quite common in the fantasy lives of many men. The male need for his wife to “take care of things”–especially him–is widespread, persistent, and deep.

The fifth need is admiration. He needs her to be proud of him. Wives need to learn how to express the admiration they already feel for their husbands instead of pressuring them to greater achievements. Honest admiration is a great motivator for men. When a woman tells a man she thinks he’s wonderful, that inspires him to achieve more. He sees himself capable of handling new responsibilities and perfecting skills far above those of his present level.

If any of a spouse’s five basic needs go unmet, that person becomes vulnerable to the temptation of an affair. Therefore, the best way to prevent adultery is to meet the needs of your spouse and make your marriage strong.

Notes

1. Samuel Janus and Cynthia Janus, The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1993), 169.
2. Joannie Schrof, “Adultery in America,” U.S. News and World Report, 31 Aug. 1998, 31.
3. Frank Pittman, Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of
Intimacy
(New York: Norton, 1989), 117.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. Kenneth Woodward, “Sex, Morality and the Protestant Minister,”
Newsweek (28 July 1997), 62.
6. “How Common Is Pastoral Indiscretion?” Leadership (Winter
1988), 12.
7. In this poll Americans were asked: “What is your
opinion about a married person having sexual relations with someone
other than his or her spouse? Their answers: 79% answered “always
wrong” and another 11% answered “almost always wrong.” Cited in
“Attitudes on Adultery,” USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, 1997.
8. Pittman, 122.
9. Bonnie Eaker Weil, Adultery: The Forgivable Sin (Norwalk,
Conn.: Hastings House, 1994), 9.
10. Pittman, 37.
11. Ibid., 53.

© 2001 Probe Ministries


Trash Your Marriage in Eight Easy Steps – A Christian Perspective

Sue Bohlin helps us take a biblical perspective on eight activities and attitudes that will tear down our marriage. Fortunately, she also provides us eight Christian alternatives that will help build up our marriages.

The divorce rate is at an all-time high, and marriages are falling apart everywhere you look. Marriages of church-going people are crashing and burning especially fast. There are forces in our culture that contribute to marriage stresses such as pornography, the prevalence of drivenness, two-career families, and the dynamics of the blended family. But people also make foolish choices to destroy their marriages from within.

Talking about the family, Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” Ephesians 5:28 exhorts husbands to love their wives as their own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them. God’s plan is that we treasure and cultivate our marriages, but it’s very easy to trash them instead. Let’s take a tongue-in-cheek look at eight ways that people trash their marriages.

Be Selfish

The first step is to be selfish. My pastor once said that the AIDS of marriage is justified self-centeredness. Everything needs to revolve around you because, let’s face it, you are at the center of the universe, right? If you find something you like to do that ignores your spouses’ feelings and interests, go ahead and do it! Too bad if they don’t like it! You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can get!

Always insist on having things your own way. If you don’t get your own way, throw a tantrum. Or freeze your spouse out. Get your kids involved in this game by saying things like, “Would you please ask your father to pass the salt?” Don’t be afraid to withhold sex if your spouse isn’t letting you have things your own way. There’s a lot of power in that, so don’t waste it!

If there’s only enough money in your budget for what one of you wants, make sure you get what you want. Especially if you’re the wage earner, or if you make more than the other. Money is power, and don’t be afraid to use it against your spouse!

Make demands instead of requests. Wives, let your husband know that he will do things your way, or you’ll make his life miserable. Husbands, when you want your wife to do something, just tell her to do it. “Please” and “thank you” are for the kids. This is your spouse you’re talking about–they don’t need it. Save all your courtesy for strangers; don’t waste it on the person you said you’d spend the rest of your life with.

What we really mean to say:

Selfishness is guaranteed to hurt marriages, so ask for God’s help in putting your husband or wife ahead of yourself so you don’t trash your marriage.

Pick at Each Other

The second step is to pick at each other. If you know that something you do annoys your spouse, be sure to do it often. And intentionally. When she complains about it, tell her to buzz off, it’s not as annoying as the stupid things she does to bug you. The more childish the annoying habit, the better.

Be critical of the smallest thing the other one says and does. Don’t let your spouse get away with anything! Stay vigilant for every little offense. Be sure to address these small details with an air of superiority . . . unless it works better for you to act like a martyr, as if you deserve the Nobel Prize for putting up with someone who doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste from the end.

Always get the last word when you’re arguing. Dr. Phil McGraw has said that the most accurate predictor of divorce is when people don’t allow their partners to retreat with dignity. So make your spouse feel whipped and defeated at the end of a fight. As long as you win, that’s what matters.

Let The Kids Be More Important

A third step to trashing your marriage is to let the kids become more important than your spouse. Moms, make your husband feel left out of the intimate, secret relationship between you and your baby. As the baby grows, continue to draw the line where it’s you and your child on one side, your husband on the other. Keep your Mommy hat on all day and all night. Your kids don’t care if your hair is brushed and if you put on perfume and a little makeup before Daddy comes home, so why should he?

Dads, invest all your energies into making your child succeed at what he’s good at, or what you want him to be good at. Squeeze out Mom so that you will be your kid’s favorite parent. Work so hard on homework and school projects that there’s no time for family time.

Let the kids and your other priorities crowd out your “alone together” time. Date nights are for unmarried people! In order to be fulfilled as a person, it is essential to invest all your energies in parenting, career, housework, church commitments and hobbies, so don’t worry if there isn’t enough time left over for the two of you. It’s no big deal. There’s always tomorrow. Or next year.

What we really mean to say:

Hey! If you find yourself doing these things, stop! You don’t have to trash your marriage!

Show Disrespect

Show disrespect for your spouse, especially in public. One of the best ways to disrespect your partner is ugly name-calling, especially about things he or she can’t change. However, the old standbys of “stupid,” “fat,” “ugly,” “weak,” and “loser” are always effective, too.

Complain about your spouse to your friends. It’s even more powerful if you do it in front of your spouse. Then, if he objects, punch him in the arm and say, “I’m just kidding! You take everything so seriously!

There are a number of ways to show disrespect with nonverbal communication. Roll your eyes, cluck your tongue, narrow your eyes in contempt. The heavy sigh is a real winner, too.

Wives: Straighten out your husband when he makes a mistake, especially in front of others. Lecture him. Ridicule him: his feelings, his behavior, his dreams, his thoughts. Do everything you can to emasculate your husband. Husbands: Let your wife know you think your opinion is better than hers. Interrupt her when she’s speaking.

Refuse to Meet Emotional Needs

His Needs, Her NeedsAnother easy way to trash your marriage is to refuse to meet your spouse’s emotional needs. Men and women need different things from their life partners. Dr. Willard Harley discovered and examined a pattern in his excellent book His Needs, Her Needs. Husbands’ top needs, it turns out, are: first of all sexual fulfillment; second, recreational companionship; third, an attractive spouse; fourth, domestic support; and fifth, admiration. Wives, if you want to trash your marriage, ignore his need for sex and that you be there for him in leisure time. Blow off his desire that you look your best and he can be proud that you’re his wife. Make your home as stressful and chaotic as you can, and never, ever tell him what you admire about him.

Wives’ top needs are: first of all affection; second conversations; third, honesty and openness; fourth, financial commitment; and fifth, family commitment. So guys, if you want to trash your marriage, don’t show your wife you love and appreciate her. Don’t talk to her. Close off your heart to her. Make her constantly worry about finances. Don’t be a faithful husband and father.

Dr. Harley’s got a Web site, MarriageBuilders.com, that has a lot of good, practical information for building strong marriages, so you’d better stay away from there if you’re not interested in being intentional and constructive!

Remember, we’re being tongue-in-cheek here. We want you to build your marriage, not trash it!

Treat Your Friends Better than Your Spouse

The sixth easy step to trashing your marriage is to treat your friends better than your spouse. Since a lot of men unfortunately don’t even have friends, this is something women tend to do more. Women know how to treat their girlfriends. They call them up just to encourage them. They drop off flowers for no reason. They send them cards, and they listen intently to whatever’s going on in their lives. They are emotionally invested in their friends. They are quick to mention when someone looks nice or does something well because women are usually good at affirming each other. If you want to trash your marriage, don’t do any of these thoughtful kindnesses for your husband. If your girlfriend is having a bad day, go out of your way to take her a wonderful casserole and fresh salad and dessert . . . but serve your husband Spaghetti-O’s.

But husbands, if your wife needs you for something at home, and your buddy scores some tickets to a game, tell your wife “too bad, so sad.” After all, she’ll be around forever but tonight’s hockey game won’t. If someone at church or in the neighborhood needs something fixed, drop everything to take care of it, even if it means that the broken things around your house will continue to go unfixed.

Be a Pansy

Step number seven for trashing your marriage has two parts. Husbands, be a pansy. Retreat into the safety of passivity. Refuse to take initiative or responsibility in making plans or suggestions. That way, when things go wrong, you can say, “Don’t blame me! It’s not my fault!” These are great ways to trash your marriage.

Be His Mother

Wives, be a mother to your husband. When people ask how many children you have, say things like, “Two–three, if you count my husband.” Tell him to wear a coat when it’s cold and take an umbrella when it’s raining, because he can’t figure it out on his own. Be sure to say “I told you so” as often as possible. If he is passive or irresponsible, jump in and rescue him so he won’t have to deal with the consequences of his own choices. Make sure he feels three years old. Tell him how to live his life, down to the smallest detail.

What we really mean to say:

Please, if you find yourself doing these things, ask for God’s help in being constructive instead of destructive. We want to help you build your marriage, not trash it.

When You’re Angry, Blow Up

Let’s talk about one final way to trash your marriage. Yell and scream, or quietly say hurtful words; it doesn’t matter. Inflicting pain is the important thing. Call each other names in the heat of your emotion. Dredge up the past and bring up old hurts. You can hit or slap with words as well as with hands, and they each leave a different kind of lasting damage to your spouse and to your marriage. Losing control when you’re angry is a powerful way to hurt your spouse.

Build Your Marriage in Eight Harder Steps

Well, enough of ways to trash your marriage–how about eight steps to build it? All we have to do is look at the opposite of this article’s negative, destructive steps.

To build your marriage, fight selfishness by developing a servant’s heart. Commit yourself to acting in your spouse’s best interests. Do at least one unselfish deed for your husband or wife every day.

Second, instead of picking at each other, choose to let things go. Be grace-givers. Remember that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

Third, be intentional in keeping your marriage at the center of your family. Have regular date nights, and schedule times away to invest in the intimacy of your relationship. Go to a FamilyLife Marriage Conference (www.familylife.com).

Fourth, commit to actively be respectful to your spouse by never saying anything negative to other people. Be kind in your words and actions. Treat each other as courteously and with the kind of honor you would bestow on a stranger or a dear friend.

Fifth, talk about your spouse’s particular emotional needs. Read Willard Harley’s excellent book His Needs, Her Needs. Find out which ones are most important to your partner, and do everything in your power to meet them.

Sixth, treat your husband or wife at least as well as you treat your friends. Be as thoughtful and encouraging and affirming as you can possibly be.

Seventh: Ladies, resign as your husband’s mother. You married an adult; treat him with the respect an adult deserves. Men: Your wife needs a servant-leader–someone who refuses either passivity or tyranny–to love her as Christ loves the church.

And last, when you’re angry, express it wisely and constructively. Use words like “I’m angry about this” instead of yelling or hurtful silence. If you’re too mad to speak with self-control, wait till you cool down. And don’t go to bed without dealing with the situation (Eph. 4:26).

You don’t have to trash your marriage. You can treasure it instead.

© 2003 Probe Ministries