Adultery: Divorce or Rebuild?

Once the affair has come to light, both spouses have a choice to make. Often, two dead end options are chosen that are unwise and harmful.

  • The couple decides to stay in the marriage but they never discuss what happened.
  • The couple chooses to stay in the marriage while the infidelity continues.

Be careful to avoid harsh judgment of the spouse who has been betrayed and wants to stay in the marriage. There may be a number of understandable reasons. Some good, some bad and some purely pragmatic. The reasons may include financial security, concern for the children, avoidance of shame, or a genuine love for their spouse. 

What are two biblical options?

  • End the Marriage. Yes, this is a godly, biblical option but is not to be taken lightly. Scripture clearly teaches that adultery is valid grounds for the betrayed spouse to pursue divorce (Matthew 19:8-9).
  • Stay and Work on the Marriage. This option is advocated by both Christian and non-Christian therapists. This is a completely valid option and one that ought to be considered.

Don’t Make a Decision too Quickly in a Volatile Emotional Moment.

Remember, both options are going to require work. Rebuilding a relationship after infidelity is not easy, but neither is dissolving one, particularly if there are children involved. Regardless of the choice to leave or stay, it is wise to discourage a quick decision when emotions are running high. You have the opportunity to remain the trusted advisor who walks through both the initial shock and wise next steps. 

Why Bother Rebuilding?

When a couple faces the serious consequences of an affair, it is tempting to think that ending quickly is the best solution. It’s understandable for them to feel this way, but before they take decisive action, help them consider why they might want to work at rebuilding.

First, throughout the Bible, God models moving toward and not away from those who have acted as his enemies. The Apostle Paul explains it this way, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  This theme of reconciliation runs through the whole Bible. God sent his Son to die so that our broken relationships could be restored. He wants us to “if possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

Jesus affirms this in his teaching on divorce.  He points out that divorce was never a command, but only a concession due to sin (Matthew 19:1-9). His discussion of divorce shows how seriously God views the commitment a couple makes when they marry. Rebuilding a marriage has the potential to reflect the forgiving and reconciling character of God. 

A second reason to make every effort to help the couple rebuild their marriage has to do with the future quality of the relationship. Even those not writing from a Christian worldview say that while the memory of the unfaithfulness never goes away, it often becomes a catalyst for the marriage to become more honest and loving. It becomes a “wake up call” of sorts. This is not automatic and it will not be easy. Both spouses need a lot of strengthening grace from Christ to move towards one another in this way.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.