Typical Responses to an Affair

In her book, After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, Janis Abrahms Spring provides some helpful case wisdom regarding the experience of the betrayed and betraying spouse, as well as the stereotypical differences between men and women (Chapters 1-2). The importance for the care-giver at this point is to incarnate the grace of Christ to both, not just one. Notice, as well, how much work it takes to understand the complexity of each situation where infidelity is present. Abrahms does a good job of detailing responses to an affair by both parties. It is clear that this is the result of many years of experience.

Typical Responses of the Betrayed Spouse: Buried in an Avalanche of Losses.

  • Heightened Sense of Anxiety: significant physiological responses like that of severe trauma.
  • Loss of Identity: the affair forces you to re-define yourself in a fundamental way. Who am I if you and the marriage are not what I thought?
  • Loss of Sense of Specialness: I thought I meant something to you.
  • Shame: an initial response to the affair is to do anything to keep your spouse in order to avoid the embarrassment.
  • Loss of Faith in God: where is God in this? I feel forsaken.
  • Loss of Connection with Others: Who can I confide in?
  • Loss of Sense of Purpose: this can even lead to suicidal thoughts.
  • Shock and Disbelief: “When I first uncovered your secret, I stopped feeling special to you. But on a deeper level, I lost trust in the world and in myself.”

Typical Responses of the Betraying Spouse

  • Relief: It is out in the open. I don’t have to live a lie anymore.
  • Impatience: I have left my lover and told you everything. What else do you want from me?
  • Chronic Anxiety: As long as I keep busy, I’ll be okay.
  • Minimizing Guilt: once revealed, in the early stages, they often tend to justify the affair. The betrayed is made to feel guilty for not being committed to the marriage.
  • Grieving Loss of the Affair: The other person made me feel so special.
  • Guilt over Children: What will the kids think of me?
  • Isolation, Hopelessness, Paralysis: See the marriage as hopeless and just a prison to endure.
  • Shame: I feel like such a sleaze for doing this.

Typical Differences between Men and Women who are Betrayed

  • Women try to preserve, men run
  • Women get depressed, men get angry
  • Women feel inadequate as companions, men as lovers
  • Women Obsess, men distrust themselves

Typical Differences between Men and Women who are Unfaithful

  • Women seek soul mates, men seek playmates
  • Women justify if for love, men if not for love. I loved him. I didn’t love her.
  • Women anguish over affairs (My affair has complicated my life). Men enjoy them (My affair has given me life.)

Of course, while these lists are helpful, you must be careful not to stereo-type men and women or those who betray or are betrayed by their spouse. It is imperative to make every effort to understand the unique nature, dynamic and impact of the affair on the couple and each individual. You are building a bridge that will enable you to cross over into wise ministry.

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 a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. 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.

Adultery: Alive and Well in Your Church?

Welcome to the real world that I was not prepared for upon graduating from seminary! Early on in my pastoral career, I was faced with a host of marriage situations including marital infidelity. Consider the following potential scenarios:

  • Robert and Susan entered my office.  Robert looked sheepish. Susan’s mouth was tight and angry. After they sat down, Robert said, “I had an affair with a woman at work that ended a year ago. Susan and I both want to save our marriage, but we’re stuck. Susan doesn’t trust me, and I am tired of always having to talk about it.  I want to make things right with her, but I don’t know how.” 

  • Greg sat silently as Rachel struggled to tell the story. She had become emotionally involved with her best friend’s husband. They weren’t sexually intimate, but he had replaced Greg emotionally in Rachel’s life. Rachel was relieved because everything was out in the open and Greg still wanted to work on the marriage. Greg, though, was reeling from the initial shock and struggling with hurt, anger, self-doubt, and fear.

  • Joe called and asked if he and his wife, Melissa, could meet with me.  He told me that when he was on the road for work he had a series of one night stands. A few months ago Melissa caught him, and he promised to stop. They wanted to keep their marriage going because of their children, but they were fighting all the time—was there hope for their marriage?

It is encouraging that each of these couples is trying to put their marriage back together after it was ruptured by some degree of infidelity. After the initial shock, they are attempting to rebuild their marriage, but it is harder than they expected.

 According to Peggy Vaughan, in her book The Monogamy Myth, 60% of men and 40% of women will engage in some form of an affair. She says that these numbers are conservative. What pastor, friend or counselor has not faced the challenge of walking with a couple through the difficult season of unfaithfulness? Typically, what is true in the broader culture is reflected in the church. We should assume that people who are in our congregations are facing these temptations and be prepared to offer help.

Are you and your spouse struggling to rebuild your marriage after adultery? Don't give up. Are you a pastor, friend or counselor trying to find your way as you seek to help a couple in the midst of unfaithfulness? Whatever you do, don't be shocked and see this as yet one of many opportunities for Christ-centered ministry.

Over the next several days I will highlight some things that have been helpful for couples who have experienced the hard reality of adultery.

1 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 a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. 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.