What to do when your partner cheats?

There are few things more devastating to your heart, confidence and sense of security than discovering your partner has been unfaithful. An ongoing affair, once-off indiscretion, addiction to pornography, or even a friendship, that is developing a deeper level of intimacy than you would like, can feel like a betrayal.

If you find yourself in this situation, what do you do? How should you respond?

Some people bury their hurt and pretend nothing is wrong; they hope it’s a passing phase or a small lapse in judgement. Others end the relationship immediately, fight it out, or try counselling. Some agree to be friends. Others take a break with the hope of one day reconciling.

The way you choose to respond to infidelity will depend on you, your personality, temperament and life experiences. The most important thing is – you must do something.

Understanding your value as a human being, knowing you have been lovingly handcrafted and designed for a specific purpose, means you deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and honesty. When you allow a partner’s unfaithfulness to continue without consequence, your self-worth is stripped away. This can leave resentment, bitterness and a sense of rejection which is more harmful than the betrayal itself.

Understanding Why

In determining how best to respond to unfaithfulness, there is wisdom in seeking answers around ‘why’.

Is your partner experiencing an identity or mid-life crisis and searching for ways to feel more attractive or alive? Are they trying to get your attention? Has there been emotional or physical distance for an extended period and they have fallen for another who has shown them more interest? Were they unsure of the future of the relationship and in exploring if the ‘grass was greener’, found out it was not? Is having more than one partner considered acceptable in their culture?

None of these reasons makes infidelity okay. However, when we realise that unfaithfulness is often the symptom of a bigger issue, we can begin to wade through the muddy waters of reconciliation or separation.

Research tells us that many affairs begin because a person is unfilled personally. Wanting to feel needed, validated or physically desirable, they begin searching for someone to provide what they perceive is missing in their current relationship. What might begin as a fantasy can quickly become a reality, as the hormones produced during those initial stages of infatuation provide the excitement and affirmation they were seeking.

Can You Forgive?

The Bible, tells us that love is patient, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs and bears all things, but the same passage confirms love does not dishonour others, is not self-seeking and always protects.

Contrary to what we are led to believe, love is not a feeling. Love is a vow to honour, protect and sacrifice our own desires to remain faithful to the one we have promised our heart to.

Knowing what real love is meant to look like and the reason why a partner has been unfaithful, you can then ask some important questions:

Does my partner feel regret or shame?

Have they admitted their mistake?
Are they willing to ask for forgiveness?
Is there a promise to rebuild the trust which has been broken?
Are the lines of communication now open between us?

If you acknowledge that the relationship has been neglected in some way, can see a genuine repentance and both desire for reconciliation, then forgiveness is key. It won’t always be easy, but a relationship with God provides the strength to forgive the most hurtful situations.

A well-known story shows Jesus’ response to this very situation. A woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Him for judgment. According to the religious law, she should have been stoned to death for her crime. Yet Jesus rescues her and demands that only those without their own sin should throw any stones. With not one accuser perfect, they all left. This powerful encounter between Jesus and the woman followed:

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” –  John 8:10-11.

When Is Enough, Enough?

While reconciliation is at the very centre of God’s heart, scriptures in both the Old and New Testament will reveal that adultery in marriage is an issue God takes very seriously. So much so, that caution against the act of adultery is included in the Ten Commandments and all four gospels.

“Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” – Hebrews 13:4.

If a partner refuses to admit their mistake, places blame and guilt with everyone else, and continues to remain unfaithful in their thoughts and actions, a separation may be inevitable. Children raised in a home where infidelity is continual, often develop a deep sense of insecurity. This can lead to a warped view of what is the acceptable way to treat others and be treated themselves. Sexually transmitted diseases can also make their way into the marriage when a partner is unfaithful.

Acts of infidelity bring about significant turmoil and consequence for all involved. If you know enough is enough, you do not have to continue to suffer.  Jesus himself said that sexual immorality within a marriage is one of the only genuine reasons for legal separation.

Lasting Damage

Whether you choose to reconcile or separate as a result of unfaithfulness, neither road is easy. So, if you are currently feeling tempted towards infidelity, stop now. Talk it out with your partner, mature friends, or a counsellor; avoid situations that can easily lead to an affair; and most importantly, dive into a relationship with Jesus Christ who will help you make decisions that inspire a purpose-filled life.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” – James 1:5.

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