Infidelity is Not “For Better or Worse”

There’s some serious planking going on here.

I wasn’t going to write about the Ashley Madison scandal. I figured enough bloggers were doing that.

But the reaction I’m seeing from some Christian leaders has my blood boiling. For people who passionately tout the sanctity of marriage and denounce the evils of the sexual revolution, you’d think they’d be at least somewhat livid at the scores of Christian men who were caught spending hundreds of dollars on a website to elicit an extra-marital affair.

Instead, it’s all, “We should forgive them” and “What about grace?” and “Let’s examine our own sins first.” And when the wives–who have been horribly deceived and betrayed–come forward to seek a divorce, the same leaders have responded with, “Hey. You pledged to marry him for better or worse.”

But infidelity is not “for better or worse.” 

  • Worse is when one of you gains an extra sixty pounds.
  • Worse is when you have a mental breakdown and have to send your kid to live with relatives for a week.
  • Worse is when one of you decides you’re no longer Christian.
  • Worse is when you move out of state twice in less than two years.
  • Worse is having sex only five times in one year.
  • Worse is being unemployed for three years.
  • Worse is losing a baby.
  • Worse is having to confront your spouse about possible alcoholism.
  • Worse is having postpartum depression for two years.
  • Worse is spending your first anniversary at the funeral of your father-in-law, who died from a stroke. At age 49.
  • Worse is getting a phone call saying that your mother-in-law’s house is in foreclosure and being auctioned off next week.
  • Worse is when your spouse hasn’t slept in 36 hours and is making everyone miserable with his crankiness.
  • Worse is when your spouse is away for weeks on end and you raise the kids by yourself.
  • Worse is admitting to your spouse that you’ve been thinking about suicide. Again.
  • Worse is being asked by your spouse if you’re safe enough to be around the children.
  • Worse is waking up and wondering if your marriage will last until your next anniversary.

This is some of the “worse” my husband and I have experienced within eight years of marriage. It’s the stuff of life. It’s weight gain and sickness and family issues and bad moods and changing expectations. That’s what we mean when we stand at the altar and take each other “for better or worse.” It’s so we don’t run out the door the moment the honeymoon ends.

To me, applying “for better or worse” to infidelity is just plain insulting. Because my husband and I didn’t stand before God and pledge to never gain an extra pound. We didn’t pledge to always keep a sunny disposition. We didn’t promise to never burn the dinner, or to always be patient with the kids, or to have sex three nights per week. However, we did promise to “forsake all others.” We made a covenant vow before witnesses to become one flesh. To cherish and protect each other. To allow only the other person to meet our most intimate emotional and physical needs.

Making a cutting remark on a bad day doesn’t break the covenant. Being angry at your spouse for forgetting to pick up the kids or take the trash to the curb doesn’t break the covenant. But sleeping with other people does. Which is why Jesus declared marital infidelity grounds for divorce. Serial adultery isn’t a “worse” to be tolerated or absolved. It’s a deal-breaker.

Now, if a person decides they want to continue a relationship with a spouse who cheated and then repented, that’s their prerogative. What I’m objecting to are these pastors giving wives the “better or worse” speech after their husbands broke their covenant vow to forsake all others. What a slap in the face, especially in light of the cheaters’ excuses:

“I was bored and curious.”

“My wife was depressed and didn’t want sex anymore.”

“I wanted to try new things. She didn’t.”

“I’m not attracted to her anymore.”

“It was an escape from the stress of my job and home life.”

I have yet to hear a single pastor publicly address these men and say, “That’s tough, buddy. You married her. For better or worse!”

These pastors aren’t talking about forgiveness; they’re talking about absolution. They quote verses at the families devastated by the desecration of their marital covenant, telling them to remove the plank in their own eye before attempting to remove the speck in the cheater’s eye. But they’ve got it backwards. An occasional bad attitude is a speck. Infidelity is a plank. And those women have every right to grieve, to rage, to demand nothing less than absolute, contrite repentance.

The Apostle Paul said that anyone who claimed to be a Christian but engaged in sexual immorality ought to be thrown out of the church. What are we doing when we, as the church, demand forgiveness without repentance?

What are we doing when we call adultery a speck to be overlooked?

22 responses to “Infidelity is Not “For Better or Worse”

  1. What a ridiculous assessment. If Christ can die for your sins then a spouse can forgive adultery. Your analysis as it being a deal breaker is flawed and flies in the face of the central message of Christ: reconciliation. If your spouse is remorseful and repentant then you should find a way to get over it and not throw your family away because of your pride.

    • Of course a spouse can forgive adultery. My point is that adultery doesn’t fall under the “for better or worse” portion of the marital vows, and we shouldn’t act like it does. Adultery is biblical grounds for divorce, and a wronged spouse is under no obligation to reconcile, even if the cheating party is repentant.