With my recent pieces on divorce, I’ve used the word “adultery” a great bit. Within the context, however, I discussed the adultery that comes after a divorce when either party attempts to start a new relationship. I’d like now to discuss adultery in the way that we normally see it–as infidelity in a marriage, or cheating.
Adultery is everywhere and is seemingly always on our minds. Scour the magazine racks at the grocery store and there’s guaranteed to be a Cosmo or Glamour with a headline that reads, “Why Men Cheat,” or “6 Signs that He’s Cheating.” At the same time, there are articles upon articles on every website from Yahoo to WebMD that attempt to break down why someone would be driven to commit such a terrible act against someone they claim to love.
The reasons put forth are countless, all of them streaming from this or that psychological or biological theory. And while every excuse, justification, or rationalization presented is different, they’re all rooted in one particular flaw of our human nature: selfishness.
It is an unfortunate, grave error and the very essence of pride. When you’re down to the wire, a spouse who commits adultery against the other does so because they have put the desires of the flesh above the sanctity of the marriage.
Admittedly, I sometimes find it difficult to understand how one can fall into infidelity, given the fact that there are many steps from initial contact to sexual intercourse and therefore a plethora of chances to turn and run.
However, I understand we are all faced with different struggles. Some people are more susceptible to certain temptations than others, and those temptations can be crippling, especially if one is already in a state of weakness. If we look at the testimonies from those who have cheated on their spouses, far and wide the road to infidelity seems to begin with some level of breakdown in the marriage.
Perhaps the spark has fizzled out after so many years together. Perhaps the relationship is lacking in intimacy. Perhaps one spouse doesn’t feel appreciated. These hiccups in a marriage are natural, but when they occur, we have to cling to our spouse and recall the covenant we made before God, because it’s during these times, these moments of weakness, that the Devil goes to work.
He turns our attention inwards, caters us a pity party, and begins to play on our imperfect nature. He presents us with opportunities to escape our dreary marriages so that we can seek in another person what we think we’re lacking. He convinces us that we can find happiness that way. Worst of all, he makes us feel justified in our actions — even to the point of blaming the betrayed spouse for not being a better mate.
However, God, in all His mercy, has provided us with the grace of the Sacraments to aide us in times of temptation. When lustful thoughts fill our minds, we can exhume them through Confession and then strengthen our spirit through the Eucharist. We have to lean on God rather than allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that we can handle these temptations on our own.
Of course, we should also be weary of the many forms infidelity can take. Often, when we think of adultery, many of us probably imagine a strictly physical affair, but as Christ himself said,
“You have heard that it was said,r ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Infidelity can happen in the heart or mind just as much as it can with the body. The Catechism states that Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire. It doesn’t have to reach the point of physical intimacy for us to break our marital commitment. We can turn our hearts over to someone other than our spouse and bring damage to the marriage without so much as holding hands with another person. In some cases, even something as seemingly harmless as a text message or a flirtatious comment can have devastating repercussions.
We should also consider the damage and far reaching consequences that adultery can have on a person and their relationship. The betrayed spouses must cope with two separate, yet equally painful, injuries. First, recovering from a broken heart while coping with the knowledge that their mate established a relationship with another person. And second, the shattering of trust that occurs as a result of those actions.
At the same time, if one spouse seeks a divorce in order to marry the person with whom they developed a relationship, they’re kidding themselves if they think God will bless a union that was built on such deceit. The new relationship is stained from the start, which is bound to cause only more pain and turmoil down the road.
God gave us a conscious and an inept sense of morality for a reason. He sanctified the marriage bond for a reason. He gave us the grace of the Sacraments for a reason, and he forbade adultery in the Ten Commandments for a very good reason. Infidelity is a sin of human construction that destroys love, trust, and family — and nowhere is God present in such things.
God is, however, ready and willing to forgive us at all times. In the same way He provides us with the Sacraments to resist temptation, we can use them when we fall to temptation as well. Though adultery can cause egregious amounts of pain and suffering, it doesn’t necessarily have to spell the end of a marriage. The offender must come forth with true contrition and repentance, the offended must be willing to forgive, and both must be willing to seek God in repairing what was broken.