Adultery: Definitions and Key Thoughts

Adultery may also occur when a person has an emotional affair with a person other than their spouse. It occurs when a person turns to someone outside of his or her marriage for primary emotional support (i.e., a person turns to an opposite sex friend for support, companionship, and sharing of personal matters when they are experiencing hostility, conflict, or distancing with their spouse). This type of an emotional affair can actually be more detrimental to a marriage than physical adultery.

Sadly, infidelity in marriages is becoming increasingly common among both of the sexes. Key reasons for extramarital affairs include:

  • unresolved conflict
  • poor communication
  • unrealistic expectations that lead to marital dissatisfaction

When these situations arise, the perceived need that is unfulfilled in the marriage seeks fulfillment elsewhere. People may also become involved in extramarital affairs because they find themselves in situations for which they have not set wise boundaries or are unprepared for.

Often, affairs begin so gradually that the people who began as well-meaning friends are unaware of the changes in the relationship until a significant behavior occurs. Infidelity can also originate from emotional deprivation during childhood from which a person can develop a constant hunger for attention and approval. If this is the case, when a person’s spouse cannot fulfill that hunger, that person will feel let down or cheated, and will seek attention from someone outside of the marital relationship. Many adulterers believe that they are seeking love when all they are really desire is to feel better about themselves.

Whether a person is conscious of it or not, adultery may also occur as an act of retaliation or anger against their spouse. For some people, when money or positions of power increase, their sense of sense of entitlement to life’s pleasures also increases. Not surprisingly, this sense of entitlement can also extend to the sexual realm.
Overall, adultery is a self-centered choice in which a person intentionally ignores the needs of their spouse in order to satisfy their own selfish desires and often involves a lifestyle of deception.

Action Steps

Healing after infidelity is not impossible. More and more couples are enduring the difficult healing process in attempt to restore their marriages.
To begin the healing process, it is important for both spouses to:

Understand why the infidelity occurred. This may require a long look at the development of marital patterns and the contributions that each person made to the breakdown of the marriage. Although it is difficult, each spouse should concentrate on their own issues instead of criticizing or blaming one another for the infidelity.

Rebuild trust in one another by being truthful and accountable to each other. It is important for each spouse to keep their word and to follow through in their promises. Gestures of affection and nonsexual touch can also be helpful in the rebuilding of trust through their care and affirmation.

Take time to restore and enrich the marriage. The restoration process involves remembering and reestablishing the good things about the marriage before the adultery occurred. The enriching process involves learning and utilizing new behaviors and skills that can be used to help strengthen the marital relationship.
If the person in counseling is the faithful spouse, it is important to realize that there is a normal process of grief that occurs when someone has been truly wounded.

This process includes:

Shock/Denial. At this stage, the faithful person is unwilling to accept their spouse’s unfaithfulness and may blatantly deny any facts that are presented to them regarding their spouse’s activities.

Anger. The faithful person is aware that they have been violated and hurt and may express deep rage and resentment toward their unfaithful spouse.

Bargaining. The faithful person wants to use changes in behavior as a way to avoid further pain, rather than addressing the deeper ramifications of the infidelity.

Depression. The faithful person full realizes the impact of the infidelity on their marriage and mourns the loss of their previous relationship with the unfaithful spouse.

Acceptance. The faithful person comes to terms with the consequences of the infidelity and is willing to move past it.

It is critical to note that these stages are experiences at a pace unique to each individual. One must evaluate the particular stage that a person is at and be sensitive to them in encouraging them to work though that stage. These stages can be experienced repeatedly, out of order, or several at once. One should encourage the person not to make any rash long-term decisions before they have completed the grieving process. It is not unusual for the hurt person to want to end the marriage rather than taking on the difficult task of rebuilding the relationship. Separation may be a better option that will allow both spouses the emotional space and time necessary to clarify the situation and process their own feelings. The ultimate goal of separation is for the couple to reestablish trust and to build a friendship.

If the person in counseling is the unfaithful spouse:

  • Require the unfaithful spouse to disclose all of the steps leading to their affair, any information that was kept secret, and details of their relationship.
  • Remind the unfaithful spouse that it will not be easy to break their connection to the third party.
    Inform the unfaithful spouse that they must re-engage emotionally with their spouse by spending as much time as they can with him or her. The unfaithful spouse must also begin to account for all of his or her time in order to rebuild the trust of their spouse.
  • Tell the unfaithful spouse that the process will take time. The healing process will involve developing new patterns and commitments to learning about oneself and their spouse on a deeper level.
    Make it clear to the unfaithful spouse that seeking forgiveness involves restoration and making a deeper commitment to honor and love their spouse that they had previously given.

There are a few last important action steps for both spouses to follow during the process of overcoming adultery. They include the following:


  • The unfaithful person must make no contact at all with the third party.
  • The unfaithful person must be willing to make a major commitment in order to regain their spouse’s trust.
  • The unfaithful person must commit to a lifestyle of honesty and transparency, having no area that is off limits to inquiry.
  • The faithful person must fully commit to the difficult process of forgiveness.
  • The couple must understand that forgiveness is necessary but reconciliation is based on true repentance and remorse- some may never be able to heal.
  • The couple must commit to working with a professional counselor who is able to help them identify the communication patterns that may have led to the affair.

If you or your spouse has committed adultery and need help;

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