“Fr. Petros, is it possible for a couple to truly “get over” an infidelity (adultery in mind)? What is the teaching of the Church when a spouse in caught in the act red-handed? Please help” – Anonymous.
Dear anonymous, adultery is defined as an act of sexual intercourse with someone who is married to another; a carnal connection between a married person and one unmarried, or between a married person and the spouse of another.
Adultery is a specific term associated to straying when a marriage is involved. Infidelity is a broader term more associated to relationships and not limited to a marriage association. Both include the same behavior, adultery is under infidelity.
REALITY ON THE GROUND
Adultery destroys marriage because it breaks what is fundamental to the relationship: exclusivity. Infidelity can come in a number of ways. There is physical infidelity and emotional infidelity. Watching pornography, Masturbating – having sex with oneself, even adultery is infidelity. Becoming emotionally attached to someone else in a spousal way is infidelity.
Sexual intercourse is a gift to be shared with one’s spouse within the bond of marriage; this is the proper order of sexual relations. Unfortunately this is not the case in our rotten society, 1+1=1 matrimonial mathematics is a dream and scarce, many are emotionally and sexually attached to a person outside their matrimonial bond. Adultery is a marital cancer that requires immediate healing.
You shall not commit adultery – Ex. 20:14, Dt. 5:18. If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death – Lev. 20:10. But he who commits adultery is a fool; he who would destroy himself does it – Prov. 6:32. You have heard that it was said, ‘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 – Mt. 5:27.
Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire – Mt 5:27-28. The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely – Mt 5:32, Mt 19:6, Mk 10:11, 1 Cor. 6:9-10. The prophets denounce the gravity of adultery; they see it as an image of the sin of idolatry – Hos 2:7, Jer. 5:7, 13:27.
Adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his commitment. He does injury to the sign of the covenant which the marriage bond is, transgresses the rights of the other spouse, and undermines the institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is based. He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children who need their parents’ stable union – CCC 2381. Adultery, divorce, polygamy, and free union are grave offenses against the dignity of marriage. CCC -2400.
RELIGIOUS LITERATURE AND CHURCH FATHERS
1. THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS
This was a religious literary work of 2nd and 3rd Centuries and was considered a valuable book by early Christians. The Shepherd 4:1:6 says: “What then shall the husband do, if the wife continue in this disposition (adultery)? Let them separate, and let the husband remain single. But if he divorce his wife and marry another, he too commits adultery.”
2. AMBROSE OF MILAN
“No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce! For you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another” (Abraham 1:7:59, A.D. 387). What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” (Commentary on Luke 8:5, A.D. 389).
3. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
“Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of adultery and marries another does not commit adultery. (Adulterous Marriages 1:9:9, A.D. 419).
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
This is not a commandment of men, but one that comes directly from Jesus Christ. As Paul said, “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10-11), even in case of adultery!
Couples can resolve the problems related to infidelity (like adultery) and go on to have an outstanding relationship. Here are the proposed few:
I do, of course, mean the Sacrament of Confession, but also confession to the wounded spouse. The wounded spouse has a right to all the information about the affair that he or she wishes to have. Full confession is not only good for the soul, it is essential for reconciliation of the marriage.
2. REBUILD YOUR MARRIAGE
The couple must work to create a marriage that is far better than they have ever experienced before. Spending more time together, especially evening reviewing what they have done to attend to each other’s spiritual and emotional needs, eat meals together (some). They will need to be honest with each other about their needs and learn ways to keep arguments productive.
3. AVOID BLAME GAME
Don’t play a blame game. Accept your past mistakes and your weaknesses. Promise your spouse that you are a new person and that you will never cheat on him/her. Remember: it is not a mistake to make a mistake, but it is a mistake to repeat a mistake. You are not the worst creature on earth, you can make it better!
4. FORGIVE AND FORGET
Even after the marriage is better than ever and the offending spouse is more open, lingering doubts may still remain in the wounded spouse. This is a roadblock to full recovery. Please forgive and forget – Mt 18:21-22
Fr. Patrick Peyton (1909-1992), a well-known priest who promoted the family Rosary, used to say: “A family that prays together, stays together.” Such families build eternal relationships on a foundation of strength, comfort, inspiration and love. Family prayer brings them closer to each other and to the Savior.
Conflicts in the bedroom and unsatisfactory amongst spouses must be solved with openness and with proper communication, before the marriage counsellor or between spouses. Marital love is a give and take game, on the other hand learn to cope and be satisfied with what you have.
This plays a big role as couples age. For those not yet married, know that marrying an under aged person (for example, a 30 year marrying an 18 year person) does more harm than good. Remember, sexual desires may slowly depreciate with age.
Adultery is the normal, but unlawful, use of sex by a married and a single person, or by two married persons, who, however, are not married to each other. This grievous sin is far worse than fornication, for it violates not only chastity, but it is a gross violation of justice (committed against the true spouse of the married party, or against both spouses of the married parties). Besides, it is a more damaging offense against the common good than fornication is.
Making a full recovery from infidelity and adultery is certainly possible, but it is never a do-it-yourself project. A culture that promotes infidelity and adultery lacks sanctity!
Groesschel, Craig, Healing your Marriage when Trust is Broken, New York: Harvest House, 2011.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.
Gilby, Thomas, et al., trans. Summa Theologia-(IIa IIae), Questions 153 & 154, New York: Pan Macmillan, 1964.