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Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: My Spouse Cheated on Me. Should I Stay or Leave the Marriage?

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Q: I just found out that my spouse has been having an affair. I’m devastated. We’ve made eternal covenants and created a family together. Part of me wants to save our marriage, but part of me hurts too bad. We’ve had problems for years, and I feel I may have drove them to this. I don’t know if it can be saved. What should I do?

A: I’m so sorry. There are few pains more sharp and profound than the betrayal of a spouse, especially when temple covenants have been made. You’re likely surrounded by people who are telling you what you should do. Variations of “Stay! Repentance is real; your eternal family is worth fighting for” and “Leave! He/she broke the covenants and you deserve to be treated better” are likely what you’ve been hearing.

Blaming yourself is natural, but as you’ll see in a second, not the way to go. It’s also natural to feel pulled in both directions: you love your spouse, you’ve put your heart and life and energy into this family, but you also don’t know if you can ever trust them again, and without trust what’s a marriage?

I’ve gotten dozens of questions since starting this column three weeks ago (I respond to everyone), several very similar to yours. Adultery is a rampant problem, even in the Church. Since there’s more to cover than an article can contain, I’ve put together a complimentary online class for LDS Living readers on how to heal from infidelity this Thursday. No charge, just a free service. But I will get you started here.

Combining truths from gospel doctrine and family science (gospel first, but truth is truth) let’s explore where you go from here.

  1. Is the affair over? Is your spouse repentant? If your spouse isn’t willing to end the relationship with the other person to save your marriage, that’s probably your answer right there. Speaking to the Church, Jesus said “thou shalt not commit adultery; and he [or she] that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out. But he [or she] that has committed adultery, and repents with all [their] heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive. But if he doeth it again, he [or she] shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). The Lord doesn’t command us to stay with persons who are not repentant of adultery. If he or she is repentant, and the other relationship is over, I believe it’s worth it to walk the hard road back to healing your marriage as long as (as Elder Holland recently taught) the relationship is not “toxic . . . abusive [or] destructive.”
  2. Are you blaming yourself? Don’t. As I’ve said elsewhere, it takes two to create most marriage problems, but once a person crosses the line into abuse, infidelity, or dishonesty, that choice is entirely on them. We may contribute mutually to harmful patterns, we may both create marriage problems that contributed to a vulnerability to temptation, but the choice to have an affair is solely on the person who was unfaithful. As Brigham Young taught: “If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell that can be blamed. . . . This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation.” Of course the Atonement is available for your spouse, but the point remains that he or she alone is responsible for their choice, not you.
  3. Is your spouse being humble and accountable? If so, there’s hope already. If not, they may need some help to get there. If they never get there, there’s no marriage.
  4. Are they working to earn back your trust? Transparency, fidelity, honesty. Are they displaying these behaviors?
  5. Are they willing to endure your hurt and negative feelings? If they’re dismissive, minimizing, or think that you “just need to forgive and move on,” they’re not recognizing that making amends is part of the repentance process. Chastening is necessary for repentance and sanctification (see Doctrine and Covenants 1:27 and Doctrine and Covenants 101:2-5).
  6. On your end, are you willing to let them earn back your trust? Are you willing to work through your hurt and anger and forgive? It is a daily choice, a daily struggle, and a process, but are you willing to do it?

The answers to these questions will determine where you go from here. I’m so sorry for your heartache. As noted, I’ve more to say on the subject and have prepared a complimentary online class for LDS Living readers. If you need more support, please be there

Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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