Earlier this week, Lysa TerKeurst announced that her marriage is over. She is a popular Christian speaker and writer, so this news comes as quite a shock to anyone who knows her commitment to her marriage and how she prioritizes her family. I can only imagine what a difficult decision this was for her and because of her public position it was necessary for her to explain this wasn’t about just “giving up” on marriage or her spouse, but about her husband’s infidelity. There are legitimate concerns about what that kind of public outing of her husband does to her children and their privacy, but I can see why it felt necessary for her.
I can also see how this revelation (like Glennon Doyle Melton’s before) contributes to the idea that the only possible outcome for a marriage that experiences infidelity is divorce. This just isn’t true.
When a marriage breaks up because of infidelity, the news goes public. Spouses need to explain and justify why it was time to leave. Especially in Christian circles, we know this seems to be the one acceptable reason for divorce, so we want to make sure people know this divorce had the support of our church because of infidelity. But not every marriage that experiences infidelity ends in divorce.
There is the possibility for forgiveness and redemption. Counseling can help reveal issues that have needed addressing for a long time. Marriages can in some way be stronger than they were before, but that requires making peace with the fact they can never be the same. The painful, ugly reality of infidelity is it can never be undone. The harm and hurt will create a wound that can either become infected and poison both of you or it can heal into a strong, healthy scar. In those first days after you find out about a spouse’s infidelity there is no way to know which direction it’s going to go.
Because of the public perception that all marriages that experience infidelity end in divorce, if you find out a spouse has been unfaithful, you may assume divorce is your only option. You may think that’s the only way out of your pain. But you take your pain with you. Divorce doesn’t necessarily “fix” all the issues, it just ends the marriage and closes the door on fixing the issues as a team with your spouse. Divorce may be the best, wisest option, but the shame of infidelity means when marriages DON’T end in divorce, your community may never even know infidelity happened.
If you are wrestling through the impacts of infidelity, just know you aren’t alone. You have coworkers, friends, family members, people sitting in the pew next to you who are living in marriages where infidelity has happened and they were able to work through it. But you may never know this because when a couple decides to work it out, they may decide to not talk publicly about it. For the sake of your children, for the sake of your privacy and because you are committed to forgiveness, you may never bring up how you’ve worked through this issue. That’s a shame when it comes to the couples behind you who are wondering if it’s possible to survive this kind of pain, but we’ve all learned we do what works to preserve our sanity and our marriage. Lisa TerKeurst mentions a two year battle for her marriage– a battle we probably wouldn’t have ever known about if it wasn’t for the divorce. She battled quietly until it wasn’t right to battle any longer. Many couples are still silently battling in those same trenches.
Infidelity is often a private pain. Couples who have successfully found healing and forgiveness should be celebrated, but the shame on both sides (“I made a huge mistake.” on one side and, “People will assume I was part of the problem and not a good spouse.” on the other) keeps it quiet. Finding healing after infidelity is like discovering a cure for your cancer and not telling anyone because you don’t want people to know you had cancer. It feels like relief and beauty from ashes, but nobody will ever know and you make peace with that because you’ve learned your family stability is all that matters. All they’ll see is your seemingly perfect marriage continuing on and another public marriage ended by infidelity. They’ll continue to assume that affairs are a death sentence to a marriage. They can be. But they don’t have to be. If you can fight one more day for your marriage in a healthy way, where you’re both pursuing restoration, keep fighting. There are many couples fighting with you, even if you never know about it.