Ryan and Sally came in for counseling because Sally caught Ryan in an adulterous relationship. She was hurt and angry and the most important thing in the moment was to care for her soul.
While many things needed to be sorted out because of missing details, it was the pain she was experiencing that needed immediate counseling attention. Adultery is unlike most other sins because of the deep hurt it presses into a person’s soul and marriage.
Adultery is a hate sin
This sin has a unique aspect to it. If you sin normally, it’s between you and God. If your sin is adultery, it’s not just between you and God, but it trashes another soul too. But it’s worse than that–you are sinning against yourself because you and your spouse are one flesh.
Did you get that? Ryan sinned against himself, but the “himself” he sinned against was Sally because she is him–they are one flesh, not two people. Adultery is a strange sin.
In Ephesians Paul talked about how a lack of care for one’s spouse is a way to hate her. Some may recoil at the word hate, but that is God’s Word, not mine. The victims of adultery would not argue with Paul or God. It has the deep pain of hatred that is felt to the core of her being.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. – Ephesians 5:29 (ESV)
After a number of sessions things began to level out and Ryan and Sally were being cared for, restored to God, and restored to each other. Part of the counseling process needed to have a preventative measure to it. I did not want them go back to this place again, but in order to accomplish this we were going to have to do some deep digging.
Sally certainly did not want it to happen again. Therefore, we had to think about why it happened and how both Ryan and Sally needed to change their views about God, each other, and their marriage.
One of the interesting things that came out of this conversation was how the adultery was not an anomaly, but a continuation of a lifestyle that had been in place for nearly thirty years. Let me explain.
The complexity of the sinning victim
Sally and Ryan have known each other since they were in high school. They both are in their late forties now. They began dating in their junior year of high school and separated briefly during college and resumed their relationship in full after their respective college graduations.
Essentially, they were dating for six years before they were married. During this time they engaged in premarital sex, what the Bible calls fornication. I was not surprised by this, which is why I always ask a couple going through adultery if they fornicated during their dating years.
In almost every case the couple had indulged in premarital sexual sin. Adultery usually has a tail that can be decades old. Adultery does not just happen. There are patterns, as well as a lifestyle that precedes the spouse hopping in bed with another person.
It was hard for Sally to hear she was part of the problem and part of the pattern in her husband’s life. While she was not responsible for his sin, she was grossly irresponsible during the dating relationship and during the marriage.
She never made this connection. As noted by the title of the article, somehow she had convinced herself that sexual fornication and sexual adultery were on different planes and had no relationship to each other.
The complexity of intellectual dishonesty
Truthfully, there is hardly a difference between sexual sin before marriage and sexual sin while married. Who wants to parse out those differences? It’s futile and wrongheaded.
Somehow she had compartmentalized their fornication and recast it as love. The adultery, according to her self-denial, was another story altogether. It was sin, wrong, harsh, uncalled for, against God, against her, evil, of the devil, and a few other condemnatory things.
While I agree on all her descriptors about what adultery is, I would also say those descriptors apply to fornication too. Her guilt before God is no different than Ryan’s guilt before God when it comes to their choice to commit sexual sin.
Do you think God would say, “Sally, your fornicating sexual sin before you were married is not as bad as your husband’s adulterous, sexual sin after you were married.”
There may be a difference in shades of black, but if you group one sexual sin as “better” than another sexual sin, you’re playing intellectual games, while trying to protect something.
Rather than Sally trying to set herself apart as a better sinner, lesser sinner, not-as-bad-as-him-sinner, it would be more honest for her to own what she did and seek to repent to God and Ryan. It would be wise and humble for Ryan to do the same.
The reason this is important is because it is honest and until they come full circle and deal with all the sinful sexual dysfunction in their lives, they will not be able to get real life-changing help.
You can’t divorce the sexual sin during the pre-marriage years from the sexual sin during the married years. They are contiguous and progressive. Sally wanted to think her husband loved her and they were making loveas teens.
She also wanted to think her husband did not love the adulterous woman and it was sinful sexual lust. She was right only on the latter assessment. Her husband was in love with himself when they were dating and that has never changed.
Rooting out the painful causes of adultery
For further reading
I have written one eBook and other articles on the devastating short-term and long-term effect of sexual sin.