Emotional Abuse, Grace, sexual purity, Surviving Adultery and Divorce, Uncategorized

The Myth Continues: Blaming the Victim

There has been a firestorm erupting over an advertisement from Focus on the Family for a new book about a marriage that was reconciled after adultery. The book is titled How God Used the Other Woman: Saving Your Marriage After Infidelity.

I don’t have any problems with the book (I have not read it). I am very thankful there are marriages out there that have not only survived adultery but are thriving. I love stories of reconciliation where the unfaithful spouse repents and does what is necessary to save his/her marriage. There’s no greater testimony of God’s grace than these stories—and they bring hope in the midst of very painful trials.

However, the advertisement for this book states:

Her husband’s infidelity didn’t mean the end of Tina Konkin’s marriage. Her willingness to answer the question, “What role did you play in this?” saved her marriage.

Let me start by saying I have tremendous respect for Focus on the Family and its founder, James Dobson. However, I do believe this advertisement furthers the myth that it takes two to cause an affair. It heaps blame on the victim instead of placing the blame where it belongs: on the unfaithful spouse.

I have heard from a number of readers who have reached out to Focus on the Family in the midst of their pain, and the results have been mixed. Some have been told they must stay and pray for reconciliation; others have been told they are free to leave. Every situation is unique, but this tendency to blame the victim for a spouse’s adultery must end now.

It seems that sexual sin is the only time culture allows us to blame the victim. We hear stories of rape where women are blamed because of what they are wearing or where they are. And we constantly hear the stories of how spouses are blamed for their partner’s infidelity. They weren’t loving well. They nagged. They didn’t provide well enough. They gained weight. Whatever it might be, the innocent spouse is blamed.

We don’t blame the victim of a drunk driving accident for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don’t blame the murdered spouse for causing the abuse that escalated to death. We don’t blame the victim of a robbery for leaving their home unsecured. But we continue to blame the faithful spouse for his/her spouse’s actions which perpetuates the lies and further destroys the victim.

I have no doubt some affairs start because a spouse is withdrawn or not giving enough attention to the marriage. I have no doubt some stray because they are hurting from abuse or negligence. Even in these situations, the faithful spouse should not take the blame.

But, in many other cases, adultery happens as the result of one hardened heart. There’s a loving, faithful spouse sitting at home, carrying the burden of the marriage while the other spouse is intent on his/her own selfish desires. Maybe his/her mind is warped by porn. Maybe he/she is just looking for a thrill. Maybe he/she is discontent in life in general and fails to see the gifts right in front of him. Maybe he/she is seeking to numb the pain carried from childhood.

Why do we continue the myth that it takes two people to cause an affair?

Yes, it takes two to have an affair: the two people involved with one another outside the bounds of their marriages. But it is never the fault of the faithful spouse sitting at home.

Let’s take a couple of biblical examples:

This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings. 1 Samuel 25:3

There’s no record of Nabal having an affair in scripture, but we do see a kind, loving, supportive woman who was married to—let’s name it—an emotionally and mentally abusive man. His anger and instability had absolutely nothing to do with Abigail. Yet, she suffered from his abuse on a daily basis.

Sadly, the story of Nabal and Abigail is far from an isolated case. Our culture today is rampant with men and women who are cruel and abusive, destroying their spouses while pursuing their own selfish pursuits. Like Abigail, there are many kind, loving spouses who suffer through years of abuse, faithfully clinging to the hope God will change their spouse’s heart only to end up being devastated by adultery.

Here’s another one:

Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. 2 Samuel 11:2-4

There are several things to note in the story of David and Bathsheba. First, it was the time for kings to go to war (vs. 1), and yet David opted to stay home. He was not where he was supposed to be. Second, he was told from the beginning that Bathsheba was married, and yet he insisted on fulfilling his selfish desires. Third, from what we know about Uriah, he was a fine, upstanding man. He was serving his country. He was loyal. Even when David told him to go sleep with his wife, he refused because his integrity kept him from indulging in selfish pursuits while his comrades were at war (vv. 9-11). He was the victim of adultery.

Now, I realize Bathsheba would have risked severe consequences if she betrayed the king in those times. However, David was known as a man after God’s own heart. Surely, if she had refused his advances, he would have acted in a godly manner. But, regardless, David pursued a married woman. David’s heart was hardened despite being a man who had everything he could ever want. There was an affair, and two families were forever changed because of hardened hearts.

Here’s the truth: It only takes one hardened heart to destroy a marriage, but it takes two people working together, submitting to God and to one another, to have a successful marriage. It takes two people seeking God, fully surrendered to God, to overcome the pain of adultery and rebuild a marriage. If the guilty party is unwilling to repent and change his/her ways, the marriage will not survive.

Galatians 5:19-20 in The Message sums it up well:

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.

Men and women indulging in adulterous relationships are consumed with the work of the flesh. They are not seeking God, nor are they seeking the good of their spouses. They are out to serve the mighty god of self regardless of whom they hurt. These people are the ones to blame, and we must stop blaming the innocent spouses!

As I said earlier, I have respect for Focus on the Family, but they need to take a long, hard look at the advertising for this book. Anyone who tells you to look at “your role” in your spouse’s affair is letting the adulterous spouse off easily. The correct question is to look straight at the adulterer and lay the full blame at their feet. Make sure they know they are the reason the marriage (and their spouse) is in shambles. Point out their hardened hearts and tell them they need to change.

And instead of blaming the innocent spouse, offer words of hope and encouragement. Let the spouse know it’s ok to stay if the guilty party truly repents. But, these circumstances are in no way a reflection of who he/she is or what he/she has done. They are the result of hardened heart that has chosen to walk away from God and His perfect will.

16 thoughts on “The Myth Continues: Blaming the Victim”

  1. Thank you for this. Recently I was blamed for the fault of separation of my marriage but this has reminded me I am not to blame. God bless you for continuing sharing wisdom.

  2. A therapist once said those exact words to me … left me so confused. Thank you for this article.

  3. I agree with you 100%! I was told this when my marriage ended with an affair and I questioned myself many times. Not to mention the “shame” because “you were cheated on”. But I came to the realization that affairs are the product of two very selfish, self-centered people. Only thinking about themselves and what’s in it for them. Forget the lives you are affecting. I have no respect for any woman who destroys a marriage and a family. None! I told my ex if he wanted to be with someone like that, the two of them belonged together. It amazes me how vindicated they feel.

    1. My ex blamed the divorce on me because I asked him to leave and I filed. Forget his three year affair. That had nothing to do with it. I will say their minds become so twisted they often believe their own lies so they don’t have to bear the shame and guilt. An affair is not about the marriage. It is solely about the hardened heart.

  4. Good post, Dena!

    Yes, the whole concept of the reason people have affairs is due to their spouse not being affectionate enough is totally misguided. More often than not people have affairs because they were looking for an opportunity for an affair.

    Similarly, I have learned to dislike these books and conferences about divorce proofing one’s marriage. It cannot be done, because every marriage requires two committed people working together. One cannot control a spouse’s choices.

    Thank you!

  5. Dear Dena,I agree whole heartedly to your comments. I was married for 26 years and during that time my husband had numerous affairs.He so dabbled in pornography. I stayed in my marriage as I believed that was what I was supposed to do. I worked and cared for our two daughters.My self esteem was rock bottom I felt worthless and unloved.I stayed until the day my husband committed an unspeakable act of which I cannot say. My marriage ended because my husband chose to be unfaithful chose to lie and to shame us. It was his choices not mine and I lay all the blame on him.So I too do not want to hear it takes two. God Bless Julie

  6. Dena,

    Thank you for writing this in the respectful and concise manner you have. I feel, as a pastor’s wife, the great responsibility to seek God’s truth on this matter. Moreover, I have had to challenge my own devastating past, for I am a child whose home was broken by my father’s repeated infidelity.

    Unfortunately, I have seen families ripped apart in the midst of our small country church congregation. It is most painful to watch and burdens my heart immensely. I appreciated your comparison of not blaming victims of other crimes, as in drunk driving. That no matter the victim’s role, that the onus is still on the two parties who are violating the covenant of the marriage. Those who choose to betray their spouse could have also choose to handle the marital issues, if present, in a righteous way. Not in an evil and destructive manner.

    I still believe God does hate divorce. However, in the exception of an unrepentant, unfaithful spouse, and of course other abuses, that vows are broken. Therefore, the person is released.

    Thank you again for your insights. May God continue to bless and guide you.

    1. Thank you. Sadly, we can do all the affair-proofing we want, and there’s no guarantee a heart will not harden. My ex-husband and I had all the boundaries in place, yet he found someone he wanted to counsel alone in spite of our agreed upon boundaries.

      I agree God hates divorce but not because it’s some great sin. He hates divorce because of the pain and devastation it causes his children. He hates the abuse and infidelity that leads to divorce (see Malachi 2:14-16).

      I appreciate your heart. We must stand together and combat these lies that leave those of us who have suffered divorce shamed and condemned by the church. God is the one source of true healing for the pain we’ve suffered. The Church must be the hands and feet of Christ.

  7. Dena, I stumbled upon your ministry today but I know nothing is by chance when God is involved! I’m in the midst of filing for divorce after 29 years of marriage. My husband feels entitled to be happy at all costs and has consequently betrayed me repeatedly over all 29 years. I recognize now what emotional abuse is. I feel ashamed as a pastors kid, I feel embarrassed that I don’t have it all together and I feel heartbroken for our 3 adult children that have had to endure the second hand smoke of their dad’s selfishness. I , too, have been blamed. Apparently I wasn’t being sexually aggressive enough and “desiring” him the way he deserved to be desired. I can’t describe the mental torment this has caused. I’m sure you can relate at some level. I’m starting to see the light and know that he is the one with the problem- not me. I’ve been good to him, loyal, faithful and loving. He accused me of not forgiving him and that I’m not able to forgive. I really felt I have forgiven him. But how can I know for sure? The doubt has been planted in my heart now. Can you share with me your journey toward forgiveness and how I can know if I truly have? Thanks again for what you do- I’ve wept today because I’m not alone and someone, a sister in Christ, understands my pain! Blessings to you and your family ❤️

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