"If you know anyone whose marriage has been affected by an extramarital affair, raise your hand."
If you asked this question to any group of adults, what percentage do you think would raise their hands? My guess is 100%.
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It’s a fact of life in the modern world. Surveys differ as to the exact percentage, but I believe that my friend Bill Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs, is on target when he states that 60% of American marriages are affected by an extramarital affair sometime in the course of the marriage. To better understand extramarital affairs, I sorted them into three large categories with several subcategories.
The Short-Lived Affair lasts from one night to several months and is primarily about sex. Subcategories included Revenge Affairs, Affairs of Opportunity (at the right place at the right time to do the wrong thing), Self-Esteem Booster Affairs, and more.
The Permission Affair has become more prevalent with the graying of morality. It was once called Swinging, later Wife-Swapping, and now its participants just call it “The Lifestyle.”
The Relationship Affair is the most difficult to overcome. It typically starts as friendship that evolves into shared emotions and eventually shared bodies. The reason it is tougher to overcome is because those in Relationship Affairs usually are in love with each other.
That’s why so many of these affairs lead to divorce, no matter how strongly you tell the person that s/he is sinning and no matter how hard the offended spouse tries to save the marriage. If you’ve ever tried to help a person madly in love with someone other than his or her spouse, you know the frustration. Of course, because of such passages as Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, churches usually grant the offended spouse the right to start over with a new mate, and few blame him or her for moving on with life after being cheated on.
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May I offer another possibility?
It’s true that the cheated spouse may divorce the cheating spouse and find a different path for the future. However, wouldn’t it be better for everyone – cheated, cheater, children, church, and community – if there were a way to rescue the straying spouse, heal the hurts, and guide husband and wife back to a marriage of love and commitment? Though we in the “marriage business” usually don’t proclaim this little jewel from the rooftops, if a marriage survives an affair it will be stronger and more loving than it was before the affair. (We tend to keep that to ourselves so that some idiot doesn’t think, “Hey, I know how to make my marriage better…”)