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Fidelity in marriage is a glorious blessing and is basic to happiness in families. And it is a commandment. We all know the teachings well. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World the First Presidency states, “Children are entitled … to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”

We teach it to our youth. It’s made clear in the booklet For the Strength of Youth: “God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage … Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage.” (p. 26)

Such clarity in doctrine relating to marital covenants is vital because we live in a world of blatant immorality. It surrounds us, yet we have the power to keep it from consuming us. We must guard ourselves and our marriage and make sure that we never fall victim to Satan’s trap of infidelity.

To do this we must take the steps that keep marital love alive. Church leaders are focusing more and more on this aspect of marriage. There is a blaring need to continually work at making our marriages strong, enjoyable, and spiritually grounded. It has been our effort to help teach ways to do this through our books, firesides, and marriage retreats.

However, the focus of this article is different. We’ll be addressing the issue of what happens if that sacred trust is violated and what can be done about it. The stories shared are real, but the names have been changed to protect privacy.

In our work with couples we have seen the deep sorrow that comes from infidelity and the damage it causes families. And we have seen remarkable examples of how some couples have plowed through the damage and used the principle of forgiveness to salvage their families.

Broken Trust

Adultery is the ultimate broken trust and one of the most devastating acts perpetrated against a spouse. Sexual intimacy is one of the most precious shared gifts a couple has. Once this trust is broken, it is extremely difficult to mend, but not impossible. If you still love each other, there is a way.

If you can’t stand him or her for doing it, but you want to save the marriage and both spouses are willing, it can be done. If there are children, do everything in your power to restore the marriage and make it stronger and happier than it has ever been. Though it may be very difficult, it will be worth all it will take to make it happen. One spouse can’t do this alone; it takes both working with all their hearts to make it happen.

Some people may tell you that as time goes on you just have to forgive and forget your spouse’s adultery. Forgive? Yes. Forget? Impossible. At least not for a very long time, and perhaps not at all. That still does not prevent you from restoring your marriage and enjoying happiness beyond what you thought possible. Sometimes the silent remembering keeps it from happening again. It is possible, however, that the memory will finally fade far into the background as a new and loving relationship is built between the two of you.

Chris and Shelly give us an example of how this tragedy can be handled. They were parents of six children and were active members of the Church with leadership callings. One evening Chris could no longer carry his dark secret. He had had numerous affairs in the past ten years and finally confessed it to his bishop and then to his wife. The affairs were only brief ones, with no desire on his part to continue the relationships. He loved his wife and children and didn’t want to lose them.

Shelly was devastated by the news. She was stunned, then filled with overwhelming anger, and then with the deepest sorrow she had ever known. She couldn’t stop crying for days on end.

Chris begged her to forgive him and promised absolute fidelity for the rest of his life. He pled with her not to leave him. She was repulsed by him and wouldn’t let him touch her. He pleaded for her forgiveness. She didn’t know if it was possible to stay in the marriage even if she could forgive him. She was certain she would never be able to trust him again.

And if that were the case, how could she possibly stay married to him? But what about the children? They loved him and needed him. She loved him. She had always loved him. And she needed him. He had been a good provider. How could she make it without him? How could he have done this to her?

All of these things went through Shelly’s mind as she mourned this tragedy in her life and worked to find a solution. She agonized and prayed for guidance about what to do and whether to stay in the marriage. She counseled with her bishop, and prayed more.

A disciplinary counsel was held and Chris was excommunicated. It was like a knife in his heart, but he knew he had to pay the price for his sin and he accepted it willingly, remaining faithful to his wife and the Church from that day on. He didn’t want to lose his family, but Shelly had every right to leave him and was trying to decide if she would.

He Let Her Vent

Chris did not press her for a decision and let her vent her anger on him whenever she needed to, always asking for her forgiveness and expressing his sincere love for her and his understanding of her disgust and disappointment in him. When she would shout, “I hate you for doing this. I hate you!” He would respond, “I hate me for doing it, too. Please forgive me.”

He had learned not to ruin the healing Shelly’s anger at him could bring by using any defense or justification. He just listened and tried with all his might to understand from her perspective. It was a deeply painful time for both of them, but Shelly decided to stay in the marriage.

It took several years of patient understanding on both Shelly’s and Chris’s parts until finally the trust was restored. Their love for each other grew through the years, and now they share a wonderful life together, not only enjoying each other, but also enjoying their children and grandchildren together, something they would have lost had they not been willing to work through the pain.

Forgiveness is the Key

Forgiveness is the key to rebuilding the marital relationship after adultery. It is not always possible, however, as Ruth and Braden’s experience shows. Braden simply could not forgive Ruth. She had been the unfaithful one. It had only occurred once, and she felt horrible about it, but Braden would not let it go.

He kept it alive in his mind as though it had happened yesterday and yet it had been many years ago.

He kept pressing for explicit details and verbally beating her up with those details. His lack of desire to set it aside and move on destroyed their relationship and they divorced, making the tragedy far greater for them and their children.

No Explicit Details

LDS therapist Dr. Carlfred Broderick gave wise counsel on how to deal with questions the betrayed mate has regarding what actually took place during the illicit sexual encounter. He said:

Demands for clinical sexual details should be resolutely resisted. In response to an informed spouse’s assertion of the right to know “everything,” repentant mates all too often supply details so vivid and concrete that they can scarcely be set aside. Months and years later they flash into memory, triggered by a date, a place, a word, a circumstance – and they lose none of their power to hurt. It is natural, of course, to be morbidly curious about such things, and injured spouses may argue that nothing could be worse than their fantasies. They are mistaken. Fantasies fade; but sharply etched visions of certified reality live on and on. (Carlfred Broderick, Couples, New York: Simon and Schuster 1979, p. 168)

It Takes Hard Work

Many couples work through this heartache of infidelity and regain happiness and trust in their marriage. It can happen if both parties are willing to put in the necessary dedication, hard work and time. Working with your ecclesiastical authorities is vitally important.

Sometimes the only way to go through the process of healing your marriage is to also have professional counseling. For the process to be complete, you must be willing to forgive your offending spouse, and if you are the offending one, to forgive yourself as you repent.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave us this wise counsel:

Those who are not meek are often reluctant to give up a worn-out issue, complaining even after previous pain has stopped and harboring disappointments long after they are relevant. We simply cannot make for ourselves a “new heart” while nursing old grievances. Just as civil wars lend themselves to the passionate preservation of grievances, so civil wars within the soul do the same. (Meek and Lowly, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1987 p. 7.)

Happiness in marriage is there for all of us who choose to repent, forgive and keep sacred marital covenants. We must remain faithful to our spouses. It is the only way to true marital and family happiness.

President Hinckley’s Counsel

In conclusion, we turn to our beloved prophet for the final word. President Hinckley said, “And when you are married, be fiercely loyal one to another. Selfishness is the great destroyer of happy family life. I have this one suggestion to offer. If you will make your fist concern the comfort, the well-being, and the happiness of your companion, sublimating any personal concern to that loftier goal, you will be happy, and your marriage will go on through eternity.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, Deseret Book, p 328-329)

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