“My husband is having an emotional affair with his ex-girlfriend whom he got pregnant during our separation. How does the Bible say a wife should deal with a cheating husband?” This question was posed in one of two emails I have received recently from two different Christian wives.
This question above was part of an email I received from a woman that has commented on this blog calling herself “Soul Fruit Sister”. Below is larger excerpt from her email to me.
“My husband is having an emotional affair with his ex-girlfriend whom he got pregnant during our separation. How does the Bible say a wife should deal with a cheating husband? His ex-girlfriend also has a boyfriend and another child with the man she is with now as well.
I saw text messages from her to my husband asking our marriage was and him writing back that it has been stressful between us. I also saw texts from my husband telling her how great she is, how gorgeous she is, etc. Meanwhile, he has pretty much emotionally abandoned me, although he still has sex with me and requires me to give him oral sex whenever he feels like it.
I’ve tried talking to him about talking to her this way multiple times, calmly, and at first, he said he would stop. His mother even spoke to him about it, and he told her he would quit but as of recently he still continues to speak with her on a daily basis about things he should only be talking with me about. I found this out by looking at one of his old phone’s that he recently had switched over. I don’t normally go through his phone because he keeps it on him at all times and he would be furious if I tried too.
It is now to a point where I’ve tried talking to him about it, telling him how it hurts me and how I would like for him to start setting boundaries that would reestablish trust between us, but he just ignored me.
The Scriptures command us to expose evil. And in Matthew 18 we are told if a believer sins against us and refuses to repent after we have brought that sin to their attention, we should bring it to the church.
My husband claims to be a Christian, but his actions are clearly not those of a believer and he does not attend church. So, what then should my actions be?”
Below is another email I recently received from another Christian wife calling herself “Martha”:
My husband claimed to be Christian many years ago when we got married. He was actually very active in our church and taught Sunday School at one point. But over the years he has fallen away from the church but still claims to be a Christian. He has not been to church now in several years. While he never drives drunk (but rather has me drive him), I am still not happy with the amount of drinking he does or how foolish he gets when he drinks. He also gets very flirtatious when he drinks.
So here is my problem, my husband travels for work often and recently he even admitted that some of his buddies have taken him to a strip club a few times when he has been away for work. He claims he did nothing with the girls, but how do I know that? I have seen places on your blog where you have said that a man going to a strip club is him having virtual sex even if he never touches the woman. My husband has at least had virtual sex with these strippers and in the worst case he actually engaged in physical sexual activity with them. How does the Bible say I should handle this as a Christian wife?”
So, what is the Biblical answer to the difficult situations that both these women find themselves in? What does the Bible say a Christian wife’s response should be to her cheating husband? Before we can answer this central question that both these wives are asking, we must put their question in perspective from a Biblical world view.
The Biblical Definition of a “Cheating Husband” is Different Than Our Modern Definition
Today most people, including Bible believing Christians, would define a cheating husband as a married man that is emotionally or physically intimate with a woman other than his wife. They will refer to such a man as an “adulterer”.
There are a small number of wives today that would not feel their marriage is threatened by their husband having an emotionally intimate relationship with another woman while the vast majority of women would feel threatened by this.
And the reality is that often when a man shares his emotions with a woman, eventually she shares her body – at least in the beginning of a new relationship between them. So, this concern that emotional intimacy between a husband and a woman other than his wife might lead to physical intimacy, is actually well founded.
But for most wives, it is not just the worry of their husbands engaging in physical intimacy with another woman. Most wives want be the person that their husband shares all of his feelings with from his joys to his sorrows and his worries.
Let me put this another way. For many women, their husband could never go near another woman emotionally or physically but if he holds back things from her, they also consider this to be “a breach of trust”.
It is not uncommon to hear of women divorcing their husbands, not because of sexual infidelity or abuse, but because of a breach of trust. Either the husband lied to his wife about various things or he held things back from her. Many wives want to know everything their husbands are thinking or doing and this is the center piece of marital faithfulness for many women.
I have actually heard of women that have no problem with their husbands going to strip clubs as long as they take their wife with them. Other women don’t even have to go with their husbands, as long as the husband always tells her when and where he is going. Some women even go so far as allowing their husbands to have sex with other women as long as the wife is present. The common denominator in these situations is simply that there are no secrets between the husband and wife and nothing is held back.
Again, this comes back to a woman’s concept of marital faithfulness which starts with complete and utter openness, no secrets, nothing withheld and then in most cases it extends to physical intimacy as well.
In other words, for the overwhelming vast majority of women today, their concept of marital faithfulness is that they own their husband’s heart and his body.
But as Bible believing Christians, we must test everything we believe or feel by the Word of God as the Scriptures exhort us to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Christian ladies, this is one of those times I am going to ask you to brace yourselves and take off your cultural lenses.
Nowhere in all the Bible is a married man called an adulterer simply because he is emotionally intimate or sexually intimate with a woman not his wife. But rather he is called an adulterer for the following three reasons:
- If he has sex with another man’s wife and then his sin of adultery is committed against the husband of that wife, not his wife. (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22)
- If he wrongly divorces his wife. (Matthew 5:32)
- If he marries a woman who wrongly divorced her husband. (Mark 10:12)
In other words, based on the Biblical definition of an adulterer, a married man who has sex with an unmarried woman is NOT an adulterer, but rather he is a whoremonger. A married man can only be labeled as an adulterer if he has sex with another man’s wife or if he wrongly divorces his wife. Another way of putting this is the only way a married man’s behavior can Biblically be labeled as the sin of adultery against his wife is if he wrongly divorces her.
The Scriptures recognize this distinction between whoremongers and adulterers in Hebrews 13:14 where we read “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge”.
Some Christian wives may be reading this and saying “ok fine so my cheating husband is called a whoremonger by God and not adulterer. Who cares? He is still a cheating husband and committing marital unfaithfulness by his actions.”
But then we must ask what is the Biblical definition of marital faithfulness of man toward his wife?
A lot of Christian teachers online and in Christian pulpits across America say that a man having sex with women other than his wife is him committing adultery against her, an act of marital unfaithfulness and grounds for divorce. They say this based on Matthew 5:32 which we previously referenced:
“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
Matthew 5:32 (KJV)
The problem is they are ignoring the gender specificity of this statement by Christ. Christ says a man may “put away his wife” for “fornication”.
And now comes a Biblical truth that completely conflicts with our American cultural values.
While Scripturally speaking, marital faithfulness for a woman toward her husband does hinge upon on her exclusively giving herself sexually to her husband there is no Biblical warrant for making the same statement of husbands toward their wives.
The reason that emotional and sexual exclusivity is never given as a criterion of marital faithfulness of a husband toward his wife is found in the following passage of the Bible:
“10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. 11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.”
Exodus 21:10-11 (KJV)
And there you have it right there in the Scriptures. The reason emotional and sexual exclusivity is never given as a criterion of marital faithfulness of a husband toward his wife is because God allows men to practice polygamy or specifically polygyny.
I realize there is a lot of opposition in the Christian world and elsewhere to polygamy. Often Christian preachers will say “polygamy was a sin God overlooked for a time”. But such a statement is an assault on the holy character of God. God never condones, regulates or allows something he considers to be sinful.
In Genesis 30:18, God rewarded Leah with another son because she gave her handmaid to her husband as another wife. God expressly set forth rules for the practice of polygamy in Exodus 21:10-11, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 and Deuteronomy 25:5-7. While God warned against Kings hording wives in Deuteronomy 17:17 as Solomon would later do, he told David in II Samuel 12:8 when he sinned with Bathsheba that he had given David many wives and would have given him many more wives.
In Ezekiel 23:1-5 God pictures himself as a polygamist husband of two wives, those being the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And in Romans 10:19 we read that God is taking on a new wife in the form of the Church to make his first wife, the nation of Israel, jealous so that she may return to him.
Those who oppose polygamy as an allowable extension of God’s design for marriage and insist that “God’s design was for a man to be married to one woman as seen in his creation of one wife for Adam” must then say God violated his own design in allowing and regulating the practice of polygamy for Israel.
And those who say “well God allowed divorce to and that was not part of his design” fail to recognize that God said he hates divorce in Malachi 2:16 but never in all the Scriptures does he say he hates polygamy or that he had to allow it because of sin.
And before we move on from this subject of polygamy back to the Biblical definition of martial faithfulness, I want to quickly address one other argument against the practice of Biblical polygamy. Some may say “Well maybe God allows polygamy for men, but the laws of various nations including the United States do not. Therefore, even though God allows men to practice polygamy they cannot because it is illegal by the law of the United States.”
The problem with this belief is that is built upon the false teaching that civil authorities are unlimited in their power. Many Christians believe the government can regulate and legislate any area of our lives as long as that regulation or law does not ask us to sin against God (Acts 5:29). But Christ taught us that civil government is actually limited in its scope when he made the following statement below:
“And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.”
Mark 12:17 (KJV)
Jesus did not say render to God everything that is God’s and everything else render to Caesar. No, my friends, he told us to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. God never granted authority over marriage to the either the civil government or the Church. Instead he granted authority over marriage to the family and specifically to fathers. This is why it is consistently seen throughout the Scriptures that fathers give or refuse their daughters for marriage (Jeremiah 29:6, Exodus 22:16-17) and neither the civil government nor church has any part in this.
For more on the subject of Biblical polygamy see my five part series on Polygamy which starts with “Why Polygamy Is Not Unbiblical Part 1”.
Now, having proven from the Scriptures why emotional and sexual exclusivity is never given as a criterion of marital faithfulness of a husband toward his wife we will return to what God defines as marital faithfulness of a husband toward his wife.
Unlike how God defines marital faithfulness for a woman, marital faithfulness for a man has nothing to do with the exclusivity of his relationship with his wife, but rather it centers on his loving provision for his wife.
Marital faithfulness of a husband toward his wife is defined by God in Exodus 21:10-11 as a husband providing his wife with food, clothing and sexual relations.
So, we can see by looking at the Scriptures that like many other things today, our definition of a cheating husband is very different than God’s definition of a cheating husband.
God’s definition of a cheating husband is a man that does not provide his wife with the necessities of life including sexual relations.
The New Testament repeats the concepts we just read in Exodus 21:10-11 where we see these responsibilities of a husband toward his wife repeated in the following passages:
“28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church”
Ephesians 5:28-29 (KJV)
“3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
I Corinthians 7:3-5 (KJV)
The word “nourisheth” has the idea of provision which would correlate back to Exodus 21:10’s command that a man provide food for his wife. The word “cherisheth” does not carry the modern romantic definition of this word which has come to mean “putting one’s wife on a pedestal”. It actually has the idea of a mother hen keeping her eggs protected and warm which correlates back to Exodus 21:10’s command for a man to properly cloth his wife which would protect her body from the elements.
And Exodus 21:10’s call for men to perform their marital duty with their wives, or in other words give them sexual relations is restated in the passage above from I Corinthians 7:3-5.
Are You Saying it is OK for Husbands to Have Sex with Other Women?
Unless your husband is properly practicing Biblical polygamy in which he intends to continue to provide for you and new wives he takes no it is not OK for him to simply have sex with other women. To do so is by definition whoremongering which God says he will judge in Hebrews 13:4.
The reality is that most men in western culture will not or cannot practice Biblical polygamy because of cultural and financial obstacles to doing so. It does not make it wrong for the few men who can overcome both these obstacles, but the majority of men simply cannot.
Neither of the husbands mentioned in the two emails I received are attempting to practice Biblical polygamy.
Martha’s husband who is going to strip clubs is definitely engaging in a least virtual sexual relations in these clubs, if not actual physical sexual relations. Therefore, he being a whoremonger which is a sin against God’s law.
But what about Soul Fruit Sister’s husband and his emotional affair with his ex-girlfriend? That one is a bit trickier. Is he engaging in a virtual form of sexual relations with her? Right now, the answer appears to be no.
Is what he is doing still inappropriate? Yes. And here is the reason why.
While he may not be having virtual or physical sexual relations with this other woman, he may still be guilty of making “provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14) and putting himself in a position where some type of illicit sexual relationship could happen and this is why is actions are wrong.
How Should These Two Wives Deal with Their Husband’s Sins?
As I just stated, Martha’s husband by attending strip clubs is definitely committing the sin of whoremongering by engaging in at least virtual or physical sexual relations with strippers.
Soul Fruit Sister’s husband is making provision for himself to fall into sexual sin which is a sin in and of itself.
In the case of Martha’s husband which is clear cut case of sexual sin it would not be inappropriate for her to bring this to her church elders if her husband was church member. But my reasoning for this is not based on Matthew 18 which Soul Fruit Sister alluded to.
First let’s look at Matthew 18:15-17 (KJV):
“15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
Some Christians have wrongly interpreted Matthew 18:15-17 to mean we can go to our church elders anytime anyone in the church does even the slightest thing to us. If they won’t admit their fault to us in private, we can run to the church elders and tattle on them. But this is not what Christ is saying at all when we look at the entirety of the New Testament witness.
As Christians we must balance two principles.
On the one hand we are called to follow the Scriptural principle and example of Christ which in I Peter 2:19 states “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully”. So, if our first instinct every time we are wronged in any way by a fellow believer is to run to the church and tattle on them then we are not following Christ’s example in suffering wrongly.
So, what is the standard of bringing one before the Church for Church discipline? The standard is given to us in the following passages of the Bible:
“11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. “
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (KJV)
“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”
2 Thessalonians 3:14 (KJV)
So, if a person is living an openly sinful lifestyle which includes him being a fornicator or if a person is a church member and telling people not to follow the Bible such people can be brought before the Church for discipline and possible expulsion if they refuse to repent.
So, in the case of Martha’s husband if he were a member of a church than his fornication at strip clubs would constitute an assault on the purity of the church. Therefore, she would be right in bringing his sin to the church.
But here is a key concept that must be understood. His sin of fornication is against God, not his wife. But that is the opposite of how most churches and Christians would approach this sin today.
Remember we have shown from the Scriptures that a husband can only commit adultery against his wife in one way and that is by seeking to divorce her for a reason other than her being sexually unfaithful to him. So, if a man wants to put his wife away, because his girl friend wants him to dump his wife and marry her this is absolutely something that should be brought before the church if he is a church member as it is a direct sin against his wife and also against God and the purity of the Church.
But in the case Soul Fruit Sister’s husband putting himself in a possible position to sexually sin I am not sure this rises to the level that she would bring this to the church if he were a member.
However, whether these husbands were both church members or not must realize the most the church can do is condemn their actions and expel them from the church if they will not repent. In either case of them being members or not of churches, the wives will still be left with the aftermath.
So how should a Christian wife deal with her husband’s whoremongering or even putting himself in a possible position to sexually sin because of inappropriate emotional intimacy with another woman?
The answer is found in the following passage of the Bible:
“1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
I Peter 3:1-6 (KJV)
Would the two wives who wrote me agree that their husbands are not obeying the Word of God in the behavior they are engaging in? I think they absolutely would agree.
So then it would follow that If they agree that their husbands are in fact being disobedient to the Word of God then they must also agree with God’s prescription for how Christian wives should deal with the disobedience of their husbands including but not limited to the sin of whoremongering or making provision for the flesh to fulfill its desires.
And Gods prescription for how wives should deal with their disobedient husbands is to win them to God without preaching the Word at them, nagging them and shaming them. But rather he wants them to wind them by their pure and reverent behavior and to adorn themselves with a quiet and meek spirit.
This prescription for wives in dealing with the sin of their husbands is the exact opposite of what a wife’s sin nature will tell her to do and unfortunately it is also the exact opposite of what many Christian pastors and teachers will tell wives to do. But it is the truth of the Word of God.
Do I Still Have to Have Sex With My Whoremongering Husband?
I have seen many women throughout the years try and take the approach that since their husband is whoring around and might give them some sexually transmitted disease, even one that is fatal like the AIDs virus, that this gives them a free ticket to divorce their husband or at the very least refuse to have sex with him until his whoring stops and he is tested for STDs.
But let’s change the situation a bit. What if a woman’s husband worked for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or some other medical group where he traveled around the country or even around the world and it might be possible for him to contract a whole host of infectious diseases non-fatal and fatal alike? Would it be right for his wife to say she does not have to have sex with her husband because it might be too risky?
Now from a non-Biblical, secularist world view the answer here is simple. Your happiness as well as physical and mental health are the most important thing in the world. You don’t owe your husband sex or anything else for that matter that you don’t want to do. In fact if makes you happier, just leave the bum.
But God gives this command to both husbands and wives in marriage:
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.“
I Corinthians 7:3 (KJV)
Except for limited agreed upon times for prayer, fasting or medical conditions like surgery, child birth or other things like that – a wife has no Biblical warrant to refuse to render under her body under her husband in the act of sex.
And if you are a woman that believes that God created you for a purpose and that the Bible is the Word of God and the guide for your life then your personal happiness and even health should not be your greatest concern. Your greatest concern should be to bring glory to God and sometimes that means suffering wrongly because of others wrong actions. We see the following example of Christ given to us in the Scriptures:
“21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
I Peter 2:21-24 (KJV)
Just as Christ bore the consequences of our sins, sometimes a wife must bare the consequences of her husband’s sins.
The Reality of Whoremongering Husbands Reveals A Sinful View of Marriage in Women
Often times in life one person’s sin will also reveal another person’s sin. For instance, sometimes we will find out after a man engages in whoremongering that his wife was sexually denying him for years before he ever committed the acts. This in no way justifies his sin, but this is an example of one sin in one person revealing the sin another person.
The central question of this article was how Christian women should deal with what our culture calls a “cheating husband”. There is no doubt that a whoremongering husband is sinning against God as we have pointed out here and we have just outlined the Biblical prescription for how Christian wives should deal with this.
However, the sinful reality of a whoremongering husband can also reveal our culture’s faulty and unbiblical view of marriage. And many Christian wives today have that sinful view of their marriage whether their husband ever engages in whoremongering or not. It is simply that whoremongering by a husband brings this faulty type of thinking of wives to the surface for all to see.
And that sinful view of marriage is rooted in the false belief that wives are entitled to their husbands centering their hearts, minds and affections solely on them. It is their belief that they are entitled to total transparency, to know their husbands every feeling and every thought. That in essence their husband’s heart, mind and life should belong to them exclusively.
God speaks of this sinful inclination in women in Genesis 3:16:
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
A lot of Christians do not understand what that last phrase means when God said to the woman “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”. Many people have seen the woman’s desire to her husband as a loving desire and Christian feminists present the phrase “he shall rule over thee” as saying man’s headship over woman was only because of the fall.
Both of the above interpretations of this very important passage of the Bible are wrong. God knew his words in Genesis 3:16 would come to be distorted so he used similar phrasing just one chapter later when speaking to Cain in Genesis 4:7:
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
Was God saying Sin’s desire for Cain was good? Absolutely not! Sin’s desire was to dominate and control him. God knew this so he told Cain that he must rule over his sin nature, otherwise his sin nature would desire to control and dominate his life.
So, looking back at Genesis 3:16 in light of what God said to Cain, what kind of sinful desire was God saying a woman would have toward her husband?
The sinful desire God is referring to in women is their desire to know their husband’s every thought and to have his complete desire, affection and really life’s focus be on them and them alone.
The scary thing is – what I have just stated is now the central philosophy of modern marriage counseling and teaching both within the church and outside the church. And it this modern ideology which totally turns the Biblical model of marriage upside down. Does the Bible say the husband was created for his wife or does it say his wife was created for him?
The Scriptures have an unambiguous answer for this question.
“Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
I Corinthians 11:9 (KJV)
In the case of a whoremongering husband a wife may have to bring this to the Church if he is a church member. But her motive in doing this should not be from a position that he has sinned against her in his whoremongering or adultery if he has been with another man’s wife. But rather that he has sinned against God and possibly another man in taking his wife and his sin is polluting the purity of the Church.
But if he is not a church member or he has been excommunicated from the Church she has no biblical right to divorce him. Instead God calls her to continue to submit to him and attempt to win him to God by her reverence and pure life style that she displays before him.
And a wife must also remember that often as God reveals the sinful actions of her husband, he may also reveal the sinful inclinations in her heart to be possessive and controlling toward her husband thus forgetting her place in God’s creation order.