When a marriage is affected by an affair or infidelity, it can be like dropping a pebble into water.

The ripples of devastation grow wider and wider and can last literally for generations.

Thus, as couples who want to have extraordinary marriages, it would be wise to learn about infidelity, what happens, and why, and then find out what YOU can do to keep your marriage affair-free.

To understand how affairs start, a couple needs to understand a few key concepts.

Envision the love of a marriage like a campfire. First there is a time and place for marriage just as there is a time and place for a campfire. It’s made in the fire pit and rocks are put around the fire to protect it. You don’t do a campfire during dry season, during the rain, or in wind near grass as there is a chance that the fire could go “out of control.” And it’s the same for a marriage.

Marriage is for people who make a very serious commitment to each other (a covenant) and then put rocks in place to protect the fire. Next, there are actions a person can do to build the fire–call those Love Kindlers. When people first start dating, they spend every free moment together, they get to know each other and talk long into the night, they do fun activities together and laugh together, they send each other love notes or buy silly stuffed animals or write poems, and they are attracted to each other and express that physically (usually with holding hands, kissing, hugging, and some degree of making out). These are actions that kindle love and make the fiery passions of love blaze!

BUT there are actions that a person can do to put out the fire too–call those Love Extinguishers. Some are like a little drip from the bottom of a holey bucket…some are like pouring a bucket of water on the fire…and some are like dumping a swimming pool! However, if a bucket had enough small holes and the water constantly dripped and drizzled onto the fire, that fire would never be able to blaze would it? Some common Love Extinguishers are things like never really severing that tie with mom and dad, angry explosions (attacking your spouse), being critical or judgmental (finding fault with everything your spouse does), keeping score, treating your spouse like it’s “your way or the highway”, holding an error over their head forever, being a bottomless pit (enough is never enough), or growing too comfortable (neglectful, taking your spouse for granted).

So let’s follow a typical married couple through their relationship. They meet when they are young and either through friendship or attraction, they have some interest in each other–they catch each other’s eye and there is a very initial, little spark. They are trying to maybe start a love fire! So to the little spark, he adds a love poem, flirts with her, and gets her a little gift (adding Love Kindlers); she flirts with him, admires his muscles, and takes the time to get dressed up to see him (more kindlers). Pretty soon they are dating and keep adding more and more Kindlers like he’s finishing his degree in a good field so he’ll have a good job…and she touches him and kisses him and physically wants him.

And after a year of nothing but Love Kindlers, they are so deeply in love they can’t see straight and he proposes–they’re getting married. After the wedding, a small Love Extinguisher or two pops up. He had no idea she left her face goo all over the bathroom and she had no idea he squeezed toothpaste in the middle! She isn’t the greatest cook and he doesn’t help with chores. So that first year or so after the wedding is an adjustment but they also keep up all the Love Kindlers so they still feel really in love.

Then in year two she tells him, she’s pregnant. They have their son and she spends a lot of time with the baby. She’s always too tired for sex every night but they still have some, and well…she gained a little weight but she lost about half of it. Meanwhile he’s feeling the pressure to provide for a family, so he starts working two jobs. When he is home, he’s tired and wants to relax by watching TV. They don’t do fun things together or talk as often, and she misses that so she says something, and they argue because he feels like she’s blaming him. Then in year four she’s pregnant again and this time it’s a daughter. She doesn’t lose any of the baby weight and in fact, she’s stopped even trying to wear nice clothes–just wears sweats and a tee shirt with her hair up in a knot. She wants him to help and he “never does” so she nags. She wants some romance, hugs and kisses and gets pecks or demands for sex. She wants to sit up and talk all night with him, and he wants her to stop talking and leave him alone. He wants her to look up to him and admire his promotions but all she thinks of is the kids. He wants her to be the curvy sexy mama and she falls into bed exhausted. He wants to come home to a clean, quiet, well-maintained home and every night he comes home to a pile of bills, a messy house, and kids crying! More and more they argue, and lately, when they do, the words said are more spiteful, hurtful, and frankly hateful.

One night, while he is playing video games and ignoring her yet again, she logs onto Facebook and has a friend request from her long lost old flame from college–freshman year. Oh she had SUCH a crush on him and it’s nice to hear from him again, so she approves the friend request and sends him a message saying how good it is to hear from him–how is he? He writes back that he’s going through a divorce and that he found her by luck just surfing around–how is she? She writes about her hubby ignoring her and he’s understanding and comforts her. He sends her a friendly little Facebook daisy and then a hug saying “hope you feel better” and she gets a little love zing out of it. Back and forth they go on, starting as friends at first, just catching up and being a little more than friendly…but not much. They exchange photos and treat each other really nicely, and she thinks, “He actually cares about me and gives a rip.” Then he says something really tender and caring, and she’s touched. Meanwhile her husband has no idea about the old flame from Facebook, or maybe she’s told him and he has forgotten about it, and he continues as he had been. He gets home from work and immediately ignores her and goes to watch TV (or play a game). He still gets mad about the credit card bill, and he still tries to demand sex without even trying to romance her. And feeling a little guilty about the Facebook friend, she might suggest maybe they need some counseling or say “this isn’t working for me” but her husband dismisses it and says they don’t need help. Or worse–she brings it up and he argues with her about it and it ends in a big screaming match.

This marriage is actually in the first stage of an affair: Vulnerability! One of the hardest things we are called to do as married people is take our eyes off of the faults of our spouse and instead take personal responsibility for ourselves. As you can see, up to this point, neither spouse was “right” or “wrong” but rather both were contributing to an environment that made their marriage vulnerable. Each one may have had individual weaknesses that made the individual susceptible to extramarital attention, and in addition, they both contributed to making the marriage vulnerable. To create an extraordinary, affair-free marriage, the most expedient thing we MUST do is stop looking at what our spouse is doing wrong and look at ourselves! At the deepest level, marriage is an example of the covenant that God makes with us, loving us even when we were unlovely, and in a similar way sometimes we have to make a commitment to our spouse–to look at ourselves and humbly admit our own weaknesses and issues and then do the work to fix ourselves, even when they are unlovely. One option is to honestly look in the mirror and acknowledge that we have done the Love Extinguisher, but another option that can be really helpful in a marriage is to ask your spouse to tell you what Love Extinguishers you’ve done that have hurt them the worst. Now this can be a big risk for your spouse to open up and be honest with you, especially if you’ve told them to be honest in the past and then blow up at them when they were honest! But if they are willing to be honest and tell you, please listen with an open heart, and if it gets hurtful, rather than being defensive remind yourself to ONLY say, “Thank you for being honest. I’ll think about what you’ve said.” This demonstrates that they have a safe place to truly be honest and they can tell you what is actually on their heart even when it isn’t all lovey dovey–that you can take the sting of honest truth in a mature way.

From this point, if an affair develops, there are three more stages. After vulnerability the next stage of an affair is “The Dark Little Secret”. Before I go any further just a note: I will not call the people involved in an affair “lovers” nor will I say that what they feel is love, because an affair is not a love story and what they feel is infatuation or lust. Love is not a feeling. It is the commitment to behave in a loving way to your spouse, through every circumstance of life, no matter whether the loving actions are returned. Thus, in this stage of the affair, the disloyal spouse and the other person grow more and more and more close; they become more and more and more inappropriate with their intimacy–both emotionally and physically; and they become more and more secretive about their affair, going to lengths to keep it going and keep it hidden. Some very typical tactics that the affair partners will use to keep their “dark little secret” are: sneaking off to lunches together, claiming to stay later at work, setting up new email accounts or Facebook accounts, getting secret cell phones, or walking out of the room and out of earshot when they get a cell phone call. Other clues of an affair would be suddenly changing hair or losing a lot of weight; wearing sexy lingerie that is not typical of them; getting all new clothes in a totally different style; unaccounted money missing from an account or wallet; deleting the “history” in their browser, cell phone and email; a change in the amount of sex (either suddenly wanting more or suddenly wanting none); sitting at the computer until 3 or 4am long after the loyal spouse has gone to bed; lots of “wrong numbers” and hang-ups; accusing the loyal spouse of invading privacy; and picking a fight so they can storm out. In this stage of the affair, the addiction to the love zing is getting stronger and stronger, and they have to go further and further to get that same incredible feeling. Thus, gradually the forbidden fruit will become more and more tempting and they will become more and more brazen. As they become closer friends, grow more intimate, and share more secrets, they will connect more emotionally. If it is discovered at this point–it is an emotional affair. If it is not discovered (or the loyal spouse chooses to not see it)–it usually spills over into a physical affair and yet 99 out of 100 affairs are not about the sex but rather about meeting the basic human needs of the disloyal spouse and heaping on the Love Kindlers.

The third stage of an affair is the Discovery/Addiction stage. During this stage, the loyal spouse discovers incontrovertible proof that the disloyal spouse is having an affair. For the loyal spouse that is the dropping of the pebble into the pond and the ripples of devastation begin to spread outward and destroy everything. At this point the loyal spouse may be tempted to give up and just divorce, but this stage is crucial to reconciliation. IF the loyal spouse can really step up to bat for their marriage and their spouse and realize that two years of being insane might be worth fighting for when considering a lifetime of up to 70 years together, then I recommend that the loyal spouse expose the affair to pro-marriage people in their spouse’s life who are likely to tell him/her “What are you doing? Return to your marriage and make it work!” These folks will likely be a pastor or maybe parents or Christian friends. It is also crucial that the loyal spouse put out of their mind the idea that the disloyal spouse has to come crawling back in complete remorse and beg for forgiveness. This is the time to examine what they did to contribute to this situation, admit their own Love Extinguishers, work to stop them, and once again start to do Love Kindlers. This is to demonstrate to the disloyal spouse that they are REAL and they can be that attractive man or woman they once were. For the disloyal spouse there are two options: 1) admit you’ve done wrong and return to the marriage, never EVER contact the other person again, and work on making your marriage loving or 2) try to convince yourself and everyone else that you were justified in having your affair, that you were never happy or in love, that having an affair is normal and the kids will be fine, and that the other person is you soulmate and you deserve to be happy. Unfortunately the current society in the USA has done a lot to advance option number 2, but the way to true happiness and recovery is not to do the wrong thing in your marriage, destroy your children and extended family, and substitute someone else. Happiness, like love, is a choice–and our spouse does not “make” us happy or unhappy! The way to true happiness and recovery is to do the right thing, be the man or woman God intended for you to be, and honor your covenant.

The final stage is Ending the Affair. If the loyal spouse chooses to be a hero for their marriage, there are steps they can take to help the affair come to an end. These steps can be scary and it takes an amazingly brave person to stand up and do the right thing when their spouse is behaving badly–but it can be done. The most loving thing you can do is allow the disloyal spouse to experience the consequences of their choices. Remember, the loyal spouse is not trying to embarrass or drag their name through the mud–it is the disloyal spouse’s ACTIONS that did that! Envision that the disloyal spouse is a ship lost at sea and the loyal spouse is the lighthouse, guiding them back home to safe port. If the loyal spouse can be lovingly consistent with ending Love Extinguishers, applying Love Kindlers and also allowing the disloyal spouse to experience the consequences of their choices–the affair can be ended, and then the healing can begin! If the disloyal spouse softens their heart and admits they were wrong, for example, the loyal spouse can do a LOT toward marital recovery by recognizing that initially the disloyal spouse will go through a period of withdrawal from the high of the love zing…that they will miss the other person and probably be pretty sad and depressed. If the loyal spouse is gentle and understanding it can be a really good step! Another fabulous step is taking a vacation from work and going on a second honeymoon. Even if money is tight–do it anyway! It’s worth it to save your marriage! However, it’s conceivable that the disloyal spouse will have determined in their heart that it’s over and they are going to move on. There are STILL things that the loyal spouse can do to demonstrate that they will protect themselves and the family and to show that the door to reconciliation is open. If the affair is left alone to run its course, most affairs end naturally within two years because once they are brought to the light of day, they can just cannot stand up to real life. The light of truth reveals that the other person was willing to cheat to be with the disloyal spouse, and they are willing to cheat the minute the disloyal spouse doesn’t “make them happy.”

Once a couple understands a few basic concepts, sees where their marriage or where they are as an individual may be vulnerable, and knows the stages of a typical affair, then they can work to have an extraordinary, affair-free marriage.

Editor’s Note: We would like to thank David and Cindy Taylor for this guest post.   David and Cindy are infidelity experts living happily in the Pacific Northwest with their seven children.  As marriage coaches and a married couple themselves, they draw on training and practical experience to help both loyal and disloyal spouses recover after an affair.  Together they have founded www.affaircare.com and Cindy is also the Portland Infidelity Examiner. Contact David at david@affaircare.com or Cindy at coachcj@affaircare.com

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  1. This article hits the nail on the head. I am a loyal spouse that is currently walking through a bumpy recovery with my husband. It has been 14 months since the affair was discovered and 10 months since we agreed to make the marriage work. We are closer now than we were 10 months ago, but still so much to work on.

    To those of you that have not experienced an affair personally and to those of you who have just discovered an affair, all of the information in this article is accurate and true. From the way that a marriage starts and falls into ruts to how affairs start and end. All of us say it, but none of us truly know what it means when we say “for better or for WORSE”. Worse means fighting the fight of your life when all you want to do is turn and run from the pain of knowing your spouse has been with someone else the way they have been with you. Those who have not experienced infideilty please take this article to heart and guard your marriage each and every day. Treasure your spouse as much now as you did when you were dating. They are worth it as much now as they were before, sometimes we just need to look a little deeper. And to those of you who have just discovered an affair…I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart for the pain that you are experiencing. However, you can save your marriage if you are willing to humble yourself to God and let him do his work in you. While your spouse has major changes to do as well, you are the only one you can change. Not all spouses respond by wanting to reconcile, but knowing that you did all you could to repair your marriage and make it stronger is worth the investment.

    Thank you to the writers of this article…you have reinforced some things I have learned in the last 14 months.

  2. Kimmryn, our hearts and prayers are with you. We commend you for fighting for your marriage when the pain inside you, and probably many people around you, are telling you to give up.

    Sadly, one of my coworkers is going through a divorce due to this very scenario…an affair on her husband's part with a high-school girlfriend started via facebook. These things sound too ridiculous to be “real life”, but sadly they're all too true.

    Again, our prayers are with you, and keep fighting for your marriage! God's strength and grace to you and your husband!

  3. I really appreciate the way this article shows both spouse's points of view. The imagery and plain english make it easy to understand and apply…..thank you for sharing Cindy and David:)

  4. Kimmyrn – Alisa and I lift you and your husband up to the Lord. We are honored that you have shared your story. It helps couples know that they are not alone and that even after an affair, with God in the center, you can make your marriage what you want it to be. You and your husband are a living testimony to this. Keep it up and again thank you for your post. We truly appreciate it.

    God bless.


  5. Kimmyrn~

    Thank you for opening up and sharing your experiences with us. I'm glad the article helped to reinforce some of the things you've learned, and I personally take it as a compliment that it “made sense” to someone who's going through it.

    The longer I work with couples and the more I learn about marriage, the more I realize that one concept is KEY to having an extraordinary marriage, and that concept is COMMITMENT. So I'm really glad you brought up the “for better or for worse” because honestly, it's pivotal.

    I'm also very grateful that you mentioned humbling yourself to God and letting Him do His work in us. Frankly, as you can tell, I know that human beings make mistakes and we all choose to do what we know is wrong. As painful as it is, I think both the disloyal and the loyal spouse act out of their imperfect humanity, and I don't “blame” either. But sadly the world sends out so many messages about affairs that are so DEAD WRONG that it's no wonder we get lead astray. The fact of that matter is that both made mistakes, and both need to look to their own hearts and make it right with God first! Just because a disloyal spouse chooses to do wrong, that does not give the loyal spouse the right to respond by also doing wrong! So both need to admit what they did–to God and to each other–and then do the work they need to do in order to grow.

  6. Oh you're very welcome! One of the things we've discovered in our work is that there are just SO MANY wrong messages put out about affairs. In order to combat those messages we've often found that if people can envision a more realistic image of what is really going on–it still hurts but at least they know what's going on, why, what to expect, etc. So we try to make it fairly basic and easy to understand so that everyone can benefit.

  7. This subject definitely hit home for us. We are one of the couples that have
    decided to work it out six years after and affair and 13.5 years of
    pornography issues. We go to marriage counseling a couple times a month and
    openly communicate with each other……forgiveness is a choice we both make
    daily. What doesn't kill a marriage only serves to make it stronger as they
    I am thankful everyday for the grace that my husband has for me, his love
    and his dedication to making this relationship work.
    Your message was so helpful and uplifting…it truly touched my heart.
    Anita Heath

  8. WOW! Thank you so much for sharing what you've gone through, Anita. I know it is truly hard for people to see that they CAN survive an affair and that the love in their marriage can actually be stronger and deeper. But hearing about stories like yours is SO encouraging and I'm so grateful to hear these “success stories.” Is it perfect? No. Of course not. We are imperfect beings and married to imperfect people. But it can be loving, committed, and happy–and that's a message of hope right there!

  9. Anita – Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. This morning as I was reading my Bible I happen to turn to James. From the get go he talks about enduring through trouble, which you have. He also goes on to say in verse 3-4, “For when you faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything”.

    The two of you have gone through the trouble, are growing, and now building the trust and character that you two both desire.

    Congratulations to the two of you.


  10. Thank you Tony!
    James is my all time favorite book of the bible….it contains so much
    practical wisdom.
    All around us Brian and I see people that give up, and believe me, there
    were times when we almost gave up on ourselves. It is crucial to surround
    ourselves with people that will help us stay strong in the face of
    adversity. It becomes especially hard when family members actually encourage
    us in to give up…..but having experienced the effects of divorce in my own
    childhood, I know on a deep level that it is not something I ever want my
    children to experience. I am thankful that Brian, my husband, comes from a
    family where divorce is not an option!
    Every day we have the choice to love, forgive and move away from our
    egocentric ways…..these choices all require action and growth. When we
    stop moving forward our marriages and relationships become stagnant.
    There is hope!

  11. wow! talk about hitting the nail on the head!! this description of what happens is almost verbatim of what happened to us/to me. although, after 10 months and me trying everything under the sun, we, sadly, are over. but ironically, i would never have done all the thorough self-examination, learning, growing, and changing that i have done, and continue to do without this devastation. and i know that i will be a better partner for whoever it is that God has in store for me in the future because of it. for the first time in a very long time i have ME back! my 6-year old even recognizes the change! it has been a long road, and not one i would have ever taken willingly, or wish on my worst enemy, but God does know what He's doing…even when it feels like He doesn't, or that He's not there at all, or even when we get mad at Him. ( i learned He can take it! :~) He is in the middle of it, always. this i know for sure.
    thank you for using your life in this way…having just found you, i already feel blessed by you!

  12. Great post! What I like about it the most is that it shows both sides of an affair. I am not a marriage counselor, but have had many opportunities to listen to friends going through breakups and affairs. One common theme I have seen is that it all 'his' fault, or all 'her' fault. In my view it takes both and there is blame on both sides. Getting the couple to realize that is difficult and I find takes time, but I can usually get them there. In a couple of cases, they were just not a point where they could look at themselves openly enough to admit that they may have been part of the problem.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story with us amyrehnae. Even though your marriage ended in a divorce I'm touched by how you've taken this experience and used it to grow. One passage that I've gone to many times during my own struggles is James 1:2-4. What I love the most about these versus is that with God I can experience joy during tough times and by enduring through I grow and become stronger in character.

    Alisa and I went through this when she miscarried our second child at 18 weeks. This was such a tough time for both of us. I was angry at God, Alisa, and everyone around me, but when I finally had no where else to go I went to God. I poured out my heart and pain that I had been carrying for so long and just let it all go. Now years later I can look back and see how I grew during this time and have come out stronger.

    Again, thank you for sharing with us and the ONE Community.


  14. Glad you like the post Michael. Having been been around folks that have dealt with affairs I have witnessed the same fault blaming from both sides. What I notice most in these conversations is how “I” is used over and over. The “We” in the marriage is gone and the selfish nature of the individual comes out.

    Having been married for 13 years we have used “I” more times than I would like to admit. But, over these last few years we both made it a point to come together as “We”. It has made a huge difference in our marriage as we come together and make our marriage our priority. We keep fanning the flame with Love Kindlers.

    Thanks again.


  15. I am so sick of reading about forgiving your cheating spouse and trying to reconcile. There are 10,000 crappy sites like How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage… and Jesus Thinks You’re a Failure If You Divorce compared to the much needed “leave the jerk already” site. To begin with, there are people far better than the one that cheated on you. Actually, you could walk into any bar in the world, swing a cat, and hit someone that is better than your current spouse, simply by virtue of the fact that that they have not cheated on you.

    I don’t believe people that say their marriages are stronger than before. If you lost a leg, you would not argue that now your body is stronger than before. You’ve lost your trust in your spouse. Your security. Your ability to ever love your spouse unreservedly again. Your spouse can’t unring that bell or unf*** that other person. And while you may be one of the rare couples that reconciles successfully, you’re over selling it when you tell people your marriage is BETTER. It endures. Affairs don’t make marriages better, no more than spousal abuse and hurling your spouse down the stairs once, makes a marriage better.

    For every day of your life you have to live with the knowledge that this person cheated on you and gutted you emotionally. If it didn’t gut you emotionally, you weren’t that connected to them in the first place and your marriage has never been “great.” They are capable of betrayal. And while you may be able to do the mental gymnastics to live with that, I can tell you from experience, that it IS better on the other side. Either being independent and alone not living with the drama (BTDT) or happily partnered up with a person who loves you right and doesn’t need therapy and 12-steps to be faithful. Cheaters often cheat again. Who wants to live waiting for that shoe to drop?

  16. Google seems to be my friend lately. When my husband of 15 years abruptly told me that he wanted to separate last month, I googled uplifting podcasts on marriage & found your ONE ministry. I have been listening to backlog episodes & ones that might specifically help me in my situtation. Then today, when I am especially down, I googled & found this post. Just a little over one week ago, I discovered the affair my spouse is having. It is the “love of his life” (a high school friend whom he reconnected with through FB) & he would like to leave and continue it (although she is currently married too with small children). I recognize the stages that he is going through & feel that I am not fighting for my marriage as much as fighting for his life. He means more to me than my marriage. I have told him that I won’t get in the way of his affair, knowing that it needs to end naturally or there will always be the “what if”. The pain is so intense right now. I know that I he is in the selfish stage & that my feelings don’t even exist to him. I’m trying to protect my 4 year old from the devestation. I love my husband, am incredibly hurt, but know that God can fix anything. I admitted to my husband my role in the steps leading up to where we are today (before I knew about the affair). I take responsiblity for how I have hurt him. My husband will be moving out this weekend and I will be watching and waiting on God to see His plan revealed, whether or not my husband finds his happiness in God or continues to search for it from others.
    Thank you for your post.

    • Hey Julie,

      We are lifting you and your husband up in prayer. What a tough time you are going through and yet I give you the up most props for how you are handling this situation.

      Over the years we have seen many couples go through this ordeal. Yet, we have seen those that worked through this difficult time to come out stronger and more in love than ever.

      Seek counsel as you go through this so that you have an outlet for your emotions and feelings. You have a ton on you and it can very easily bring you down and burden you.

      We love you and lift you up to our Lord.

  17. I loved this article. It gives the points of view of both the husband and wife, and it gradually works up to the reasons for infidelity in terms that anyone can understand. It usually isn’t a single catastrophic event that destroys a marriage but years of small incidents and changes that build up into something the couple can no longer live with. Understanding how this can happen is a wonderful tool for any couple to have, because it will allow them to stop similar behaviors within their own marriage.