So you remember the day we were called to one of our good friend's house because they just found out his wife had an affair.
Oh yeah. It was awful. And we met with them within hours of the discovery and it was just so dark. It was horrible. And I just, you know, just felt like there's no chance.
Five kids. Yeah. And God saved the marriage. And it's, uh, we literally three days ago were at one of their son's wedding.
Isn't that great? And, you know, we looked at each other and thought, what if they had chosen to divorce this whole day? It would look different. Totally different.
Oh, it would be very different. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson. And I'm Dave Wilson. And you can find us at familylifetoday.com or on the Family Life app.
This is Family Life Today. So we've got Dave Carter back with us. Dave's written about affairs, torn asunder, and the anatomy of affairs. I don't know. How many books have you written, Dave? Five or six. Five or six.
Yeah. And it's being republished because they're that good and people need help because affairs and adultery and this kind of thing is pretty commonplace and always has been. Do you know what the statistics are now? There's a lot of research in the field, but until recently, like within the last six or seven years, it's all been about the frequency stuff. How many, what the percentages of people acknowledge it and many of them are online surveys. And so there's some skepticism about those numbers. But basically, it's pretty safe to say about half of the population acknowledges some type of marital infidelity. And it used to be quite a gap between men and women. We used to see numbers around the lower 60s, mid 60s for men, percentages, and maybe in the 40s for women.
But I would tell you anecdotally and experientially that they're just pretty much equal right now. Really? Women have a lot to lose if they have an affair. Men don't forgive as easily in this area as women do.
Really? Uh-uh. They feel so inadequate, it's such a threat to their manhood and everything. Women have probably been more conditioned to forgive. You know, up until 1990, up until then, you had two choices. You swept it under the rug or you got a divorce. There was no treatment. Treating adultery was an oxymoron.
It was like impossible. Whoever thought of that type of thing? But that's all beginning to change. We have a couple of really great researchers in the field that are having a hard time because you can find the couples, but you can't keep them in the therapy process long enough to document the data that you really want or to collect the data you really want.
But we have learned a few things and we're continuing to be exposed to ideas, et cetera. You've written about this and also worked at a church for almost four decades helping therapists and having peer therapy. Are the stats different in church world than outside? I wouldn't say they're much different at all.
Really? I'll give you some documentation for that. Basically, back in 88, we started collecting data on pastors out of CTE leadership surveys that they had done. We went through pastoral conferences for a year collecting surveys, et cetera, and basically compiled all that.
So we had an in-group or a cluster group of about 4,000 pastors over 10 years from 1988 to 1998. Basically, about 10 to 12 percent of them actually acknowledged that they had committed adultery in their marriage. But the interesting statistic was 14 additional percent of 4,000 respondents said they had lied on the survey. Fourteen percent. I mean, what's there to lie about?
It's a yes or no question. I mean, it's so you take that 14 percent and the 14 percent or so beforehand, you're up close to 30 percent. And actually, just given the nature of research like that, we would speculate it would be close to 40. And there have been surveys, frequency surveys that do document 40 percent of pastors. So if you've got pastors who are doing that, you just extrapolate down to the parishioners in the pew, just terribly frequent. So Dave, we have had individuals come up to us often who have said, hey, I cheated on my husband or wife years ago and now it's been 10 or 15 years. I'm guilt-ridden because it's eating whey.
Should I tell my spouse? And now it'll become all this big deal. And so what would you say to that? Don't you think we've had that often? Oh, you do all the time. All the time. The issue is if you want to work through it, you'll have to disclose.
In the book, Torna Center, there's a chart that talks about that. And if you just process it but you don't disclose it, then you really kind of forfeit the opportunity for it to impact the marriage in a good way. And you think it could impact the marriage in a good way. Oh, I definitely think so. Yeah. One of the things you can always say to a spouse who's been betrayed like that, you know, it took a lot of courage to belly up to the bar. So let's start working on it.
What was going on back there when that occurred? And we'll figure it out. And of course, it is upsetting.
And of course, kids become disillusioned with their dad or their mom in the process. But the truth sets people free. There is no getting around that.
You're not free now and you won't be free till you work through it. I want to help couples today that have maybe been there and they're feeling like what I felt with our friends. Even God can't save this marriage. God can. And God does.
How? What steps does a couple need to take? To the degree that the spouse who's been betrayed can forgive, to that degree, they can start rebuilding respect for their spouse. And to the degree they rebuild respect for their spouse, they can start rebuilding trust. And to the degree they rebuild trust, they can rebuild love. So it goes forgiveness, respect, trust and love.
There's no trust if you don't respect. But some people have a very difficult time forgiving. Forgiving is a learned response pattern. You can train people to forgive.
So if they have so many injuries they just can't let go of something, it's going to be very difficult. And I always tell my couples in that first session, you know, don't stay married after adultery if your spouse can't forgive you. To live with somebody who can't forgive you is hellacious. Every day they make you pay. And on the other hand, neither of you want to have a spouse stay married to you out of duty or obligation.
That is a horrible way to go through life. But what happens if that person who's been offended is just so angry? Of course they'll be angry.
And they can't get over their anger for a while. Should they separate or should they stay there? Sometimes separation is good because seeing the person visually just triggers you all the time.
So we often will do structured separations to help that couple. Calm down. Get the anxiety down. Get the hypervigilance down.
Everything else. Anxiety blocks affect. It doesn't all of us.
That's a saying in the field. So we've got to get them to a point that they can begin to process what was going on back at the time of the affair happened. But it doesn't take a long time.
Yeah, that's the question. How long generally does it take? Well, I see couples 12 to 14 weeks. One hour a week. But I do that basically if only if they agree to invest 20 minutes every other day in their recovery.
Each one of them. So that way the wife will contribute an hour each week to this marriage. The husband contributes an hour each week. And I contribute an hour. And I'm not going to contribute an hour if they're not going to. What's that look like? Just their counseling?
No, no, no, no. They're doing homework. They'll be doing homework at home, contributing to their own recovery.
An example of homework? This couple is going to be talking about stuff. Finding out about an affair generates more conversation in most marriages than have occurred in the last 20 years.
So we're going to try to control that talking because it's not just about the affair. Every week has a theme. First week is biographical. Second week is family of origin. Third week is marital style. Fourth week is preparation for forgiveness. Fifth week is betrayal letter stuff. Sixth week is re-establishment or trust.
Next week is five re-attachment exercise. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. Okay. So the point is it has to be structured. You cannot see a couple who's gone through infidelity and tell them, why don't you start dating each other?
Why don't you start going, that is a brawl in the restaurant. If you do that kind of stuff. There's a place for starting to date, but not at the beginning of when you've been betrayed. Betrayal is the most painful emotion known to man. Most of us, when we choose a spouse, the thought enters our mind, especially for women, I think more than men, but it does even with men. I want to make sure he or she's not going to do this to me. Now, if you come out of a broken home due to adultery, you're even more hypervigilant about that situation. And if you've been betrayed by an engaged, broken engagement, or by a boyfriend who had relationships with other girls while he's with you, you just can't hardly get your arms around it. It's so painful.
Yeah. And I came out of a broken home when I was a little boy. I don't even remember this, but my older siblings told me my dad would take me on trips with his girlfriends on vacation when he's still married to my mom. So when Anne and I got married, I was just what you said.
I had this vigilant passion. This is not going to happen in our family. And it tend to be like, I'm going to focus it on her as much as on me. And so there are all these protections we put in our marriage. That's pretty common.
That's right. And sometimes it becomes control. Now, remember, let's just say, and you grew up in a family where there was not a lot of connection. Here comes this guy along and he is very vigilant and actually control can feel like care.
Oh, yeah. It feels like he cares for me. He doesn't want me to go out. He doesn't want me to do this or that, but actually it will become suffocating. It will lead to your desire to leave and to step outside the marriage.
So we're not talking about controlling your spouse in this situation, but there is that tendency to do that. Well, I thought it was interesting. I asked Dave this morning as we were getting ready. I think you asked me, Dave, like, what's one of the fears that you had in our marriage? Or maybe I asked you. I don't remember. But I said...
It's only a couple of hours ago, so, you know, how can we remember that? But I said, I think a spouse having a fair, like you having a fair would be my greatest fear in marriage, which you said that wasn't for you. And I think, Dave, you even mentioned it's more fearful for a woman, generally speaking, than a husband. It is. They have more at stake.
They have broken relationships, everything else. Yeah. I mean, I obviously, every guy would have that fear. I just... I still, to this day, trust you. You just trust me. Yeah.
That's nice. I'm not saying I couldn't. I mean, it's just like, I'd never... That was way... That'd be number 100. I got all kinds of other fears about your life, but not that. How much money you spend.
Where the credit card is at. But no, that wasn't it. Yeah. You know, Davis, you're talking about that 12 to 14 weeks. You know, I read in Torn Asunder that you say most recovery takes as long as the affair took. Yeah. So if it's an 18 month affair, you're going to be 18 months, two years before you really... Is that sort of how it goes?
Yeah. There are several things that happen. The 12 to 14 week period will help you process the affair.
Because you got to dig at the root, don't you? You do. And you need a therapist, you would say. Either that or maybe even a Christian couple who've been through it before.
Or maybe a peer counselor who's had some experience. And that's why I wrote the workbook. The workbook was the last thing I wrote because people were asking for materials of what do you actually do in a session with somebody like this. Yeah. And, you know, again, as we get back to, okay, can this marriage be saved? Yeah.
You've done this four decades. Have you seen marriages that are better because they did the work? They made it. There's research to substantiate that.
Higher levels of marital satisfaction are found in couples who recover from adultery than in any other form of marital therapy. But understand, you hit rock bottom and many of them don't make it, okay? Yeah. I don't see the couples who get in the back of a Harley and ride off with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, okay?
I only see people who want to save it for the most part. I'm thinking of the couples we know that have worked hard. Yeah. Like they have put in the work, but they've gone so deep and they know one another so much better. Yeah. And I look at them thinking, wow, you guys, I never had imagined that they could be this good. Yeah.
They become the envy of all their friends. Yes. They do. Yeah. Exactly. I see couples 12 to 14 weeks.
That stabilizes the marriage, okay? They've learned a lot. They've answered the question, is there enough left to save?
That's a huge question. But they're still going to be working through this. They're not going to be done in 14 weeks. The first year anniversary of disclosure is always a terrible experience. And so we talk about after the stabilization of the marriage in the 12 to 14 weeks, then comes the grief work. And that's where sometimes you'll just break into tears because of how close you came to losing everything. And that'll be times where you'll just have as great as ecstasy going with yourselves that you saved it. And many of those kinds of grief experiences will surface around holidays when you visually take in all that's happening that could have been lost. It'll take you a couple of years. By the second anniversary, though, you'll be talking about your affair in a very, very different way.
And you will be using your affair, according to 2 Corinthians 1, 3, and 4, in other people's lives who desperately need what you have been through. Because parents won't talk about this. So every generation has to go through it.
Every generation has to go find their own way in this field. What's powerful about that is that God rescues. And like you said in 2 Corinthians, He comforts us so that we can comfort others with the comfort that we've received. You never think. I mean, you don't know our story, but when Anne and I almost lost our marriage, not because of an affair, just because I'm an idiot, basically. I was addicted to my ministry. And I was, you say in your book, you've already said it in our broadcast, I wasn't being tender.
I wasn't being attentive. I was running away from our marriage and almost lost it. And in that moment, I thought, I'll never let anybody hear this story. This will be our secret. If we make it. And we made it, and now it's our ministry. It's like the center of what we do. That's what happens even with affairs. Yeah. In fact, I actually tell my couples, they do what we call a final project. It's a paper they write.
The longest paper I've ever gotten is 68 pages. What? Okay. Wow. Four chapters. And they're all four chapters.
So anyway, they're most not like that. But anyway, I tell them, you're going to use this in several ways. One way is it's going to be a journal of your recovery. Have you ever done journaling?
You can't believe some of the journals you read 15, 20 years ago, that you were feeling like this and going through that. So it'll be your journal. Secondly, I promise you, you don't have to pray about it. God will bring a couple to you that needs your help. And you'll talk to your spouse and get permission. And you're going to hand them this paper you wrote and said, read this and see what you think. If we can help you, we'll walk with you.
Okay. And the third thing you're going to do is you're going to invite your kids over for dinner, when they're seriously dating or engaged. And you're going to say, we want to tell you the part of our story that you don't know, that will help prevent this from happening to you. Of course, the wives, the wives just patting on. I'm not going to share this. And they call me on the phone.
I used to tell couples, if that goes bad, if that conversation goes bad, you write me. I'll write you a check for everything you ever paid me. Wow.
I'll give it all back to you. Really? Yeah. That couple that we talked about, she had the affair, five kids. Years later, their kids didn't know it. They were fairly young, so they didn't share anything.
Years later, they were on a family trip on vacation, eating dinner. And she had decided, I'm going to tell our boys what I did. Beautiful.
Beautiful. She was so nervous. We're all praying for her. This is a big step. Because you're afraid, like, will they reject me?
Yeah. But she said, but my husband, the way he has clung to Jesus, the way he has loved me, forgiven me, supported me, and they've had a lot to work through. But I remember when she got home, she told, we were in a small group together, and she told all of us, and she said it was one of the most beautiful nights that I can imagine. You fear losing respect. What happens is respect goes through the roof. It's amazing.
It goes through the roof. And they gave him an opportunity to ask us any questions, their respect for their dad, Drew. And then what I remember is she said, and then one day, weeks later, I heard one of our sons who was dating a girl, he told her about it. And she said, my parents are pretty remarkable that they could make it through. And it says so much about their walk with God and their love for one another and their commitment. And I was like, this is unbelievable. That's an only God story.
Oh, I didn't know how else to encourage him to do it, except I'll give you a refund if it doesn't work. But I have never had a taker. You haven't?
Never. I've had them call and crying so much on the phone after doing it that they can hardly talk because they're just so thrilled with it and the relief that it brings. Remember, the truth sets people free, whether it's 20 years ago or whatever, you know?
Well, I'm thinking of the listener who's in it right now. Like, they just discovered their husband or wife has cheated or had an affair or they don't know what to do. What's their first step? Line up support for yourself. Because you can't probably do this on your own.
I did a video series called Restore Us, trying to help somebody. And there are some facts and information and things like that that you can listen that'll be encouraging to you. But it is so painful. You need to have somebody walk with you through it, probably. Because talking to your spouse, who either betrayed you or you're so angry at because of your involvement with their affair partner, they don't have the answers. And the problem is you get mixed up with two questions. You start focusing on, why did you do this? And you start focusing on, what did you do? OK, all the details, OK?
But what are you going to do with all that stuff? Now, I do think that by the time you recover from an affair, that the betrayed party has a right to know an equal amount of the story that the perpetrator does. There needs to be a balance in the marriage. If the spouse that had the affair clams up and won't share, I would tell you they won't make it. Wow. Because this is an equality.
Betrayal has to be moving to an equilibrium where we both know about this story in an equal amount. I remember asking my dad. He was remarried, came up to see me. I was starting this church in Michigan. He was in Florida, came up, airline pilot. So you were in your 30s, probably. I was mid-30s, probably.
We probably had two little boys at the time. Anyway, we're driving to a band rehearsal. He was a drummer and I became a guitar guy, bass guy, and probably because of my dad. And so he's driving with me. I'm driving.
He's in the passenger seat to watch a rehearsal for our church band. And it was sort of a cool moment. It's like I'm doing what he did in some ways. And I'll never forget, you know, we never talked about the divorce.
It was just untouchable. But I'm driving and I just turned to him and I go, Hey, dad, did you ever regret the divorce? Dave, before I finished my sentence, he yells back, blank, yes. Like he'd thought about this every day since. And I was sort of shocked.
I'm like, why? And he goes, because I wasn't there for you. You know, I missed your whole life. You missed me. I could have been there. Almost like if I could have done it again, rewind this thing. You know, he had affairs, but I think he was looking back on the pain that I felt and that I caused you.
I could have avoided if I would have stayed and tried to figure it out. You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Dave Carter on family life today. Dave Wilson's going to end our conversation with some good news in just a minute.
But first, Dave Carter has written a book called Anatomy of an Affair, how affairs, attractions, and addictions develop and how to guard your marriage against them. We'd love to send you a copy as our thanks when you partner financially with family life. You'll help more families hear conversations just like today's, conversations that point to the hope found in Christ.
You can give at familylifetoday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. All right, here's Dave Wilson with some good news as our conversation wraps up today. Well, I mean, the good news as we wrap this is God can meet you. He can.
He will. I mean, I know there's couples listening right now and it's fresh and new and they're thinking there's no hope, just what we thought about our friends. And as you shared, Dave, it's like, wow, they did exactly that. They actually separated for a while because she wasn't repentant. But she went to therapy, dug deep. He went to therapy, dug deep. They came back together, talked it through.
Again, this is over several years. And their friends, all of us, surrounded them. And we were walking beside them.
Everything you just said, we did. And I just want to say to a couple that's lost hope, don't give up. Don't give up yet. God can meet you. Your story could be their story. Your legacy could be theirs. I mean, literally sitting at this wedding two days ago, I took a picture of them as they walked in together. And I'm going to send it to them and say, I took this picture because I thought, what if you weren't together right now? This day doesn't happen. There's a lot of good stories like that.
I got a few of those myself. How do we protect our marriages in a world that tries to pull us apart? Well, tomorrow on Family Life Today, David Ann Wilson talked with John and Deborah Faleta, where they break down three main areas of needed protection and share invaluable advice from their own marriage. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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