How Does Adultery Happen in a Marriage?

by Kenneth O. Peterman

Three internal and one external factor lead to adultery in marriage. Only as each of these underlying factors are identified and counterbalanced by the Word of God can unfaithfulness be avoided.

The first internal factor involves the presence of evil thinking. Matthew 15:19 says, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” The word “heart” in this verse refers to the seat of our thoughts and desires. Evil thoughts and ungodly reasoning are the first-born of our unregenerate hearts. Those caught in unfaithfulness usually indulge in ungodly fantasies or mind games about things that are forbidden long before they commit the act. Unfaithful behavior reveals reasoning gone astray. One young lady who had a problem with adultery shared the type of mind games she played that encouraged her immorality, “I didn’t even think of my husband. I just erased him. Then, I could do what I wanted more or less and it made me feel like I wasn’t hurting anybody else.”

This testimony is no textbook theory; she is a normal, everyday homemaker who is frustrated with her husband. She is no different than any one of us and if we met her at the super market we might be shocked to think that such a personable individual could have such unrealistic thoughts.

Several myths about the thought life lead people into moral trouble. One such myth is that actions are no worse than thoughts about those actions. Such people say – since thinking about committing adultery means I have already committed it; therefore, I might as well go through with it since I am already guilty. This twisted thinking seems logical to many but when put into another realm, its foolishness becomes apparent. According to this thinking a person who contemplates suicide might as well go through with it! What nonsense! While no sane person would agree with this thinking about suicide, they readily accept it to justify sexual immorality.

Counterbalance evil thinking by:

Developing Godly thought patterns. 

Encourage Godly thought patterns through memorization of Scripture such as:

Discipline: 2 Timothy 1:7.

Eternal Life: Romans 6:23; I Timothy 6:12; Titus 1:2; I John 2:25; 5:11-13.

Holiness: Psalm 30:4; Isaiah 6:3; I Peter 1:15, 16.

Lying: Proverbs 12:22; 19:22; Isaiah 59:2,3; John 8:44; Colossians 3:9.

Turning from Evil: I Corinthians 6:18, 19; Romans 6:13; I Thessalonians 1:9.

Weapons of Warfare: 2 Corinthians 10:4.

Lust: 1 Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 5:16; I Thessalonians 4:7; James 1:13-16.

Control of the Spirit: Ephesians 5:18-17. Armor of God: Ephesians 6:11-17.

Thought life: Philippians 4.

For the greatest benefit, meditate on what you memorize. Meditation means reflecting on memorized material in several ways: 1) Contemplate the meaning of the words in the verse and their relation to each other, 2) Consider the time element in the action words (past, present, future), 3) Mull over the subject and object of the action, 4)  Encourage your mind to roam through the verse or verses picking out contrasts, comparisons, similarities, and differences, 5) Determine the exact application to life. Revolutionize your moral life by memorizing and meditating on the Word of God because it is true: sin will either keep you from the Word of God or the Word of God will keep you from sin!

The second internal factor involves the presence of an evil purpose.  Matthew 5:28 “But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with here already in his heart.” The original word for “look” stresses the persistence of the look. This is not a casual glance. The “looker” knows what he or she is doing and continues to do it over a long period of time. This is a willful and purposeful look. When one “looks” in this intense way, an evil purpose develops. It only takes the right occasion to encourage it to blossom into an immoral act. The act of adultery is more like harvested fruit than sowing seed.  The purpose phase of adultery wedges itself between the viewing and the doing!

Neutralize evil purposes by: 

Judging evil thoughts and desires before they turn into evil purposes.

Remember that evil thoughts may enter our minds without our permission but they do not have to make a home there. We can do something about our own thinking processes by measuring our thoughts against the Word of God and by yielding to the Holy Spirit. Remember Scripture says “. . . greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4) and “. . . Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

The third internal factor involves an attitude of unbelief.  On the one hand, adultery reveals a lack of faith concentrating on the present, the immediate, and the short-term. Unbelief pushes aside the exhortations and warnings of the Word of God for instant gratification.  On the other hand, faith looks to the future, it sees ahead, it takes God at His Word, it is willing to risk everything on the validity of biblical truth. Men and women of faith do not allow themselves to develop evil purposes – not because they do not have the same pulls of the flesh – but because they have committed themselves to eternal values.

Promote faith by: 

Reading and studying the Word of God. 

Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” The word of God is the only means to develop faith. Peter confirms this when he says in 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (NIV) There is nothing more important for the individual struggling with moral weakness than to study the Bible. Such a one must take every opportunity to hear, read, and study the Word of God.

Seeking situations in which faith can flourish:

Associate with other believers. We all need encouragement. Moving away from the fellowship of believers is like taking a live coal from the fire and expecting it not to go out. We need to worship together and to feel the warmth, the love the encouragement, and unity of others of like precious faith.

Spend time in prayer.  Prayer is an excellent barometer of the reality of our spiritual lives. Prayer exercises faith. While the study of God’s Word nourishes faith, prayer strengthens it. If we “buy up” our time in prayer we cannot use that same time for ungodly or immoral purposes.

The one external factor involves the toleration for lying. 

Lying plays an integral part in unfaithfulness in several ways:

We lie to ourselves. When we nurture an evil purpose, we can easily either justify or rationalize away the evil thoughts. We easily excuse our immoral behavior by blaming a negligent spouse for being the cause of our problem. A wife told me that during her affair, she didn’t even think of herself as a spouse. She lied to herself and did not face reality in order to do what she wanted to do.

We lie to our spouse.  Misrepresentations and lying characterizes the life of the moral offender. The adulterer lies about schedules, phone calls, use of money, use of the car, etc. Lying becomes a way of life and causes its own confusion, stress and tension.

We lie to God.  Many adulterers continue to worship, teach Sunday school classes, attend prayer meetings, and carry on church life as usual. They act as though God has no idea what they are doing!

Combat lying by:

Making a commitment to truthfulness.  In Ephesians 6:14, Paul admonishes believers to gird themselves with truthfulness when he says, “having your loins girt about with truth.” Truthfulness is completely under our control. Paul also says, “put on” the whole armor of God in verse 11. This command is a personal action. We must make a volitional decision to put on the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truthfulness. We must commit ourselves to telling the truth!

Keeping short accounts with God. We must be willing to judge ourselves on a short-term basis, to confess our sins to God, as they occur, in order to keep a consistent walk with him. If we do this we would never be involved in such a serious sin as adultery.

Taken from Remain Faithful to your Spouse in a Soap Opera Society by Dr. Peterman. Find at


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