Adultery/Abandonment: Two Sides, One Coin

lonely rock

When I set about creating the CSL blog, I had help from a couple of experienced bloggers, who were giving me all kinds of advice about the ins and outs of using the WordPress hosting platform. These two ladies deserve much credit (or blame, depending on how you view this blog) for creating this space.

One of the bits of advice that they recommended was creating a Twitter account, as it would be a useful tool in communicating with readers and the world at large. Prior to this, I saw Twitter users as evidence of mankind’s devolution, but I have found it to be useful, and have even started to use it to keep up with the #christianmarriage blogging community.

Recently, a ‘tweet’ came across my feed from a Christian website entitled Affair Care that helps Christians who are dealing with the aftermath of infidelity in their marriages. As I read the linked article, it hit me that the information that they were presenting completely applies to those who are dealing with Refusal/Gatekeeping in their marriages. I realized that…..

Refused Husbands Get DARVO’ed!

Guys, go read the article How did my disloyal spouse become the victim?, and then return.

….. (hum, dedum, de tiddle um tum…. *whistle*) ……
Oh, good, you’re back.

I confess that I’m new to the topic of infidelity and adultery. Not that I didn’t know that it existed, but it wasn’t in my wheelhouse, not on my radar as a marriage blogger. As I read this article, and as I read around the site, I was struck by the different lingo that was used to discuss the topic, such as “Loyal Spouse” and “Disloyal Spouse”. And I learned a new term, DARVO.

When I read that article, I was struck by how all three of the tactics that are used by adulterous spouses that make up the term DARVO are used by refusing spouses when defending/denying sex in marriage.

  • Denial? Yeah, how ‘bout “What do you mean we don’t have sex? We just had sex last week?” (This was reported by a husband whose calendar showed that it had been a couple of months.)
  • Attack? “You’re a sex addict!” “All you ever think about is sex!”
  • Reverse Victim Order? “All you want me for is sex!” “All the things I have to do (kids, work, laundry), and you want to make me do you too, Mr. Insatiable?”

Breaking Marital Covenant

In discussions about refusal on different Christian forums, this question always comes up: is sexual refusal on a par with adultery, and is it grounds for divorce? It should come as no surprise that, in those discussions, your Cuddly Curmudgeon comes down of the “pro” side of the question (and, of course, with his typical ‘warm fuzzies’ approach.)

Christians of every stripe agree that Jesus taught that when one spouse is unfaithful to the other, s/he has broken the marital covenant, that adultery means that the “loyal partner” has every right to declare the marriage over and seek divorce. In the eyes of all, no matter the theological flavoring, the adulterous spouse is deemed to have broken faith with his/her spouse.

While the consensus of opinion/interpretation about the status of physical abuse is not as universal, it is accepted by many Christians that abuse IS a violation of the marital vows and thus a biblical reason for divorce. Just this past week, Sheila Wray Gregoire tells this anecdote:

I spoke last Saturday at a one-day marriage conference with my husband and with speaker Gary Thomas. During the Q&A panel, we were asked if it is okay for an abused woman to divorce her husband, or if that is breaking a covenant.

I replied that if a woman is abused, the husband has already broken the covenant. She is not the one doing so by leaving. Gary agreed with me.

Returning To Biblical Understanding

Think about the implications of Gregoire’s statement and Thomas’s assent. There are Christians who will argue that the only, and I mean ABSOLUT-ESTLY ONLY, reason for obtaining a divorce is adultery. Yes, it seems that Gregoire and Thomas are flying in the face of that teaching and expanding the acceptable reasons for divorce from one to two.

But actually, their statement does more than that; it returns to the biblical teaching on marriage, and what constitutes violation of marriage. As the article says, “Divorce not the breaking of the covenant, the sin of abuse was.”

In my Divorce: Scarlet Letter? series, I wrote about how the Matt. 19 discourse was part of an ongoing national debate, and did not deal with the entirety of subject of divorce. Biblically and historically, marriage was a covenant/contract between two people who accepted responsibilities in the marriage. And, biblically, it was understood that failure to fulfill these responsibilities constituted violation of the contract, the “breaking of covenant,” and that the ‘sinned against’ spouse had the right to leave the marital relationship, as the contract between the two had been violated by the other.

The divorce was not the violation of the covenant, but the failure to accept and function within the confines of the covenant was.

Sexual Abandonment = Adultery?

And now we come to the third rail of divorce discussion: sexual abandonment. Gatekeeping. Refusal.

In today’s Church-ian world, the one in which we get to impose our beliefs onto the Word of God, separation and divorce due to sexual abandonment is deemed as wrong. So many teach that a husband doesn’t have the right to expect sex in marriage, and say that sex is like the icing on a cake, that the concept seems indefensible. After all, “marriage is holy in the sight of God!”, and “let no man put asunder!” So, “just learn to live without and be Christ-like!”

But the writers of the Bible knew and understood that marriage was the one, unique relationship that God created in which mankind’s sexual nature could be expressed is be expressed; sex is the defining act of marriage, after all. As I noted in the second of my Covenant Or Contract series, for 3,000 years, the Jews have had the practice of drawing up a marriage contract, called a ketubah, that promised three things: food, clothing and conjugal rights.

According to Jewish teaching down through the centuries before Christ, one of the roles of a husband was to provide conjugal rights to his wife. Unlike our Church world, with its “take it or leave it” attitude toward sexuality, the Hebrews taught that sex was not only desired by men, but by women as well, and it was written into the Jewish marriage contract.

And intentional failure to be available to your wife or your husband, to accept your responsibility in the marriage toward one’s spouse was viewed as a violation of the marriage covenant, as a breaking of the contract that bound husband and wife together. (As an aside, I said that this was the understanding and teaching of Hebrews in the centuries before Christ. I would be more accurate if I said that this is still the understanding of the Jews today, as ketubahs are still a part of the Jewish marriage, including the promise to fulfill conjugal rights.)

A More Complete Biblical Understanding

We know that the Bible teaches that the covenant between a husband and wife can be broken. If it were not, then Jesus was in the wrong for even saying that adultery was acceptable grounds for divorce.

We would not tell a husband or wife who spouse cheated on them by having an affair that getting a divorce is breaking their marriage covenant. We know that the covenant was broken by the adultery.

Most would not tell an abused wife or husband (statistics say that 1 in 3 victims of domestic violence is male) that getting a divorce is breaking their marriage covenant. We know that the covenant was broken by the physical violence and abuse.

According to biblical teaching, we should not tell a sexually refused wife or husband that getting a divorce is breaking their marriage covenant. That was broken by the intentional abandonment of the responsibilities of a marriage partner.

Just as a wife may be able to forgive a philandering husband but still divorce him (all completely without censure), so, too, some husbands feel that they can’t continue in a marriage defined by abandonment of the marriage bed.



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

18 responses to “Adultery/Abandonment: Two Sides, One Coin

  1. DARVO is a term I came across for the first time about a year ago. It is used a lot with respect to mental and emotional abuse. There are multiple ways to accomplish DARVO, and it doesn’t always involve separate steps for each part. This is part of why people don’t catch on to the fact that it is happening to them until later on.

    The example you gave of a wife claiming that they’d had sex only the week before could just be a bad memory, but not likely. Her memory is probably not that bad about other things… so there is obviously a selective aspect about it. This kind of statement is also very commonly used to “gaslight”. It makes the other person second guess their own memory… or sanity.

    The effects of each incident don’t have to be huge for it to be very destructive. When the person who is DARVOing is a person who is trusted and loved, the victim is extremely vulnerable. The effects are cumulative.

    If the victim isn’t buying it, DARVO can still be used. The denial alone is still an act of invalidation that is frustrating and damaging in and of itself. It says there will be no candor, good will (love), and there will be no resolution because the truth can’t even be approached.

    The point of all this is just to say that, if someone is doing this to their spouse, then sexual refusal and/or gatekeeping may not be the root problem. It is probably the most obvious problem, but contempt is a far worse problem. I say contempt is worse, not because I’m comparing the pain on some scale, but because it is the most difficult to overcome. After all, if you aren’t worth the air to speak the truth, or the effort to think kindly and afford empathy, what can you do after that?

    I wouldn’t want anyone to jump to conclusions about their spouse’s motivations. But, don’t be blind, either.

    I’ve posted a couple of links about emotional reasoning, which is related to this kind of behavior. If anyone wants to investigate, this might be a good place to start.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brilliant! I’ve certainly seen this a thousand times.
    The goal, IMHO, is to address ALL of the wrongs from both spouses, no matter how big or small they are. With each working on their own stuff. But this does not mean either can excuse what they did because of what the other did.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Phil

    Another very thought provoking post, thank you.

    There is a slight problem with the abandonment is equal to adultery argument in my opinion. The act of adultery along with sexual abuse (may as well throw that in for good measure) is sustained by a single act. A single act of adultery would be grounds for divorce and a single act of sexual abuse could mean a lengthy stay in jail. Now clearly a single act of refusal, even though it may be a break of the marriage covenant, wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow in most circles.

    So when does refusal become abandonment and then possibly/maybe grounds for divorce,1-day, 2-weeks, 3-months, 9-months….? Interestingly UK law states that if you have put up with your spouses adultery for 6-months then you have effectively accepted their behaviour and cannot use adultery as just cause anymore. With this in mind, refusal becoming abandonment, must be measured in weeks rather than months otherwise it may mean you have technically accepted their behaviour which puts my being refused for many years in a very dark place.

    I’d love to hear from others as to what they think regarding when refusal becomes abandonment and how quickly a refusing partner should start to bring in help from outside the marriage to signify that they’re not accepting the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tjcox53

      My first thought is that law has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve heard of in a while.
      Secondly with regard to refusal becoming abandonment of the marriage vows, I’m afraid I see no easy answer for that.Or how long a spouse should tolerate it. These are both matters of conscience as I see it. In most states there is provision for common law marriage. Typically it states that if a couple lives together, in a conjugal relationship for a certain number of years,in the eyes of the law they are husband and wife. It is the commitment to one-flesh relationship, that constitutes marriage, not the ceremony, or the license.
      Frankly, I would hope that I were in your position, would be seeking God’s will for me and my marriage, without regard for what anyone else thinks. If we believe the verse, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder”, it’s plainly obvious, that only God can decide when enough is enough.Remember, we will all stand before the judgement throne alone, and it is before our own master, that we stand or fall. Notice, I said, “I would hope”. I am all too familiar with how easy it is to tell someone how they should proceed in a situation,yet when faced with the same situation,find it much more hard and complex, than you had imagined.
      I will pray for you Phil, that God lead you into His will for your situation, because IMHO , He is the only one who can answer your questionings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phil

        Thank you TJ.

        Currently I feel that He is saying to me that I should continue in my sexless marriage as if it were some sort of test. I also feel that He has tested me throughout my adult life from losing my father when I was 19, then my little brother when I was 35, then my career, home and all of my savings over the last 10-years.

        All I have tried to do all my life is be kind and generous to those around me plus work hard and not think of my own needs before others and yet I am still tested every single day.

        Life shouldn’t be this hard…….

        Please don’t pray for me but save a moment to thank God for what you have been given and how special that really is.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jack

        Phil, if you really think this is God’s will, you need to follow your faith and your heart. I can tell you that over many decades reaching new levels of obedience has often involved great pain. Sort of being a pot, having the potter mash you back down, and then reshape you. In my life growth has almost always involved pain, often considerable pain. If you believe it’s for the right goal, you can trust that God will redeem your pain. I would only say just make sure your discernment skills are engaged and if you feel it’s appropriate seek advice from a spiritual mentor/advisor.


    • Jack

      >>help from outside<<

      I would say sooner rather than later. First, because it could help, although as I've looked into this in recent months you can get just about any flavor of counseling you want and much of it is not likely to be helpful (and likely to be strongly anti-male).

      Second, because I think it's a good way to set boundaries (if you're not serious enough to engage in counseling, I may not be serious enough to stay around) and test your spouse's intent and good faith.

      Of course, if your spouse doesn't accept repeated requests for counseling, the question would be moot.


      • Phil

        Hi Jack

        My wife and I have spent many months going to couseling after I finally persuaded her it was something we needed to do. We’ve just been to our last session and nothing has changed apart from the fact that its been confirmed that some abuse that took place before I met her has given her a mental block/fear/phobia of being intimate.

        This now means I have to put my needs aside and care for my wife to try and help her deal with her past.

        Liked by 1 person

      • But insist that she actually work on her past, not use it as another stone in the dam. The marriage itself should NEVER “take a backseat.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Phil

        The next step is for my wife to seek specialist help in going back over time and uncovering the layers of hurt one by one until she has answered all of the questions she currently has swimming arouund in her mind. This is something she has to take on whole-heartidly for it to work and if I insist then the process will fail. If she does not take up the challenge then I have to decide wether to carry on as we are or leave all of which has been spelt out with the help of the counsellor today. This means, for the sake of both my wife and our possible future together, our marriage is currently on hold.

        Liked by 1 person

      • sandi

        EMDR therapy may be something that could really help your wife to overcome the trauma of her past. It’s been helping me a lot. I’ll be praying for Phil’s wife.🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Sandi, for sharing that link.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. sandi

    I’m clueless, big surprise right, LOL


    • My bad. WordPress didn’t show the smiley, and I thought your comment was “one hour”, which confused me. So I posted a comment that read “one hour? Huh?”

      It was only after I put up my reply that I saw yours as you posted it, so I deleted mine. Apparently you got a message saying I had replied to you.

      Hence, the confusion.


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