The Ashley Madison hack has spurred a lot of talk about adultery. An untold number of its clients have already resigned jobs or been served divorce papers. A few have even committed suicide.
Several years ago a friend of mine had an affair. It was like dropping an atomic bomb in his life. He lost his wife, his kids, his home, his friends, and more.
It’s impossible to fully appreciate the devastation caused by his decision—people are still hurting years later. But counting the cost of infidelity is something we should all do.
We can justify anything if we try hard enough, right? But the only way to justify adultery is closing our eyes to the terrible costs it exacts in our lives and the lives of those closest to us.
We can all do the math for ourselves, but by my counting there are at least eight major reasons to run, not walk, from infidelity.
- It’ll cost your reputation. People in our culture disagree about morality, but there’s remarkable agreement about one sin: infidelity. It’s wrong and everyone knows it.
No one’s handing out scarlet A’s today, but people will find out, and they will not forget—even if some are gracious enough to forgive.
It might cost your job. Most affairs start at work, and many affairs end careers. If you’re in ministry, this is a given. You’re canned. You might get reinstated or hired at another church, but don’t count on it.
Depending on company policy, you could get the axe in all sorts of other job environments, too—especially if you’re having an affair with a subordinate. You might as well update your resumé right now. Even Ashley Madison’s CEO is on the street after the hack and news of his own affairs.
It’ll cost you money. The bad thing about losing your job is that affairs are expensive. Secrecy and coverups come at a price—a couple thousand dollars, easy. But it won’t end there.
Divorce lawyers aren’t cheap. If it’s contested, and it probably will be, plan on fifteen or twenty thousand down the drain—along with roughly half your assets. And don’t forget alimony and child support.
It’ll probably cost your family. Two thirds of marriages are toast after an affair, and most of those that survive take years of repentance, forgiveness, counseling, and healing to find any sort of restoration. Betrayal is a hard thing to overcome.
The same goes for kids. If you have children, they’ll be confused and hurt by your betrayal. Kids suffer special difficulty in cases of infidelity because they’re usually stuck in the middle, holding a burden no one should have to carry.
It’ll cost you friendships. Betrayal hurts all relationships, not just families. Don’t be surprised if close friends pull away when news of your adultery gets out—which it will.
Some will take the side of your spouse. Some will feel so angry and frustrated they can’t stand to be around you. Others will find your new reality just plain awkward—especially if you insist your friends accept any relationships that comes out of your affair. Some will stay, many will not.
It’ll cost you your emotional health. People start affairs because they get an emotional charge out of a new relationship. It doesn’t last, and the fallout is almost always emotionally damaging. The average affair lasts about six months, but the negative effects can last a lot longer.
The strain of keeping secrets and maybe losing an entire life can be unbearable. “The person confessing to an infidelity experiences the full gamut,” says Pam Gerhardt: “guilt, self-loathing. . . . Leading a double life can become increasingly difficult for people engaged in affairs.”
It’ll cost your legacy. If the average affair lasts just six months, are you willing to trade that for the kind of things you grandchildren will say about you?
How will you be remembered when you’re gone, someone who loved and cherished his family—or a disappointment? Do you want to be remembered as a person who loved his wife and was faithful to his family—or as the one who squandered his legacy in a moment of indiscretion? Now’s the time to answer those questions.
It might even cost your soul. I don’t need to go too far into this. If you’re a Christian, you know adultery represents a serious spiritual peril. Betrayal, as I’ve said before, is the original sin, and it wreaks havoc in our hearts.
As I’ve also said before, adultery is not normal and it certainly isn’t inevitable. God made us for fidelity. But we live in a fallen world, and we can’t afford to be naive. Nothing will destroy our life and legacy faster than an affair. We must count the cost.
Having said that, I want to add that there is hope after an affair. Another friend of mine was caught in adultery as well. By God’s grace and a profoundly humbling demonstration of forgiveness, that marriage has not only healed, it’s also a picture today for others of what a good marriage can be.
But that’s rare. We know the costs. Let’s not think we can avoid them.