Is a one night stand “better” than an affair? Is it easier to get over?
Every Wednesday we talk marriage, and this week on Bare Marriage we’ve been talking about some pretty big marriage problems, and how to move forward. I’ve talked a lot about how to forgive your husband and how to move forward after an affair on the blog, but what do you do if it’s “just” a one-night stand? Does that matter?
I recently had a woman write this:
My husband confessed to me this summer that he had a one-night stand while he was traveling for work. He is in the military, and frequently gone, sometimes for extended periods of time. There is no porn issue, it was not something he sought after, it was not an affair involving social media. The only contact he had after (she apparently gave him her number) was to ensure she was not pregnant. To make it even more painful, I was seven months’ pregnant at the time of the affair. I have always been the higher-drive spouse, so it wasn’t because I was refusing him. We both waited for marriage to have sex, he was very haughty and would take offense at the idea that he would ever cheat on me — cheating is very common in our unit. So though I had repeatedly reminded him he needed to set better boundaries (he was, until the affair, completely open and honest about when women would approach him on the road and how he handled the situation), my concerns were always dismissed. I believe he was overwhelmed by external factors, including a lot of work stress, away from me (and his heart was away from God), and bad combination of too much alcohol, exhaustion, the wrong buddies and the right temptation led to a life-shattering decision. I told him I forgave him and we’re working through it. He told me a week before our anniversary. But, it’s painful for me to listen to our wedding service, a tradition I used to enjoy, on our anniversary. I took off my ring; it’s supposed to be a symbol of a covenant he made for life. We tried to seek Christian counseling, but we are stationed overseas, and he was since surprised with an extended deployment, so we were only able to meet with a counselor once. He originally wanted to rush a vow renewal before the deployment as a way to show me that he would be faithful, but to be honest, his vow doesn’t mean much to me at this of the Christian resources i’ve seen online are not for the random, unexpected, accidental one-night stand.. So my question is this: How do I go about a real vow renewal? Does it even matter, because I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully trust him again? Do you have any suggestions? We have not told our families about the affair and do not intend to, so the renewal would be for us and not in a public setting.
An affair is an affair is an affair–even if it’s just a one-night stand affair!
To the woman who wrote this: I’m so sorry. I really am. Just because he didn’t have a long-term relationship with this woman doesn’t mean that it hurts any less. It really doesn’t.
And in fact, when a guy says, “it didn’t mean anything”, that’s almost more painful.
How can sex not mean anything?
Does that mean that when he has sex with me, it doesn’t mean anything? Certainly the sexes approach sex differently, but this is a huge roadblock for many women in getting past a betrayal by a husband. It isn’t just that he broke the vows; it’s that he took something that we thought was sacred and treated it so cavalierly. Is he even capable of seeing sex as sacred? It’s not just the exclusiveness we’ve lost; it’s the value that we placed on our sex life in the first place.
So I just want to say–I get it. And I don’t think that you have to diminish the reality of what a one-night stand means to your marriage just because the affair went no further than that. It was still a very hurtful thing.
We can’t really heal from a one-night stand until we confront the severity of it.
When there’s been a betrayal like this, the instinct can often be panic: we don’t want to lose the marriage, so let’s try hard to recommit and rebuild so that we don’t have to fear that we’ve lost everything.
That doesn’t work.
When there’s been a betrayal, then something has died. Your relationship, as you knew it, has died. That does not mean that you’ve lost all the good parts of it. Not by any means! But the sum total of the relationship isn’t what you thought.
You need to be able to let go of what you thought you had so that you can build something new.
That new thing that you build may even be better than what you built before. Because you do it carefully, and you do it truthfully, many couples end up even more intimate than they were before! But that only happens when you’re totally honest.
The new thing you build can include the good from the old thing too. And it can include the new ways that you’ve come to see forgiveness and frailty and the need to hold on to God.
But you can’t have that new thing until you stop trying to pretend the old thing is just fine.
Like Jesus says in Mark 2:22:
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.
He was talking about the purpose for His life, but I think it applies here, too. We have to be willing to build something new, which means that we have to be willing to let go of the old.
I’m not talking about divorce or stopping loving someone; I’m just saying that you have to be able to mourn what you had before you can build that new thing. And that’s why forgiveness can’t be rushed.
Putting a time frame on forgiveness is often counterproductive
And it’s also why putting a time frame on something isn’t always wise.
The husband here wants to renew the vows on an artificial timeline–because he’s being deployed. It’s totally understandable, but it’s likely not a smart idea. They don’t need a vow renewal; they need to confront the reality of what happened and then slowly be able to build something new and move ahead. For some couples, a one-time thing can signal that transition. For most, though, that transition is gradual, until one day you wake up and realize that you’ve crossed a rubicon and you’re really okay now. But it’s an internal thing, when you realize that you can forgive, rather than an external forgiveness you force upon yourself.
So what should you do to heal from a one-night stand?
Their life is messy–he’s about to leave again. They need to have certain boundaries in place so that this doesn’t happen again (better friends, less alcohol, more sleep, more accountability). They need to figure out ways they can keep communicating while he’s gone.
But they also need to take a big step back and realize this:
God loves reconciliation. God is big enough to help us build something new. And that’s what God wants for us. But God will do it. We don’t have to force it. So we can trust that even though the timing is really lousy, God is bigger than the timing. And if we both keep leaning on God, He’s going to bring us through this together, even if we can’t see how right now.
She’s asking, “will I ever trust him again?” That’s the most understandable question to ask. But can I suggest a different one? Ask this:
Can I trust that God will bring about what He wants in our relationship?
And then lean into God as hard as you can. Ask your husband to lean in, too. If you both focus on God, rather than trying to fix your marriage, your marriage will grow closer even as you’re apart from each other. And you just may find that you honestly can trust your husband again! But if you put fixing your marriage ahead of leaning on God, you may settle for a superficial forgiveness that doesn’t get to the heart of the real healing and work that God wants to do in your lives.
Don’t get me wrong–I do believe that there is a point where God asks us to let go of the hurt and walk forward. But I also believe that time is in God’s timing, not in our timing. When you hear God whisper that to you, then move forward. But right now, if God is mostly asking you to trust Him and to lean on Him, then do that first.
And that’s how you’ll grow together, even after a one-night stand.
With the exception of the fact that I was not pregnant, this could have been more story almost exactly. Military, frequent travel, a unit culture that encourages infidelity, one time thing, waited to have sex until we were married, excessive alcohol consumption, and on and on… and in my mind, the biggest key: he refused to believe that he was capable of cheating and therefore gave himself no protections against it, even after repeated requests. The letter writer may feel the same way – this was really a huge wake up call for my husband and a huge heartbreak for me. There is no way around the heartbreak, you have to go through. I told a few trusted, godly people for accountability and I highly recommend that – particularly if you can choose someone to help you remain accountable on how you’re really feeling. This is not a quick process but I felt strongly that I was called to forgive (which as Sheila says is not a one-time thing, but an action that must be performed over and over). I am glad you want to move forward in your marriage and I know God’s strength is available to you. A verse that had meant something to me lately is Isaiah 43:18-19. Much love to you, and if there was one thing I could share, it’s that this is essentially a grieving process for the loss of the intimacy you had – grief takes time and is not linear. You may find it sharp and horrible one day, and not there the next, and a sort of “dull” memory the next. I will be thinking of you and praying as good brings you to mind, as a fellow military wife.
Thank you for that comment. I think that’s very helpful.
Also wanted to add: of course your husband wants to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. He likely is feeling an extreme amount of remorse and guilt about what he did. He’s feeling badly for what he did and he doesn’t want to face the unpleasant consequences. That is his problem, not yours. Do not rush your own healing process by participating in “marriage rituals” that you do not feel connected to. I put my ring back on way before I felt ready, and I didn’t need to do that. He broke the relationship, and he needs to realize that earning your trust back will take time.
Also, sorry for my typos above. I was so shocked reading this story that was so similar to my own that I typed without reviewing!
I’d totally agree. It’s natural that he’s rushing things, but she does not have to go along with his pace.
I like your emphasis on time. If any man thinks he only had a one night stand, it demonstrates he does not realize the gravity of his situation — he has become one flesh with someone other than his wife. Under Biblical Law both the man and the woman involved would have been executed. The wife would have become divorced by an act of Divine legislation. She would have had no choice. That said, the man has demonstrated a real character flaw. Either he lacks sense — not taking caution to avoid situations of temptation such as attending a drunken party — or he really lacks faithfulness. Perhaps he learned a lesson? Only a lengthy amount of time will demonstrate if this is so. Sad situation.
It is very sad. And it is all too easy to do, I think, when you believe you’re invincible and you don’t practice common sense and wisdom with boundaries.
Yes. Sadly the military environment promotes the feeling of invincibility and arrogance. I have two young sons and a son-in-law in the military. That said, this comment from the wife is troubling: “Christian resources i’ve seen online are not for the random, unexpected, accidental one-night stand.” Do both her and her husband really believe this decribes his actions? Random? Unexpected? Accidental?😳
Doug, I must agree. Really, accidental???? If he says that, then he is not recognizing the seriousness of what he has done. And if he is not recognizing the seriousness, then he is not truly repentant. Accidental? Really? What, he happened to be walking along and tripped and she just happened to be where he fell? MAN UP and take responsibility for the pain and destruction that you caused and you know full well you were causing when you did it.
A more realistic man-picture according to James 1:14: “I often fantasized about having sex with one of those myterious women in the bars I frequented with my brothers. The women were so young and sexy, not familiar like my wife. I loved to go there to be near them,just to dance near the fire. Eventually I gave into my lust and went for it.” It was not random. It was not unexpected. It was not accidental.
The word “accidental” is somewhat misleading, I agree. I don’t think the man means he tripped and just happened fall on her and had no choice or control over the situation. Perhaps a better word would be “unplanned.” Similar meaning, but much closer to what actually happened. When the man went to the party that night, I highly doubt he did so with the intention that he was gonna have sex with that specific woman at that place and time. Heck, having sex with anyone probably wasn’t on his mind at all! If it was, if he had been fully aware of the danger, then he probably wouldn’t have gone in the first place, as his fidelity was a point of pride for him (which led to his overconfidence). But an unexpected opportunity arose, and he took and advantage of it. He still had a choice in the matter, and he made the wrong one, but it was not a premeditated act. Idk if that makes it better or worse, but that’s what happened. “Not accidental” doesn’t equal “planned.”
Blair, thanks for your comment. I agree that attraction is largely beyond our control. If we are not aware of this, we may find it out too late after we’ve been caught in its vortex. Many gain this self awareness only after a hurtful situation has occurred. It can be a catalyst for true humility, maturity, and growth. A better man can emerge by God’s grace. Hopefully this is the situation for this couple.
My grandfather was physically abusive to my mom when she was a kid. She was a Christian and worked at forgiving him, but that meant she didn’t actively want him to be harmed. My dad commented after they’d been married a couple of years that it was really obvious she was carrying a lot of resentment against my grandfather, and she got furious — wasn’t it obvious how she still showed up to holidays and talked with him and wasn’t mean? How could anything think she was resentful? And she wrestled with it, and felt like God was convicting her, and she said she finally spat out a prayer something like, “God, if you want me to forgive him, then you have to do it, because I can’t.” A few months later, they went to visit my grandparents for a birthday or something, and my mom sat down and asked my grandfather how he was doing … and realized she actually cared about how he was doing. God had actually changed her heart.
I want to say, that my grandfather had gone through a lot of changes from her childhood — stopped drinking, started going to church, and wasn’t physically or verbally abusive to my mom or her brother or mother, and hadn’t been for years. He had made a lot of changes, too. But God worked out forgiveness in her when she just couldn’t let go of all of the pain herself.
I try to remember that for myself.
Sunny-Dee, I had almost the same experience with my father! I realized one day that I actually did care, and it was simply God’s work in my heart.
Also, a one night stand is totally an affair. Trying to figure out which is “better” between a long term affair, an emotional affair, and a one night stand is like trying to argue which is worse, a broken arm or a broken leg. It’s all bad. There’s not a ranking of badness there, it’s just all bad.
I agree. And that’s why I don’t think we should argue that because it’s “just” a one night stand it doesn’t matter as much.
Porn addictions can be just as harmful, too, even if there’s no physical woman in your life. Betrayal is betrayal; rejection is rejection. All need to be dealt with.
Would it be appropriate to ask the husband to be checked for STI s as well before having sex with him again. And maybe after he gets back from the next deployment, or is that being vengeful? Personally I would want to be reassured that I wasn’t going to infected with something unpleasant as a result of this affair, that would be extra painful.
I would insist on this. Honestly, she should get herself tested too, if they had sex after the fling. It’s just not worth the risk.
It is not vengeful at all. It is keeping herself-and her baby-safe. It is really a bare minimum requirement for reuniting.
Sarah, Absolutely appropriate and necessary.
I don’t think that’s vengeful at all! I think that’s very wise.
This is my own experience (different than hers) talking, but I would be hesitant to believe it was only a one night stand for starters.
I would also be very disturbed at this vow renewal/attempts to maintain anniversary traditions. It shows a lack of care, I think. She probably wants to think the best and move through but I hope she considers it all very carefully first.
A vow renewal at this stage would be absurd. Currently, his vow would be worthless. Once he has become trustworthy, then his vow would be worth hearing.
The betrayed wife needs counseling and should feel free to choose her own counselor, if she wishes. But he needs to be doing all the footwork on finding a counselor for himself as well as couple’s counseling. He needs to be making the herculean effort to make this work. If no Christian counselor is available, then find a secular one. Frankly, there are some Christian counselors who will look for how she drove him to it. Don’t assume a Christian counselor is always preferable.
Totally agree with you, Lisa!