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.