In the first days after my husband’s adultery was revealed, I asked God to give me a word – to tell me what He thought about the situation.
He led me to open up my Bible to the story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22). I’ve put the full text here because I want you to read it:
As I read the story, I felt Jesus telling me that this was how He saw what my husband had done to me.
The story resonated with me so much, in many ways, but still it was a bit shocking even to me – was God really saying that what had been done to me was equivalent to rape? And, because I tend to be hard on myself, and underplay my pain, and (wrongfully) expect God to do the same – I am the one who sat in a counselors office on the brink of discovery and asked, “is it ok to be angry?” – I asked myself, “Could God really be ‘taking my side?’”
So, would God say this to me? Well, would that be in line with what I know of God’s character?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I think it is just like Him – to empathize with my suffering, to validate what I am experiencing, and to speak hard truth that I need to come to terms with.
You see, while on the one hand, it was validating to know that God saw my pain, it was also a hard truth for me to face – that, yes, this is what happened to me, this is what my husband did to me, this is what I need to face in my grief.
Whenever you experience loss, you go through the full stages of grief, and at this point in my grief, I was very much in the initial stage – denial – and Jesus was lovingly helping me face truth.
In those early days after the revelation, so many characters from the Bible came alive to me like never before. This Book, that I’ve studied my whole life – from the church nursery to seminary – and taught to others – suddenly seemed to take on a 3-Dimensional quality like never before – it almost seemed I was walking and talking with these ‘old friends’ who I now related to in a whole new light:
I related to Job because I had lost so much in one day. I related to Jesus in a new way because he knew what it was to be betrayed by a close friend and ministry partner. I related to Joseph (Jesus’s earthly father) because he had to make the hard decision to separate from the one he loved when he thought she had been unfaithful to him. I related to Hosea because he knew what it was to have a spouse run after other lovers.
But most of all I related to Tamar. It was her story that resonated with me the most.
So how did this story resonate with me? And how is adultery rape?
First, it is comparable to rape in the tally of losses:
Suppose that I had been physically raped by a random stranger who abducted me on the street. That would be a horrible thing and I would certainly need major physical and spiritual healing to move past that.
But what could that stranger really take from me? I would still have the support of my husband and my family. My children would still have an intact nuclear family. I would still have my home, my ministry, my friends, and all the other good things that made up my life.
And, unlike Tamar, I’m fortunate to be part of a culture / sub-culture / family where I would not be blamed for it (I realize blaming the rape victim is still a problem in our modern, western society, but not to the extent as it was in Tamar’s day).
Now I want to be very careful here because in no way do I want to minimize the pain of rape, which I have not experienced, and so I can’t know, but read on, and I think you will understand what I am saying …
Because of my husband’s adultery, I lost:
1. My marriage.
2. The marriage I thought I had.
I was completely deceived during the 4 years of my husband’s betrayals – I had thought our marriage was pretty darn good – I had thought the world of my husband – I didn’t even know he was unhappy in our marriage, much less that he was cheating – I sang his praises every chance I got – in fact, others had held us up as an example of a happy marriage and we had even been asked to teach a class on marriage – the deception had been quite thorough.
When I found out about his adultery, I not only had to face the impending loss of my marriage, but I had to face the fact that the marriage I had thought I had for the last four years had been a deception.
3. My best friend. I had thought my husband was my best friend – again I now faced not only an impending loss, but the loss of a past I had thought I had.
4. My hopes of my children being raised in an intact two-parent household and all the spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits I hoped they would gain from that.
5. My home. (We were in the States for the birth of our third child when I found out about the adultery, and, along with all the other losses, this meant we would not be going back to India, which had been my home for the last three years. We had no physical house waiting for us in the US, so I lost my home in the literal sense of my house, but also my home in the sense of the friends, the culture, the place, and the life that I had there – all of which I had loved.)
6. My children also lost their home and the friends they had there. This was even harder for them because they had spent a much larger proportion of their lives in India. For one of my children, it was the only home he had any memory of.
7. My ministry, which had been my life’s work for the last 13 years or so. (My husband betrayed me not only as a spouse, but as a ministry partner).
8. My financial security.
9. My reputation. As a result of my husband’s betrayal, I’ve been accused of not walking closely with God, being too religious, not being religious enough, being too independent, being too dependent, and somehow knowing about the adultery and choosing to ignore it.
10. My relationships. There are those who can’t relate to what I am going through or accept the choices I’ve had to make. I also lost relationships simply because of the physical distance of not returning to India.
11. All the specific plans and dreams I had for my future. This is NOT to say that I had no hope for the future – never did I lose hope and never did I lose faith that God knows the plans He has for me – Plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
But all the specific plans and dreams I had were lost. My husband and I had had big plans together for ministry and for an exciting life abroad. This seemed to be just getting started.
I had also had hopes of having more children together – biological and adopted, and of growing old together. These plans would now have to be re-written and new dreams dreamed.
12. Future ministry, reputation, and, relationships. ‘Separated’ or ‘Divorced’ would be a scarlet letter I would always wear, and it would be naive to think that would not affect how people see me or would not limit opportunities for me to use my gifts in the church – particularly teaching and leadership gifts that are already controversial for a woman in the church.
This is only a partial list.
Now, I want to give glory to God that He has already restored some of these things to me, and has given me hope that He will restore others (just as He did for Job, blessing the second part of his life more than the first (Job 42:2)), but this does not lessen the fact that these were very real losses that I faced.
And there are other losses that I probably have not even begun to deal with yet. For example, other victims of adultery have recognized that they suffered a “loss of innocence” and the loss of the ability to have a fully trusting relationship.
I don’t think a stranger on the street could have taken this much from me by only the act of physical rape (as horrible as that would be).
But Tamar’s losses were of a similar nature to mine (and hers were even greater). The scripture tells us that she lived the rest of her life as a desolate woman. She lost her opportunity to marry and have children. She certainly lost her reputation, as in those days, it was always “blame the victim.”
Consider her words to Amnon in vs. 12-13 ”… Don’t humiliate me! … How could I ever be rid of my humiliation? …” It was not the physical pain of rape that she feared most, but the lifelong humiliation that rape victims bore in her time.
In this way, I feel what I have experienced as a victim of adultery is comparable, not only to rape, but to rape in an ancient culture where the victim bears the blame. (#9 and #12 in my list above are particularly relevant to the kind of loss Tamar suffered – also #10 and #11)
One of the most overwhelming feelings I felt in those early days was shame. Shame is when you feel guilty even though you didn’t do anything wrong. It often comes when you are closely associated with someone else’s guilt.
Shame is what I felt, and still feel to some extent, though God is helping me battle it – and shame is what Tamar lived with for the rest of her life.
I remember telling myself over and over, “this is just something that happened to me.”
Why did I have to tell myself that? Because the overwhelming feeling I had was that this was now “who I was.” Adultery, like rape, makes the victim question their very identity and worth.
There are other parallels between Tamar’s story and mine. Verse 1 says that Amnon loved Tamar, but in vs. 15 it says he hated her. It even says, “His disdain toward her surpassed the love he had previously felt toward her.” My husband had also hated me with his actions, while professing to love me with his words.
Also, sadly, Absalom’s words to Tamar in vs. 20 are strikingly similar to words many people have said to me in the last few months, essentially amounting to “just get over it, it’s no big deal.”
In the past few months, I have found that I am not the only one who thinks adultery is rape, and others have made very compelling arguments supporting the same, from different angles:
Skyler J. Collins at Liberty.me wrote an excellent article explaining why adultery is rape from a legal perspective. He distinguishes simply having an adulterous affair with “the prolonged attempt at having both an extra-marital affair and maintaining one’s marriage through lies and deceit.” He argues that the later is rape because the spouse did not consent to sharing their bed as part of a non-monogamous relationship: just as the rape victim who had been drugged before the act would not have consented had she not been drugged, the spouse would not have consented to the ongoing intimate relationship if she had known that it was not monogamous.
I think Skyler makes an excellent argument on the basis of logic, reason, and law. I also can attest from my personal experience, that the most hurtful part for me was not the adultery itself, but the continued lies and deceit over many years – allowing me to pour my heart, soul, energy, resources, and body into a relationship that was not, in fact, monogamous – something I never would have consented to.
I have also heard it argued that continuing the marriage relationship after adultery has occurred, and without first confessing the adultery, should be treated as a violent crime because the innocent spouse is put at risk for STD infection without their consent.
Rev. David at divorceminister.com writes that adultery is “soul rape” because it forces a third party into the marriage against the other spouse’s will. He cites 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 as his text, explaining that the innocent spouse is now ‘united’ with the third person against their will.
I also relate to Rev. David’s point. Though I couldn’t put it into words, I have felt, from the time I first found out, a “creepy feeling” about this third person(s) having such power to take away so much from me and being connected to me in such an intimate way without my consent (a feeling as if she had been in my bedroom or in the most intimate areas of my life).
(My husband had brought more than one “third person” into our marriage, but my feelings of invasion were directed mostly toward the woman with whom he was the most emotionally entangled.)
So adultery is comparable to rape in terms of the losses suffered, the humiliation/stigma/shame, the lack of consent, and the violation of something sacred and extremely personal, which is tied to the very identity of the victim.
I am writing this hoping that it will help other victims of adultery to identify their pain, and that it will help their friends, family, pastors, and counselors to better understand their pain.
If you have experienced this pain, or are close to others who have, what do you think? With which of the things I mentioned in this article do you most identify?