Temptation and Responsibility

One of the issues I’ve tried to be very clear on is the question of who is to blame for an affair. Or to put it another way, who is responsible for the affair. The answer is: me. I am 100% responsible and to blame for the affair. I can’t blame Scarlet, or Satan, or my wife, or my up-bringing, or anything else for what I did. There may be and were other factors that contributed to the affair, but ultimately it came down to a clear moral choice: do I betray my wife or do I run from temptation?

I’m not fully responsible for the temptation, but I am solely responsible for my response. I made the decision to sin.

It reminds me of when Jesus wandered out into the desert and was tempted by Satan. It was a necessary part of his journey from the manger to the cross. It was important because now the writer of Hebrews can say

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

The point is that even our Savior was tempted – and directly by Satan at that – and yet He did not sin. If temptation was a sin, then this verse makes no sense. But since temptation is not a sin, this verse gives us hope – hope for resistance to temptation, as well as hope for a savior who understands our struggles and forgives us when we fail.

Now, if you’re familiar with my writing, you know there’s a but coming.  There’s actually several because this is a long post, even for me.

In the case of Jesus, He was responsible for not sinning, but Satan was directly responsible for the temptation to sin. Satan wasn’t merely tempting him, but was blatantly provoking Jesus to sin. We rightly give Jesus credit and praise for resisting the temptation, but what if he had sinned?

For one thing, Satan would have won and we’d all be his. But for Jesus whom we esteem for what actually happened, would it not be appropriate to hate Him for failing if he had? It’s not consistent to give full credit and praise in the first case and withhold any measure of accusation and scorn in the second. In other words, the responsible party doesn’t change with the outcome.

And so it is in our lives. We can’t claim credit for resisting temptation when we do the right thing and shift blame to the source of temptation when we fail. Otherwise one could say of any person that the only reason they have not sinned is because sufficient temptation has not presented itself. (Although, as an aside, I think there’s more truth to this than we’d like to admit. The grace of God protects us and strengthens us against temptations we could not resist in our own strength. But that’s a discussion for another post)

And here, finally, comes the but.

Whether or not it is sinful to create temptation is a completely separate issue from our moral and religious duty to resist temptation. The verse that immediately comes to mind is “You shall not tempt the LORD your God” (originally in Deut 6:16 and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:12, Matt 4:7). By definition, God cannot sin, but He can be tempted to break his covenants because of our sin.

The observant reader should be able to see where I’m going with this now. If we the church are married to Christ and we can sinfully tempt He who is sinless, how much more can we as sinful humans tempt our human spouses? I’m not merely speaking of infidelity here, either.

I’m 100% responsible if I say something unkind to my wife, but she may also be 100% responsible for some other sin that tempted me to be unkind. Does this mean she deserves the sin? Of course not.

No one deserves to sin or to be sinned against – ever.

We always have an obligation to handle the temptation without sin. I want to make sure this is perfectly clear. No temptation has come upon any of us beyond what we are capable of handling. God always provides the strength and a way of escape. When an individual sins, there may be reasons it is understandable – mitigating circumstances – but it never ceases to be sin, and it never ceases to be the sole responsibility of the person who committed the sin.

Keeping this in mind, the person or persons who created the temptation may have something to repent of as well.

In my fictitious example above, I yelled at my wife because she bought a $300 dress without asking. I was wrong for yelling, but she was wrong for buying the dress without asking. (Again, this is 100% hypothetical. Assume for the sake of argument that we’ve agreed to make no major purposes without discussing it first.) It gets complicated because while she was wrong, she may have felt like we didn’t budget enough for her clothes, maybe I’m too controlling with the money, maybe I’m hypocritical when it came to big purchases, or maybe the dress was just too good to pass up. It’s unlikely that she doesn’t care about my feelings, but she justified it for some reason, at that moment she cared more for herself than she did for my feelings.

The point is, there are more issues going on than just the fact that I yelled, and probably more issues than just the fact that she bought a dress. The yelling is almost certainly a sign that my wife and I both need to work on our communication and relationship. That underlying problem may be all me, all my wife, or some split between the two of us.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone by using a simple explanation to approach the Big Issue around which this blog is centered. Adultery is so much more complicated than the comparatively trivial example I just used. The pain and the lasting effects are several orders of magnitude worse. However, the same basic principles apply (and can you not also see how my continued verbal abuse of my wife might tempt her to seek kind words elsewhere?). The adulterer/adulteress are still 100% responsible for the sin (the affair), but the temptation and circumstances surrounding the affair are not necessarily so clear cut.

This is one of the hardest things for both the loyal spouse and for the cheating spouse to get through. I, as a cheating spouse, had to understand both logically and emotionally that I was the only responsible party. Whatever problems were already in our marriage, whatever problems were in my past, I still made a choice to sin when I should have chosen to flee from temptation. I was completely wrong in choosing the affair and I had to “get” this in order to be fully repentant.

My wife, the loyal spouse, had to realize the same thing. She was not in any way responsible for what I did. Whatever problems we had, I still betrayed her instead of choosing to work them out. No one – not me, not herself, not some other Judgey McJudgeypants – can rightly say to her “You caused this.” She had to get this in order to fully forgive.

We also had to realize that our marriage and our relationship was far more likely to survive if we addressed those preexisting problems. My wife and I had to acknowledge the different ways in which we contributed to the environment that made an affair a tempting proposition to both of us. We both had to work on fixing those problems, even though I was solely responsible for the affair.

It sounds obvious, but the temptation is to say the affair trumps all, erases all past problems prior to the affair. But that’s not true. My affair didn’t wipe the slate clean on her side of the ledger, although it did sandbag mine to the point where I could never recover.

That’s where her gracious forgiveness was key. Without forgiveness, we never could have settled up, as it were, because my debt was too great. We could never have truly fixed the relationship and brought it to the point where we are married as equals, able to love and respect each other as spouses should.

I know this has been a long post, and thank you if you are still reading, because here’s the point I’ve been trying to make.

It might be tempting to say “But aren’t you excusing the affair or at least trying to shift the blame?” It’s a fair question, but the answer is no.

The blame for having an affair lies with the one who made the decision, not the person or circumstances that created the temptation. I hope I have made that clear. I also hope I have made clear that the temptation that led to the sin is the result of a lot of factors. In fact, there are so many factors, that I hope you will not try to assign blame to them. The important thing is to restore the relationship; to bring love back into the marriage through repentance, forgiveness, and grace; and to safeguard the marriage against temptation in the future by creating a strong marriage. Picking through the past with a fine tooth comb, trying to assign blame is not conducive to any of those things.

It will still come down to each spouse saying “no” if and when temptation does arise, but that temptation may look less like filet mignon and more like tube steak when there is mutual love and respect. So those are my goals: to rebuild our marriage better than it was before and to run like hell the next time temptation arises. I hope you’ll do the same.

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About Anonyman

Recovering adulterer and husband of an awesome wife who has given me a second chance. Sinner and Christian, saved by grace alone. I cuss a lot
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14 Responses to Temptation and Responsibility

  1. 15gen says:

    I cannot begin to tell you how timely this is for me. It was a terrible weekend. For this very reason. He said something…I “took” it wrong…and I fired a verbal bullet. I sinned – I didn’t keep my tongue in check and I wounded him. No matter what he has done, it doesn’t give me the right to throw it in his face because I *think* he’s verbally attacking me. I am deeply sorry and hope he & I can work through this. Thank you for, again, speaking the truth.

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  2. If the blame lies with the person who made the decision, then doesn’t that mean that BOTH the spouse who cheated AND the affair partner hold blame? They both decided to commit adultery. Obviously, I hold my husband to a much higher standard of accountability because it was his duty to protect the marriage. But the OW has some responsibility to act with some level of morality. In our situation, the OW admitted that she pursued him long before he knew she wanted to turn their work relationship into something else. She admitted that she knew he was depressed, had lost his father, had a new baby, a nearly failing business and so on. She used a time of great vulnerability to work her way further into his personal life under the guise of “just being a good friend”. She was supposedly MY friend too, but wanted to talk too much about my marriage. “Gee, H is working long hours lately. Doesn’t that make you mad? Isn’t that hard on your marriage?”. She tried to play us against each other.

    Early on I read some OW blogs to try and understand this mindset of entitlement. How exactly one justifies participating in the destruction of a marriage, a family and hurting innocent children. It was mind-boggling to read the hatred and contempt these women had for wives that in most cases they did not even KNOW.

    At the end of the day, affairs aren’t about the AP (because the term “affair down” didn’t get pulled out of thin air) and it isn’t about the betrayed spouse (who undoubtedly does have faults). It is about something inside the person who chooses to cheat. It is about some hole inside they are trying to fill. If they are fortunate, they will figure out what created that hole, and how to heal it. That is why in the overwhelming majority of cases, the marriage remains intact. It wasn’t the spouse they were rejecting, it was themselves.

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    • Anonyman says:

      Both people involved in an affair are 100% responsible. In my situation, Scarlet created/was the temptation for which she is responsible, but I am completely responsible for giving in to the temptation. The same is true for her – I am responsible for creating the temptation, but she is solely responsible for betraying her husband. Neither of us made the other sin. We and our spouses all share some responsibility for the situation in which the affair occurred, but I cannot and will not shift blame to anyone else for my actions.

      I do agree that the person who betrayed did it to fill some hole or to sate some desire. However, what that hole is and how it got there is usually a complex issue in which there may not be clear-cut lines of responsibility and blame. It’s important to figure all of this out, not to assign blame, but to fill the hole constructively and restore the relationships.

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      • I completely agree that neither person makes the other sin. My husband’s affair partner was single (albeit in a long term relationship) and she freely admitted to being the pursuer. In addition, we found out later that she manipulated and lied about a number of work situations to create a “you and me against the world” type feeling. She set herself up to appear to be his only ally. It was a weird situation. In addition to this, she had some heavy duty psychological issues that she hid (as long as she could) from him. She also lied about having an STD. In this case HPV, which can cause cancer. It has impacted my health in some very negative ways. Even so, I do hold him at least fifty percent responsible for exposing me. Up until his affair, we had been each others’ first and only.

        Here is where we may respectfully disagree. Prior to his affair we had been through the wringer. We lost my mother and his father in a short period of time. His business appeared to be failing, we had lost money on some real estate deals, we moved, had a new baby, and he himself had a big health scare. I could list even more. Add the stress of four kids and the attendant school and sports schedules and you can imagine. I began to feel like we were treading water, but I knew this difficult season would pass. He however, fell into a serious depression. I begged him to go to counseling (alone or together). I badgered him to exercise with me to off-load stress. Anything I could think of. His “friend” began telling him WE (kids and I) were his problem. Her care-free single life presented quite a contrast, I’m sure. To illustrate how toxic this person was, he became suicidal with a plan. He confided this in her, and she was adamant that he receive NO treatment. No counseling and no medication. She told him she was all he needed and encouraged him to confide in her, lean on her, etc. When the affair became physical, his regret and guilt made him essentially non-functional for a time. The rest is history. So for this reason, I honestly don’t feel that I contributed to the environment that created his affair. I was just as stressed as he was. I presented every option I could and he refused them all. He can see now where he should have been more open with me, but he was never one to talk about feelings. Two plus years of therapy has helped him with this and it has benefited us both. We are going forward with healing and part of that is him being able to talk more about how is feeling and admit when he is depressed. He is very open now to doing things to manage his stress (exercise, massage, etc) that he wouldn’t have considered before.

        After the initial shock of d day wore off, I was open in counseling to discussing what I did or did not do that may have contributed and he (along with three counselors..his, mine, ours) was adamant that the issues were his. The weight is slowly lifting. You are correct that the hole usually is complex. For him it mostly stemmed from an abusive childhood with an alcoholic parent. It created deep boundary issues and almost non-existent coping skills. The AP presented an easy out and he took it. After all, she was telling him what he wanted to hear not what he NEEDED to hear.

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        • Anonyman says:

          Ugh, that sounds horrible for both of you. I’m so sorry you have had to go through this.

          I stand by what I said, but something I didn’t make clear in my post is mitigating circumstances. I believe your husband made a choice to sin, but that is very strongly mitigated by the fact that he was mentally ill (suicidal being mental illness by definition) as well as her cruel manipulation. In the same way, I feel the decision to cheat, while 100% wrong and 100% the responsibility of the cheater, is greatly mitigated when the cheater is the victim of spousal abuse. That’s one of the things I’ve wrestled with is the fact that there were comparatively few mitigating circumstances in my own affair. My wife was not blameless for the environment before the affair, but I was overwhelmingly responsible for the state of our marriage.

          In addition, your husband’s AP is guilty of using your husband cruelly for her own amusement. This I feel is above and beyond just the mere fact of the affair, and in this she is fully responsible. I know I should have compassion on such people – after all, she is almost certainly a very sick person – but they don’t exactly make it easy.

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    • Anonyman says:

      And as usual, I remembered something I wanted to say right after I hit send. I do blame Scarlet for tempting me. She pursued me (and I pursued her) knowing I was married. The reasons why are complicated and I understand some of them, but she was still faced with a clear choice and she chose sin (as did I).

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  3. chely5150 says:

    Some betrayeds will probably get upset with me for my comment ( but they need to read between the lines to understand). I agree that the person who cheated is the only one responsible for their participating in an affair, however I absolutely acknowledge that it takes two people to build up or tear down a marriage. Whether partners share or express these problems is part of the problem itself. I’ve heard it better said by someone (don’t know the author):

    “the affair is an unfortunate symptom of the fact that there areas that exist within the marriage that need to be addressed.”

    Some betrayeds will state there were no problems, and possibly, it’s not necessarily a problem more a gap between partners that gets bigger when issues go un- addressed.
    I think that is why I still feel so torn about my marriage. So much is still un-addressed that i worry that we will end up in the same place that lead to his affair. Oh just got the idea for my next post – Thanks anyoman!

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  4. Janelle says:

    I think I learn more about scripture from reading your blog than I do on the occasions I actually attend services. As always, great post.

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  5. Pingback: Group Discussion Time | Isle of A Man

  6. rac says:

    Excellent post. Funny it was posted on the very day I found out about my husbands affair.

    He still claims sole responsibility, but there’s always a “but, you did blah blah blah” justification bullshit, not ownership.

    I am certainly aware of my failures, that made an affair seem like a reasonable choice for him (so fucking NOT reasonable…) but HE solely made the dumb-ass decision to cheat and lie for years.

    But there were things before he cheated that we were both unhappy about. We didn’t have a failing marriage, but it sure wasn’t thriving. Sort of on auto pilot. Still comfortable, safe, loving… Or so I thought.

    So much work to do… Like moving a heap (think mountain) of shit with a teaspoon…

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    • chely5150 says:

      Hi rac-i can relate to your description of your marriage prior to d-day it is very similiar to my own. I too thought that toughing it out through some really hard years, we had finally reached a point where we were on the same page -until i found that text that changed everything forever. Hope you make it through and your marriage survives (if thats what you want) mine it is still questionable. Being married to a narcissist really can suck the life out of you.

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