Until about 50 years ago, when states began to pass “no-fault” divorce legislation, those wishing to obtain a divorce were required to prove the facts that would establish a legal basis, or “grounds,” for divorce under state statutes. While most states provided that abuse or abandonment as well as adultery could constitute grounds, in some states adultery was the only legal grounds for divorce. Since the 1950s, most states have passed “no-fault” divorce laws and repealing laws that required proof of a spouse’s wrongdoing prior to allowing divorce. Some states, however, passed “no-fault” laws while retaining the “fault” provisions, allowing a party to choose between filing for a “no-fault” divorce and actually naming the wrongdoing under the old “grounds.”


While adultery is often cited as the cause of divorce, many mental health professionals disagree, and contend instead that adultery is just one symptom of a failing marriage. In fact, some studies show that the majority of marriages affected by adultery would have ended in divorce regardless of whether the adultery occurred, and that the adultery was not reason for the marriage ending in divorce. On the other hand, surveys also show that many whose spouses have cheated on them feel that the adultery had an extremely deleterious effect on the marriage. In addition, while the spouses do not divorce, the marriage is often extremely unsatisfactory for either of them.


Scientific studies have yet to be done on whether couples who start out together as adulterers (one or both were married to someone else) actually stay together after they marry. However, anecdotal evidence testifies strongly against the likelihood of success. In addition, studies have shown that 85 percent of marriages entered into in the first two years after divorce end in failure. Add to this the fact that mental health professionals contend that a relationship that grows out of the betrayal and secrecy is quite likely to have trust and commitment issues, and you likely have a combination that is not going to work in the long-term.


Numerous groups, both faith-based and secularly derived, have established programs with the mission of saving troubled marriages. One example is “Marriage Encounter,” a program that was initiated decades ago in the Catholic Church that has spread to other denominations. The Marriage Encounter model utilizes peer relationships along with both couples-only and group work to help couples re-commit to their marriages. Many couples attest that they have healed, even from the emotionally devastating consequences of infidelity, and have moved on to help others do the same.


In nearly every culture, adultery has been considered a “wrong,” sometimes only morally and ethically, but often even criminally. These attitudes certainly continue to exist in the United States today as evidenced by some state laws that continue to criminalize adultery, other state laws that allow petitioners in divorce actions to cite adultery as legal grounds for the action, and military law which gives rise to disciplinary action against military personnel who have been found guilty of adultery. It is no wonder that a marriage can be so negatively affected by adultery. Many people, however, believe that with the commitment of both parties and assistance from others, their marriage can be put back together.