Should I Stay Or Go?: When Marriage Vows Are Betrayed

A man and a woman sit next to each other on a couch, with the man looking away off in the distance while the woman lowers her head and wipes away tears.
If you’re struggling with the difficult choice of whether to stay in a less than perfect marriage, the answer you seek feels heartbreakingly complicated. Because it is.

Should I stay? Should I go?

Like many who’ve found themselves in a difficult marriage, I wasn’t certain what to do. As the victim (or the perpetrator) of a betrayal — a broken marriage vow — this isn’t an easy question to answer, especially for Christians. 

We know the seventh commandment in Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery.” But we are human beings who don’t always make the best choices. We are all sinners. Our failings perpetually prove how desperately we need a Savior. Lust and betrayal have been part of the human experience for thousands of years. If you’re struggling with the difficult choice of whether to stay in a less than perfect marriage or a marriage that’s been shattered by infidelity, the answer you seek feels heartbreakingly complicated. Because it is.

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I’d be asking myself that ominous question: Should I stay or should I go? During the fifth year of my marriage, however, my husband had an affair and a child with another woman. This betrayal took my breath away. My heart actually ached. Each day I sunk deeper and deeper into emotional quicksand until one day, I contemplated suicide.

Counseling, combined with an unrelenting determination to make our marriage work, helped my husband and me patch the pieces of our shattered relationship back together. The process was hard and rugged, but we survived. The dark cloak of sadness eased somewhat. But that wasn’t the end of the struggle.

Broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, can weaken the immune system and make the body vulnerable to more serious diseases. Could the despair and emotional upheaval I experienced have paved the way for the life-threatening illness that nearly took my life a few years later? (See:

Like an unruly child stomping my feet because I really want what I want now, I chafed to clearly know God’s answers to my problems immediately. I prayed constantly for Him to tell me what to do to mend my broken heart and keep my family together.

Should I Stay?

Stay or go? Stay or go? While the question bounced around on repeat in my head, I maneuvered through my parenting and work responsibilities like a graceful lumberjack. I wore oversized Jackie O sunglasses to hide my eyes that were red and swollen from the tears that would not stop. I did the best I could to get through each day. One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time.

Weighing heavy on my decision to stay in the marriage was the fact that I had a young child. A divorce would mean a division of parenting time. I couldn’t imagine being without my child on certain days of the week, and every other Thanksgiving and Christmas. Leaving the marriage would mean no longer doing life together with my husband. What would life be like for me? For my husband? What would life be like for my child? For our family? I felt frozen in my inability to leave. I called an attorney but could never bring myself to sign the papers.  

People have judgements around the type of person who stays with a cheating spouse. Friends said, “You’re stronger than I am.” I didn’t feel strong. It took me years — maybe decades — to come to terms with my decision to stay. Even today, when I see a social media post of another woman celebrating her anniversary with her perfect husband, I’m sobered by my reality. My marriage is far from perfect. Having weathered the storm of infidelity, there is a tinge of jealousy toward those who haven’t had to deal with this deepest betrayal.  

Should I Go?

Stay or go? In the midst of devastating heartbreak, how can you decide? When one spouse has cast their final vote on a decision to terminate the marriage, for whatever reason, it’s nearly impossible to change their mind. The first consideration for any dilemma is always to seek God’s wisdom.

  • Read scripture that is comforting during stressful times. 
  • Pray and pray some more. What is God saying to you?
  • Talk to caring friends who want what’s best for you and your family.
  • Consult pastors and counselors.

There are situations where a temporary healing separation can improve the relationship. Spending a few weeks apart provided insight about how challenging it is to be alone in this world. The break we took also gave clarity around personal and relational areas that needed attention. How unhealthy was our relationship and what was the effect on my child? On myself? On my husband?

Enduring challenges, especially in our closest relationships, is never easy. I came into the marriage with expectations of how I thought this dynamic would work. Hopes and dreams so dear to my heart were the ones I presumed my partner shared. But each of us also brings into the marriage the hurts, broken places, and sin nature that Jesus came to save us from.

As a result of this tribulation, I have grown stronger in my faith and in my relationship with God. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him,” John 9:1-3. In God’s unique economy, He uses everything for our best and for His glory.

Should I stay or should I go? There are settings when the marriage covenant is broken and staying may not be healthy. God knows what is best for each of us. Divorce rates have risen significantly in past decades and many of us know the childhood pain resulting from our own parents’ divorce. Bouncing from house to house to accommodate each parent having time with children is tough on your kids. Staying has consequences and lifestyle changes. Going has yet another set of consequences and lifestyle changes.

For me, I chose to stay. No, our marriage didn’t morph into a fairytale. There are challenges and heart hurts to this day. But there are also shared joys, laughter, and holidays where family gathers together.

My dependence on God has grown. Whether we answer the question to stay in our marriage, or to go, be sure to stay in relationship with the Lord. He is our anchor and source, provider, and guide.

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