Is emotional adultery a reason for divorce?


By BibleAsk Team

The issue of emotional adultery within marriage is a sensitive and complex topic that touches on the sanctity of the marital bond and the principles of fidelity and trust. While emotional infidelity can cause deep hurt and betrayal within a relationship, the question arises whether it constitutes grounds for divorce from a biblical standpoint. In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into the concept of emotional adultery, examine relevant passages from the Scriptures, and consider the biblical perspective on divorce in cases of marital unfaithfulness.

Biblical Perspectives on Adultery and Marriage

  1. The Seventh Commandment: Exodus 20:14 (NKJV) states, “You shall not commit adultery.” This commandment reflects God’s design for marital faithfulness and the sanctity of the marital covenant. Adultery, whether physical or emotional, violates the sacred bond between husband and wife.
  2. The Marriage Covenant: Malachi 2:14 (NKJV) emphasizes the covenantal nature of marriage: “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” This verse underscores the solemn commitment spouses make to each other before God and the importance of honoring that covenant.

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

  1. The Sermon on the Mount: In Matthew 5:31-32 (NKJV), Jesus addresses the topic of divorce within the context of marital fidelity: “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
  2. Adultery as Grounds for Divorce: Jesus affirms the principle of marital faithfulness and acknowledges adultery as a legitimate reason for divorce. However, He also emphasizes the seriousness of divorce and cautions against its misuse or abuse as a solution to marital conflicts.

Paul’s Teachings on Marriage and Divorce

  1. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NKJV): In this passage, Paul addresses the issue of divorce within the Christian community: “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.” Paul emphasizes the importance of marital unity and reconciliation, even in cases of marital discord.
  2. 1 Corinthians 7:15 (NKJV): Paul acknowledges that in some circumstances, divorce may be unavoidable: “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.” While Paul does not explicitly address emotional adultery, his teachings suggest that the dissolution of a marriage may be warranted in cases of persistent unfaithfulness or irreconcilable differences.

Emotional Adultery Definition

  1. Beyond Physical Infidelity: Emotional adultery refers to a breach of marital fidelity that occurs when one spouse develops an intimate or romantic connection with someone outside the marriage, primarily on an emotional or psychological level. It involves sharing intimate thoughts, feelings, and experiences with someone other than one’s spouse, thereby violating the exclusivity and trust of the marital relationship.
  2. Impact on Marriage: Emotional adultery can cause significant harm to a marriage, undermining trust, intimacy, and communication between spouses. While it may not involve physical intimacy, its emotional ramifications can be just as devastating and disruptive to the marital bond.

Biblical Stand on Emotional Adultery

  1. Distinction between Physical and Emotional Adultery: Although Jesus said that one who wrongly lusts after a woman has committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28), that doesn’t mean that a person’s act of lust gives his innocent spouse the right to divorce. The Bible makes a clear difference between emotional and physical infidelity for Jesus stated that the only reason for divorce is physical adultery. He said, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Physical adultery is the only cause whereby the innocent party is free to choose whether the marriage relationship shall be continued or cut through divorce.
  2. Justice in Proportion to the Sin: The emotional sin is not equal to the physical sin. Another example to the seventh commandment “You shall not commit adultery,” is the sixth commandment, which states, “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20: 13). Although Jesus said, the person that is angry with his brother without an appropriate reason is guilty of breaking this sixth commandment (Matthew 5:21-22), He didn’t intend that the religious authorities should sentence the person who is guilty of anger with the same punishment as the person that physically kills another human being. It is clear that the Law is made to give justice in proportionate to the crime. Jesus’ explanation, in the sermon on the Mount, was merely for the purpose of showing the wider application of the Law. But it should not be given to justify extreme penalties against less than extreme violations.
  3. Divorce for Emotional Adultery Is Not Biblical: The wife that divorces her husband for his emotional adultery is acting outside the teachings of the Bible. In that case, her divorce is a sin against God’s will even more than the sin of her husband. Therefore, instead of going through a divorce, the troubled couple should earnestly and prayerfully work on their marriage that the Lord may heal and restore their relationship (Ephesians 4:31-32; Colossians 3:13-14; Ephesians 4:26).

Pastoral Guidance and Counseling

  1. Pastoral Responsiveness: Pastors and spiritual leaders play a crucial role in providing guidance and support to couples facing marital challenges, including issues of emotional adultery. They can offer counseling, prayer, and biblical wisdom to help couples navigate difficult situations and seek reconciliation where possible.
  2. Restoration and Healing: While divorce may be a necessary step in the cause of physical adultery, the ultimate goal should be restoration and healing within the marriage. With God’s grace and intervention, couples can overcome betrayal and rebuild trust, leading to a stronger and more resilient relationship.


In conclusion, emotional adultery raises profound questions about the nature of marital fidelity and the sanctity of the marital covenant. While emotional infidelity may cause significant pain and turmoil within a marriage, it doesn’t offer a biblical reason for divorce. Scripture affirms the importance of marital faithfulness and acknowledges physical adultery as a legitimate reason for divorce. However, the emphasis should be also placed on reconciliation, forgiveness, and the restoration of broken relationships. As couples grapple with issues of emotional adultery, may they seek God’s guidance, wisdom, and grace to navigate the challenges of marriage with faith, humility, and love.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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