Summary: Anyone who builds a relationship on anything less than openness and honesty is building on shifting sand. There are moments in our lives that change everything.


2002, 20th Century Fox

Director: Adrian Lyne

Starring: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez

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Unfaithful is directed by Adrian Lyne, and set in the suburbs of New York City. That’s where Edward and Connie Sumner (played by Richard Gere and Diane Lane) live with their 9-year-old son, Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan).

Edward and Connie have been happily married for 11 years; they clearly love one another. Edward’s career may be demanding, but it has provided a beautiful home and an affluent life for them, without losing the affection of his wife who, he believes, is the most wonderful part of every day. They both adore their son, Charlie.

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One very windy day, however, while Connie is out in the city, she struggles to keep her footing, and is blown straight into a dashing French man who’s carrying a pile of books. They land together in a heap on the floor.

This is Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), a sickeningly good-looking 28-year-old who deals in rare books. After picking themselves up, and chasing around for his books and her shopping, Connie asks him to hail her a cab, which he tries - and fails - to do. She has badly grazed her knee in the fall, so he invites her up to his apartment to clean up the cut.

First she says no; but then, hesitating, and just as an empty cab passes, she accepts his invitation...

Paul asks Connie to accept a gift, and directs her specifically along an aisle to the last book at the end of the second shelf from the top. He tells her which page to turn to, and then joins her in reciting the words: ‘Be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life.’ Has Paul planted this book for just such a moment as this? Feeling awkward and sensing trouble, Connie beats a hasty retreat home.

The next day, however, she decides to return to Paul’s apartment, and phones him from a payphone at the train station. She wants to see him again - and, even though she is painfully aware of how she could hurt her husband and son, she chooses to be unfaithful.

The phrase in the book – ‘be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life’ - really sets the tone for the rest of the film. Connie has chosen to live for the moment, yet her choice, whether she likes it or not, will define the rest of her life.

After her first adulterous encounter, she feels conflicting emotions of pleasure and regret. On the train home she seems tormented, but at the same time, she revels in what she’s just experienced. Connie struggles with the choice that she made, yet decides that passion - and the fulfilment of desire – are worth the risk, even though she already has a happy relationship with her husband.

As soon as she decides to sleep with Paul, however, the lies begin, and Connie starts to lead a double-life. Adultery isn’t just about who you lie with; it’s also about who you lie to. Anyone who builds a relationship on anything less than openness and honesty is building on shifting sand. There are moments in our lives that change everything.

This film shows powerfully how adultery can be irrational, and can cause irretrievable damage to those involved. It explores the hurt and devastation that everyone goes through. Connie is not in love with Paul - she knows nothing about him, in fact, and their relationship is based simply on lust. Paul is naïve, too, because he believes there’ll be no price to pay if his actions are discovered.

Connie’s passion, once unbridled, becomes almost like an obsession; it’s a compulsive urge which begins to consume her. Her desire overrides the guilt she initially feels. The passion is like a drug and her highs come from pushing the affair to the very point of discovery.

Unfaithful is about one decision which affects the rest of Connie’s life, and the people connected to her. Take her son, for example: in one instance, Connie fails to pick him up from school on time; in another, he gets out of bed to find her crying and is left confused as to why this is. Gradually, he becomes aware of the growing separation between his parents. His anxiety is revealed through small, poignant details, like wetting the bed.

Edward senses that he’s losing his wife’s affections, and when he discovers that Connie is not at the hair appointment she’s meant to have arranged, he smells a rat. As if her lies and deception weren’t enough, he, too, quickly falls into a downward spiral of suspicion and secrecy. He hires a private investigator who discovers the truth about Connie’s affair. In the end, Edward confronts his wife’s lover, and in a momentary fit of despair, accidentally kills him. Desperately, he tries to cover up his actions.

He disposes of the body, but as the police investigate, Connie gradually guesses that he’s the murderer. The consequences will reverberate forever. In the end, then, Edward and Paul, also become victims of a poor choice. The film clearly shows that our negative actions do have irreversible and damaging effects. In fact, this movie is very sobering. It’s a powerful parable about the corrosive effects of adultery.

No matter how many horror stories we might hear, many of us still choose to get embroiled in relationships that we know will end in tears. Most of us have made choices that are wrong. And many people have experienced the subsequent pain in the breakdown of relationships, as a direct result of those choices. Of all the behaviour that can attack a marriage, adultery is clearly the most serious.

Adultery seems to promise pleasure, love and fulfilment, but in the end there is only shame, deceit, betrayal, ugliness and hurt. Adulterous love appears to be free; but it comes with a painfully high price. It shatters trust and severs friendship.

Marriage is about giving, but adultery is about taking. It denies love, degrades people, destroys families, defiles marriage and defies God. That’s why God gave us the seventh commandment, which says, quite simply, ‘Do not commit adultery’ (Exodus 20 v 14).

God says ‘No’ to adultery because it attacks marriage. Jesus held marriage in high regard - ‘a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife,’ he said, ‘and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together’ (Matthew 19.4-6).

Adultery breaks the unity of two people in marriage. Sex, after all, is a total giving of oneself, so we can’t make love to one person and then expect no consequences if we choose to sleep with someone else. Many people end up feeling trapped by guilt, which they think might even be God’s way of punishing them. But they’re wrong. We bring it on ourselves.

Some people deal with guilt by denying it, others try to drown it with alcohol or drugs. Still others try deflecting it; they blame other people for their failures and faults. But we cannot escape the consequences of our own guilt.

‘No amount of soap can make you clean,’ said the prophet Jeremiah. ‘You are stained with guilt.’ Guilt is the corrosion of the soul. But how can we get rid of it? Ultimately, we can’t deny it, drown it or deflect it. We can only dissolve it in the blood of Jesus Christ. Mercifully, hope abounds, because adultery is sin and Jesus Christ came to rescue sinners.

John’s Gospel tells how a crowd brought an adulterous woman to Jesus. ‘“Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” ‘All right, stone her,’ replied Jesus. ‘But let those who have never sinned throw the first stone.’ When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one. Jesus said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more”’ (John 8.4-11). Jesus forgave the woman, but expected her to learn and not do it again.

In fact, Jesus was the only person who could have thrown a stone, being ‘without sin’; but he didn’t. Instead, he forgave her. We have 17 different instances recorded in the Bible in which Jesus forgave a person and showed mercy.

If you have committed adultery, or you know someone who has, there’s a prayer of confession in the Bible, written by King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. It’s preserved for us as Psalm 51: ‘Loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity on me and take away the awful stain of my sin. Wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again, for I admit my shameful deed - it haunts me day and night. It is against you and you alone I sinned, and did this terrible thing. You saw it all and your sentence against me is just... Don’t keep looking at my sins - erase them from your sight. Create in me a new clean heart, filled with clean thoughts and right desires... Restore to me again the joy of your salvation and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to others.’

God answered David’s prayer.

A notice hangs in every Registrar’s office in the country. It reads: ‘Marriage, according to the law of the country, is the union of one man with one woman, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others.’ Adultery can happen because no marriage, of course, is perfect; all of us have a sense in our lives of an unfulfilled need of love, acceptance and intimacy. But God still wants our marriages to be satisfying.

Agatha Christie once remarked that ‘an archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have; the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.’ The bonds of matrimony aren’t worth much unless the interest is kept up. So, how do we maintain the interest over the years? How do we stay faithful?

First, get a grip on your thought-life! The Great Wall of China was built over many hundreds of years to keep China’s enemies from invading. It is so wide that chariots could ride across the top of it, and is one of the few man-made objects that astronauts can see from Space. But the Great Wall did not keep the enemy out. All they had to do was bribe a gatekeeper. Despite the massive defences, there was an enemy on the inside that let the one on the outside in. So it is with our lives.

The gatekeeper of our hearts must be faithful, otherwise God’s instructions will do us no good. You are the gatekeeper. Beware of what you let in! Even if you haven’t committed adultery, Jesus has a message for us all: “You have heard that it was said, do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5.27-29).

Many of us (especially men) have sex on the brain, and it’s the worse place to have it. How often do you take a second look? A man and his wife were in a department store and a stunning woman walked by. The man’s eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was browsing, his wife asked, “Was it worth it, for the trouble you’re now in?” Adultery can begin to play itself out on the stage of the imagination long before it occurs in real life.

Jesus says, “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” He doesn’t mean literally - after all, you can still look through the other eye. What he’s saying is, take drastic action. The problem is not actually in the eye but in the heart. Jesus demands that we deal decisively and severely by radical spiritual surgery.

So, rather than pluck out your eye, don’t surf the Internet for pornography. Rather than cutting off your hand, cancel an adult channel on cable television. Watch your thoughts: they become words. Watch your words: they become actions. Watch your actions: they become habits. Watch your habits: they become character.

A mind that persistently schemes is a mind that needs cleansing. Jesus calls lust ‘adultery in the heart’. If we don’t confess and turn away from it, it will eventually consume our thoughts. And if we encourage it with sexually stimulating films, books, magazines or social settings, then fantasy will become reality.

Perhaps you could follow the practice of Job, who said: ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a woman’ (Job 31.1).

The second thing to do if you want to stay faithful is to avoid dangerous liaisons. Watch how and when you are alone with someone of the opposite sex. Watch how you touch them. Watch out for that long lunch, that after-work drink, the times when you stay late and work together on a project. A newspaper editor once ran a competition for the best answer to the question: ‘Why is a newspaper like a good woman?’ The winning answer was: ‘A newspaper is like a good woman because every man ought to have one of his own, and not look at his neighbour’s.’

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Connie is having a flashback. She’s back on the street in which she first ran into Paul. The wind is raging, her knee is grazed, and Paul has just invited her into his apartment. But in the split second in which last time, she hesitated and things turned out so badly, this time, she sees the taxi coming along the road and calls for it. It draws up, she gets in, and waves Paul goodbye. He stands at his door, smiling; his pile of books stacked up to his chin. Connie waves from the car, and smiles, as she turns her back on the ‘moment’.

The third way to stay faithful is to try, at all times, to meet your partner’s needs. The apostle Paul wrote about this very frankly in his first letter to the Corinthians: ‘The husband should not deprive his wife of sexual intimacy, which is her right, nor should the wife deprive her husband. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband also gives authority over his body to his wife’ (1 Corinthians 7.3-4).

A happy marriage is not so much about how compatible you are, but how you deal with your incompatibility. We all have different needs, and some experts suggest these break down along gender lines: women in particular need affection, conversation, honesty, openness and integrity. They are looking for trust, responsibility and reliability. Men place sexual fulfilment higher up the list, as well as friendship and support. But of course, all our needs vary, according to who we are. The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together; and the key to a good marriage is to understand that it’s a union of two forgivers.

Lastly, to stay faithful, value your marriage. Prove your faithfulness to your spouse.

There was a minister who always hoped he’d become a principal of a Bible college. Eventually he did. But as he fulfilled his dream and vocation, Alzheimer’s disease struck his wife. Her health degenerated to the point where he could not take care of her and stay on as principal of the college. The man decided to give up his position, even though his colleagues could not believe it. “What are you doing?” they asked. “She doesn’t even know who you are.” The man replied, “She might not know who I am, but I know who she is. She’s the woman I made a promise to - until death do us part.”

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times with the same person. In a marriage it is important to treat all disasters as incidents and none of the incidents as disasters. As it says in the Book of Common Prayer, we accept our spouses ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’

For a good marriage, walk with the Master – ‘But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another’ (1 John 1:7). And work on the marriage – as Paul commanded the Colossians, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.’