Tag Archives: adultery in marriage

Q&A with J: Can God Heal Any Marriage after Infidelity?

The emotional pain caused by a spouse’s infidelity is hard to imagine. Plenty of marriages do manage, however, to get past the heartbreak and build a better, more intimate marriage than before. Today’s question is on that particular subject. Here’s what the reader says:

I found out 3 days ago my husband had an affair… After he had planned a weekend away [secretly] this past weekend..I assumed this was the only time He had wandered. We have been having issues for a long time. Our relationships with God haven’t been good. I feel unsure if this relationship will work. We have two small kids. I don’t feel in love. He has had an issue with porn and was talking to girls online in chat rooms…. I don’t want to leave him but I wonder if I can truly heal being so close. I feel like maybe my insecurities are also keeping me…. He cheated with my neighbor.

I know God can restore our marriage and make it better than before but I’m hesitant. I’ve had sex with him since the affair unknowingly…. I just don’t know how I could have sex with him after knowing this.

blog post title + craft heart stitched up in the middle

What struck me about this email and why I wanted to address it is that, yes, I agree that God can absolutely restore a marriage and make it better than before. But what this email lacks is any indication of what this husband is doing to keep and improve the marriage.

What we do know is:

  • He secretly planned a rendezvous with his affair partner.
  • His affair partner was their neighbor.
  • The marriage has had problems for a long time.
  • He’s had an issue with porn.
  • He’s visited internet chat rooms to talk to other women.
  • He had sex with his wife after having sex with his affair partner.

Affairs rarely happen in short order. There are steps spouse take as they head into marital infidelity, which I cover in this post. You can probably see from the list above how this all might have come together: a troubled marriage, a man without solid sexual boundaries (porn, chat rooms), a woman nearby (neighbor) who tempted the husband, and a string of lies and secrecy.

It’s not just that the husband slept with another woman. It’s that he planned it, he lied about it, and he tried to have his cake and eat it too (sex with both women). I can’t sugarcoat this — his actions were horrible.

Now if you discover your spouse has cheated and still had sex with you, you should both get tested for STDs. It’s not unreasonable to ask your spouse to willingly get tested. (In fact, if either spouse has had other partners, even before marriage, they should get tested and share results with their spouse.)

But the next step is this question: Do you both want to have this marriage?

Here’s where I’m not sure about this couple. This husband watched porn, went to chat rooms, lied to his wife, cheated on her, and not one iota of her explanation said that he was sorry, cut off contact with his affair partner, begged her to stay, etc. How did she even find out about the adultery? Did he fess up (a good signal) or got caught and couldn’t wiggle out of it?

In answer to “Can God Heal Any Marriage after Infidelity?” … yes, if you’re both willing to make an effort. But if the cheater feels zero remorse for what they did, what do you do then?

If the cheater feels zero remorse for what they did, what do you do then? #marriage Click To Tweet

Now, there could be some who don’t feel bad about the affair, but they could be motivated to work on the marriage by other issues — losing the mate they’ve partnered with in other ways, being separated from their kids, having concern about the financial cost. If he’s still willing to come to the table, there’s definitely hope. Jesus often took people who came to Him for selfish reasons and turned them toward the truth.

Dealing with all the issues brought up by this question, here are some resources to check out:

Intimacy After an Affair. This post addresses how you really could sleep with your husband after an affair, assuming certain criteria are present.

Rebuilding Trust in the Bedroom. This post gives specifics on how to rebuild the necessary trust for sexual intimacy.

Book Review: Healing from Infidelity by Michele Weiner-Davis. Michele’s book talks about how a couple can actually put a marriage back together, and she includes a chapter on what you can do if your spouse is not willing to engage. That said, part of her prescription is an area with which I disagree: That is, she offers one path of just letting your husband go his way while you hold things together and wait for the affair to fall apart, and that is not a biblical approach. Rather, as Christians we don’t enable sin but rather confront it and look for ways to bring a straying person back into the fold. With that in mind, you can still find some wisdom in this book for your situation. Just keep your Christian thinking cap on. 😉

Redeeming Marriages. Jack and Janet write this blog about strengthening your marriage, but they come from a background where, at different times, both spouses cheated. Yet, they fought their way back to a godly, happy marriage. You can read their story here. You might also want to check out their post on What If You’re the Only One Holding On?

Counseling. Yes, counseling. If I were you, I’d be on the phone to a Christian counseling center figuring out how soon hubby and I could sit down for a session. And if we meshed well with that counselor, we’d continue. If we didn’t, I’d try another and even another, until I found someone who could work with both of us to rebuild our relationship. Good counseling is a great way to reestablish a relationship, as God often uses others to assist our restoration.

You can indeed rebuild a marriage and intimacy from a situation that seems hopeless. But if I were you, I’d be hesitant too. Because I’d want to know that my spouse is willing to put forth some effort to make things better. If not today, then within a certain amount of time after I’ve invested everything I can into improving our marriage.

I’m praying for you.

Book Review: Healing from Infidelity by Michele Weiner-Davis

Blog post title + book coverMichele Weiner-Davis is a licensed social worker, marriage and family therapist, and well-known relationship expert. Many of my readers might recognize her name from her book The Sex-Starved Marriage. Her most recent book is Healing from Infidelity: The Divorce Busting® Guide to Rebuilding Your Marriage After an Affair, and she was lovely enough to provide me a copy to read and review.

The focus of Healing from Infidelity is obviously to help couples put their marriage back together after one of you has had an affair. While I believe that adultery is a valid reason for ending a marriage (see Matthew 5:32), an affair doesn’t necessarily mean the end. Rather, Jesus also said:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Once the marriage vow is made, you should make every effort to keep this covenant relationship. God compared His own people in the Old Testament to an adulteress, and yet He restored their covenant time and time again. (See Hosea 3:1, Jeremiah 3:11-15, Ezekiel 16:10-17, 59:63.) Sometimes a marriage cannot make it—and certainly abusive or sin-filled marriages are not in God’s will—but sometimes what looks hopeless can be saved.

Weiner-Davis does not come from Christian perspective, but she is an advocate for marriage and her book gives specifics on how to move from the brokenness of marital infidelity to the health of a happy marriage.

...move from the brokenness of marital infidelity to the health of a happy marriage. Click To Tweet

Her chapters alternate between addressing the betrayed spouse and the unfaithful spouse, recognizing what each needs and should do at various stages of reconciliation. Having worked directly with couples to put their marriages back together, she speaks from experience and includes lots of practical advice.

It all begins with believing that you can revive what appears to be lifeless—your flailing marriage. “In all the years I’ve been helping couples heal from infidelity,” Weiner-Davis says, “I can tell you that there’s only one time when I start to worry about the fate of their marriage. It’s when one or both of the partners start to become hopeless.”

From my viewpoint, Christian spouses should have a leg-up on putting a struggling marriage back together. We believe that “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27) and that we have “the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT).

But I also understand that couples walking through the fallout of infidelity need concrete help getting out of the pit and back into trust and intimacy. As Michele states, “…this is a great opportunity to fix what has been broken, either before, during or after the affair. In fact…it really is possible for you to have an even better relationship than ever before.”

And I’ve seen it: Couples who went from the heartbreak of adultery into the happiness of marital intimacy. It can be done.

I recommend Michele’s book for those who are in the midst of that pain and wondering how they can ever get themselves back. While there are a few places where I disagree (for instance, her tips on remaining with an unfaithful, unrepentant spouse contradict the Christian position), overall this is an excellent resource.

Weiner-Davis shows real compassion for the betrayed spouse, as well as giving lots of great tips on becoming an emotionally healthy person regardless of outcome. Since I firmly believe that healthy and happy marriages are made with two healthy and happy individuals, this is a win-win for the spouse and the marriage. She also lets the unfaithful spouse know what they need to do to re-establish broken trust and care for their betrayed spouse’s heart.

Moreover, each spouse gets a good sense of where the other is coming from and how to view their spouse without greater resentment and anger than is reasonable. (And yes, some is quite reasonable when you’ve been cheated on. But dwelling only in anger won’t heal your marriage.)

She includes a whole chapter on how to address sexual intimacy in marriage after the affair. When should you get back into the bedroom? How can you rebuild trust? What role should sex play in getting your marriage back on track?

Michele shoots straight about what’s required to make it all work, while still highlighting why you should have great hope that your effort will pay off. I love her balance of positive confidence and realistic candor.

You don’t have to throw in the towel. With resources like Healing from Infidelity AND leaning on God to help you through, you can go far beyond restoring your relationship into building an even better marriage.

Q&A with J: Boundaries in the Bedroom

Today’s question, the first reader question of 2016, is from a wife whose husband has a sexual addiction. When she wrote to me, things were not going well.

Not sure where to start … we’ve been married for 16 years and have experienced sexual addiction for all of it. I tried covering up his sin (don’t air your dirty laundry, don’t talk badly about your husband, etc) , tried to “be better.” I’m sure you’ve heard this long list and other ladies could add much to it as well.

Well, this time was it! I’d had it. He did start counseling about 4 months ago (which he has since quit) and is active in his SAA group with a sponsor (whom I’ve never met – is that weird or is it just me?). His counselor met with both of us back then and advised us not to have sexual contact for 3 months. Not that I’m ready yet – I’m still trying to set some health boundaries in our marriage with all of this (and starting from ZERO (boundaries?  What are those?)) but, I also have no idea how to re-engage. He won’t talk to me for more than about 4-5 minutes a WEEK unless it’s work related.  Yes, we work together too. His conversation is always “well, what do you want to know?” I feel like I’m asking a 14 year old how his day at school went! So frustrating.  And extremely lonely.

I’m in counseling trying to get myself healthy but this is obviously an area that needs to get healed as well and I just don’t know how to get this started. He is not living with me & the kids right now.

HELP! PLEASE!

Q&A with J: Boundaries in the Bedroom

Covering up sin. Let’s start with this line: I tried covering up his sin (don’t air your dirty laundry, don’t talk badly about your husband, etc) , tried to “be better.”

Yes, I believe in respecting privacy, showing discretion, and not bashing your husband all the time. But keeping sin secrets is a mark of dysfunction in a family.

Keeping sin secrets is a mark of dysfunction in a family. - @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet

People from highly dysfunctional families, especially with addictions, often receive overt or subtle messages to never share what happens in the family. By establishing this “no sharing” rule, the worst actors in the family get away with what they’re doing and problems perpetuate.

The Bible does not say to cover up sin.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:20-21).

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Ephesians 5:11-13).

It is not a mercy to allow your husband or wife to continue in addiction, which destroys individuals and families. Of course, you have a responsibility to not air their sin on public street corners but with discretion and godliness. The most often cited passage regarding this is Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Confront ongoing sin in your family privately. But if it continues to occur and damage your spouse and your family, it’s time to seek help and intervention.

Choose carefully whom to involve, considering the need for trust, firmness, wisdom, and respect. That could be your pastor, one of your spouse’s friends, a mentor couple, a counselor, or someone else you know. But if you go to a church leader, and you’re only told to “be better” or pray more or submit to your husband (and his sin), seek help from someone else.

“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Speaking up for what you need in your marriage. I wince a little when I write about “needs,” because honestly, I think we define way too many things as needs. It’s become a too-easy method of demanding your way to state your spouse must meet some need you have, even if it’s really just a desire.

But healthy relationships do need certain things, and among them are openness and trust. You don’t merely request those, however, and get them gift-wrapped and delivered into your hands. You must foster the atmosphere, habits, and commitment of being vulnerable and intimate in your marriage.

That means you get to ask some questions, and your spouse should answer them honestly. So when this happens — His conversation is always “well, what do you want to know?” — ask what you want to know! Might it feel awkward and foolish and frustrating? Yeah, sure. At the beginning, it might. But you’re re-establishing connections and building habits of communication.

If your spouse has been unfaithful, remember that you don’t want all the details. Your husband cannot untell you what he tells you. I absolutely did not describe to my husband particulars about my premarital promiscuous past, but he knows the person I was, the person I am, and what I do to keep myself in his arms and his alone. Because that‘s what matters.

Here are the types of questions that won’t help:

  • What sexual acts did you do with her? – just plants bad images in your head
  • How many times did you do this activity? – it’s not the number, it’s the sin itself
  • What did she look like? – it’s not about competing against another woman’s looks

And types of questions that make sense:

  • Where have you been? / Where are you going? – reasonable questions in any marriage, but even more so if a spouse has been secretive and broken trust with adultery
  • What do you think made you seek out other partners? – in an attempt to get at core causes and face them together
  • What are you doing to make sure you don’t fall into addiction again? And how can I help? – need accountability and support to change

You are two become one, and that means you get to have more knowledge about your spouse than others do. And if your spouse isn’t willing to open up, be vulnerable, and communicate about your marriage’s challenges, that’s a red flag waving. Of course you shouldn’t constantly attack him, but “what do you want to know?” sounds like a great question to me. So breathe deep, think hard, pray continually, and ask your questions.

Zero boundaries in the bedroom. You say, “I’m still trying to set some health boundaries in our marriage with all of this (and starting from ZERO (boundaries?  What are those?)) but, I also have no idea how to re-engage.” Zero boundaries? Does that mean he gets whatever he wants, and you never speak up for yourself in the marriage bed?

Let’s get super-clear here: You are not his sex toy. In fact, if you’ve been functioning merely as a means to satisfy his sex drive, flip that notion on its head. God’s intention for sex in marriage is a mutually intimate and satisfying experience.

God's intention for sex in marriage is a mutually intimate and satisfying experience. - @HotHolyHumorous Click To Tweet

The first boundary is you get to say yes or no. Look, I’ve heard all of the statements from well-meaning Christians saying that a wife should ever refuse her husband. But that presumes a husband who is attuned to his wife’s needs and well-being, and that simply isn’t always the case. He could be a complete jerk that way, but more likely, he received bad teaching about sex and faces ignorance about understanding women’s sexual arousal and desires.

Biblical submission includes willingness to submit to another — meaning it’s a gift you give, not a demand someone makes of you. Your body belongs to youand in marriage you choose to share it with your husband (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). You have that choice.

Our Heavenly Father wants us to bless each other in marriage willingly and frequently with sexual intimacy. But please know that your body isn’t the property of your husband, but rather yours to share with him, according to God’s brilliant design.

Other reasonable boundaries include:

  • What sexual activities you will or won’t do. Consider each activity and ask whether it is right and beneficial. If it involves third parties, harms either of you, or qualifies in the ick category (you just can’t go there), say no to that activity and find something else to do. We have a great deal of freedom to explore and pleasure one another in the marriage bed.
  • When to engage and when to reschedule. Sometimes sex is just a poorly timed idea, like if you’re recovering from illness, exhausted to the point of forgetting your name, or needed to take care of other family members. You can say not now and reschedule for later. I’m a proponent of rain check sex, when you speak up and say something like, “This isn’t a good time, but how about first thing in the morning?”
  • Where and how you are touched. Being touched in some places on your body may produce the opposite effect of sexual arousal. Or being touched with certain pressure or friction may cause unpleasant or painful sensations. You should be able to speak up verbally or move his hand someplace else. Be kind, but help your mate learn the moves that turn you on and bring you pleasure.

For more tips on how to set appropriate boundaries, see Setting Boundaries in the Bedroom.

When each spouse establishes and respects healthy boundaries, you don’t have much conflict about what you’ll do in the marriage bed. Because your focus is on mutual respect, satisfaction, and intimacy. Neither one of you gets to decide everything, because you are both considering yourself and your spouse. And you can relax, knowing you can trust your spouse to respect you.

How to reengage. Honestly, this is one I want to throw over to your counselor, his support group, and other local resources at your disposal. When and how to re-engage is a decision you must make with your particular circumstances in mind.

It’s a slow process to rebuild trust in a marriage. But ultimately it involves creating a safe atmosphere, then making a decision to engage, filling yourself with positive truths to fight bad messages and lingering feelings, and creating a new level of trust and intimacy. It can be done.

I pray your marriage is strengthened and that God carries you through.

What about the 3 A’s? Addiction, Adultery, and Abuse

I recently wrote When My Marriage Seemed Hopeless, What Made Me Stay? In that post, I mentioned that the three A’s — Addiction, Adultery, and Abuse — are particularly difficult problems for marriages to overcome.

But let me clear: Just because something’s difficult, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

So what if you are dealing with one of these three A’s? How can you kick that issue to the curb and find healing and hope instead?

Broken heart

Addiction. Addiction is a jealous mistress in your marriage. Whether alcohol, drugs, pornography, or something else, addiction actively tries to take your husband’s attention and resists you reclaiming it. Those who’ve dealt with addiction can attest to the strength of that pull. Addiction can even rewire your brain’s perceptions and emotional responses, and withdrawal is anything but pleasant. All that said, many have gone from addict to victor.

So what can you do if your spouse has an addiction?

Stop enabling. When loved ones stage an intervention, when families put a relative in rehab, when friends and family members stop covering up for the addict’s failures, when people around no longer enable the addiction, the addict must face the full consequences of their own actions. In some cases, that added pressure helps an addict clarify what’s happening — to see that his/her actions not only make life difficult, but a healthy marriage and family impossible.

Set boundaries. Set the standards of what you will and won’t put up with, then follow your plan calmly and firmly. How do you choose boundaries and make them stick? My advice is to grab the excellent book Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud or Boundaries in Marriage for wisdom.

Get on the same team. Remember who the true enemy is. Most of the time, an addict hates what’s happening but feels powerless to change. A struggling husband is not the enemy; sin, the addiction, and Satan are the enemies. Commit yourself to standing with your spouse. Let him know you’re a teammate, not an adversary, in this fight.

Get help. Most addicts want the madness to stop, although a few addicts don’t seem to care how much havoc they wreak. If he denies the addiction, and your marriage is suffering horribly, reach out to others. Get the support system you need as a foundation from which you can launch efforts to get your husband’s attention and tackle the problem together. Tell your pastor, see a counselor, contact a local Al-Anon chapter, read up on addiction, etc.

The addiction may take time to deal with, but get on the right road. Even if progress is slow, progress is what you’re looking for. Starting with him owning up to the problem. As always, pray for your attitude and your actions throughout.

Adultery.  The imaginary thought of some other woman’s lips on my husband nearly makes me apoplectic. So when I hear of couples who’ve endured true adultery, my heart cracks like an earthquake fault. How can you heal a rift like that?

But marriages do survive and thrive after adultery. Interestingly enough, a lot of the advice listed with addiction — stop enabling, set boundaries, get on the same team, get help — applies here. Ultimately, you have to do two things:

  1. Get rid of the affair partner. Goodbye, au revoir, adiós, ba-bye. And never come back.
  2. Rebuild your marriage, so this relationship is where you both want to commit your efforts.

The first one is something the offending spouse has to decide. However, you can apply appropriate pressure. Don’t enable him seeing the affair partner — by allowing excuses about how they work together or those texts don’t mean what you think they do or it isn’t really her fault or whatever to dissuade your hard stance. If he really wants to end it, he needs to end it. Period. Support your husband in getting another phone number, securing a different job, or even moving if you must, but cut off connections.

And now do the hard work with your marriage. Get into counseling and figure out where your own marriage is lacking. No, you are not to blame for his adulterous actions; however, making your marriage stronger can stoke his desire to stay involved with you and not go elsewhere to meet any emotional or physical needs.

While working on your marriage, remember to enjoy it as well — to recall why you married in the first place, to return to date nights and getting to know each other better, to pray together for your future. When it’s time, rebuild the trust in the bedroom.  Reinvent your marriage and commit it to the Lord. You might be surprised to look back years later and see how far you’ve come since that horrible moment when adultery attacked your marriage. True healing, holiness, and happiness are possible.

Abuse. Let’s first talk about what constitutes abuse, because I hear this word bandied about in reference to everything from minor name-calling to a thorough beating. Not everything that’s hurtful or even intentionally hurtful is abuse.

Abuse is a pattern of behaviors with the intent to cause injury and/or gain power or control over the other person in the relationship. The abuse can be emotional, physical, or sexual.

So what if your spouse has this pattern of behaviors? If he’s truly abusive?

Some people are abusive because they feel wounded or a loss of control in their lives or saw poor patterns of coping in their families of origin — and can change when you deal with the core issues. Others, sadly, have abuse ingrained in their character, which is far harder to fix. I’m not saying it cannot be fixed, because my God is way bigger than that. What I am saying is those down-deep abusers are difficult to reach and hard to convince that change is necessary. They’ll likely blame their abusive behavior on others (e.g., “If only she would __, I wouldn’t hit her.” — lie).

I’m by no means an expert here, yet I believe emphatically: Without counteracting pressure, abusers don’t stop.

That pressure may need to come in the form of your absence (for your safety as well, if the abuse is physical or sexual); intervention from family, friends, church leaders, or even law enforcement; and defending yourself appropriately (what that looks like depends on your situation). Bill Maier of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to stronger marriages, says, “Men who have abused their wives in the past are likely to abuse again.” Therefore, you must take steps to stop the abuse; if and when the abuse stops, then you can work on healing the marriage.

Seek quality resources. I am not an addiction or abuse counselor, a marriage and family therapist, a psychologist, a medical doctor, or a Ph.D. in Recovering from the Three A’s. I’ve watched others walk through these journeys, spoken to them about the hardships and the healing, and studied resources dealing with these issues.

If your marriage is facing addiction, adultery, or abuse, don’t just follow the advice in this post; seek out the best resources you can find. Take a step in the right direction, get help, and pray for a revival in your marriage.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe.”

Psalm 107:2
(and the whole chapter is worth reading)