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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.

Do You Need to Be a Prayer Warrior for Your Marriage?

In Christian circles, this phrase has become very popular: prayer warrior. I’m not sure who first used this phrase, but it’s a reference to the spiritual warfare Christians are fighting. Ephesians 6:10-18 says:

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore,

with truth like a belt around your waist,
righteousness like armor on your chest,
and your feet sandaled with readiness
for the gospel of peace.
In every situation take the shield of faith,
and with it you will be able to extinguish
all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit,
which is God’s word.

Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

The apostle Paul describes us as being in a battle against Satan for the salvation of our souls and the glory of our God. His final encouragement is for us to pray at all times. Thus, I presume, the notion of the prayer warrior, all strapped up in her spiritual armor and doing battle on her knees.

But I gotta say — I don’t feel like a prayer warrior. More like a foot soldier.

In fact, I think all the encouragement to be a prayer warrior has sometimes served to discourage me. I’m 100% sure that was not the intent, but rather a genuine desire to see God’s people devote themselves more to prayer.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).

Yet, “prayer warrior” has always felt a bit daunting to me. I think it’s because:

1. When you decide to stay praying more, it feels like a really high bar to go from not-doing-so-well to being on the front lines of spiritual battle. As if you’re the William Wallace of fearless, persistent prayer.

Let's Pray! with Movie Still from Braveheart

Can’t I just start out as one of those guys a few rows back? Like I’m totally in the battle but not quite ready to lead the charge.

2. It can come across that other people are better Christians and have better marriages because they find praying easier. And I don’t think that’s true. We should all grow in the spiritual disciplines commanded in Scripture, but I suspect we have our favorites — habits less difficult for us to form.

For instance, I’m totally fine with researching biblical passages, their context, Greek meanings of words, etc.; it’s a somewhat natural way for me to relate to God by studying His Word. But somehow, prayer is more of a challenge.

3. Sometimes there’s an underlying message that if God’s not answering your prayer, if you’re still struggling in your marriage or marriage bed, it’s because you’re not warrior-like enough about it. That if only you’d fight harder through prayer, things would work out.

It agree that we may need to pray more frequently and earnestly to break through, but God could also be answering our specific requests with “you first,” or “not yet,” or even “fuhgettaboutit.” Moreover, are we really the powerful ones in prayer that make things happen based on how well we do it?

The more I learn about prayer, the more I think that God just wants us to show up. Maybe it’s less important to reach prayer warrior status (whatever that means) and more important that you don’t go AWOL. We have to keep talking to God, keep listening for His voice, and keep believing He will intervene in our marriage and marriage bed in His perfect way and perfect timing.

But God can’t do anything through prayer if you don’t ever show up.

Now if you consider yourself a prayer warrior and that’s working well for you, great. But I’ve been working through this series on prayer with the idea that there are a lot of people like me, for whom a thriving prayer life has been a challenge at times. To myself and to them, I want to say: You don’t have to be a prayer warrior — just step out on the battlefield.

You don't have to be a prayer warrior -- just step out on the battlefield. Click To Tweet

God’s really good at fighting battles with and for us if we’ll just show up.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22).

And I believe God wants to fight for your marriage — to save your marriage if it’s in trouble, to protect your marriage if it’s being attacked by the enemy, to help it thrive if it’s been ho-hum. He wants to be on that battlefield with us — whether you’re a prayer warrior or a foot soldier.

Just step out and join Him in the fight.

Q&A with J: “My Husband Wants to See Me with Another Man”

I’ll be honest: Q&A days are hard. Because oftentimes, a reader’s question hits on a difficult situation. While I write maybe 1000 words to answer the query, the issue here consumes a lot of heartache for the questioner and real-life decisions they have to make. Today’s question is definitely in that realm.

I have been with my husband close to 20 years. I have never been or wanting to be sexual with another man; however, my husband has been pressuring me for many years — wanted to see me in a sexual act with another man. This breaks my heart, makes me feel like he doesn’t love me. I believe practice what you preach. I am a Christian, he is not. Have you heard of this type of thing before? Thank you.

Yes, I’ve heard of this before. It’s called a cuckhold fantasy. The word “cuckhold” refers to the husband of an adulteress and derives from the cuckoo’s habit of laying their eggs in another bird’s nest.

This fantasy has become quite common and is actually one of the top porn searches on the internet. Of course, porn searches don’t necessarily tell you what people would actually do in their sexual relationships, but it is interesting to discover how prevalent this fantasy is.

The first question many are likely asking is why would any husband want this? Surely, we know that adultery damages marriage, right? Why would any spouse invite adultery into their home?

There are a number of potential reasons, ranging from the adrenaline rush a husband might get from a forbidden sexual act, to a belief that he cannot fully satisfy his wife so he wants someone else to do it, to a desire to see his wife treated like a “whore.” Two of the more convincing options I read are:

1. The masculine tendency toward competition means that a man might enjoy seeing his wife as desirable, and even actively sexual, with other men. In turn, he gets aroused that she is so sought after yet she chose him and that he will assert his dominance over the competitors by keeping her when the other man is gone.

Does this sound perverse? Yes, but let’s remember that it’s an extreme version of every love triangle we’ve obsessed over in fiction or the screen (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob, anyone?).

2. The prevalence of pornography has made men into sexual voyeurs. They have been trained to be aroused by watching as much or more than participating. Leon F. Seltzer Ph.D. expressed it well in his article, “What Secret Male Sexual Fantasy Is Surprisingly Common?” in Psychology Today:

It only makes (erotic) sense that if we’re now subject to a porn-centric culture, many men … would be exceptionally turned on by fantasizing their partner as an enticingly provocative porn star, unrestrainedly exhibiting the wildest excitement in expressing her rawest, most provocative sexuality.

Husbands even expressed to one researcher: “My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world to me, I’d rather watch her having sex than some porn actress I don’t know” (David J. Ley Ph.D., “Why would you do that? (Watch your wife with another man),” Psychology Today).

Of course, finding out that a fantasy is widespread and can be explained doesn’t make it right or a good idea. In fact, this is a supremely stupid idea.

Even the secular article by Dr. Seltzer, mentioned above, noted that “experts writing on the subject of cuckold sex have observed that its reality … generally doesn’t begin to live up to the fantasy. Too many other emotions (i.e., other than pure lust) are likely to interfere with its enticement — like embarrassment, jealousy, fear, shame, anger, and resentment.” Fantasies are rather controlled experiences, an ideal of what it would be like, while the reality is often quite different.

In the fantasizer’s mind, he gets to watch his wife have sex with another man, which arouses him as a sexual voyeur and makes him feel more powerful because he possesses this highly erotic woman. But what about what she feels during the act? Either she feels like an object used to turn her husband on or she enjoys the experience, making it a true competition and comparison with the sex she’s had with her husband. And how do either of those promote trust or intimacy in a marriage? Of course they don’t.

Moreover, what happens when all is said and done? Is this a one-off? Does it launch a pattern? Is she now to be whored out to various men to satisfy her husband’s fantasies? Does she begin to conclude that the sex is better with those other men after all? Why stay with the husband who either treats her like a harlot or who can’t sexually satisfy her?

Ultimately, though, adultery is wrong in any context. While I believe that God’s rules protect us from personal harm — thus, my point that sexual cuckholding is a stupid idea — the greater argument is that it’s immoral. Here’s some of what the Bible says about sleeping with someone who isn’t your spouse:

You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18).

But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32).

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

After King David slept with a married woman, God sent the prophet Nathan to convict David of his sin. David, finally admitting to his adultery, prayed to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (v. 4, read the whole psalm here).

Cheating on your spouse, whatever the context, is sinning against God.

Cheating on your spouse, whatever the context, is sinning against God. Click To Tweet

Knowing that it would be terrible for your marriage and a sin against your Heavenly Father, what do you do with the request from a husband to fulfill his cuckhold fantasy?

This husband is an unbeliever, which is a difficult situation in and of itself. Let’s see what the Word of God says about that:

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:13-14).

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1).

A lot gets made of the phrase “submit yourselves to your own husbands…” with some arguing that it’s the submission that will win over their husbands. I’ve heard of Christian wives going through with problematic or immoral sexual requests from their husbands because they think what matters most is the wife’s submission in marriage.

But these verses are very clear that what wins over a non-believing spouse is that the believer live out their Christianity. You can’t say yes to anything that takes you away from God’s desire that you be holy, pure, and reverent.

You have to say no, and say it firmly.

Sometimes when a spouse realizes their fantasy will never ever ever happen, they drop it and the issue fades away. Through the power of extinction, not rewarding the behavior of thinking/discussing a bad sexual fantasy, the spouse might get over it.

Other times the spouse continues to talk about their desires. And that’s when you have to set boundaries. Things like:

  • “If you bring up the subject again, I will leave the room. Because it’s emotionally painful to me for you to suggest me sleeping with anyone but you.”
  • “If you can’t let this go, then we need to go see a counselor. Because I want to feel emotionally safe in our marriage, and when you bring up this fantasy over and over, I don’t.”
  • “If you ever invite a man over to have sex with me or attempt to force me into this act, I will leave. Marriage should be exclusive, and I will not be a part of adultery.”

Then if your husband does any of those things, you have to follow through.

I know that’s tough. But at the end of the day, we cannot enable sin. Even from our spouses.

We cannot enable sin. Even from our spouses. Click To Tweet

Definitely practice what you preach. Be the example of what it means to be a loving spouse, to be a trustworthy wife, to be a holy Christian. Set godly standards and then keep them.

I’m praying for you.

Also see Should You Go Along with His Sexual Fantasy?

A Great Sex Life Requires Effort

I’ve been reading up lately on sex research, so you’ll probably see more of that on my blog. I’m in favor of well-conducted research about sexuality, because good science will confirm God’s design. He’s the one who created this universe, so if something’s true it should show up in the facts, even though faith is an important component of putting it all into practice.

One caveat: Not all scientific research is well-done. Sometimes researchers go in with a set of expectations and use a confirmation bias with the results. That said, we can learn a lot from well-performed studies. And today, I want to highlight one that goes right along with biblical principles.

Blog post title + couple helping each other up a mountain

As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at the University of Toronto set up a study to uncover the secret to a happy sex life in long-term relationships. Of course we all want that secret, right?

They wanted to see if it made a difference whether couples viewed satisfaction as the result of “sexual destiny” or “sexual growth.” One researcher defined these terms as follows:

“People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole.”

“Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.”

I bet you can already guess which one I think is going to win this tortoise-hare race. And you probably won’t be surprised by the results either.

Basically, the sexual satisfaction for both sexual destiny and sexual growth couples is high in the first two to three years, with no real difference. It’s that honeymoon phase we all talk about, when you can’t imagine wanting to do anything more than hang out in your beloved’s arms and stare into his soulful eyes.

And then you day, you wake up and realize that your spouse is a truly flawed and rather irritating human being. And you just signed up to have this person as your roommate for life.

Okay, I exaggerate. But the shine does tend to wear off a bit for most. It’s just what happens as our lives get complicated. Seasons bring new challenges, our bodies change, our expectations alter, old baggage comes for visit and wants to stay, busyness takes hold, and much more.

So now what? Is your sex life likely to taper off, or even take a nose dive?

Apparently, it depends.

Based on the 1900 participants in the study, researchers concluded that those who had a sexual destiny perspective showed less satisfaction and ability to work through problems in their relationship. Those who expected sexual intimacy to require ongoing growth fared much better.

This all makes sense because if you think something will be easy and then it’s not, you’re far more likely to think it wasn’t meant to be. Whereas believing that something will require effort means that you aren’t caught by surprise when challenges arise; rather, you were primed to expect them and be willing to work through them.

Sexual destiny believers sound like those who promote the idea of sexual compatibility. Many claim you need to sleep with someone before deciding to get married because it would be terrible if you discovered post-nuptials that you’re sexually incompatible. But we’re not static people all through life, not even in the bedroom. Rather, what singles should do is (1) adopt a sexual growth philosophy, and (2) marry someone else with a sexual growth philosophy. Then you’re both willing to put forth whatever effort you need to have satisfying sexual intimacy for the long haul.

And if you’re already married? It’s not too late! These researchers influenced participants’ beliefs by sharing information that either supported the sexual destiny or sexual growth perspective and then studied the results. Since we now know that sexual growth is the way to go, you can adopt self-talk that promotes that view.

You now know that if sex isn’t easy or satisfying or exciting right now, it doesn’t have to be that way a year from now, a month from now, or maybe even tomorrow. It certainly doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. You and your spouse can grow!

Take to heart just this sampling of messages from the Bible about the rewards of exerting effort in the right direction:

“From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward” (Proverbs 12:14).

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

If things aren’t peachy keen at the moment, don’t give up! Don’t accept the status quo. And don’t doubt the love you have for each other. Rather, convince yourself and communicate with your spouse about the effort you need to exert to achieve a happy sex life, one that satisfies both of you and honors your Heavenly Father.

Choose sexual growth.

Source: Science Daily — Study reveals secret to a happy sex life

How I’m Learning to Focus in Prayer

Blog post title + woman praying in sunlightI’m terrible at meditating. Here’s a sample of how it’s gone for me when someone tries to guide a group through a meditation exercise:

Guide: Close your eyes and relax.

Relax? Does she know how much I have going on in my life? She might as well ask me to stop breathing.

Guide: Breathe deeply. In…out…in…out…

Okay, we’ve demonstrated we can all breathe. But if I do this deep-breathing thing much longer, I’m going to get lightheaded.

Guide: Your muscles are loosening, your body is sinking into the ground, you’re completely still and relaxed. Let yourself go.

Oh great, now I can’t move. Maybe if I wiggle my toes in my shoes, she won’t see. Oops, I’m tapping my fingers. I need to stop that!

Guide: Now imagine yourself sitting at the edge of a peaceful lake. The sun is setting, the wind is calm, the water is placid.

I can see the lake. Calm, calm… Ooh, a jet ski just went by! Cool, there’s a sailboat passing. Wait, is that a pontoon with a party on it? Geez, it’s a playground out there on my lake!

Yeah, I have a really hard time relaxing, emptying out brain, and staying still. I’ve always been a fidgety person, and my mind is no different—it’s a madhouse in there.

So then I decide I’m going to pray. And you know what happens? I start out really well, getting right through the Dear God and gratitude for His glory parts, but a few minutes in, it’s like that jet ski goes by, followed by a sailboat and a party pontoon. My thoughts diverge into all kinds of rabbit trails that lead me off in wild directions.

It’s hard for me to let everything else fall away and be meditative before my God.

It's hard for me to let everything else fall away and be meditative before my God. Click To Tweet

BUT I discovered something really awesome when I was in France at a recent writers’ retreat. Once again, I was in a circumstance where a leader was guiding us through a meditation. It was supposed to be about our writing specifically, but I used the experience to learn more about how I can better meditate and pray.

For those of you who are fidgety and/or brain-busy like me, here’s what finally worked!

I imagined myself moving in my meditation. That is, once I had that body of water in my mind (it was an ocean actually), I put myself on a horse riding down the beach, feeling the wind whipping through my hair and the ocean waves crashing on the sand. It was an extremely relaxing picture for me, but it wasn’t still. Then guess who showed up? Jesus. Oh yeah, riding on a horse beside me. He and I went galloping down the beach, talking and laughing. It was awesome!

And suddenly I thought, Hey, if I pray like this, I might make it all the way to more Amens!

Hey, if I pray like this, I might make it all the way to more Amens! Click To Tweet

Maybe trying to pray for your marriage and your sexual intimacy hasn’t been effective because you have a preconceived notion of what that prayer is supposed to look like. I know I’ve had one: It involved quietly bowing my head, talking in my head or whispering, and then being uber-silent while waiting for a word from God. I often didn’t make it all the way to “Amen” before 5,000 things came careening into my mind and interrupted my prayer.

Instead, I’m learning that to pray effectively, I have to move. I need to pray while walking, write or type out my prayers, or even imagine myself riding horses with Jesus on the beach. (He was quite the equestrian, I’ll tell you.)

For all I know, when Jesus went off on his own to pray, He traipsed around in circles or strode slowly through the garden. At least sometimes. It’s possible.

Yes, I love the idea of kneeling and praying, and I still do that sometimes. But God wants us to communicate with Him — about our lives, our marriages, and yes, our sexual intimacy — and I believe He’s okay with us inviting Him for a walk or a ride while we chat.

What struggles do you face staying focused in prayer? What have you learned works for you?