“At first, my husband was my enemy because of what he did. But after I chose to forgive him, the battle became a spiritual one against the real Enemy who didn’t want us to win.” These passionate words of a friend, who was rebuilding her marriage after her husband’s affair, forever changed the way I viewed affair recovery.
Since then, I’ve talked to multiple individuals and couples about this battle. Sometimes they know where the attacks come from, but sometimes not. Spiritual warfare is a real. And many people find this aspect of the Christian life difficult to understand.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (HCSB) , Paul states, “Though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds.” Most of us have read these verses, but how do we understand and apply them to our own struggles?
In the book of Hebrews, the writer encourages believers to run the race of life with endurance . Envision running out of breath during a race while someone keeps pace with you and whispers in your ear, “You will not make it. No one will be there at the end of the race anyway. Just give up now because you won’t finish. You’re a failure.” Believing those words won’t help you finish the race. They only hinder your success.
When a couple is trying to recover from an affair, the Adversary wants to ruin the marriage. But if you know some of the common lies he tries to plant in your mind, you and your spouse can fight them and succeed in building a stronger marriage. Here are some examples.
Challenges for the unfaithful spouse
The lie: She won’t ever forgive me.
Jeff* was truly repentant after his affair. He wanted healing and restoration but was beaten up in his mind with hopelessness, guilt and shame over what he had done. He said, “We’ve been working on this for months but always go back to the same place, her being mad at me.”
Through this kind of pain, the attack tries to make you think, I’ve caused my spouse so much pain. My wife or husband is better off without me. Or I’m not sure I can deal with this pain much longer. The strategy of the Enemy is subtle, shifting the focus to you instead of your spouse. Self-focus, even in pain, weakens the bond of healing and directs attention to the offending partner’s feelings rather than to the hurt spouse’s feelings. Eventually, this leads the injured spouse to feel isolated, invalidated and unloved, and puts the marriage at risk.
Solution: Make recovery about the injured spouse first. Walk with him or her through the pain. Ask the simple question, “How are you really doing? ” Remind yourself that it’s time to focus on your spouse, not you.
The lie: I’ll pay for this forever.
Hopelessness over the length of time that recovery requires poses another challenge. This attack leads to thoughts like, See how mad he or she is? It will always be this way from now on. This breeds bitterness and causes you to see your spouse as an enemy, which makes healing impossible and further deteriorates the marriage.
Solution: Identify the lie and replace it with the truth. For example, if the lie claims, “He or she will be mad forever,” tell yourself, It’s a tough time now. My spouse has a right to be mad at me. But all things with God are possible, so healing my marriage is possible, too. Pain is not forever.
The lie: My marriage will never be as exciting as the affair was.
We think in words and pictures, which makes us vulnerable to the dangers of lust. An attack of this kind may be remembering and fixating on a sexual act with an affair partner. It can show up in thoughts like, I will never have the type of closeness with my spouse as I had with the other person. Lust ruins many, many marriages. This attack can eventually lead to a second affair, poor intimacy or the failure of the marriage.
Solution: Avoid all forms of sexual expression except with your spouse. This can be a challenging request for some, especially if pornography and masturbation have been hidden patterns in your marriage for years. But any sexual outlet apart from your spouse will increase lust and make your marriage vulnerable. It’s a good idea to work with a Christian counselor to address this area of your life.
Challenges for the hurt spouse
The lie: My wrath is completely justified.
“I’m fine most of the time,” Lori said. “But all of the sudden I’ll think about him with another woman and get so angry I could hit him! Or sometimes I find myself just crying out of the blue.”
Watch the expression of your anger. Ephesians 4:26-27 (HCSB) says, “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.”
The attack will sound something like, How dare he do this to me. He deserves to feel the same hurt I feel. I’ve talked to people who have actually physically injured a spouse after that spouse had an affair. Repeated attacks lead to distance and further brokenness in the marriage, putting it at a high risk of failure.
Solution: Your anger is warranted. By no means do you need to push aside your anger. Rather, the challenge is to talk about it without attacking your spouse. It’s also not healthy to bury your feelings, so a regular check-in with your emotions is a good idea. If you find that you are unable to control your anger with your spouse, find a trusted friend or Christian counselor who can offer support and give you a safe place to express these feelings.
The lie: I won’t be able to trust my spouse ever again.
The fear of a lack of security can lead to beliefs like, My spouse will leave me for the other person. I can never trust him or her again. How will I ever be able to feel OK when he or she is not in my presence? Left unchecked, this attack can lead to repeated questions, frequent fights and withdrawal — all of which break down the fabric of the marriage.
Solution: Define boundaries. These boundaries usually start off strong during an affair recovery. They may involve your having full access to your spouse’s phone and electronics, plus knowing his or her location at all times. These are not sustainable for a lifetime, but they do offer some comfort and an opportunity to build trust during the early healing stages.
Attacks on our sense of security happen to all of us at some point, whether one spouse has had an affair or not. Only Jesus — not your spouse — offers true security. If you’ve forced the responsibility for this security onto your spouse, he or she will inevitably fail. Shifting the source of your security from your spouse to where it belongs will help your marriage reconcile.
The lie: I’m not good enough.
Feelings and thoughts of inadequacy undermine the recovery process. These thoughts may be something like, You weren’t enough. If you were, your spouse would have never done this. These thoughts can stem from the idea that others will consider you weak for staying with an unfaithful spouse, and the thoughts lead to feelings of guilt, shame and isolation. Many people who experience this are too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone, leaving them an open target for spiritual attack. These feelings of inadequacy result in a poor sense of self, resentment toward your spouse and further distance, which leaves the marriage in jeopardy.
Solution: For the lie that says, “I’m not a good wife or husband,” remember the truth: This didn’t happen because of me. God says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. He knows my worth. God tells us to renew our minds so that we focus on what He thinks of us and our circumstances instead of focusing on the lies whispered in our ear.
Many forces work to break apart our marriages, including the ones described here and more. However, saving your marriage is possible.
Too often, I encounter people who rush to get on with life after the bomb of an affair has dropped into their marriage. I encourage you to consider working with a Christian counselor during the process of healing. Growing toward reconciliation is a challenge but also a beautiful testimony of God’s restoration and faithfulness.
Quinn Brennan is a licensed clinical professional counselor with a passion for God’s people and marriage.
*Names have been changed.
A variety of marital issues can lead to challenges or even hopelessness for one or both spouses in a marriage. Gaining a sense of hope and direction often requires understanding the underlying issues and relationship patterns that may have led to the crisis. Reach out to well-trained helpers even if you are the only person in the marriage willing to take action at this time. We can guide you as you seek a referral and take your first steps toward recovery. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or [email protected] www.FocusontheFamily.com/Counseling