“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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Left unchecked, this attack can lead to repeated questions, frequent fights
and withdrawal — all of which break down the fabric of the marriage.
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
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
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.
For the lie that says, “I’m not a good wife or husband,” remember the
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