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When Love Is Broken: 3 Things to Remember When Your Spouse Breaks Your Trust

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Graphic of a married couple and a heart, shattered and pieced back together because they fight for love.
After my husband confessed his pornography addiction, I wondered if I could ever love him again. But we fought for love — and won.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

I was wearing no makeup, and wet strands of hair clung to my face, but I loved the photo. So I posted it proudly. Bob and I had a newlywed glow on our faces — only we weren’t newlyweds.

We were a war-torn couple who’d fought for love.

On a vacation to restore our marriage, we looked forward to dinner at a fancy rooftop restaurant overlooking the ocean at sunset. But it started to rain. (And the appetizers were terrible!) So we left.

I was disheartened. We had a lot riding on that dinner. We needed a win, but it just wasn’t to be. Not in that place anyway.

On our way to the hotel, we drove by truck stop signs that led us to a collection of food trucks in a dusty dirt lot.

After some surprisingly delicious food, we wandered in the rain and found two Adirondack chairs on the edge of the bay. They were as worn as we felt. But as we watched the storm, we found something more than a better place to eat dinner. We found each other.

Who knew we could find love again at a roadside collection of food trucks?

God did.

All of us face difficulty in marriage. But some of us face especially painful hardships when our husbands fall prey to lust and pornography. I know. I’ve been there.

Yet despite the pain of betrayal, the story of Bob and Dannah Gresh is not over, though at times it felt like it was. During some particularly difficult days, I had no doubt I’d continue to choose to love Bob. But I also wondered if I’d feel it once more. The answer, I’m thrilled to say, is yes. Here are three things I learned when I wondered if I could love again.

1. We Can Be Taught to Love

The dating, engagement, and first weeks of our marriage were magnificent. Bob is a creative romantic. He planned perfect dates, wrote beautiful love notes and left me breathless. I now call that period our “before love” time. And in the middle of it, I was certain the romance would never end. But it did.

For some couples, it’s a slow fade. For others, a jarring trauma leaves one or both partners heartbroken. For me, it was somewhere in between.

Without sharing too many details of our story, Bob did confess before we married that he had a fierce struggle with sexual temptation. We thought the temptation would go away after the wedding, but we were wrong. So we fought hard against it. Together.

For many years Bob experienced freedom. Then one day he confessed that he’d lost ground. I won’t say any more about it, but Bob wants you to know that what he did was worse than you may think and yet not as bad as you might imagine. We both believe that whether a spouse has looked at pornography, had an affair, or acted out sexually, the pain of betrayal can be just as devastating.

Months prior, I felt something was off. My heart and body knew it. I experienced subtle signs of trauma like joint pain and stomach issues — common for women whose husbands have stopped making eye contact or aren’t emotionally present.

But my brain wanted to deny it. So that’s what I chose to do.

Then came Bob’s confession.

As he spoke the painful words, I felt shame for ignoring the hunch I’d had. I also realized that those lovely, early emotions in marriage aren’t the love God has invited us to experience. Hollywood has trained us to dream of “falling in love.” But if love were something that we just “fall into,” it could not be commanded and taught. And it is.

Paul commands it of husbands in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. And in Titus 2:4, women are instructed to “train the young women to love their husbands.”

If you can be taught to love, can you not also learn to love again?

2. We’re Called to Paint a Picture of Christ’s Unfailing Love

God intended for marriage to portray the kind of love Jesus displays for His bride, the church. You can read about this intention from Genesis to Revelation. But the most succinct statement of the sacred purpose of marriage is found in the New Testament: “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

Unfailing love should characterize marriage because it’s a picture of Christ’s love and His mission to rescue us. But the Devil is on a mission, too! He’s determined to destroy the picture of Christ’s love in our marriages.

So rise up and be strong. Scripture tells us that when we resist the Devil, he flees from us (James 4:7). But if you’re like me, you feel weak and riddled with insecurity. If you need help, tell a friend. It’s the only sure way to dismantle the Enemy’s strategy.

My closest friends encouraged me to feel courageous when I felt like withering. Those faithful friends helped me wrestle through hard questions: Were Bob and I still a picture of the Gospel in this broken place? Could this suffering be part of the picture? I believe the answer is yes. After all, Christ suffered death to rescue us.

Bob was repentant, and because of this I could safely rise up to love the way Jesus did. Sometimes this looked like speaking the truth in love rather than blowing up in anger. Other times it looked like holding him when I didn’t feel like it. It also required me to offer tough love and establish boundaries. I’ve been told I was a fool for staying. But we’re never fools when we choose to participate in God’s redemptive story for humankind.

3. God Is Inviting Us to a Deeper Understanding of Love

My husband has always given me permission to be open about our difficult journey, and we’ve decided to be honest with our story.

To that end, you should know I grieved deeply as I learned to love again. The lessons were hard, and for me, they included learning to lament. During those times, I found a soulful song by Martin Smith based on Song of Solomon 2:8. The hauntingly beautiful lyrics expressed what I was feeling.

This cloak of sadness .  .  .

All the evil things that shake me . . .

All the words that break me.

As I read the Song of Solomon, I became aware that I wasn’t consumed with the unfailing love of Jesus. I pined for the love of Bob and Dannah instead of the love of Jesus and Dannah first and foremost. There was idolatry in my heart.

When I told Tippy, my counselor, what I was learning, she seemed much too chipper in contrast to my perplexed sorrow.

“Dannah,” she said with a subtle giggle in her voice, “this is wonderful! God’s inviting you to a deeper understanding of love.”

That day I realized God was calling me to love my husband through my love for Jesus. And so I began to seek contentment in Christ by taking long walks with Him and asking Him for advice rather than running to Bob to solve a problem. In learning to turn to my Savior first, I started to experience a deeper love that changed the way I love Bob. Now I love him from a holier, deeper distance. My inner circle of intimacy has become a place for me and Jesus — with Bob at the perimeter of my most sacred space. And as my love has grown, I’ve discovered something authentic and so much more satisfying than the “before love” we experienced early in our relationship. Not the superficial, happily-ever-after kind of love with inspiring sunsets but the real and raw kind forged through the dust and dirt of life.

If you’re wondering whether you can ever love again, the answer is yes. There are surprising moments, like our night at the truck stop. But something sacred anchors those moments. The love Bob and I now share has been tested and found faithful.

This article first appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of Focus on the Family magazine as “When Love Is Broken.”

What If He Never Repents?

Some husbands may refuse to renounce (perhaps even pridefully nurse) the connection with their sin. This may become obvious by either their words or their long-demonstrated actions.

Likely more complex, however, is biblically discerning what the course of the marriage looks like if perpetual, volitional, and unrepentant pornography use alone is the case.

Divorce is a concession God’s Word overtly lays out when a hard heart manifests itself in unrepentant physical infidelity. To be fair, there may be varied theological conclusions, but simply standing by and “making peace” with pornography’s devastating presence is not a conclusion I endorse. A person needs wise pastoral care combined with sound professional therapy and discernment over an extended period. Divorce should not be rushed, adopted without close counsel, or eagerly enacted as a “simple solution.” But for some, this may indeed be the conclusion they arrive at due to the headlong choices a spouse repeatedly makes.

If, when, and how to release someone to their chosen rebellion is a matter of wise biblical counsel and God’s guidance. If you’re at a crossroads, remember that your own health and recovery remain vital. Victim is not your identity; overcomer is!

-Geremy Keeton, Senior Director of Counseling at Focus on the Family

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