My husband, Mark, and I have been married for 38 years now. In our nearly four decades together, we’ve made many beautiful memories and witnessed God do amazing things.
We’ve ministered in churches across the U.S. (including the one Mark pastored for 20 years.) We’ve spoken at conferences worldwide, authored books, and raised five wonderful children who now have families of their own.
Yet, our marriage has been far from perfect.
In fact, 10 years ago, we weathered one of the most harrowing storms our marriage has ever faced. Mark had just turned 50, retired as a pastor, and became very disillusioned with life. I knew he was struggling with the discouragement and despair that sometimes accompanies middle age. However, I was beyond shocked to discover that his midlife crisis involved a full-fledged affair.
Soon after the discovery, Mark moved out of our house to pursue the other relationship. He wanted a divorce. I was devastated. The pain of that betrayal was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I couldn’t understand how we’d gotten to this awful place.
Mark and I were Christian leaders who had been married for over two decades. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us.
But it did.
“Good” Marriages Aren’t Immune to Infidelity
Sadly, ours is just one of many Christian marriages that have faced infidelity. Statistics show no real discrepancy between the number of Christians who commit adultery as opposed to those in the general public.
The numbers are staggering, really.
According to the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 65% of men and 55% of women cheat before they turn 40, Christian or not.
Even more sobering than those statistics is the fact that Mark and I had worked hard to build a “good” marriage. We were doing lots of “right” things. We read marriage books.
We learned each other’s love languages. We scheduled date nights and getaways on a regular basis. We were intentional about taking time for one another. We even taught marriage classes.
Yet, despite 28 years of doing what the experts recommended, infidelity still made its way into our story.
So, what happened?
Looking back, we realize that it wasn’t the big things that robbed us of intimacy and made us vulnerable to infidelity. It was the little things under the surface—the things that were pushed aside instead of talked about—that had pulled our hearts away from each other.
Over time, we allowed unresolved conflicts, personality clashes, and criticisms to create a chasm between us. Despite our best intentions to love, honor, and cherish one another, we had each been unfaithful in small ways that caused big disconnects.
Yet at the time, we didn’t recognize the risk factors and red flags that are so vivid in hindsight.
Risk Factors that Leave Marriages Vulnerable to Infidelity
Mark and I each had negative behavior patterns that allowed discontentment and resentment to gain a foothold in our marriage without us noticing. If you see any of these negative behavior patterns in your marriage, take them seriously and start making a change:
Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Mark expected that our passions, tastes, and interests would be the same. Yet in many areas, we couldn’t be more different from one another. When our stark differences didn’t live up to his ideals of what marriage would be like, Mark was disappointed.
On the other hand, I had the unrealistic expectation that Mark would think like me. I expected him to view the world in a logical way, like I did. When he didn’t, I assumed he was wrong and expected him to eventually come around to my way of thinking. When that didn’t happen, I felt frustrated and let down.
Setting unattainable expectations for your spouse will set them up for failure and you for disappointment.
I often minimized Mark’s feelings. For example, if he expressed his frustrations about our differences, I would brush them off. Our differences were something I accepted as part of marriage, and I expected him to do the same. I didn’t take the time to hear him.
Mark would then minimize his own feelings by letting the fact that I had belittled him “slide.” He buried a legitimate hurt instead of addressing it in the moment. He thought he was taking the high road when in fact, he was leaving important issues unresolved.
Being Defensive: Mark and I both struggled with being defensive during disagreements. Instead of actively listening to one another and trying to understand the other’s viewpoint, we argued our side. It became more important to win the fight than to resolve the conflict.
Being Naive: Most people who end up in affairs don’t start out seeking one. Mark’s affair started with a seemingly innocent connection on Facebook. It’s easy to think you and your spouse are above temptation.
But no matter how long you’ve been married or how strong your relationship, thinking this way is naive. Don’t be lax about sticking to boundaries that keep your marriage safe
Being Unaccepting: When we were first married, I valued Mark’s easygoing nature and he valued my strength. Soon, however, those opposite sides of our personalities began to clash. Suddenly, instead of admiring each other for who we were, we were guilty of wanting the other to change.
This created an atmosphere of judgment and rejection. It eroded our ability to have open, honest communication. We could no longer be the safe place that we were supposed to be to one another.
Over time, these small issues can create deep rifts that breed discontentment. If left unattended, these risk factors will leave your marriage vulnerable to sexual infidelity, as well as other kinds of cheating.
Types of Infidelity
Although we use the terms interchangeably, infidelity isn’t always synonymous with adultery. There are many types of infidelity, sexual and otherwise, that can derail a marriage.
Not all affairs are physical. Mark’s affair was emotional at first. He reconnected with an old high school friend on Facebook and began chatting online. Yet, what started as a few innocent conversations soon turned into something more intimate.
That’s how emotional affairs work. They start off with casual conversations, then move to more serious subjects. Before you know it, you’re discussing problems at home or work with someone other than your spouse. Suddenly your “friend” becomes a confidant and an emotional intimacy forms.
That’s why it’s so important to guard yourself around friends of the opposite sex. If you notice that you’re sharing more information with them than your spouse, you are headed for trouble.
Here are some telltale signs of an emotional affair:
- Spending more time talking to the other person than to your spouse
- Thinking about the other person often, even when you’re at home
- Wishing your spouse was more like them
- Sharing frustrations about your marriage with the other person
- Sharing emotions, hopes, dreams, and ideas with them instead of your spouse
- Sharing secrets
- A loss of desire to share emotional or physical intimacy with your spouse
- Hiding the relationship from your spouse
- Deleting conversations with them from your devices
Emotional affairs may not be sexual, but they will drive a wedge between you and your spouse nonetheless. The shiny new relationship is filled with excitement and your marriage relationship may start to pale in comparison. This is why, more often than not, emotional affairs become gateways to sexual infidelity.
Online infidelity encompasses sexting, cyber sex, and sex via video chats or any other online medium.
Cyber infidelity often starts as a way to escape reality and indulge in sexual fantasies without actually having physical intercourse with another person. People are often drawn to the internet because sexual conduct and behaviors that are frowned on in real-world situations are acceptable in the realm of online sex. People are also drawn to internet sex because it offers a private, anonymous way to explore erotic imaginations without getting caught.
Once someone is sucked in, internet sex can become very addictive and will take its toll on their marriage and family.
Pornography is another highly addictive form of infidelity that wreaks havoc on marriages. It can be consumed in many forms, and thanks to the internet, it is readily available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Men and women are equally drawn to porn and often rationalize that looking at or watching pornography is OK because it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
The problem is, of course, that it does hurt others. Spouses with real bodies and imperfections can’t always compare to the men and women on screen. Plus, porn creates unrealistic expectations of what sex should be like, which leads to discontentment in the marriage bed.
Infidelity Doesn’t Have to Be the End of Your Marriage
No matter what kind of infidelity you may have experienced, it doesn’t mean that you have to end your marriage. There is hope for healing.
God is more than able to take what was meant to harm you and turn it for your good, just like he did for me and Mark.
When Mark left, he fully intended for that to be the end of our story together. Thankfully, God had other plans. During our separation, my daughter and I began to pray thorns around Mark’s other relationship. God began to open Mark’s eyes to see things that he hadn’t noticed before.
Then on Easter, just a few months after he left, Mark had a special encounter with God. Our heavenly father showed Mark that if he came home, our marriage could have a blank slate. It was possible to start fresh if he would trust the Lord. Mark took that step of faith and our journey toward reconciliation began.
Of course, recovering from infidelity was difficult. It took unhumanable love, patience, and lots of work. In fact, it took two full years for us to be able to move from hurting to hopeful to healed.
Yet all the hard work has been worth it. Our marriage is stronger now than it’s ever been. We have replaced hurtful habits with constructive behaviors. We enjoy a renewed connection and have deeper emotional and physical intimacy than at any other time in our marriage. Our hearts have reconnected and our family is intact.
Now that we have come through to the other side, Mark and I have made it our mission to help other couples recover from infidelity.
If you want your marriage to recover from infidelity, here are some steps you can take to start the process.
Steps to Recover from Infidelity
Recovering from infidelity is a process. These steps will help you get started in the right direction. Just remember that as you learn to move forward, you may have to repeat each step more than once.
Commit to Reconciliation
The first step to recover from infidelity is to recommit to your relationship. Both spouses, the one who cheated and the one who was betrayed, have to fully commit to reconciliation in order to move past infidelity. There will be plenty of opportunities to throw in the towel, so you can’t start the journey half-heartedly and expect it to work.
Be Willing to Forgive Daily
As you work to move past the pain of infidelity, you and your spouse will have to relive many of your past hurts. It will take a daily resolve to forgive to keep moving forward.
It’s hard to look objectively at your marriage relationship when you are in it. It’s doubly hard when infidelity is involved. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a couples counselor or marriage coach.
Mark and I took the time to be counseled together as well as individually. This helped us take the necessary steps to move past infidelity and rebuild trust in our marriage.
One of the most difficult aspects of moving past infidelity is rebuilding the trust that’s been lost. It’s hard to know how to establish healthy boundaries and create accountability without creating more toxic behaviors, like policing. But rebuilding trust is essential to creating a strong, lasting marriage—especially after infidelity.
To help, we have created a course that outlines the six steps Mark and I took to rebuild trust in our marriage. Sign up for our Rebuilding Trust Course and start putting these principles to work in your marriage today.
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