This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin” seminar.
As you seek to understand the impact of your spouse’s sexual sin upon you, it is important to recognize that these impacts will come in two varieties: (1) impacts for which understanding, time, and removing the destructive elements of the suffering story are the remedy; and (2) impacts which call for actions from you or your spouse in order to counter the effects of the suffering. For the first variety, the corrective elements will be defined in chapters four through six. For the second variety, the corrective elements will be defined in chapters seven and eight. Your goal in this chapter is merely to “understand.” If reflecting on these aspects of impact on you is overwhelming, remember you can take your time – recovery is not a race.
There is the obvious emotional impact of your spouse’s sexual sin: numbness, anger, despair, fear, jealousy, regret, embarrassment, shame, depression, and other emotions. These emotions are assumed in each of the impacts discussed below. But the ten changes below focus more on the relational or dispositional affects than the emotional expressions. Most of them have to do with influences that began before the discovery of your spouse’s sin or common unhealthy ways of responding to a spouse’s sexual sin.
1. Tolerating an Unhealthy Lifestyle: Unhealthy does not always mean unfaithful, but unfaithful requires increasing doses of unhealthy in order to grow. The types of unhealthy marital habits can small or large: keeping the computer in a low traffic area of home, not communicating schedules and having blocks of unaccounted for time, separate budgets and unmonitored spending, recreating in mixed gender settings without your spouse, allowing personal hobbies or work to crowd out time for marriage, crude or demanding language about sex, responding in anger to questions about time or money, or growing disinterest and infrequency in sex. When sexual sin is a part of your spouse’s life and you do not know it, then these unhealthy lifestyle changes become the “normal” of your household.
Read Ephesians 4:3-13. Paul says that the lifestyle associated with sexual sin “must not even be named among you (v. 3).” The lifestyle characteristics described above should be changed; not just because they make you uncomfortable, but because they create an atmosphere where sexual sin (and many other sins) are easy. When Paul talks of major changes to language that are “out of place” (v. 4) he says that this should be done with thanksgiving (both in content of speech and attitude of heart). It is not in response to your preferences that these changes should be made (insinuating when you are “less sensitive” things can return to “normal”) but in response to God’s design for a healthy marriage.
2. Changing Role or Identity: It is hard to live in sin and live responsibly. As the offending spouse becomes less responsible, the offended spouse takes on the role of parent, nag, stiff, or rescuer. If the offending spouse is generally irresponsible, these relational roles can become an identity. After the sin has been discovered the roles can become even more pronounced. After discovery, the offended spouse can feel a sense of identity confusion (i.e., “I feel lost. I don’t know who you are or I am anymore.”) or escape into other roles (i.e., devoting yourself fully the kids or work to avoid the pain and confusion that comes with being a spouse).
“[Case Study and testimony] Lorie, 34, is a nurse and mother of two young children. She believed that her 10-year marriage to Todd, an engineer, was good. True, their sex life had decreased recently, but Todd told her it was because he was involved in an important and demanding project at work, and he was usually exhausted by evening… Lorie’s life began to fall apart when she accidentally discovered Todd’s secret sexual life on the computer… She later said, ‘I felt total distrust in myself, my spouse, and the relationship. I felt betrayed, confused, afraid, and stunned. The person I loved and trusted most in the world had lied about who he was. I felt I had lived through a vast and sinister cover-up (p. 24).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart
Read Ephesians 5:22-33. At this time it is better to read this passage for a refresher on marriage functioning. Your marriage is strained and away from what God designed it to be. But it is important to notice that in each case the spouse role (husband and wife) is secondary to and an example of the relationship with God (“as to the Lord” and “as Christ”). Whenever we face trials we have tendency to define ourselves by our struggle. In times like these it is easy to be defined by your marriage more than your God. When that is the case how you see yourself and how you relate to your spouse will be negatively affected..
3. Acquiring Controlling Tendencies: “I don’t want to be hurt again.” The controlling tendency has a very understandable origin. “Healthy” (discussed in impact variable one) becomes controlling when it doesn’t allow the other person to voluntarily choose “healthy.” Controlling claims to know what you’re thinking, feels threatened to be wrong, must have “say” not just awareness of money and time, or demands proof of subjective realities. After the betrayal of sexual sin, these responses are usually done more from self-protection than vengeful punishment. But regardless of motive they eat away at the betrayed, now controlling spouse and withers efforts at marital restoration. Control promises safety but provides a counterfeit version of safety at the cost of creating an environment for healthy restoration.
“What you will have to face, Kelly, is that you cannot make your husband do the right thing. You cannot talk him into it; you can’t shame him into it; you can’t police him into it; and you can’t threaten him into it. However, what you can do is begin learning the secret of how to entrust him into the hands of the Lord. After all, only God can change his heart (p. 94-95).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart
4. Becoming Inconsistent: This is the other side of the controlling tendency. Inconsistency can come into your life in several ways. First, before discovery, you may find that nothing you do makes a difference in the marriage and begin to give up on things that are important. Second, after discovery, you may make so many declarations about changes that “should be made” that not all of them can be done consistently or find that some of them were not as relevant as they seemed in your initial fear. You begin to feel weak or hypocritical for not following through on what you said. Third, after discovery, you become emotionally overwhelmed and quit in areas of life or marriage that you know to be important. Regardless of its cause a lifestyle of inconsistency establishes itself and eats away at the good intentions of a healthy marriage.
5. Growing Gullible or Cynical: The lies of a spouse’s sexual sin can push the offended spouse in one of two unhealthy directions: gullible or cynical. You feel torn. “At some point I have to give the benefit of the doubt, right?” But on the other hand, “So much that sounded plausible was a lie, why believe anything but my doubts now?” It feels like the only choice is to believe everything or believe nothing. “Truth” begins to feel like a cruel joke. You want it to know the truth, but each time you have thought you did, it changes (i.e., more of the story comes out or another hurtful choice is made).
“One of the terrible and frightening aspects of sin is the unbelief it fosters (p. 141).” Steve Gallagher in At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry
Read Hebrews 2:10-18. This passage raises the question of trust in the midst of suffering. That is the difficult battle you are facing as you seek to resist being either gullible or cynical – learning how to trust wisely in the midst of suffering. Notice the passage ends with Jesus compassion for your predicament (v. 18). Jesus to was betrayed by one he committed His life to (Matt 10:1-4), whom he trusted enough to manage His earthly money (John 13:29), and had the power to destroy Him with affection (Luke 22:47-48). You may feel like this skepticism and uncertainty is a “lifelong slavery” (v. 15) know that Jesus is able to deliver. He is with you in the midst of this uncertainty (Heb. 13:20-21) and will ultimately let the truth be known (Heb. 4:12-13). The True Betrayal and False Love studies are designed to allow truth to be known by confession, which is best for your spouse’s restoration and the benefit of your family.
6. Growing Passive Toward Life: “It doesn’t matter what I do.” These are painful words. Whenever we speak them it reveals that we have lost the exclusive ability to do, protect, or create what is most important to us. They are the words of a parent whose child has a terminal disease, the business owner facing bankruptcy, and the spouse whose partner has been unfaithful. Nothing feels permanent, solid, or dependable anymore. Emotional or relational investment no longer guarantee the desired result like they once seemed to. It is easy in this environment to become passive in such a way that depression becomes a cocoon protecting you from the unpleasant realities of your marriage and family.
Read Philippians 3:7-16. Paul knew he did not have what it took to continue (v. 12a) and that what he had been building his life upon was not capable sustaining him through his current situation (v. 7). He had to remind himself and his readers to “press on” and not allow this sense of being overwhelmed to paralyze them (v. 12b). Paul did not literally forget his past (v. 13). He frequently referenced it (2 Cor. 11:21-33; 1 Tim. 1:12-17). But Paul is talking about not allowing our past to define us more than God’s ability to work in our present and future. This is the mark of maturity (v. 15) to which he was striving and calls on us to strive for.
7. Growing Insecurity: This insecurity may be expressed through fear or anger, but regardless of its expression you begin to live with a constant barrage of questions about yourself, your spouse, and your marriage. Everything is being evaluated and there seem to be no certain answers to any of the questions. The net effect of living in this kind of questioning is that everything begins to feel personal, as if it is a commentary on your actions and worth. It is from this self-referential way of thinking that each action, word, or even silence in you day begins to illicit fear, doubt, anger, quick hope, deep disappointment, and other intense emotions.
“We wives need to know that when we allow fear and doubt to consume our minds we become just as self-centered as the man who is controlled by lust. Why? Because when we do, we are only thinking about ourselves, and everything centers around us (p. 65).” Kathy Gallagher in When His Secret Sin Breaks Your Heart
Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-18. Paul is in the midst of an intense and personal conflict. He is struggling with how he comes across (weak in person; strong in his letters). He wants to maintain the humility of Christ while boldly answering his critics who question his ministry. Notice how Paul struggles to avoid making an intensely personal conflict self-referential. From the tone of his public letter, it is safe to say that Paul also struggled to maintain this distinction in his personal thought/emotional life. Be encouraged by his vulnerability while learning from his example.
8. Living a One Variable Life: Living a one variable life can happen in several ways after a spouse’s sexual sin. First, as your marriage becomes the most intense issue in your life, it is easy to allow the condition of your marriage to define your life. Second, you can focus on the “one thing” your spouse should do next as if it would make everything better. Third, you can use your fluctuating response to your spouse’s sin as the measure of your faith in or walk with God. However we reduce our life to a single variable it has two effects: (a) it makes our world smaller, and (b) it makes every problem in our now small world seem bigger. The result is that we create a mental environment that is inhospitable for hope or encouragement.
9. Relating as a Codependent: Codependency can be defined as a relational style built upon the false assumption that sin plays by consistent rules. The “game” in codependency is to learn the “rules of sin” (at least the particular sin of the particular person that is affecting you) so that you can prevent the sin from occurring. The “advantage” to the game is that it gives the façade of control over another person. The problem with codependency is that these rules do not exist, it makes you responsible for your spouse’s sin, and it results in the preferences of your spouse becoming your functional god. As you resist the urge to relate codependently, you will experience the fear of realizing that your spouse’s sexual sin is outside your ability to control. But you will also be laying the foundation for a marriage that can be a relationship of mutually responsible, mutually honoring people.
10. Post-Traumatic Stress: After the discovery of your spouse’s sexual sin, it is common to live with a high degree of emotional and situational intensity for a period of time. This can be “traumatic” in both the descriptive and clinical sense of the word.
“The deception and the secret life of the sex addict bring unprecedented turmoil, fear, and pain to the partner (p. 11).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart
In some cases, this trauma can create the experience of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD). PTSD is when an individual faces an event he/she is unprepared to handle and the impact of that event has a lingering impact on life functioning. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms six months after the discovery of your spouse’s sin, then you are likely experiencing the affects of PTSD. As you create a safe and transparent home environment, these symptoms should subside. If not, then seeking personal counseling for these affects is advisable.
- Intrusive recollections of the events surrounding your spouse’s sexual sin or your discovery.
- Recurrent dreams associated with your spouse’s sexual sin.
- Flashbacks where you feel like you are re-experiencing your spouse’s sin or the discovery of it.
- Intense distress when you experience things that remind you of your spouse’s sexual sin.
- Feelings of detachment from others.
- Difficulty concentrating at your normal levels.
- Hypervigilance – always looking for what is about to go wrong.