When Your Marriage is in Crisis–Fight!

Fight for Your MarriageThere’s a great scene in the movie Laws of Attraction when Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan, who have been in crisis, meet up in a grocery store. And Julianne Moore says, “Sometimes they say you have to fight for your marriage. Do you want to fight?”

So let me ask you today, “are you willing to fight“?

Because sometimes we’re too quick to give in to defeat and feelings of anger and bitterness and disappointment and even just plain hurt and heartache.

Let me tell you of one email I received today, which is quite typical. Here’s the situation:

She’s always been sensitive about her body. She’s a little overweight and not very well endowed. But she used to have fun buying cute lingerie and making herself pretty for him. Then, when she was pregnant, she found out that he was watching porn and that he had cheated on her. He’s now done a complete 180. He’s strong with God. He’s a great dad. He’s truly repentant. He’s got accountability, and he’s not using porn.

It’s not really about forgiving him, she says. That’s not her problem. The problem is that now she doesn’t feel sexy. What’s the point? She used to do all these “fun” things to attract him and they didn’t work. He strayed anyway. All that work in preparing herself and all the while he was looking at women with totally different bodies. He simply isn’t attracted to her. And every time he touches her she feels that. So they just don’t make love anymore, and she doesn’t know how to get past it. How can she ever feel attractive to him again?

Do you feel her pain? I certainly do. That would be so awful; to feel like your husband went for a totally different body type. To feel as if no matter what you did, you could never be good enough. The rejection would be huge.

But here’s the thing: it’s precisely because that hurts so much that it is such an effective weapon. And so you now have a choice:

1. Do I give in to what are perfectly legitimate feelings? Do I let the anger drive a permanent wedge between us?

2. Do I fight against these feelings and try to rebuild intimacy?

Most people choose #1 because they don’t see a choice. That’s how I feel, after all. I can’t change my feelings. And he’s the one who cheated! It’s not me who is wrecking the marriage; it’s what he did.

I realize that. But so what if you’re right? What does being right get you? It lets you feel perfectly righteous all the way to divorce court. It doesn’t rebuild a relationship. Or maybe you never split up, but you lead two completely separate lives under the same roof, and that is not good for your children.

I truly think the only option is #2. You’ll never find peace or intimacy if you pursue #1. You may say, “he needs to make it up to me,” but how can he? He can’t take it away.

And so the ball is in your court–even if that feels unfair.

So fight! Here are some thoughts on how:

1. Recognize that your husband is not the enemy

This is a tough one. Your husband was the one who did wrong. Your husband cheated on you. But right now, he is not the enemy. He loves you and wants to rebuild the relationship. The enemy is Satan, or, if you don’t like that, the enemy is all of these negative thoughts that are in your head trying to pull the two of you apart.

Think about it this way: what would you do if someone threatened your child? You would fight with every ounce of strength that you had to protect your child.

Divorce hurts kids. And what is threatening your child right now? It’s not what he did. It’s those thoughts that are tearing you apart.

If you would fight a stranger tooth and nail who was trying to hurt the kids, then put that same energy into fighting those thoughts.

Yes, it’s hard. They’re legitimate feelings. But that’s why you have to FIGHT. Fight is not a calm word. It takes energy. It takes emotion. It’s difficult. But you have to do it.

2. Rebuild Trust

Right now you’re fixating on all the ways that he chose other women over you–again, very understandably. But if you’re going to move ahead, you have to build something new–build some place in your relationship where he’s obviously choosing you. So work on your friendship. Do things together. Go for walks after dinner just to talk. Share dreams. Plan about where you’d like your family to be in five years. Make financial plans together. Make vacation plans. Plan for what you want to do with your children.

If you can play together, and do things together, and look at the future together, you’ll start to think of yourself as a unit again.

3. Pray

Sex is more than just physical. Sex is also supposed to be a true spiritual connection. Making love is not the same as having sex. What your husband did was have sex with other women–and fantasize about other women. But what he has with you is far deeper. It’s about a total becoming one flesh. It’s a complete connection. And ultimately he chose you. Maybe you worry he did that because of the kids. That’s understandable. But even that shows that there is something special that you share that no one else does. Your connection is deeper than theirs.

So deepen it. Spend time praying together, even if it’s tough (that’s where the fighting comes in again!). If you can start to feel like you’re spiritually one, it’s easier to break through other barriers. And it’s easier to want to feel intimate in other ways again.

4. Be Honest

You’re insecure. It’s okay to tell him that. It’s okay to ask him to go slow and to try to woo you again. Ask him to show you that he enjoys your body, too. And if he’s having a hard time because he’s all tied up in guilt, take things slowly. Don’t necessarily make love, but spend time naked together. Be intimate. Just kiss. Start small and see if feelings return.

It’s okay to make love while you’re crying for all the things you’ve lost. It’s okay to make love while your heart is breaking. And his probably is, too. That’s just being honest, and sometimes when we’re honest the sexual feelings come even more powerfully. So be honest, but don’t avoid intimacy. Just try to build it based first and foremost on you being one flesh, not on it just being about sexual desire.

5. Take Pride in Yourself

One last thing: if you become so insecure about your body, and say, “there’s no point in even trying because I wasn’t good enough when I did try”, who do you end up punishing? Your husband? Certainly, because men are visually stimulated.

But I think you punish yourself more. If you let yourself become dumpy, for lack of a better word, how are you going to feel about yourself? How are your children going to see you?

You are a beautiful woman. God created you just as you are. Whether your husband rejected you or not, you are still lovely in God’s eyes. It’s not about how your husband sees you; it’s about how you see yourself and how God sees you. If you become dumpy, you’re letting the world know, “I don’t think I’m worth much.” But if you put effort in, and take pride in your appearance, you’re letting the world know, “I like who I am. I’m comfortable with me. If other people don’t share that feeling, that’s their problem, not mine.”

Which do you think is more beneficial to you, and your kids, in the long run? Putting in effort, or letting yourself fall apart?

You see, my friends, if you give in to those negative feelings, all you do is punish yourself (and your kids, and your husband). They’re legitimate, sure, but it’s not worth it. So FIGHT. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it takes effort. But God loves a good fight, and He is there to do battle for you. He is waiting for you to put on your armour and say, “I’m entering the battle field.” Do that, and He will show up, big time, and will fight for you.

It reminds me of this graphic I put up on Facebook this week:

RippleEffects

Comments

  1. While I’ve not ever been in this situation, I can relate to how anger builds big walls that can be impenetrable if we allow them to. I know so much about this. While the feelings of betrayal and hurt are real, they don’t have to consume us. I allowed betrayal and hurt to consume me for so long that by the time my husband came along, I had a wall built so thick and high that it took years to break down. So I think it’s important to acknowledge the pain, the hurt, the betrayal. But I think it’s also important to know that the enemy would love nothing more than another marriage to crumble.

    Here’s the other thing I think is important. This beautiful woman is now viewing herself through the eyes of another, and it’s not the truth. It’s the lie that says she’s not good enough. But she’s always been good enough. She saw herself as good enough once. I think she should get quiet and reflect back on what made her feel beautiful before, pray, and realize that that is the person she’s always been.

    Please don’t give up. It took ten years, a lot of reading, praying, and crying to tear down the walls I built up over 25 years. I made the choice to build those walls through anger, bitterness, and resentment because of hurt and pain I experienced in past relationships. Try to resist these emotions; the enemy would love nothing more for this lovely woman to succumb to these emotions and allow her marriage to fall by the wayside.

  2. Great, great post, Sheila!!! We must always remember from I Corinthians 13 that love forgives easily just as Christ forgave us. Heartened hearts don’t forgive and we are to have soft hearts and forgive even our enemies.
    Lori Alexander recently posted…Women Want Strong MenMy Profile

  3. Sheila, your website and books have been helping me through my husband’s affair and now the rebuilding of our marriage. It has not been easy, but through my trust in God carrying me through this no matter what the outcome ended up being, my Catholic faith, wonderful friends, and encouraging words of wisdom from books and blogs I have been able to do what your post today says. Thankfully my husband and I knew it was going to be ugly before it got to be beautiful again. “Its those thoughts that are tearing you apart.” The thoughts really are the enemy trying to keep you from reconnecting. We recognized this and really had to keep reminding ourselves this over and over. I tried to really think about what I wanted to learn or to hear from my husband before expressing the thoughts in my head. many words were said that i honestly didn’t mean after they were aid, but until they were said i could not shut them out. My husband listened over and over and allowed his guilt to be increased month by month. We finally hit a breaking point one night where I couldn’t say anymore but the rage would not go away so I began to punch him. He grabbed me so ferociously I was terrified, but also relieved that I had finally gotten him to the point where he no longer felt the need to feel guilty. He had said over and over that no matter how many times he apologized or whatever he did to try to make it up would never be enough. I had to put it behind me and allow us to start over. This happened about a month or so ago. I am anxious to see if I can get through the month without going back to those horrible thoughts and feelings. I have the most trouble right around ovulation for some reason, so I will have a better idea how far i have come in about 2 weeks. Until then, I am doing a lot of what you are saying in this post. Praying, talking about my feelings and remembering that although he made the choice to allow our marriage to be tarnished by an affair, he too has been hurt by his weakness and he too is trying to love himself again.

    • Lynn, I know how you feel and I understand the punching. Mine took place as throwing tableware as we were finishing lunch in our own dining room. We came to the same conclusion, having to leave the horrible experience behind us and move forward together.

      The most striking similarity is the ovulation experience. I feel my worst and have flashbacks of my husband’s emotional affair during that time, and I have had to let him know that I do have a very heightened alert to triggers that remind me of those times during those couple of weeks.

      Talking about it helps. Ovulation messes with our emotional stability and throws us off our “usual” track. Just knowing that it happens does help.

      Take heart … you sound like you’re in a very good place about now!
      Amy recently posted…Are You a Marriage Pilgrim or Fugitive?My Profile

  4. Stephanie says:

    I can relate to this so much, but not with an affair. My anger, hurt, betrayal, and fear came from being in a verbally abusive relationship. Very recently a friend shared a book with me that helped me understand just what I was dealing with. In some ways it was liberating to know that there was a reason my husband behaved the way he did and that there was hope for him to have healing. I couldn’t get past my own feelings to feel safe around him again, and knowing this affected our children as well make it even more difficult. What kind of mom am I if I continue to let them be verbally abused by their own father??? After spending a lot of time with God, and coming very close to ending our marriage, God enabled me to let go of all those feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal, and fear. I now feel safe around my husband again after a very long time and we are both working hard at rebuilding. By myself that just wasn’t possible. But God was able to take care of what I couldn’t, so that we could be the example He calls us to be. I have so much faith and hope for our marriage now. In such a short period of time, I went from loving his overtime and wishing he always worked those hours, to missing him during a regular 8hr shift. I am so thankful and feel closer to God than ever. God has given us such an amazing gift, one that I know He wants to share with everyone feeling like their marriage is over. God is willing and able to take away all the negative feelings to allow love to shine through. So choose the 2nd option! You won’t regret it! :-)

    • Stephanie what book did you read?

      • Stephanie says:

        Briana – it is called “The Verbally Abusive Man, Can he change?” by Patricia Evans. She has written others that I have yet to read about verbally abusive relationships. I highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with this issue. While not being out right Christian, she takes Christianity into account and also gives you the resources to try everything you can. As Rachel wrote in her response, God starts with the one willing to change, not necessarily the one needing it the most.

  5. ButterflyWings says:

    I guess I don’t really understand this one. Having been through hell with my first husband, the lies, the abuse, the cheating, yet I still loved him dearly, and I tried everything to save our marriage. After we separated (so he could shack up with one mistress), when we did reconcile briefly the only limit I put on our sex life was we wouldn’t have sex until he’d been away from his mistresses long enough to be able to get a clean STD test (because condoms just aren’t safe enough and he’d already given me one STD that may still kill me). And we only stayed reconciled less than 3 weeks before I found out he’d never ended his affairs with other women.

    Had I had a man who was like the man described above, I couldn’t imagine being like the woman described above. I feel unsexy, yes, as my second husband can sadly attest to, but it doesn’t stop me from going all out to dress sexy for him, to initiate sex…. I’m not sure how feeling unsexy leads so many women to giving up trying.

    You can’t change the way you look, but you can still be sexy at any size. There is a horrible cliche that I’ve been told is true by many “very experienced” men and that is larger ladies make the best lovers. Because it’s not about what you look like – it’s about what you do with it. Forget what you look like – throw something sex on and jump your husband! If he has genuinely reformed, he’ll adore it. And just tell him how you feel, tell him what he did makes you feel unsexy and that you need him to tell you and show you that you are. Most men honestly are totallly clueless in this area – but if you tell them what you need (compliments on your looks, compliments on what you’re doing in bed etc) many will be happy to do it.

    My second husband is one of these type – he wouldn’t think in a million years to give a compliment but after explaining to him that I have low self esteem, especially around my looks, he has started making an effort. I mean, I’m still lucky to get one compliment a month, but he is a brutally honest person, and when he gives a compliment, I know he means it with all his heart. Tonight he surprised me by telling me I was pretty while undressed and not in the process of “doing the deed”. It meant the world to me. I still am a fat, unsexy blob, but itmakes me so happy to know he doesn’t think so. But if it weren’t for months of explaining to him I need compliments about how I look, he’d have never said it. Sometimes you just have to be blunt and repetitive with men and it does eventually sink in.

    My only other though was thinking back to my first husband, while it may not be relevant to me now, I’m sure a lot of people still married to the men doing it would like to know…. Sheila, what do you do when a husband is genuinely not attracted to you no matter how much effort you put in? I know you don’t give up trying to look as good as possible for him, but how do you cope with the pain of knowing no matter what you do, he wants something you can never be. So many of the older women in the church I grew up in had their husbands run off with much younger women. These were loving, wonderful women, whose looks were fantastic for their age, but the one thing they couldn’t be was younger again. Sometimes no matter what you do, if a man is shallow, he wants a young hot supermodel, and even if you’re an older hot babe, it’s not enough. Even if he doesn’t leave, it hurts these women terribly to be constantly reminded that their husbands aren’t attracted to them no matter what they try. How does one cope with that?

  6. Sheila, it seems obvious to me that this woman needs some counseling. It’s obvious she is hurting and she could benefit from counseling. Maybe I missed it and you already recommended it.

    • I agree, and I’m sorry I forgot! It’s the default of mine to say it–you really need someone walking through this with you in real life. Either a mentor friend or couple you can both talk to, or a counselor. I know it isn’t always possible to get a counselor if funds are an issue and your church doesn’t provide one, but it’s so important to sit down together and talk about it with someone (or even just process your feelings with someone, even if your husband isn’t involved). Thanks for reminding me!

  7. If I only had time to even write you all about my testimony of what God had done in my marriage since 12/10/2012. It is a miracle that we just celebrated five years together with a blended family. God CAN and WILL heal your marriage. Mine is even stronger after we’ve dealt with severe anger that became physical, pornography addiction, me and my kids hating my husband to the point of wishing for his death, trying to blend two families with an ex husband that is engaged in Parental Alienation Syndrome, me recovering from abuse as a child and the effects of divorce from my spouse having multiple affairs…all I can say is wives, be encouraged. God will start with the person who is WILLING to change, not with the person who needs to change. That is usually us, ladies. Forgiveness is the one key to allowing God to heal your very broken and damaged heart. Even if you don’t feel like forgiving, God will help you do it just by making that choice. It is through the fact that I began to show my husband honor and respect when he knew he didn’t deserve it that God changed his life and mine forever. God opened his eyes and when he saw who he was, he was grateful that I have honored and obeyed God and didn’t divorce him because he would have divorced himself. All of this in six month’s time, ladies. God is a faithful God, and He loves you passionately. So in those times you are hurting and feel like NOTHING will ever change, trust Him more. He is FOR your marriage. The enemy of marriage will do anything and everything to stop that one-flesh bond because he knows it is powerful for God’s kingdom. I have a completely different husband. I am a completely different wife. Our family is completely different. I just have to praise my Daddy, because HE IS FAITHFUL to reward those who diligently seek Him. Ask God to open your eyes so that you can see, your heart so that you may know, and your ears so that you can hear. And pursue Him until He shows you. It will change your life forever. I promise you.

  8. Scarlett says:

    This is the only blog I read regularly, and I love the support and encouragement I find here. My marriage has been to hell and back, and when I say ‘back,’ I mean my six-month separation is over, but….I returned so that my children could have a father, and I have reset boundaries with my formerly verbally abusive husband. He is immature, not financially responsible, a ‘good-time Charlie.’ I am kind, gracious, loving, will have sex occasionally, even initiate it with a smile just because I know I should. (Usually takes about two glasses of wine, though.) HOWEVER. My husband makes such little effort to rebuild this marriage it is sad. He is supposed to be the leader, take the initiative. I’m really tired of reading all this stuff about how our attitudes have to be so perfect and we have to make all these allowances for a lack of male compassion, love and leadership.

    • Keep reading and praying. My husband’s physical affair lasted for about 7 months, but the emotional started about a year before that. It was very hard to try to bring him back to our marriage and like you, I was so sick of feeling like I was doing all the work while he was the one doing everything to keep us apart. I think what changed for me was similar to what SAM said. I had to stop focusing on changing him and just keep working on myself. Making love had always been a problem for me and after finding out about his affair I couldn’t imagine even trying. But I prayed and listened and read and realized he might never change, but if I wanted to save the marriage for us and for our children I had to work on me and let God work on him. I prayed that God would soften his hardened heart and that our love making would be about us and God and not about her. I have to fight the thoughts wondering if something new we are doing is what he experienced first with her, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I know she will be with us as long as I allow her to be for me. Who knows if she is with us for him. He says no, but what good would it be for me to know if she is. We went for counseling twice, he wasn’t into it and it was expensive. I did take away this: Asking questions is dangerous, so be sure you want to have that answer floating around in your memory…there are many questions I want answered but I can’t give the enemy more ammunition against me, so I don’t ask. I know it will be used against me, replaying in my mind. I don’t know how long it will be until your husband gets more responsible and takes that role in your family’s life. Keeping trusting in Jesus to walk with you. Lean on Him. Tell Him how hard things are for you and ask Him to help you keep fighting the fight. God is for your marriage. I read a book called Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. That seemed to help me. I didn’t allow anything physical until he had been tested. He tried to get out of the testing, but I held strong and told myself after he was cleared, I would start over. It was several months of fighting my thoughts, but it gets better each month.

      Scarlett, I started to reply to you but realize this has gone another way. I’m not going to delete it in case someone else needs to read it, but for you I would say keeping trying to fight the attitude of being the only one working for the marriage. I didn’t have the affair, but God did open my eyes to things I could change in myself to help us. Let Him walk you through this showing your children what unconditional love is. Set your boundaries so you are like a duck that allows water to run off your back, not a doormat that gets walked all over, but continue to fight. Only God knows how long it will take for your husband to realize he can be the man you saw in him when you decided to marry him, the leader of your family. I will be praying for you.

  9. Thank you for this. My marriage crumbled in March, and I have been fighting for it since. The road has been very tough, and sometimes we still have setbacks but God is helping me fight, and I supposed him too, since he is just as committed, if not more, to making us work. I have held a lot of bitterness and resentment towards him (for understandable reasons) because of what he did, and I finally came clean just yesterday, and I can’t tell you how much better I feel—even towards him!! I have been asking God to show me my husband through His eyes, but I think my feelings of bitterness and the resentment were holding me back.

    I’m also glad you said its okay to make love through the pain and etc. Fighting for our marriage has made me crave that intimacy with him–which started with no sex, just holding each other. I felt like making love was saying “yeah we are okay” even though we aren’t yet. I felt like being free with my kisses when he did something recently that made me feel betrayed was telling him “We are okay”, too. I’m trying my best to be the woman God created me to be with the family He gave me, and denying a goodbye kiss just didn’t feel right. Our thoughts are our own worse enemy, but its especially hard when the other person is doing things that give Satan more room to play.

    I am fighting and will continue to fight because there’s always someone else out there that Satan can dress up and dangle in front of my husband’s face. He can use them to fulfill whatever area I might be lacking to fulfill for my husband, making it easier for him to stray, even if its an emotional straying rather than a physical. I have to be on guard all the time, and most of all, I have to focus on myself and what I’m doing to be the woman God created me to be. If I’m focusing on my husband and what he is or isn’t doing, I’m not being the best I can be. That means I’m not only failing my family, but I’m failing myself. Letting go is hard to do, but the release and relief I received when I just gave my husband and my marriage to God made it worth it.

  10. Wow! This is just what i needed to hear this morning. In an argument that we had 2 months ago my husband said some things that have been haunting me and bringing me to tears everytime i think about them. The hardest thing has been feeling like, ‘what if all those things he said are true and he only sees my flaws and doesn’t think i’m amazing?’ I’ve tried to squash them down but the way they keep surfacing shows that i haven’t really dealt with them and they will haunt me for my whole life and ruin my marriage. Thank you for the reminder that we are in a battle and, while God fights for us, we have to play our part. I will make an effort to speak truth against those words. He wouldn’t have stayed with me if he didn’t think i was great! And even with all my flaws i’m still worthy of his love!
    Thank you Sheila for the post and all the other ladies for the encouraging comments.

  11. How much to I have to endure? It’s so hard, I feel trapped. His affair cost him his career, our security, health insurance, our savings etc. After the affair was discovered I found out there were at least 2 other incidents… an emotional multi-year affair, a physical affair, and affair with a MAN, a secret past… I could go on. I now have an STD, worry about losing our home, worry about our 5 year old daughter, etc. I’ve only been able (so far) to find part-time employment… we’ve been to a counselor regularly… but I think he justifies his actions. I think he’s in denial about abuse during his adolescence.
    I’m exhausted…

    • Hi CJG,

      I’m so sorry for this. I can only imagine how heartbroken and scared you must be. Two suggestions: The book Love Must Be Tough talks about how to help him bear the consequences of his actions, and help him understand his need for taking the marriage seriously. It also helps you think through where you’re at, so that you understand how to make decisions that will be best for you and your children.

      Second suggestion: Find someone to walk through this with you that you can talk to and can pray with. I think you likely need someone to help you who knows you in real life–maybe besides your counsellor.

      I pray that God will show you that person.

  12. I agree, but I too wonder when is enough, enough. I have had my fill and am literally hours away from packing up myself & our children. I have told him to stop the online “friendship”(what he called it). He said he would. Over 24 hours later…still waiting. What’s he waiting on? END IT! He says he wants our marriage to work & says “we will get through this”? How on earth are we going to get through this when he’s mentally & emotionally there instead of HERE?!?!? I can’t just wait around, working full time, taking care of the kids, cooking & cleaning while he entertains himself with her! My physical health is suffering. I can’t eat knowing all this going on!!! I have to be healthy to take care of my family!

    • Marie, I’m so sorry you’re going through this! A great book that deals with situations just like this is Love Must Be Tough. It shows how sometimes “fighting for your marriage” doesn’t mean lying over and taking it, but instead drawing very firm boundaries and helping him deal with the consequences of his actions. And it totally helps you get healthy, too. I’d really recommend it!

  13. THANK YOU JESUS!!! for this blog. I desperately needed to read this a few weeks ago I found some flirting messages in my husband’s phone I never thought the pain would heal the hurt was indescribable all I could do was think where did I go wrong? I prayed and still was overwhelmed with pain then I told myself this is no way to forgive your husband and work on your marriage I could not go around bitter all my life so I gave him the chance he asked for and so far im very pleased with my decision he has been respecting my pain by not hiding anything answering any crazy things I may ask like who hes texting taking my paranoid mind state gently and reassuring me that everything is ok. As I type this I just thanked him for not allowing me to annoy him. Im a witness that you can fight for your marriage and you can WIN!!

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