Walking away from an emotional affair is painful; it can feel like death. In fact, something does need to die: the unholy attachment between two people that never should have been. In my first two posts in this series, I shared how you can identify an emotional affair and how to take the first steps out of it. In this final post, I’ll share what healing looks like over the long haul for everyone involved.
After the confession of sin and the intentional breaking of all ties between the two people involved, the next step is both immediate and lifelong: what is Christ asking you to pursue and commit to so as to grow in relational, emotional and sexual integrity? Answering that question will be necessary to not just get through this pain, but to grow in and through it.
If you’re the single person
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests. You now know in what direction those desires led you, so here are some things to reflect upon—and to do—to move in Christ’s direction.
- Focus on God’s grace for brokenhearted sinners. Turning away from our sin hurts, and this will be excruciating. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. But, see this pain as one that heals, freeing you from the enslaving pain of secret sin and an unholy, obsessive relationship.
- Steep yourself in Scripture and learn again how God’s word brings deep comfort.
- Learn about a biblical view of God’s design for singles in regards to relationships, including friendships with both men and women.
- Press into a study of what wisdom looks like in dating relationships, and what godly marriage is.
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests.
If you’re the married person
- Same for you, drink deeply of God’s mercy for you, a suffering sinner who is desperate for God’s comfort.
- Actively turn towards Christ and your spouse in new and selfless ways will be your most important step. God is now calling you to cultivate spiritual intimacy and friendship with your spouse and to bear patiently with him or her in their healing process. Marriage counseling will help you find and repair the fractured connections between you and your spouse, helping you grow forward into a relationship based on trust and true intimacy. Your character is formed through the promises you make and the commitments you keep.
- Continue to close all paths and doors that can connect you to this person. And I do mean all. God never said to manage sin; he said to kill it. He doesn’t say kick the sin out of the living room of your heart, but you can keep it in the back guest room. But if it is impossible to cut off all ties due to circumstances, then you must have rigorous accountability about your commitments.
- Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled. 
- Don’t do this alone: get help and accountability. This should involve a wise counselor and spiritual friends who will remind you that one thing that got you into the mess was not being honest with God and others.
- Accept that your obedience in doing all this will hurt. The pain of letting go and accepting these losses will sting for a long time, most likely. This is normal, brother or sister! Anticipate it, and ask God to give you faith to believe what is true, and resolve to walk forward into wholeness and integrity. It is worth it.
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled.
If you’re the spouse who was betrayed
- How will you handle being sinned against in a traumatic and trust-crushing way? Will you turn towards the God of comfort, strength, and healing, or find comfort in sinful ways? As your spouse turns away from the sinful entanglement of the emotional affair, will you walk forward with your spouse into a new marriage built on forgiveness, honesty, and trust in Christ as your foundation? These are critical decisions you must make early on when your hurt is greatest. Only you can make these decisions, and through the Holy Spirit, you can be led into a new spacious place of healing and hope.
- You, too, will need accountability. Besides a marriage counselor for you and your spouse, find a friend or two to be totally honest with. It will feel embarrassing to admit that your spouse was unfaithful to you. This betrayal was intensely personal, and while the affair was birthed out of your spouse’s sinful heart, it’s natural to “wear it” like a garment of shame. Ask God to lead you to the helpers and friends he has for you, and pray that your heart will be ready to receive his provision!
Is there life after an emotional affair? Yes, friends, there is! But only through following Christ through your own “Garden of Gethsemane,” one day at a time. Saying to God, Your will be done Father, not mine, but your will be done, will be your daily prayer. God is strong enough to get you to the other side of this affair and the wreckage it has brought about. He is your healer, redeemer, and will always be faithful to his word. It may feel impossible at this moment, but he can bring beauty from the ashes, comfort to your heart, and give you an amazing chapter of grace in your life story.
 For some resources to learn more about this, listen to my workshop at the Gospel Coalition’s 2016 Women’s Conference here: Cultivating Emotional and Sexual Wholeness; and I recommend two excellent books by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (for married couples) and Sacred Search (for singles).
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Ending an emotional affair is hard. It can be so hard that some choose not to end it even when it’s clear that the relationship is wrong and doesn’t honor Christ. But there are practical steps you can take to know how to get through this process—and come out stronger on the other side.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 3
Now that you know the danger signs of being in an unhealthy emotional affair in Ellen’s first blog, what do you do now? Hear three key steps that Ellen gives on moving toward repentance and spiritual health.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 2
Navigating life when you feel lonely is tough. When God-given desires for relationships go off the rails of what is holy and wise, we’re headed for a mess. Sometimes, the result is an emotional affair.
In my first post, I described an emotional affair as an unholy connection between two people (one of whom is married, if not both) that involves a level of intimacy that rightly belongs in marriage. Perhaps you’ve realized, like Josh from my first blog post that you are in a relationship that has moved into this dangerous territory.
To honor Christ, and to keep this relationship from further harming you and others, you need to take active steps to disentangle yourself
If you’re in this situation, what do you do now? To honor Christ, and to keep this relationship from further harming you and others, you need to take active steps to disentangle yourself. Here are three steps to take.
First, you need to confess the sin of this relationship to God, your spouse (if married), and to at least one, if not two, trusted and spiritually mature friends. DON’T confess your sin first to the person with whom you are having an emotional affair. If that person isn’t ready to let go, he or she might try to convince you to stay. Go first to God, and then to a friend or two you can trust. Those friends can help you discern the best way to communicate the situation and your decision to the other parties involved (the person you’ve had the affair with, and your spouse, if married).
You’ll need courage, friend, and resolve to take this step! You wouldn’t be in an affair if you weren’t getting something out of it. Peter wrote that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV), and that power includes taking steps to end your emotional affair. God never expects his children to muscle their way through hard and costly obedience; no, he calls us to trust in him to empower us to do the right thing. He is able to strengthen you as you humble yourself before him and others.
After confessing to God and key people, your second step is to break off this relationship and prepare to grieve, as letting go of it will hurt! You need to communicate clearly that the relationship cannot continue. I often find that some women stay stuck in sinful patterns or relationships because one, they fear the pain which comes from letting go and are unsure how to grieve the loss of the relationship or two, they can’t imagine how God will comfort the deepest parts of their hearts. So, they stay stuck.
Peter went on to say that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials “(2 Peter 2:9 ESV). He knows you! He will rescue you from fear and give you comfort as a huge part of your heart will feel empty. One of the painful consequences of any relationship that has become too big in our lives is the way it can block intimacy with the Lord. Ending the relationship can feel like you are entering an emotional wasteland, but this can actually be a path back towards abiding in Jesus and experiencing new intimacy with him.
Ending the relationship can feel like you are entering an emotional wasteland, but this can actually be a path back towards abiding in Jesus and experiencing new intimacy with him
What do you do if this person goes to church with you? Is a coworker? A member of your extended family? You’ll need wisdom to navigate this terrain (which is why having mature believers alongside you is crucial). You may need to find a new church or job, or have a season where you avoid family gatherings. When hearts become emotionally entangled in an emotional affair, the disentangling process often requires radical steps like these. They are painful and costly, but worth it!
If you can’t remove yourself from being around this person due to circumstances, you need to be sure you have specific accountability. This means having people ask you:
Are you being faithful in not having any contact with this person?
Are you doing everything you can to pursue your spouse and godly friendships with others?
How are you guarding your heart in unavoidable circumstances when you are around this person?
Finally, what is God calling you to pursue and cultivate in your life now? Your emotional affair allowed a person to displace the central place of God in your life. With that person out of the picture, drawing near to God may feel emotionally unappealing. Give it time—but keep taking steps toward your relationship with God. It usually is a long process for emotions and hearts to heal and become untangled. God is calling you back to himself and will work to give you “the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13 NLT).
Meeting with a counselor or wise friend to address the deeper issues in your life which made you vulnerable to this emotional affair is important. For the married person involved, you and your spouse will be helped by a season of marriage counseling to help you grow together in Christ and in your intimacy as a couple (more on this in my third post, as I explore what help the offended spouse needs).
Let me end this post with how Josh and Sara dealt with their emotional affair.
Josh did not go to Sara or her husband first to confess the sinful relationship. He contacted a Christian friend and shared what was going on. The friend prayed with Josh and offered to go with him to one of the elders for counsel.
Josh decided with his elder’s support to set up a meeting for the two of them to meet with Sara and Craig. At this meeting, Josh confessed that his attachment to Sara had grown beyond what is appropriate. He realized he needed to break ties with her and thus attend a new church for at least a season. He kept his focus in this meeting on his behavior and sin, not “confessing” for Sara.
Faced with Josh’s humility, Sara broke down and confessed her unfaithfulness to Craig, as well as using Josh’s attention to feel good about herself. Shocked and hurt, Craig was silent. In the weeks that followed, he and Sara began to talk more honestly about their marriage than they had in years. Craig acknowledged ways he had allowed ministry responsibilities to distract him from his family. The sin of Sara’s emotional affair was not his fault, but he humbly recognized that the foundation in his marriage was fractured and needed attention. The elders gave him a sabbatical with a mandate that he and Sara pursue counseling and the rebuilding of their marriage.
How can we avoid emotional affairs? By growing in wisdom and living in the truth of Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires“(ESV). If you’re married, consider reading our magazine issue on godly sexuality that addresses several key issues for couples. If you’re single like me, consider reading my online article, “Sexuality and the Single Christian: Godly Answers in a Confusing World.”
Next week I’ll finish this series with thoughts on what the process of healing looks like over the long haul, for everyone involved.
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
God calls us to friendships that are rich and deep. But for some friendships, as they grow over time, a warning line is crossed, and an emotional affair begins. Friendships that become emotional affairs may be enticing, but they are a relationship catastrophe waiting to happen.
Josh had been at a new church for four months when the pastor’s wife invited him to join their community group, which was a weekly gathering of both singles and married couples. Sara and her pastor husband, Craig, wanted a group where married couples mentored singles.
Josh and Sara hit it off, and they discovered lots of common interests between them. Their conversation easily flowed during the fellowship time before the Bible study. Sara was surprised how much she missed Josh when he couldn’t attend. Josh realized that the time he had to talk to Sara became the main reason he enjoyed the group. Not a big deal, it’s just talking.
Then the conversation time moved into texting. Not a big deal, everyone texts. But when the two of them began texting about community group issues, their sharing became more personal. Josh’s work stress and loneliness as a single man, and Sara’s challenges in being a pastor’s wife, gave them ways to grow more emotionally intimate with each other.
Then it happened. Their texting became a nightly ritual as Craig was often asleep by 9 pm, and Sara, a night owl, would reach out to Josh to check in and see how he was in regards to his prayer requests. Their texting often lasted an hour or more. The warning line had long since been crossed.
One night Josh felt compelled to be honest and blurted out in a text: I think I’m in love with you. He waited nervously for her reply, and it came within seconds: Me too…my heart’s grown cold towards Craig. No one’s ever understood my heart the way you do. I need you! Her text gave Josh a rush of intoxication and yet, seeing her words also jolted him: Sara was married, and her husband was his pastor!
Josh panicked. Now the reality of their too-close friendship hit him like a punch to the gut. What was so enjoyable and enriching was now an entangled mess. How would their friendship now go forward? What if this got out? Would he have to leave the church? Would Sara’s marriage survive?
If close friendships are an important God-given gift to us, how do we discern if boundaries are being crossed into a danger zone?
Though Josh and Sara never touched one another, they had cultivated an unholy and messy relationship: an emotional affair. An emotional affair happens when two people (one of whom is married to someone else) share a level of emotional intimacy that rightly belongs only to a spouse.
Many men and women miss the alarms going off when a relationship begins to cross obvious warning lines. They assume that because there’s no physical or sexual involvement, the relationship is ok.
But one day an awareness kicks in, and they realize it’s moving in the wrong direction.
Marital unfaithfulness includes any form of shared intimacy with someone other than your spouse. Similarly, it’s not ok when singles become emotionally attached and intimate with a married person.
If close friendships are an important God-given gift to us, how do we discern if boundaries are being crossed into a danger zone? Psalm 16:3-4a says, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (NASB).
Here are some diagnostic questions to help discern if your relationship has morphed into an emotional affair, where a close friendship has become “another god” to run after.
Is there any secrecy or deception involved in your interactions?
How much contact are you in (face to face, over devices, social media, etc.) and how does it compare to how much time you connect with your spouse?
If you are single, how does your contact with this married person compare to other close friendships?
Do you have romantic feeling towards her/him? Sexual chemistry? Mental preoccupation? If yes to any of these, are you seeking to feed or flee from these tempting dynamics?
What is the content of your communication? How would your spouse (or mentor, pastor, close friend) react if she/he saw your texts, your emails, or overheard your private conversations?
Does this relationship inspire you towards obeying Christ, or away from him? Does this relationship propel you towards your spouse, or away? Does this relationship motivate you to invest more passionately into loving other people or isolating yourself and focusing on this one person?
Brother or sister, if these questions (and your answers) make you uncomfortable about this relationship, then: PAUSE! HALT! STOP! You — and your friend — are in danger.
Look, God wants us to have rich and meaningful relationships whether we are single or married. God delights in Christ-centered friendships that stay within the boundaries of his Word, boundaries that are healthy for both friends.
But God never intends for any of his good gifts to become a heart-hijacking reality that steals joy and betrays a spouse’s trust. God is committed to removing relational attachments which lead to sin and distraction. Emotional affairs are a cheap substitute for what God graciously gives: unfailing love and true intimacy of the deepest kind which is ours in Christ!
Next week I’ll write about how to get clear of an emotional affair if you find yourself deep into one.
Join me for my Woman-to-Woman webinar on three consecutive Monday evenings in September, the 11th, 18th, and 25th. For more information or to register, click here: Woman-to-Woman webinar info page.
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc
Friendships are great. We need them, and we are drawn to them. But some friendships can get too close, especially friendships that involve someone who is married to someone else. Do you know the warning signs if this is happening to you, or someone you know?
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: “Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 1.”
30 Mar 2017
If you’ve been engaging pornography for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up. The last blog considered the importance of “taking thoughts captive,” and looked at the wrong way we try to deal with the accumulation of thoughts and images in your mind. Once you get the first step right, you’re on to the next one.
“Taking our thoughts captive” means bringing them into the throne room to consider before the King. What does this look like practically? I’ve never studied the martial arts and haven’t even watched UFC for years, but the little I know is the strategy of using your opponent’s strength, weight, and momentum against him. I want to challenge you with this same approach in learning how to renew your mind.
The answer is to begin acknowledging your Creator at those very places where you’re tempted to idol worship… in the midst of temptation we need to intentionally engage God.
Consider a couple of ideas: First, anyone you’re tempted to lust after is because you’ve caught a microscopic glimpse of the glory of God in what he has made. Our enemy is unable to create; he can only take the good gifts of our God and twist them out of shape. The essence of idolatry is to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Humanity is without excuse before God’s judgment because “his eternal power and divine nature” are evident in the world he made (Romans 1:18-20). This means when you behold the beauty of the world God made, including the other creatures inhabiting it, you’ve glimpsed God’s power. You’ve seen the wonder of your Creator’s handiwork. In the created world you’ve caught a glimpse of his majesty and, ironically, this is an avenue of escape from the temptation. The answer is to begin acknowledging your Creator at those very places where you’re tempted to idol worship.
As I mentioned in the last blog, in the midst of temptation we need to intentionally engage God. Part of this is confessing the pull of your heart to idolatry, but – more importantly! – to ask for eyes of faith to see him as infinitely more glorious than anything he’s made. Meditate on passages like Isaiah 40 that describe his glory and majesty in ways we can just barely comprehend (like holding the Pacific Ocean in the palm of his hand!). And realize at the same time that he is wonderfully present with you – the One who spans the heavens with his fingers and carries the little lambs in his bosom (Isaiah 40:10-11). And this promise is lifelong – from birth we are carried, even down to old age and gray hairs (46:3-4). The One who is more glorious than you can imagine, whose power made creatures you’re tempted to worship, invites you to know him.
Part of temptation’s lie is that we’re “missing out” – God becomes the “heavenly buzzkill,” who is out to ruin your good time. The lie is that he wants to rob you of “life.”
Secondly, talk with him about his promises. Part of temptation’s lie is that we’re “missing out” – God becomes the “heavenly buzzkill,” who is out to ruin your good time. The lie is that he wants to rob you of “life.” Years ago, I remembered reading Psalm 36:8, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” I felt a visceral reaction in my heart against that truth, a bald denial that God is a God of pleasure who wants to feast us and delight us. Do you believe he is a God of pleasure? How have you experienced blessing in your relationship with God? Recount times when his promises were a source of life to you. Remind yourself of those specific promises. Ask him to refresh your spirit with the truth. Like the psalmists, we must learn to rebuke these inward lies with the truth: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalms 42:5-6, 11; 43:5). The call is to begin embracing those promises and asking God to undo the power of that lie. Acknowledge to him the ways that you continue to see him as a killjoy and ask him for the grace to see him for who he truly is.
In the face of temptation, we are prone to shrink away from God in guilt and shame. Instead, I want to challenge you to move toward him in these specific ways. Realize that whoever you find desirable is merely reflecting by angled, dusty mirror the glory of their Creator and ask for eyes to see his glory and majesty. And push back against the lie that he’s holding out on you. Jesus said it plainly, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If there were life in sexual sin, you wouldn’t be reading this blog! Behold his beauty, believe his promise and come to him for life!
To see Dave talking about this issue, click on Dave’s video blog, Pornified Mind: Reclaiming your thought life, Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
To read Dave’s blog, you can click on the title here: “Renewing Your Mind from Pornography: “Taking Thoughts Captive.” These short videos and blog posts can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s, and women’s groups, etc.
18 Mar 2017
If you’ve been looking at pornography for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up! How do you begin to decontaminate your mind? The next few video and written blogs I’ll be doing will consider the important steps you need to take to renew your mind.
To get started, let’s use Romans 12:2 as our orienting theme verse: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV). The hard truth is that ongoing pornography use profoundly damages your views of life, sex, others, and God. Change is much bigger than merely stopping bad behaviors; it means the renewal of your mind—transforming your worldview—so that your thought patterns are conformed to the truths of Scripture.
The first step of renewing your mind from pornography is taking your thoughts “captive.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Pornography is a prime example of an argument against God and his rule over the world, particularly over your own life. Pornography entices us to denigrate our fellow image-bearers into consumable objects, and it promotes a view of sexuality that is completely against God’s design for what it means to be a person. It diminishes us to brute beasts ruled by our passions (see Jude 10).
So, knowing what porn does to our minds and hearts, renewing our minds becomes a place of warfare. It’s time to engage the fight and start taking prisoners!
All this is to say, taking your thoughts captive is about intentionally engaging God in the places of your struggle. God wants you to draw near to him in your sexual struggles.
What does it mean to take every thought captive to obey Christ? In the past, I’ve viewed that as a hand-slapping rebuke: “Bad Dave! Don’t think that thought! You need to start thinking holy thoughts right now…” If that’s how you’ve viewed it, you know that approach hasn’t been particularly helpful. Others have commented that they need to take their mind off of lustful thoughts, perhaps by quoting Bible memory verses. I’m not knocking Bible memory—far from it!—but I’m concerned that too many Christians think the Bible works like Harry Potter, casting a “spiritual spell” that will inoculate you against lust. Both of these approaches miss the intent of 2 Corinthians 10 and may actually work to keep you in chains. Punishment and quick-fix techniques end up as dead ends; they rarely produce the fruit of ongoing repentance.
Think about how unhelpful the “Bad Dave” approach actually is. According to Romans 8:31-34, who is the one who brings accusations against us? The enemy! When we respond to our temptations and failures with accusatory thoughts, berating ourselves with thoughts of failure, worthlessness, etc., we’re ironically playing right into his hands. He wants us isolated, feeling guilt and condemnation. Further, when we recite Scripture as a talisman, apart from intentionally connecting with God, we remain isolated.
In contrast, God’s goal is to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth (see Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1). He is all about relationship, inviting us to live out of our union with him. The enemy wants us to feel isolated and alone; God wants us to rest in the hope that we’re reconciled to him. And, therefore, able to approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need! All this is to say, taking your thoughts captive is about intentionally engaging God in the places of your struggle. God wants you to draw near to him in your sexual struggles.
You see, the image in the verse is of taking a prisoner captive in a battle, bringing him in chains into the throne room to consider him before the King. Bring all of your thoughts before your Redeemer to ask him his opinion. Think about it this way: the goal is to not allow these thoughts to be “alone” space in your head. Part of renewing your mind is learning that you’ve never had an “alone” thought! You need to increasingly and self-consciously share your thoughts with your loving heavenly Father and your elder brother who reigns as King over the universe. And this is exactly what the enemy does NOT want you to do!
So, if you want your mind renewed, the first step is to be aware that you need to engage God with your temptations. When the thoughts come, bring them into the throne room. Don’t run from him. Don’t shrink away in guilt. Don’t use Scripture in isolation as a spiritual spell. Acknowledge the temptation. Talk to Christ about how you struggle with intrusive thoughts. Know that he is a present help to you in that trouble. Ask Jesus for his thoughts. Ask him to help you understand the context for the temptation in which you find yourself.
To see Dave talking about this issue, click here on Dave’s video blog, Pornified Mind: Reclaiming Your Thought Life – Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
To read Ellen’s blog on being single and dealing with temptation, just click on this link here. These short videos and blog posts can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s, and women’s groups etc.