Archive for July, 2013

How to Talk to Children When Sexual Sin Affects the Family

Written by Caroline Von Helm, M.A. and Brad Hambrick, Th.M.

This resource is taken from the “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin” seminar and is also included in the seminar  “False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery.

When sexual sin invades the life of a family, every member of that family is greatly affected. Not only is the impact large, but the impact is also unique upon each individual family member. The most innocent of the victims, and the ones who frequently received the least quality or quantity of care, are the children.

Children young and old need both honesty and hope during and after the crisis. The facts, which should be age-appropriately honest, need to be delivered in a way that is clear and as hopeful as the situation allows. As parents (both offended and offending parent), our instinct is most often to shield our children from this hurtful reality and to try to make things “less painful” for them.

“Less painful” is an appropriate goal as long as it does not come at the cost of being truthful or leaves a void for legitimate questions a child may have about his/her family, home, and future. If “less painful” compromises the child’s age-appropriate ability to know the truth or being able to anticipate the future (at least to the degree that is possible), then “less painful” creates more harm than it alleviates pain.

Case Study:

The following case study is a fictitious example of a family of six walking through the process of a mother slowly finding out that her husband is committing adultery with a co-worker. It is meant to help you apply the recommendations that follow, by having an example that is less personal than your current situation.

Caitlyn is three years old. She stays at home with her mom most days, enjoys being outside, and loves reading stories with her dad. She has older siblings who go to school. Caleb is six and in the first grade, Kayla is eleven and just entering middle school, and Jacob is fourteen and starting high school. From the outside, all looks good for this family.

They are active at church, have a small group that they love. The children are involved in sports, drama, and other extra curricular activities. Dad works hard to support his family financially. They look like your typical American family; the kind that you would want to have over for dinner.

Behind closed doors things are quite different. Dad is critical, and emotionally absent most of the time. He will do what is asked, but rarely seems excited and does not initiate family time or individual activities with the children. He asks the standard questions about grades, school, and friends; but seems uninterested beyond those topics.

Mom does her best to compensate for Dad’s lack of involvement by over-involvement. She tries to make sure they have everything they need… and want. This creates tension between she and dad, because they can never get ahead financially. For this and other reasons, Mom and Dad neither value time with each other.

The most recent tension has been created because mom found some emails from Dad to a co-worker that to her seem flirtatious and inappropriate. Dad quickly minimized them and then proceeded to berate mom for looking at his personal things and not trusting him.

Over the course of the next few months, mom continues to see emails, and eventually text messages that confirmed her suspicion that Dad was having an affair. After multiple attempts at confrontation and many arguments, dad admitted to his actions. Mom was devastated, Dad was angry, and the children were confused.

What Does the Family Do Now?

The scenario above is meant as a framework to use when discussing how to discuss sexual sin by a parent with children. There are many things to keep in mind as you prepare for this type of conversation. The points below are meant to orient you to how these situations affect a child, appropriate expectations of a child when he/she first learns of the sexual sin, expectations afterward learning of the sexual sin, and the type of assistance a child needs to process this information.

1. An event of this magnitude and the subsequent parental conflict / absence / distraction can be traumatic for the children involved, even adult children.

2. If your child has not reached puberty and/or has no knowledge of or exposure to sex, your conversations about what has happened should not describe what happened in sexual language.

3.As children age and develops sexually, they may ask questions about things that have happened during this time. Answering these questions in age-appropriate ways is an important part of helping them process the grief and trauma associated with these events.

4. Your child’s feelings may be more or less intense than the feelings of the offended spouse. Both parents need to accept whatever feelings surface, help the child to name those feelings, and understand how those feelings relate to the changes in their life, home, and family.

5. If a traumatic experience happens to children who are pre-school age or above, they will remember it and may need to process those memories at each developmental stage as they are able to comprehend more of their personal-family history.

6. Most children will not process (healthily assimilate into their life story) their emotions about a traumatic event until they feel safe enough to do it. Once you and your spouse have reached a “better” place and feel as if you are “moving on,” that may be when the children decide to process their own feelings. This will feel like it drags out the healing process for the parents, but you can not rush your children through their process anymore than the offending spouse could be rushed to repentance and the offended spouse rushed to forgiveness.

7. The biggest “damage” that has been done is undermining the child’s sense of security and definition of love. This is true regardless the age of the child. The care and aftercare for a child should focus upon providing a healthy sense of security and balanced expression of love.

8. When it comes to having the “what’s going on” talk, the ideal situation would be for both parents and a neutral third person to talk to the children together.

9. The content of the “what’s going on” talk should be decided before the talking to the child. If an agreement cannot be reached, then wait until an agreement can be reached. The time period that passes should be as short as possible, waiting more than four to six weeks becomes very confusing for the children.

10.There may have to be more than one conversation depending on the age differences in your children. If your children are in the same age / developmental range, then one conversation can be had with all family members present. If your children are at different age / developmental stages do not try to talk to everyone at the same time. But do make sure that what you say to everyone is as consistent in content and language as age-appropriateness will allow. Older children should be told if there are things their younger siblings do not know, and do not need to know at the current time.

11. Make sure there is someone in your children’s lives who will be their support. This is especially important for the older children and even children who are out of the house who often get overlooked in this process.

12. If the sexual sin is not resulting in lifestyle changes (i.e., parental separation, legal action, job loss, pregnancy, etc…) seek counsel about what to disclose to your children. All the information your children may need is that you and your spouse have encountered problems because of hurtful choices by a parent, and that Mom and Dad trying to make things better.

13. Encourage children to ask questions as they have them. It is unreasonable and unhealthy to expect children to formulate their questions at the “information meeting.” When you give them the freedom to ask questions, it is wise to also tell them you don’t have all the answers and that there may be some things that will stay between mom and dad.

14. Remember that children will process at a slower pace and may ask questions years after the occurrence. Being prepared for this prevents the emotional processing of your children from setting you back or giving you reason to be unforgiving. A negative emotional response by the parents to a child’s questions, is a factor that reinforces the common false belief that the child has some responsibility for what happened in the marriage.

15. Guard yourself from feeling the need to “make up” for what is happening in your family. Neither gifts nor penance-love will make up for the offense or alleviate the impact of the offense. If anything they will teach a distorted view of the gospel, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and family. Patiently submitting to the reconciliation process is the most helpful thing for your children (when possible). Only God can heal the hurt in your children not things or imbalanced love.

If the sexual sin is resulting in a lifestyle change, then consider the following:

Birth through Five Years

While you may think that at these ages children are not be able to tell something is going on, children are very perceptive at reading emotional changes in their environment. If mom is always crying, dad is always angry, or there is bickering and fighting, children in this age group can tell. They may become more “needy,” experience developmental delays, or regression in already learned skills as expressions of how changes in the home environment are affecting them.

The goal for parents is to be both real (fake calm when you think the child is looking is not enough) and reassuring. Although your spouse may have had an affair, you still have to be a parent. You cannot spend days crying, angry, or searching for more/new information. If restraining these behaviors is hard for you, ask for help. Take time to see a counselor or ask a friend to work through these True Betrayal materials with you.

No conversations should be had with your preschooler unless a decision is made for the offending spouse to leave for an extended or indefinite period of time.  If spouses are staying together and no one is moving out, then preschool children do not need to know what has happened.  Later in their life (as adults or older teens) there may be an appropriate time to share what God has done or what happened, but preschool children have no way of comprehending what you would tell them.  The main goal at this age is to provide consistency, love, and safety.  This is their greatest need.  Leaning on friends and trusted caregivers will be important during this time.

If the offending parent leaves the house and the child is between two and five years old, you should give some explanation as to where the parent is going. The most optimal plan would be for this conversation to be factual and done together with a third party present. The person leaving should be the primary one speaking and communicate the following information:

“I am going to stay with (location – the child will need to know because it can cause more anxiety to say he or she is just “going away”) for (duration – it is important to tell the child the duration so they know an ending point. If a time period can not be determined, then be honest and tell them you don’t know how long). I know it will be hard for you to be away from me, so I will come see you (give visitation plan).”

Notice in this conversation, you did not give the preschooler the answer to the “why” question. Most will ask, but some may not. Do not try to answer the “why” question for pre-schoolers unless they ask since it is hard for them to spontaneously transition to abstract thinking based upon a conversation prompt, especially in an emotionally powerful setting.

When they do ask “Why?” the offending parent should tell them:

“I made some choices that I should not have made, and when we make bad choices that really hurt people we need to give the person we hurt time and space. So, I am going to (location) to give Mommy/Daddy some space.” Reiterate your love for them and that you will miss them.

There will be tears, shock, and an inability to comprehend what you are saying. Their brains are not developed for this type of transition. They do not have the life experience to grasp what it means or know what to do when a parent is absent for punitive reasons (“punishment” is the category they do have to comprehend a marriage “time out”).  Be patient. Prepare for tantrums and disruptions to their sleeping and eating patterns.

The experience of children (at any of the ages discussed) will look a lot like grief, because they are grieving the loss of what they have known as “normal.” For this reason the parenting tips and family devotion appendix will be an adaptation to the “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope” seminar. That seminar is based upon the same nine steps of suffering as this study, so you should be walk with your child through his/her experience based upon what you are learning in this study.

If the parents stay together, then keeping preschooler’s routine as normal as possible is vitally important. Enrolling in programs like Mother’s Day Out or preschool for a couple of days a week may allow the offended parents time to work through what has happened.

The offended spouse will often say to the offending spouse, “Your relationship with your child is your relationship. I’m not getting in the middle of it.” This is a deadly message to send your child. Children have not yet learned the intricacies of relationships; they have not learned to talk about their feelings.

As a parent, the offended spouse must model the journey of forgiveness. This includes encouraging the child to express their feelings and telling the offending parent what they are thinking. You are not responsible for the other parent’s behavior, but you can teach your child in the midst of this difficult time how to handle conflict and express emotions healthily.

It is important to think about what you are teaching your child through modeling at this time. Children will learn more about emotions, reconciliations, and relationships from what they see you do with/towards your spouse than what you “teach” them during this time.

Elementary Age Children

At each stage in the developmental discussion, all of the previous material should be considered still relevant unless the next maturation level material says something contradictory.

Elementary age children are more verbal and have more cognitive ability than pre-schoolers, but they should not have sexual knowledge or understanding yet. Unless you want to explain sex to them, you still do not reveal the nature of the conflict.

When talking with your elementary aged child about what has happened, it is wise to say things like:

“Mom/Dad made choices that hurt me.”

“Mom and Dad are working on making our marriage better.”

“Mom/Dad is working on forgiving….”

“Mom/Dad is working on building trust with….”

Children at this age will ask lots of questions, like “What did you do? Are you getting divorced? Do you still love Mom/Dad?” Be honest where you can, but when the answer to their question is not age-appropriate or is undecided it is appropriate to say, “Some of what happens between Mom and Dad is not beneficial for you to know,” or, “Those are things you can know when you are older.”

Reassurance of your love for them is important during and after each of these conversations. Pointing them towards God and prayer is essential. Pray with your child after these conversations. But when you do pray speak in ways that express where they are, not trying to “teach” them what or how to think instead of talking to God on their behalf.

These conversations are a great opportunity to talk about how even parents may let them down, but God that is faithful and will not let them down.

If the decision is made that the offending spouse is going to leave the home for a time period, then a conversation much like you had with your two to five year old will be necessary.

Middle / High School Children

By this age, children are becoming sexually aware and likely know what sex is. You as their parents may have already had “the talk” with them. If this is the case, then being factually honest about the sexual sin is appropriate. You would rather your child hear your confession from you than from someone else.

If the sin is adultery or an emotional affair, you should not give details about the sexual relationship. They may want to know how long the affair went on, and it is important to tell them. They may ask questions about the other woman or man: what they look like, if they have children, how old their children are, and similar questions. These are the details that are important for pre-teens and teens. It is appropriate to answer these questions.

The biggest thing that children in these age categories will be thinking about is “How does this affect my life?” They are at an egocentric time period in life so their fear is that somehow their standard or norm of living will be altered.

The other tendency for children at this age will be for them to take on the role of protector for the offended spouse. It is vitally important to not let the child do this. It will be tempting to want a “team” against the offender, but in the long run will only do more damage that has to be worked through.

If the situation extends and children are not kept informed as to the general things that are happening in the restoration process, some children may begin to defend or excuse behaviors of the offending parent.  Most times this happens is a child’s attempt to just want things “back to normal”, or because they feel sorry for the parent that has had to leave.  Affirming your child’s care for that parent, validating the “hardness” of the situation, and reassuring them that you both love them is what is needed.  Do not try to get them on a side, give them time and space to continue processing their own feelings, ask if they have questions, and provide the freedom to appropriately share what they are experiencing.

Adult Children

Sometimes children who have moved out of the house are thought to be okay or unaffected. This is simply not true. Children, regardless of their age, will feel like their basis of security is shaken when their parents marriage is traumatized or dissolved.

Adult children may feel like all that they knew growing up was false. They will question if the offending parent was really who they thought they were, and may even question the validity of marriage. The disclosure of sexual sin can be used as an excuse to turn from God and how they were raised.

It is vitally important for children in this age group to have an adult who knows them and is aware of the situation to reach out to them and check on them regularly. Unless someone reaches out to them, they are forced to process things alone and without the benefit of seeing what their parents are going through. An objective opinion, not just what their mom and dad are saying, will be an important part of them processing these changes in their home of origin.

When the Children Find Out First

What do you do if your child comes to you because they saw a parent looking at things on the internet, or flirting with someone in public, or with questionable magazines?

In this situation, it is important for the offended spouse to assure the child of the following things:

  • They did the right thing by coming to you.
  •  You will do your best to find out what happened.
  • Once you do have an answer, plan a time for both parents to talk with the children.
  • Continue to validate that they did the right thing in speaking up, they are not in trouble, and they did not get any one else in trouble (witnesses don’t cause problems; they only observe them).

If a child is in the position of witnessing the sexual sin and then reports it, it is very likely they will feel responsible for the disruption in the family which ensues. They will need consistent reassurance that they did not cause the disruption. Ideally, this reassurance should come from both parents as well as the adult individual identified as supporter of the children.


Tweets of the Week 7.30.13

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny…

VLOG – How Can I Leverage My Workplace with Summit Counseling Seminars?

Question: I’ve heard rumors that I’m supposed to be able to use the Summit counseling seminars to leverage my workplace for gospel influence. My first impression is that it sounds awkward and intrusive; like I’m telling people they’ve “got issues” or “need help.” But I’m also worried about putting up Christian material that might be offensive to some people who visit my workplace. But I would at least like to hear what you’ve got to say. How would this work?

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Resources: Here are several resources that can be useful in preparing for of following up with the conversation discussed in this VLOG post.

  • If you would like to more information about Bridgehaven Counseling Associate or Summit counseling here are the links to those ministries.
  • If you would like to receive free promotional flyers and posters for Bridgehaven events to leverage your workplace for Christian influence, please contact Neale Davis (; Executive Director of Bridgehaven) with the following information.
    • Your Name
    • Mailing Address
    • Number of Flyers (postcard size)
    • Number of Posters (letter size)
  • If you are a medical professional or someone else who has a formal referral list and want to learn more about how to list and utilize Bridgehaven and Summit counseling here is another brief video discussing that question. The Bridgehaven staff would also be happy to answer any additional questions you may have.

To review the other questions addressed in this VLOG series click here.

Note: The VLOG (video-blog) Q&A is a regular series on my blog. If you would like to submit a question, it can be e-mailed to Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail). Please limit your questions to 3-7 sentences. This is not a forum for to request or receive counseling. No responses will be sent to questions other than those selected for a video response.

GCM “Decision Making” Video 5: Headship-Submission Decision Making

This video segment is one of five presentations in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Decision Making” seminar. There will be four more seminars in this series covering the subjects: foundations, communication, finances, and intimacy. As those presentations are ready they will be posted on this blog.

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NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

GCM- Decision Making 5 from Equip on Vimeo.

Evaluation Three: GCMevaluation_Corporate Decision Making

Overview Sheet Three: Approach to Headship-Submission Decision Making

Plumb Lines: These are the “sticky” statements that capture the core messages of this chapter.

  • Headship decisions begin with engaging a person, your wife, more than obtaining an outcome.
  • Resist the temptation to expect that authority should do what only maturity can accomplish.
  • Biblical authority exists for the good of those being led, not the pleasure of those who bear it.
  • Marriage cannot be reduced to one style of decision making and be healthy.

Memorize: I Corinthians 11:1-3 (ESV), “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Be imitators… of Christ” – Any God-given influence or hierarchy in human relationships is for Christ-likeness.
  • “Maintain” – Paul is clear that this style of marriage relationship is to endure because it’s rooted in the Trinity.
  • “Understand” – Paul is also concerned that this style of marriage relationship can be abused, so he clarifies.
  • “Man… Wife… Christ” – Submission is not “just for women.” Men submit to Christ. Christ submits to the Father.
  • “Christ… Husband… God” – The expressions of a husband’s headship should look like Jesus and God the Father.

Teaching Notes

“Marriages break down because people have no bigger vision for their lives then the establishment of their own little kingdoms (p. 259).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?

“The irony is that every marriage settles into some type of social and organizational arrangement, with both husband and wife playing specific roles to uphold it. The question is whether these responsibilities should be defined by God who created marriage or by the opinions of humans (p. 165).” Dennis Rainey (editor) in Preparing for Marriage

“Remember, you [husband] are merely a steward of God’s authority, and you are called to use it only for his goals and purposes… As you follow Jesus, expect your authority to be costly. Exercising authority means laying aside your own welfare for the sake of others (p. 11).” Winston Smith in Who Does the Dishes?

“[Before Eve] Who does Adam have in his likeness to love, serve, and honor?… Interestingly, only himself! This was the main issue. He had only himself to think about, serve, and honor. This is what God called ‘not good.’ In his alone state Adam could not reflect the complete image God wanted Adam to reflect (p. 64).” John Henderson in Catching Foxes

“Confusion over headship and submission is often the result of a distorted understanding of authority… No matter how marital roles are defined, they are only different expressions of love… Loving your spouse in his or her role includes knowing your spouse, not just his or her gender, and valuing his or her individual gifts and abilities (p. 193).” Winston Smith in Marriage Matters

“It was clear to me that Tim wanted to take the call [to plant a church in New York City], but I had serious doubts that it was the right choice. I expressed my strong doubts to Tim, who responded, ‘Well, if you don’t want to go, then we won’t go.’ However, I replied, ‘Oh, no, you don’t! You aren’t putting this decision on me. That’s abdication. If you think this is the right thing to do, then exercise your leadership and make the choice. It’s you job to break this logjam. It’s my job to wrestle with God until I can joyfully support your call (p. 244).’” Kathy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage

10 Ways Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin Affects You

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.

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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.

Tweets of the Week 7.23.13

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because it’s funny…

VLOG – How Can I Use the Summit Counseling Seminars with a Friend or Small Group?

Question: I’ve been to several of the Summit counseling seminars and notice there appears to be a couple of different kinds. You frequently recommend studying them as a small group or with a friend. That seems like a great idea, but since I haven’t done that before I’m not quite sure how to start something like that. Do you mind giving me guidance?

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Resources: Here are several resources that can be useful in preparing for of following up with the conversation discussed in this VLOG post.

To review the other questions addressed in this VLOG series click here.

Note: The VLOG (video-blog) Q&A is a regular series on my blog. If you would like to submit a question, it can be e-mailed to Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail). Please limit your questions to 3-7 sentences. This is not a forum for to request or receive counseling. No responses will be sent to questions other than those selected for a video response.

GCM “Decision Making” Video 4: Consensus Decision Making

This video segment is one of five presentations in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Decision Making” seminar. There will be four more seminars in this series covering the subjects: foundations, communication, finances, and intimacy. As those presentations are ready they will be posted on this blog.

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NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

Evaluation Two: GCMevaluation_Consensus Decision Making

Overview Sheet Two: Approach to Consensus Decision Making

Plumb Lines: These are the “sticky” statements that capture the core messages of this chapter.

  • Marital consensus requires enjoying your spouse more than you enjoy your preferences.
  • Uncertainty is not the enemy of consensus. Uncertainty is when we become the enemy of consensus.
  • Being motivated to make something succeed that was not your first choice is a clear indicator of love.
  • An overly high view of consensus results in bland uniformity instead of enjoyable unity.
  • Honoring the principles of consensus is what allows the energy of love to be magnetic instead of explosive.

Memorize: I Corinthians 1:10 (ESV), “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment..” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “I appeal” – Consensus decision making between sinners is unnatural and, therefore, requires intentionality.
  • “Brothers” – The church (like marriage) has, but should not always rely on, authority structures to make decisions.
  • “All of you agree… no division” – This is the ideal towards which we continually strive in the church and marriage.
  • “United” – Being united means valuing your marriage more than whatever is at stake in a given decision.
  • “Same mind… judgment” – The process and values of decision making are key factors in unity being enjoyable.

Teaching Notes

“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.” Margaret Thatcher

“I don’t know why we think that the most comprehensive and long-term of all human relationships can stay alive and thrive without the same commitment we make to our gardens. Perhaps one of the fundamental sins that we all commit in our marriages is the sin of inattention (p. 101).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?

“I often become so preoccupied with the duties and responsibilities of my marriage that I fail to nurture tenderness and passion in my relationship with my husband. I get so busy serving him that I overlook enjoying him (p. 32-33).” Carolyn Mahaney in Feminine Appeal

“Love is the bedrock principle. No matter what your culture, traditions, or preferences are, the Bible teaches that in every relationship your first responsibility is to love (p. 3-4)… You can’t make wise decisions about how to love your wife if you don’t know what her life is like. You must know her hopes, dreams, fears, wants, strengths, and weaknesses (p. 11).” Winston Smith in Who Does the Dishes?

“If spouses are committed to one another’s pleasure, nobody goes to sleep disappointed (p. 160).” Dave Harvey in When Sinners Say “I Do”

“Love calls you beyond the borders of your own wants, needs, and feelings. Love calls you to be willing to invest time, energy, money, resources, personal ability, and gifts for the good of another (p. 188).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?

“If I’m married only for happiness, and my happiness wanes for whatever reason, one little spark will burn the entire forest of my relationship. But if my aim is to proclaim and model God’s ministry of reconciliation, my endurance will be fireproof (p. 36).” Gary Thomas in Sacred Marriage

The George Zimmerman Verdict and the National Anthem

This is not a political post. It is not even a counseling reflection. Instead, it is personal reflection on what I’m learning as I have conversations with people about the George Zimmerman verdict. I do not pretend to write objectively. I’m realizing that “objectivity” is a pridefully high ideal for me to obtain.

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I do hope I write humbly. But if anything I write reveals the blind-pride of being “wise in my own eyes,” then I ask that my readers help me see those thing to which I am blind.

At our Summit staff prayer, my friend and fellow pastor Chris Green led our staff in a devotion through Romans 12:14-16. It drew out many implications of this passage I had missed; likely because I have not experienced (personally, ethnically, or in my family history) the kind of persecution discussed in this passage.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (v. 12)

Chris pointed out that when there is or has been persecution the two sides do not know each other well. We do not know the experiences of the other. We do not share the same history even if we lived during the same set of years. We do not have the same emotional attachments to events and symbols.

This makes it very easy for us to read the worst possible motives on “the other.” What we know so well blinds us to those things about which we are ignorant and the importance of questions that knowledge or experience would generate.

This point struck me most in light of what I learned from verse 14… more on that in a moment.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (v. 13)

The church at Rome was struggling to do this. The church was comprised of Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female (Gal. 3:28). They did not respond to events the same way. When they responded differently, undoubtedly, mistrust arose in the church. “How can I trust you if what threatens me seems like a victory, relief, or even just inconsequential to you?”

Paul’s first “action step” for the church was to deeply and personally empathize with how something impacts another person or group of people.

It is only through conversations with others that I…

  • … began to feel the weight of what it would be like to talk with my son about the dangers that can come with how others may perceive you because of your race and the dangers that can come if you respond to their suspicion with frustration or aggression.
  • … could feel the uncertainty that emerges from events like the Zimmerman trial when people of your ethnic background’s personal freedoms have changed radically in a single generation and court decisions were a major factor in those changes (sometimes for the better; other times for the worse).

The fact that my reaction to this case did not echo any highly-personal historical events or immediately draw me back to a formative conversation with my parents means I have work to do (in the form of listening) in order to “weep with those who weep.”

“… Never be wise in your own sight.” (v. 14)

This is where things seemed to “click” for me; at least to whatever degree I “get it” now. It is easy for me to seem wise in my own eyes because my answers only have to address the questions raised by the complexity of  my own emotions in reaction to these events; which are comparably simple and small.

How wise we appear is often directly proportional to how much the observer shares our experiences related to that situation.

This reminded me of another illustration that helped me understand the various responses to events like the Zimmerman verdict. Remember what it was like for you when you heard the national anthem for the first time after events of 9-11. Please note, I am not trying to draw a moral comparison between 9-11 and the recent verdict, but to draw upon an experience that helped me better understand the responses of those for whom this verdict was deeply unsettling.

I can still remember, it was preceding the New Yankees playing the New York Mets. Television cameras scrolled across the players faces as they felt the significance of the opportunities our country afforded them.

My emotions stirred deeply. I was angry. I was proud to be an American. If honest but without pride, I hated anyone who would assault “my people.” I wanted to do something to right an injustice. Sitting and watching seemed utterly inadequate for that moment. Even today, my emotions can easily be stirred by video of those horrific events with a patriotic song playing in the background or a picture like the one above.

Why? Those atrocities did not happen to me or geographically near me. I didn’t know anyone who was in the towers. You could easily say my life was not directly affected beyond increased airport security and the price of gasoline.

Chances are everyone reading this post agrees and sympathizes with my emotions at that time. You do not question my response, although hopefully you would counsel me not to harbor or act on hatred. It is “natural” enough to you that I likely seem wise, even noble, to react this way… because you share something comparable to my experience of 9-11.

What do we do with this reflection?

I’m not going to advise others in this post. Here is what I believe I need to do. I need to have more conversations. I need to understand those whose reactions are different from own enough that I can join them with deep sympathy for what generates their fear, anger, or other strong emotions. Even a few conversations have shaped me enough to realize I’m not sure how much I still need to change and learn.

As those who have experienced persecution have blessed me with conversation (v. 12) I have grown in my natural response of experiencing unrest with those who are unsettled (v. 13) and grown more humble towards the ways my ignorance made it easy for me to seem wise in my own eyes (v. 14).

I’m not sure what to do with the complex political decisions that are being discussed in the media. I don’t know what “justice” would look like.

I do know I am grateful for friends and fellow pastors like Chris, ChuckDarrickJuliusOmar, and Sam who will walk this road and have these conversations with me. I am beginning to realize how I cannot even watch the evening news in a thoroughly Christian manner without men like this, the full Body of Christ (Rev. 7:9), around me.

When You Learn of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin

There is no way to prepare for the news that your spouse has been looking at pornography, is having an emotional affair, or is/has committing adultery. Yet even without being able to prepare, you are still forced to respond when the news hits.

Numbness, anger, despair, fear, jealousy, regret, denial, revenge, embarrassment, shame, questions of whether I ever really know the truth, lack of trust, loss of respect, and feelings of loss of permanence are all common responses. But how do you respond to those responses? How do you “move forward”? What is “forward” anyway?

The “True Betrayal: Overcoming the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin” (video recording of previous presentation at this link) seminar is intended to guide you through the emotional, mental, and relational dilemmas of your spouse’s sexual sin. It helps you answer the practical informational questions (i.e., What do I need to know? What should I expect from my spouse? Why is the “why” question so plaguing and hurtful?), and it walks you through the emotional pain that no answers to any questions will alleviate.

But this seminar is not just for those whose marriage has been impacted by sexual sin.

How many times has a friend or family member of yours been affected by sexual sin – their own or their spouses’? How many times have you felt really uncomfortable, knowing you should say something, but not knowing what to say? With the current rates of pornography usage and extra-marital sex close to 100% of people could think of at least one occurrence of those situations in the last year.

The church as a whole must be equipped to speaks words of hope and direction for our friends and family who face this challenge.

Part One:  Saturday August 10, 2013
Part Two: Saturday August 17, 2013
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm or 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free