04 Oct 2018
Women involved in friendships and ministry (discipleship, caregiving, counseling, etc.) sometimes become ensnared in messy, emotional, codependent attachments with each other. These codependent relationships easily take on a romantic feel and can become sexualized. Breaking free can be excruciating! However, rest assured that messy relationships are a “common to man” temptation and sin struggle. Consider Beth and Anna.
“Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay, but we have never been in love with another person in this way.”
This was how Beth¹ a woman in her forties, described her affair with Anna, a young grad student who began coming to her church. They connected easily, and a warm friendship and casual mentoring relationship developed quickly.
Beth described her marriage to her husband, a pastor, as “living under the same roof but being physically and emotionally divorced.” With Anna, however, she experienced the deeply satisfying emotional oneness she had always craved. Their physical affection slowly pushed past appropriate boundaries. Before long, these two Christian sisters were involved in a sexual relationship. No one questioned the intense, consuming nature of the relationship. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our connection,” Beth told me.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
Diagnosing a Messy Relationship
Here are five indicators of an unhealthy attachment.
- Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres.
- Exclusivity and possessiveness. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your closeness.
- The relationship needs regular clarification of each person’s role in it. Generally, one woman has a needy/take-care-of-me role and the other a needy-to-be-needed/caregiver role. Fear, insecurity, and jealousy are triggered when one steps out of her role.
- Maintaining consistent emotional connection is vital. Texts, emails, calls and time spent together grow and intensify to typically become life-dominating.
- Romanticized affection through words and physical touch, and of course any sexual involvement.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
The Mess of Relational Idolatry
Our desires for unfailing love and being deeply known are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God. He loves us perfectly, knows us completely, and exists in a holy relational Trinity. However, every detail of our image bearing capability is distorted by sin.
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God. As God’s redeemed and no-longer-belonging-to-ourselves people, we are created by, through, and for Christ as Colossians 1:16 beautifully declares. This means that all of our relationships, and the place we give people in our lives, are to be submitted under the loving Lordship of Christ. No friend or woman we may be mentoring should ever become a god or Jesus-replacement in our life!
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God… Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can.
The truth is that messy relationships can still feel beautiful and loving. But even our desires are disordered and need the radical Christward orientation that only the clarity of Scripture gives. Desires can be corrupt and sinful (2 Peter 1:4), or they can be “of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17), which bears out in the sweet, holy good fruit of the Spirit. Though created for wholeness and holiness, all of us struggle in one way or another in our desires and relationships.
Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can. Sister, if you are involved in a relationship similar to Anna and Beth’s, know that idolatry is a common struggle to all of us.
The Bible and Idolatry
My journey of faith, relationships, and sin has included the worship of people, including women I’ve mentored. Though Scripture does not use the phrase “relational idolatry,” it’s in there.
Consider these passages.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God does not command us to be exclusive in our devotion to him because he is insecure or narcissistic! Instead, God loves us and knows that when we worship him alone, we glorify him, and people will be in their proper place in our lives as godly friends rather than Jesus-replacements.
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)
God’s people had committed a variety of rebellious acts, yet he sums up their sin with two statements that apply to us today: a) we turn away from him and b) seek other sources as our living water. What do you value in your relationships?
- Is it to fix someone’s life?
- Is it to have someone put your life back together when you feel broken?
- Is your heart empty and you want someone to make it whole?
You know the name for this: codependency. But it’s deeper than that: it’s co-idolatry as two women look to each other for their value, identity, and security, something only God is able to give to us.
Steps of Repentance if You’re in a Relational Mess
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships, which is a fruit of worship and trust of God alone. Here are steps of faith and repentance to take.
1. Admit your relational sin and flee into the loving arms of Jesus. Fleeing to Jesus means letting go of this relationship by turning towards him. Which means you must leave where you are, throw off sin and hindrances. He is faithful to hear, forgive, and love all who come to him (Heb. 4:16).
If you don’t know where to begin, try praying Psalm 139:23-24. Here’s my expanded version.
“Lord, search and examine me…explore all the crevices of my heart and mind…all my anxious thoughts. See if there are any sinful paths I’m walking in, if there are patterns of painful idolatry in me. Reveal the true nature of my heart Lord and give me spiritual guidance in your good, holy pathways.”
2. Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s deep comfort. Letting go will be anguishing; it will get more painful before it gets better. But the pain which comes from costly obedience is healing rather than enslaving pain. Soul surgery requires you to allow the gospel to touch, cut, and heal the deeper issues of your heart (unbelief, fear, insecurity, anger, trauma, pain, etc.).
3. Separate and allow space to happen between you and this woman. Colossians 3:5 is a hard word, but one that leads to true life. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” If you’ve been sexually involved, you must sever ties completely. Indefinitely. This is how you will put to death the messy attachment that has formed between you.
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships
On this point, I usually get pushback. But Ellen, we love each other as friends! We encouraged each other so much in Christ before things got sexual…can’t we just go back to what was good?!
If you are in this situation, I wish I could see your face now and talk to you tenderly, yet directly. Sister, you must flee temptation and sin at all costs! 1 Corinthians 10:14 says you are to flee from sin…not try to manage it, heal it, or contain it. Put to death, flee, repent (or turn a relational 180). These are the words that God’s word uses in considering our relationship to sin. When sexual sin enters a non-marital relationship, obedience means turning from that person and relationship so that your heart can become set fully on Christ, your true life, once more (Colossians 3:1-4).
Consider this a season of intentional fasting from any contact with this person. No social media stalking. Do not muse over texts, emails, etc. Let go and the comfort of God will be a bottomless well of comfort if you stay the course.
New gospel life WILL come from this death. “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord…” (Jer. 30:17).
4. Pursue biblical discipleship regarding:
How to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ. It’s possible to be busy for the Lord, without loving and abiding in him. A wise Puritan pastor said, “The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”²
The underlying heart issues you need to address. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free!” (John 8:32). What made you vulnerable to this messy relationship? What is off kilter in your beliefs?
God’s design for healthy relationships. What does it mean to have the kind of wise love that Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9-11? Christ is eager to teach you what it looks like to have himself in his rightful place in your life so that people will be in theirs.
5. Seek accountability for your relationships. I’ve learned that I must have people who have meddling rights in my life! Trusted, spiritually mature friends who love and encourage me to cultivate godly relationships and will help me discern if I’m blind to a potential relational mess.
6. Cry out to Jesus your Deliverer day after day. He is our precious Savior… and our faithful Bridegroom, the One to whom we are married to for all of eternity. He will help, love, and comfort us while we live during this short earthly time. He will grow “into us” the testimony of David:
“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19)
God loves his daughters so much that he faithfully calls us to himself away from idols, including messy relationships. Hear this promise today as you ponder what your next steps of faith are:
“Now to him who is able to Keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
This blog first appeared on Revive Our Hearts under the title: “Untangle Twisted Relationships: When Women’s Friendships Become Unhealthy.”
² John Flavel, “The Method of Grace,” The Whole Works of John Flavel (London: Baynes, 1820), vol. 2, p. 438.
Ellen talks more on this subject in the accompanying video: When Do Friendships Between Women Become Codependent? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Good friendships in the Body of Christ are vital and necessary. And those friendships should be rich and deep. But sometimes there’s a danger lurking there: when one or both friends look to each other for what only Jesus can give us, then relational idolatry happens. Listen to Ellen talk about how to get yourself out of that unhealthy friendship and move toward Christ.
There’s more to learn after this video! Read Ellen’s accompanying blog: Codependent Struggles in Women’s Friendships. You can also go to Ellen’s 3-part blog and video series on emotional affairs. Click here for “Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part I”.
More and more Christians are entering marriage with a sexual past. Couples need to be aware that virtually no one is entering marriage free of sexual struggle and sin. For this reason, Ellen Dykas explains how to begin talking about your sexual history and why it’s critical to discuss past and current sexual struggles before engagement and marriage. To learn more, read Ellen’s blog, “Sexual History: Why You Need to Address it Before Getting Engaged.”
What happens when a couple enters marriage, and they don’t really know each other? Of course, engaged and newlywed couples can’t possibly know each other to the degree they will after years of marriage. Wise pre-marital counseling usually addresses important issues like family history, faith, finances, children, sex, roles, etc. However, often people marry having avoided a critical component of their story: sexual history.
When a woman and man commit to marriage, it should mirror God’s eternal, exclusive, united-together relationship with his people (Ephesians 5:25-33). The unique one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:241) of marriage refers to a concept broader than sexual intimacy. Marriage involves two people becoming one in sharing all of life and an intimate knowing of each other.
That’s why knowing your future spouse’s sexual history is so important. Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, with self, mediated through technology, sexual fantasy, etc. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what the struggle has looked like as far as length of time, frequency of giving in to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.
There are many reasons people avoid discussing their sexual history: fear, shame, and feeling intimidated by tough topics are just a few. Private sins like porn and masturbation sometimes seem to fade out when a dating relationship is going well. Some unwisely say things like, “Let the past be the past; move on into the future with this person you love and start fresh!”
Why it’s wise to discuss sexual history before you get engaged.
Most brides begin wedding preparation within days of getting engaged. It’s an exciting time as engagement communicates, I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say: “I know your strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you knowing what I know.”
When dating and engaged couples hide the real deal of their sexual history and current struggles from their loved one, they set the stage for broken trust and future broken hearts.
Jesus strengthens and comforts you in the process of sharing your sexual history.
This may feel scary, but you’re not alone as you consider honest conversations with the man or woman you’re dating or engaged to. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide or avoid.
Secondly, God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” His mercy comes through forgiveness, redemption, and providing friends to walk with you through this process.
Finally, Jesus is your eternal companion and spouse. He is with you for all of time and will never abandon you! Your relationship may or may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past, but Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.
General principles for sharing sexual history.
Here are some general ideas to help you think through this process:
- Remember, the goal is to be known as someone who needs God’s grace in this area, not to vent or dump all the nitty-gritty details of sexual behaviors. Ask a wise friend or mentor to pray for you and help you discern what you need to share.
- Next, remember that this will be an ongoing conversation, not an intense, one time tell-all. Cultivating patient listening and transparent sharing will set your relationship on a healthy trajectory for marriage if you move forward.
- When is the best time to begin these conversations? There isn’t a spiritual formula to figure out the exact moment when a couple should share with one another about their sexual history. Each relationship is unique; however, if both of you are seriously considering marriage, then it’s important to begin revealing parts of your sexual past.
- If you’re on the receiving end of hearing a dating partner’s sexual past, here are the important things you want to find out. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for perfection but integrity and commitment to walk in repentance.
• How is he/she seeking to walk in faith and repentance? Is it all-out or half-hearted?
• Does this person have solid friendships in his/her life, people who both love and ask the hard questions in light of knowing him/her?
• If sexual sin is a present tense reality, what is the trajectory of the struggle? Is there a decrease in giving way to temptation and an increasing strength to resist and flee?
If your partner is half-hearted, casual, and/or doesn’t see any of this as a big deal, STOP. Do not proceed forward in this relationship. Words of affection, promises to love you, and even a commitment to pray more are not enough! You need to see ongoing, intentional steps to flee sin and grow in Christ before you take one more relational step with this person.
Sexual history is an important and significant topic to discuss in dating relationships, especially if you are considering marriage. But remember, such history does not define or identify any of us; Jesus does! He’s the King of his kingdom and so as we trust him, rest in his love and grace, we’ll have the wisdom we need for our relationships.
This blog first appeared on enCourage, the PCA’s website for Women’s Ministry, but it has been slightly edited for this post.
Ellen talks more about sexual history on her accompanying video: Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
18 Jan 2018
One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.
As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.
God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.
As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say, “In this moment, what matters most is that I experience the most intense pleasure possible.” This is radically against the call of discipleship described above.
And there are practical considerations here as well. Even if it’s possible to masturbate without the use of porn or sexual fantasy, a single person is programming him or herself with a self-focused sexuality. If the Lord provides a spouse, this individual will not approach marriage looking to selflessly serve another. The focus of sex will be getting “my needs” met. Admittedly, all couples need to grow in practicing God-honoring, selfless sexuality, but masturbation places singles in a more challenging position.
Similarly, a married person is defrauding his or her spouse through masturbation. A healthy sex life takes work in marriage, requiring selfless emotional and spiritual investment, as well as learning to physically serve someone built very different from yourself. Masturbation selfishly takes the easy road of personal gratification at the cost of deepening oneness and intimacy in marriage.
And that highlights another problem. Many Christians justify masturbation because our culture elevates sexual desire to a physical “need.” But the hard truth is, no one has ever died for lack of sex (unlike oxygen, water, food, or shelter). This is not to say that living with unsatisfied sexual desires is easy! We should have great compassion for singles living in celibate faithfulness to Christ and couples languishing in sexless marriages. The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself.
The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself
Are Christians just too uptight about sex? Isn’t this repressive? Not at all. We believe God invented pleasure and gave us the capacity to enjoy it in all kinds of ways. But he also prescribed the ways certain pleasures should be expressed. All pleasures can entice our hearts to supplant the Giver of the gift to worship the gift instead.
Finally, most secular therapists agree that masturbation is a means of self-soothing and finding comfort. Here’s the problem: God declares himself to be the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He wants to meet us in our sadness, loneliness, and frustration. He promises to satisfy “you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). There is a danger when we turn to things of this world to soothe the ache in our soul. Jonah 2:8 warns, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (NIV). When we embrace the false and fleeting comforts of this world to satisfy the deep longings of our soul, we will not find lasting satisfaction or a balm for our yearnings.
We should seek comfort in ways that can facilitate deepening fellowship with God. A helpful gauge of whether your pursuit of comfort is drawing you closer to the Giver or not is the lens of Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Does whatever activity you are doing invite you to engage God and give thanks to him?
Wise Christians will tread this road carefully; we don’t want to heap shame on those struggling with masturbation. If we are honest, the issue is virtually universal for all of us at some point in our lives. This should mean we show compassion as those who can empathize. But we never want to shrink back from calling out sin for what it is. We want to invite people to return to their First Love, the One who has promised pleasure forevermore at his right hand.
David talks more about this on his accompanying video: Is Our View of Masturbation Outdated? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
28 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about what it’s like to live with same-sex attraction. But keeping this struggle secret will only isolate you and make your walk with Christ more difficult. Desmond talks about some first steps you can take to begin opening up and inviting other brothers and sisters in Christ into your life, and receive the care and friendship you need.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 2.”
28 Sep 2017
My previous blog looked at why men and women with same-sex attraction in our church still find it difficult to share what they struggle with. You can find that blog here, and my previous video blog here.
I’ll repeat what I said about disclosing this struggle with same-sex attraction: it’s difficult to do this, for both personal reasons and for reasons that might have more to do with the people in your life or the church you attend. You need to identify what your reasons are for keeping this a secret.
And then, you need to face what keeping a secret does to you, and any of us: it perpetuates your feelings of being alone, and in the long run, it weakens your walk with Christ because growth in faith depends on being increasingly open and honest with others and with God.
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives. But God’s word tells us that living in openness and transparency is the key to intimacy with him, and with others. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives.
Now I want to talk about how to open up and talk about this. I want to talk about how we help men and women with same-sex attraction who come to Harvest USA take a few first steps in moving toward others in honesty and transparency. Once you are persuaded that keeping this matter a secret hinders your spiritual growth, knowing what some first steps to take can be helpful. Here are some practical steps in how to walk in the light with your struggle.
Find someone you know who is safe
Willingness to share is the first step. It is an important step, but that is not where it stops. Identifying someone with whom to share can be an even more fearful step. Who do I know well enough to trust this with? How will they react when I share a struggle that they most likely know nothing about?
Sometimes feeling totally “ready to share” may never come. Take your time, be patient with yourself. Pray about it. Don’t rush the process, but also do not back away from taking such a step once you are convinced that sharing your struggle is needed for your growth in Christ. Be willing to trust God for the right timing. A note of caution: Be careful of sharing prematurely (rushing through this), or sharing with someone who lacks spiritual maturity.
On a practical level, think small. Start with your immediate circle: a small group leader, a brother or sister in the church whom you have had some ongoing contact with, or an overseeing elder. The person who might be the right one is someone whom you have shared something else with and found that they handled it well.
Ask for mutual vulnerability
To grow in freedom means building and establishing mutual vulnerability. Trust is something that is built by being honest with someone about our struggles. But you want this growing trust with someone to be a part of a symbiotic endeavor. Mutuality will keep you from feeling like you are a ministry project.
The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
It is important to keep in mind that the primary function of this relationship is not mentoring or counseling (unless that is the purpose you want). We’re talking friendship here. Look for someone who will also be honest about their struggles, even if it is not same-sex attraction. In fact, it’s safer not to pick someone who shares the same struggle.
As this friendship develops, see if it’s mutual. If it feels one-sided, share your need for mutual vulnerability. An open and honest relationship will develop healthy boundaries that can handle it. Sharing invites mutual sharing, so let it come naturally, but also express your need for it if it is not there. The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
Sometimes, however, the other person is as afraid as you to talk honestly about their life struggles. Be okay with that. The relationship may not work out. It may be necessary to seek out someone else.
In the years since I shared publicly what God has done for me and is continuing to do in my struggle with same-sex attraction, it has been an encouraging experience. Being honest about how I got myself into sinful messes with my struggle, and how I am still learning to trust God, is only possible because brothers came alongside me and acknowledged their own brokenness and need of Christ. The mutuality of our sharing is what turns me from self-sufficiency to healthy interdependence. In this sharing, I experience God caring for me.
Ask for accountability
Without having others involved in our struggle, we’ll get stuck. Growth in holiness ultimately plays itself out in our day-to-day involvement with others.
For some, the struggle with same-sex attraction involves thoughts, fantasy, and desires about another person. They may never act out on their feelings, but Christ spoke of “adultery committed in the heart” in Matthew 5:27 as being on the same continuum as behavior. As believers, we should never minimize our internal struggles with sexual sin as being “no big deal.”
For others, the struggle involves actively acting out by looking at pornography or having sexual encounters. Both internal and external sexual sin is sin. The nature or intensity of the struggle doesn’t determine whether you need accountability or not. All of us need accountability because none of us are guaranteed freedom from the temptations around us or within our own hearts. As a ministry worker with same-sex attraction, I have learned the value of making accountability one of my top priorities.
Move toward sharing with more than one person
Finally, move toward sharing with more than one person. You need to widen your circle to include one or two others, because having only one accountability partner can be a tremendous weight on the person with whom you have shared. If you do not know how to best go about this, consider asking your men’s or women’s group leader if they can help you share your need for wider accountability.
I hope I have encouraged you to be bold in taking the necessary steps to share your struggle with others around you, and that you will find the support, care, and love I have found in doing so.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
21 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about your struggles. We feel weak and shame in admitting that we don’t have everything together. But for those who live with same-sex attraction, the struggle to be open and honest with others in the church is far more intense and scary. Desmond talks about this intense fear, and how it hurts both the struggler and the church.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 1.”
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).