FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Emotional Affairs

with Gary Thomas | September 6, 2007
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Just as iron sharpens irons, our daily marital struggles sharpen us. On today's broadcast, author Gary Thomas talks about the emotional affair that threatened to destroy his marriage until God's truth redirected his course.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Just as iron sharpens irons, our daily marital struggles sharpen us. On today's broadcast, author Gary Thomas talks about the emotional affair that threatened to destroy his marriage until God's truth redirected his course.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Just as iron sharpens irons, our daily marital struggles sharpen us.

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Emotional Affairs

With Gary Thomas
September 06, 2007
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Gary: First, you start to let your thoughts go.  You know, it's one thing to appreciate somebody, it's another, then, to start to think things that aren't appropriate, and then what happens is you start to talk about personal things that perhaps you hadn't discussed before and that perhaps might not even be appropriate, but that familiarity begins to grow, over time, and then they share some of their heart, and when you share things like that, you start to build an intimacy.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 6th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we'll talk about how we can guard our hearts by being aware of the seeds of discontent in our marriage.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  I think most couples recognize the need to invest in marriage.  I think they recognize that marriage doesn't just – it's not self-maintaining; that you've got to do a little work for your marriage to be in tip-top condition. 

 We've had a lot of our listeners this week who have been contacting us about the upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences that kick off this weekend and continue throughout the fall.  If you register for one of these upcoming conferences this week or next week as a FamilyLife Today listener, you can save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and we're going to send you a copy of the brand-new book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called "Moments With You."

 This is a daily devotional guide for couples – 365 devotions for husbands and wives to read together.  It's a follow-up to the bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples," and we're excited to have it and be able to put it in the hands of listeners who register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember conference.  It's actually not off the press yet, but as soon as we get it, we're going to make arrangements to pass a copy along to those folks who sign up for one of our Weekend to Remember conferences.

 You can do that online or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.  But, again, you need to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener in order to take advantage of this special offer.  You save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and you get the new book from Dennis and Barbara Rainey, "Moments With You."

 If you are registering online, when you fill out your registration form, there is a keycode box.  When you come to that keycode box, type my name in there.  Just type "Bob," and we'll know that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and we'll take things from there.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to take advantage of the special offer and, again, we'll get you all set up, and you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.

 This offer is good through Sunday night, September 16th at midnight, so let us hear from you this week or next week to take advantage of this special opportunity and then enjoy a weekend away together this fall at one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.

 One of the things we'll talk about at the conference is God's design for marriage, God's purpose for marriage.  I think most couples, when they get married, don't understand God's purpose in bringing a husband and wife together in a marriage relationship.  We think it's about our happiness, when it's really more about our holiness, about our sanctification.

 You know, we get letters all the time, Dennis, from folks who say, "I'm just not experiencing a whole lot of happiness in my marriage.  My marriage is dominated by hardship or by misery."

Dennis: You know, we've said many times on this broadcast that a family reformation occurs where life and truth collide.  The truth of God's Word colliding with the circumstances of life as we face it, and that truth of God's Word demands a response.  Many times it's an unnatural response.  It's a response brought about by the spirit of God in our lives, but the result of that is the fruit of righteousness.  That's what the Scriptures promise us.

 And all this week we've been talking with Gary Thomas, who has been lifting – really lifting our eyes up to see a sacred view of marriage.  He's written a book called "Sacred Marriage:  What If God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy More Than Make us Happy."  And, Gary, I've got to tell you, the other night I was reading this to Barbara, my wife, and she was so moved by some of the things you had written, she now wants my copy.

Bob: There's a tug-of-war for the book going on in the Rainey house.

Dennis: There is a tug-of-war, and it's not often that Barbara asks to read one of the books, but I really appreciate this book, it's a great book, and one of the finest, I believe, that has ever been written on marriage.  It will really lift your sights about what marriage is all about.

 And today on the broadcast, Gary, I want to focus on the contents, really, of chapter 8 of your book called "The Sacred Struggle," and you really believe that God allows suffering to come into our lives to not only bring us closer together as a couple but also to cause the image of Christ to emerge in our lives as a husband and a wife, right?

Gary: Right.  It all goes back to the purpose you hold for marriage that we talked about the very first day this week.  There was a seminal moment for me in my own marriage when I was praying.  I'd been married about eight or nine years, and I was just praying before the Lord, and the question popped into my mind, "Does Lisa feel like she's married to Jesus?"

 And at first I thought, "That's the stupidest question I've ever heard in my life," until some verses started floating through my mind in response.  I thought of Ephesians, chapter 5 – "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church."  I thought of 2 Peter, chapter 1, when he says "to make every effort to add to your faith goodness and the goodness knowledge."  It lists a number of virtues saying that by doing that we can become partakers of the divine nature.

 I could go on and on listing these verses that call us to grow as Christians, but I realize unless I was taking my wife's commitment to me for granted, and Scriptures call for me to grow in holiness for granted, there should be at least a growing resemblance, at least some whiff of familiarity between me and the Lord I've pledged to serve, and that marriage could play a central role in helping that to happen; that I can embrace marriage as sort of the sanctification machine through the difficulties and even some of the struggles of marriage to shape me more into the character of Christ.

 In fact, you might even say "Well, this isn't true for me because I've happened to marry someone who is rather easy to live with."  But if you're married to a particularly ornery or stubborn person, you can get on your knees and thank God because you're going to be a saint after you've lived with that person for 40 or 50 years.

 And if you value that character-transforming quality of marriage when you go into the difficult times; when you go into the struggles as all couples do and will, then you have a larger purpose saying, "This may not be a fun season, but it's a meaningful season, it's a profitable season, it's a valuable season" that shapes us into people of beautiful character.

 We are not naturally holy, we are not naturally beautiful.  I believe that holiness is something we grow into.  It is a gift, in a sense, where God declares us holy, but there is also a realized holiness that is best borne out through struggle and through difficulty and through no other way.

Dennis: Is that why you refer to these times as "sweet sufferings?"

Gary: I did, because you're looking at the process of what comes out of them.  When you look at the Christian classics, the great writings of the Christian faith, it's amazing how they cherish what we avoid in this culture.  We want a pain-free culture, we want an easy culture, we want to always be happy, but they look ahead, and that's what Paul did, too.  He always looked ahead.

 He said in Romans, chapter 5, he says, "We rejoice in our suffering," because suffering produces perseverance – and that's a key point.  You don't need to persevere if you're always comfortable.  You don't need to persevere in a happy marriage.  You don't need to persevere in an easy marriage.  You persevere when it's tough.

Bob: You know, several years ago, I've never forgotten this, when we interviewed Chuck Swindoll, one of the things he said during that interview – he was quoting somebody else, and I don't even remember who it was – someone who had said that "God does not greatly use the man who He does not first greatly wound."

 And as soon as he said that, do you know what my first thought was?  I don't want to be greatly used.

Dennis: Yeah, because I don't want to be wounded.

Bob: Again, who wants to willingly step off into that?  And we've got listeners today who would say it's not a slow drip, but it's daily pain, and I don't see the other side because all I see is that it's going to go on for a long time.  And the Lord may be doing a work in my heart and in my life, and I understand all of that, but am I going to be miserable forever?

Dennis: Yeah, and yet one of the things Gary writes about in his book is that if we don't respond properly when we go through these times of sweet suffering, we may be destined to stay in spiritual infancy and immaturity in our Christian lives.

 And a part of what I think God is in the process of doing is growing us up.  I want to ask you a very person question, Gary.  You've written a book here, "Sacred Marriage," you've thought a great deal about marriage and how God has used it in your life.  Has there ever been a moment where that marriage, that sacredness that is being birthed between you and Lisa was put to the test in a severe manner?

Gary: I think so.  At a time when many marriages are tested, usually it's with the birth of the first child and within the first couple of years after the birth of a first child, I think most marriages become vulnerable just because you're changing into this period where there are greater expectations on the wife, the husband is now sharing his wife's body with another human being, and things change and usually expectations start to get squashed, and I think during that season in our marriage, that greatly tested my wife and greatly tested myself was a failure of my own when I became involved in a very inappropriate emotional relationship with another woman.

 It never became physical and because of that, I think I was able to rationalize letting the relationship go far beyond what I knew was appropriate.

Dennis: How did it start?

Gary: Well, it started with good intentions.  I was working alongside a woman whose world was not shrunken because she didn't have a child.  She was serving the Lord, and I wasn't even attracted to her physically at the start.  So I had my guard down, but as I just saw her heart for the Lord's work, as I saw her concern for others, I was drawn to that.

 At the same time that I see my wife's concern reduced to this little baby, and when she needed to nurse and when she needed her diapers changed.  And this woman who, together, we were going to change the world for Christ had, of necessity, become so domesticated because having a child is a full-time job, and that was her child – raising up this other member of God's kingdom.

 But I was young, and my vision was far more limited at that time, I don't think I understood how things were, as well, back then, and so I let myself – and people can say, you know, they fall in love.  It's not that passive.  I think it involves improperly placing your affections I think is a more accurate way of describing it.

Dennis: How did that happen?

Gary: Well, it wasn't a one-time thing.  Like I said, I wasn't even attracted at first.  I think it was a process where first you start to let your thoughts go.  You know, it's one thing to appreciate somebody, it's another, then, to start to think things that aren't appropriate, and then what happens is you start to act inappropriately and, again, I wasn't trying to be calculating, but you find yourself spending more time with that person.

Dennis: Finding ways to be together?

Gary: You find ways to be together, you start to talk about things that aren't ministry-related; you start to talk about personal things that perhaps you hadn't discussed before and that perhaps might not even be appropriate.  But that familiarity begins to grow, over time.  And then they share some of their heart, and when you share things like that, you start to build an intimacy.

Bob: Was Lisa aware at all that anything was going on?

Gary: Not until the first time she saw the two of us together, and she knew [snaps fingers] like that.  It was her intuition.  She said something to me that night, the first time she'd seen the two of us together – "You look at her like you used to look at me."  And that was really the night that it came to a head.  After that I went to some wiser men.  I chose four men whom I respected, whom I knew were strong.  I said, "This is what I've gotten myself into.  I don't trust myself to get out of it.  Can you help me?"  And they did.

Bob: Did you know before that time that you were down a dangerous path?

Gary: Absolutely, and I think, looking back, I think that's probably why I wanted to bring Lisa into the picture.  I don't know that I had the courage to do that.  I think I was still rationalizing and saying, "See?  If I'm willing to bring her together with my wife, then, obviously, I don't have wrong motives or wrong desires, or I'd be trying to keep it secret."  I think, again, that was an act of rationalizing, but I think part of it was God in His providence saying, "I'm going to bring this out in the open because it could destroy your marriage, it could destroy her, it could destroy everything that you hold dear in your life," and it would have if it had gone unchecked.

Bob: And what did the revelation of that do to the intimacy that you and your wife had shared up until that point?

Gary: It was devastating for a while.  Obviously, my wife was hurt.  She felt betrayed.  Here she is, caring for my child, her world is necessarily much smaller.  She's feeling more vulnerable because she has to care for this child, and here I am, out cultivating an improper affection.

 So it was devastating, it was tough, there were a lot of tears, there was confession, there was prayer.  But through it, when we're looking back in years, I think what it did for me was to show me how my expectations for marriage, my lack of understanding of the reality of marriage, what it means for a woman to raise a child, to have a young baby, to develop a family, how those were destroying my happiness in marriage; that it was really expectations that were the problem.  Lisa wasn't the problem, our relationship wasn't the problem, it's what I was expecting.  I expected that even though you add the care and nurturing of a child to a relationship that somehow it could be just as fun, just as easy, just as exciting, that your sex life isn't going to change, your happiness isn't going to change, you're still going to have joyful times.

 And so, for me, it was getting a more realistic view of what marriage involves and getting rid of the expectations.  I think, for my wife, it also shook her up to realize we need to keep nurturing our marriage.  But, out of that, I also think it gave her an assurance that our marriage was tested, it was put through the fire, Gary chose it, and I think if you were to ask her today, she would say she feels pretty secure in our love and in my commitment to our marriage.

Dennis: You know, whether it's temptation or whether it's a time of testing that a marriage may go through, what you've just described, though, determines whether a relationship moves on to maturity and to godliness and all that He intended, or whether you take a step back to immaturity and to childishness and foolishness. 

 I couldn't help but think as you were talking, Gary, what if you had chosen to hide that, and you'd allowed that sin to have been given full birth?  Your life today could be a dramatically different life.  You wouldn't be sitting across the table from us talking about a book called "Sacred Marriage," because you would have betrayed a sacred vow.

 And it's not that God can't use broken people to proclaim truth, because He does, but you would be talking from a totally different vantage point.

Gary: Or maybe even rationalizing an entirely different message.  And I think that's the point that I felt like I was cutting off my right arm by walking away at one point.  I was feeling lonely, and most marriages do go through a period of loneliness during that stage of raising your first child.

 But I look back today, and I can break into a night sweat thinking back to what I almost lost.  I look at my son now and my youngest daughter, who weren't born at that time, whose very lives and existence were threatened if I wouldn't have been true to my marital vows, and I think of the marriage that God has given me that could never be replaced.  I mean, we were junior high sweethearts.  We got married at the too-young of age 22 and 19, but it's worked out, and I couldn't replace that history with anybody else.  And I think of what I would have lost if I would have just followed emotion, if I would have just followed feeling.

 And if God hadn't graced me with some stronger men who could objectively look at it and say, "Gary, the situation is far more serious than you realize," and help me out of a situation that I'm not sure, on my own strength, I would have gotten myself out of.

Dennis: Gary, undoubtedly, there is a person, a man or a woman right now listening, you've just described the trap that they are about to step into, and they know it.  With everything you've got that God has given you 12 years after the temptation – address that person.

Gary: I would plead with you to go to the cross, as Jesus said, "Take up your cross daily."  It's in dying that we find life.  I know the pull.  I know it feels like you are cutting off your right arm to walk away; that you are denying everything you hold dear; that you feel like you were committing a death by not following through on those feelings.  And all I can tell you, there is a resurrection after that death.

 It is a death.  It's a death of self-interest, but the intimacy that God gives you from being obedient it's not overnight.  I'm not promising them.  I can't promise anyone that there won't be days of loneliness; that there won't be days of pain; that there won't be occasional feelings of regret.  Holiness is often proven over time.  Our right decisions often are only conceptions, and it may take many months or even years to be given birth to the joy that comes from long-term obedience.

 But in the end, at the end of your life, or I think even in the next five, six years, the next decade, certainly, you'll look back and say, "I've gotten far more satisfaction and fulfillment from being obedient to the call of God, from being obedient to the original vows I made than I'll ever get from pursuing an illicit excitement that will itself fade, that will itself go stale, that one time you will be tempted to leave that person for yet a third person and then a fourth." 

 Infidelity is a habit.  It's never fulfilling.  Second marriages tend to do far worse than first marriages as far as success, and so I would say don't go down that road.  Stay true, endure the suffering knowing that it's creating something even better in you and that that's a process that God uses to put a strong marriage together.

 A good marriage isn't something you find, and that's the allure of the affair.  I didn't find this right person yet.  It's so sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.  That is a faulty line of thinking.  A good marriage isn't something you find, it's something you make.  It takes years, it takes decades, it doesn't happen overnight.  It's not about finding the right person; it's about becoming the right person.

Dennis: Proverbs 4:23 is a great admonition – "Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life."  I think if you're the person we're talking to right now, you need to find a friend to confide in who will help give you the strength just as Gary's friends helped pull him out of that ditch.  And make the steps toward God and toward the cross.

Bob: I think, to follow Gary's example and get some folks around you who can point you in the right direction and who can speak truth to you and even hold you accountable to taking those steps, I think that's a great start.  And then I would encourage listeners to attend one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences as a way to start rebuilding the foundation of your marriage. 

 You know, right now we're making the conference available at a discounted rate for FamilyLife Today listeners.  You register this week or next week, and you can save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.  In addition, we're sending couples a copy of the book, "Moments With You," the brand-new couples devotional that you and Barbara have written that is not even off the presses yet, but we're going to make it available to those who sign up to attend one of our fall Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.

 So we're encouraging folks to either go online or call 1-800-FLTODAY this week or next week and take advantage of this special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners.  Again, you save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee for one of these upcoming conferences, and we'll make available the new book, "Moment With You" by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

 You'll need to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener when you do get in touch with us, so if you're filling out your registration form online, and you can find more information about dates and locations for these conferences on our website at  As you fill out the online form, there is a keycode box, and you just need to type the word "Bob" in there, so that we know that you are a FamilyLife Today listener.

 Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to take advantage of the special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners to attend a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference, and we'll not only sign you up for the conference at a $60 per couple savings, but we will also make arrangements to get you a copy of the new book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

 Again, our online address is, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to register.  And when you get in touch with us, you can also get a copy of Gary Thomas's book, "Sacred Marriage."  We have that in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  That would be a great book for couples to go through to try to, again, rebuild a foundation that has been damaged in a marriage relationship.

 You can find information about that book on our website at  Click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the home page, and that will take you to the area of the site where you can order a copy of Gary's book or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have a copy of the book sent to you.

 Well, tomorrow we want to look at what a husband and wife can do to make sure their eyes are on the goal line; that they are in the race for the long haul.  We're going to talk about persevering in marriage, and I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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