By Tim and Denise Harlow
Yes, you can start over. But why not do the work now to create a marriage you can remember with quiet joy instead of sadness or shame?
My son-in-law texted me a picture of my grandson during a special moment in our service, right after I’d preached about adultery. It felt like more than a coincidence. It felt like God saying, This is why you stay in your marriage and are faithful to your wife.
I’m in a stage of life where I can spend a little more time looking back, which made this Scripture passage really jump out at me. Solomon says if you follow the path into adultery, you will end up with regret. “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent” (Proverbs 5:11).
There are basically only two ways to look back on life when you get old (and I know I’m not old yet, MOM!). You can look back with joy or regret. You can groan, or you can rejoice.
No one is going to go to the grave thinking they batted a thousand. I will certainly not close my eyes for the last time without thinking back to some major blunders in my life. And I’m sure I’m not done blundering.
But as I looked at my grandson’s picture, I realized how easily I could have seen it through eyes of regret. If I hadn’t worked so hard on my marriage, or had blown up my marriage and wasn’t still with Charlie’s grandmother, the picture would be bittersweet.
Wendy Plump said it perfectly in her article about adultery in The New York Times:
I look at my parents and at how much simpler their lives are at the ages of 75, mostly because they haven’t marred the landscape with grand-scale deceit. They have this marriage of 50-some years behind them, and it is a monument to success. A few weeks or months of illicit passion could not hold a candle to it.
If you imagine yourself in such a situation, where would you fit an affair in neatly? If you were 75, which would you rather have: years of steady if occasionally strained devotion, or something that looks a little bit like the Iraqi city of Fallujah, cratered with spent artillery?1
Please know that you can start over. David was a “man after God’s own heart,” even after adultery. Your marriage can be saved and end up being better in the long run. But God really wants to save us from all of that.
So I asked my wife, Denise, to write from her perspective, especially as it pertains to physical intimacy . . .
Encouragement to Women from a Wife of 31 Years
By Denise Harlow
• First, there is no such thing as a perfect marriage or husband, in spite of what fairy tales may tell you. At the end of fairy tale movies, after the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” appeared, I often told my girls, “because they kept dating and working at their marriage.” Yes, I was quite the killjoy!
Realize that real life just happens and it is the everyday journey that we need to make the best of. No other person can make it better. It has a lot to do with your attitude. Philippians 4:8 says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable . . . think about such things.” So think long and hard if you want this marriage to work and be truly healed—it is possible!
• Second, go to Christian counseling. I am not telling you anything I haven’t told our daughters. It may be a Christian sex therapist. Don’t let Satan or some abuser win over your life. God can make it wonderful. And it may take some time—it may take years—but don’t think it will just magically get better. Do something to make it better.
Once you are on the other side, you and your husband will have a thriving, flourishing marriage. It is possible. And you will be stronger with the beauty of long memories not only to share together, but to share with your children and grandchildren. Visualize the long-term benefits.
• Third, what are you doing to “water your own grass”? Are you being honest with your mate? Are you doing things that make you feel desirable? Are you helping plan date nights, or are you leaving it entirely up to your husband? Are you making sure your own “gas/emotional tank” is full?
I know we’ve all heard the phrase, “I fell out of love,” but honestly, love isn’t a feeling—it’s a commitment, and you’d be surprised how romantic feelings can return when you are doing something fun together.
I once heard a woman brag that she and her husband had never left their kids with a sitter or with anyone overnight. That is nothing to brag about! That is a shame. Wives and husbands need time away together to rekindle the flames. Since our girls were young, Tim and I committed to spending at least two nights a month on a date (even if it was just a walk and a picnic), and tried to get an overnight away together at least once or twice a year. You can use family, good friends, trade babysitting, buy Groupons, etc. But just do it.
• And last, but not least, pray. Pray for your marriage and for a change of heart. Pray for God to renew your love, your passion, your connection to your husband and marriage. God specializes in the impossible! (Luke 18:27).
1Wendy Plump, “A Roomful of Yearning and Regret,” The New York Times, December 9, 2010, accessed at www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/fashion/12Modern.html?pagewanted=1&_r=3&.
Tim and Denise Harlow serve with Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois.