10 Things You Can Lose if You Don’t Protect Your Marriage

A Pastoral Letter in the Marriage Series
Dan Wilt, D.Min.

Some of us are old school about marriage for good reason.

I’ve seen it time and time again. Over 40 years I’ve watched marriages begin, then either flourish and deepen in love through struggle, or end. How they flourish, or end, matters.

Couples, once deeply in love, begin to grow apart in small ways. Emotional ties become looser. Life gets busy. Increment by increment, paths diverge. People begin to change, even “discover who they are.” Attentiveness to the marriage is eroded. Then, one of the partners may begin to flirt with a family friend, a co-worker, or an acquaintance. Emotional adultery begins, and goes unchecked. What started small, quietly grows larger through seemingly innocent small breaches of marital trust.


I’ll be honest; I don’t like writing pieces like this. I’m an encourager; I’d rather write “10 Things You Gain if You Protect Your Marriage.” But that’s for another time.

Neuroscience tells us the human brain needs to see a bright red warning sign and the worst possibilities if that sign is not heeded. We are looking to avoid danger; it’s in our genes. So let’s go there related to marriage, and protecting your marriage, for the sake of every precious soul involved.

Back to the story I began to narrate above. Here is the math on marriages, particularly related to infidelity, that end: small acts of emotional adultery either can, or do, progress from an unhealthy emotional bond into a physical one. More and more lines are crossed until one day, one spouse enters into adultery. That person may not have even seen it coming; they may have been blind to the signs along the way. It takes two to tango, and if both sides are broken and pursuing the small rush that comes from playing with forbidden fruit, and one is more aggressive, things get out of hand fast.

Then, if and when adultery happens, the world stops—for everyone.


The sanctity of marriage, on both sides, is broken. So are the souls of two families. And so are the hearts of many other people along the way, and relationships along with them.

It all comes out, either by discovery or confession (confession in the best cases). A small or large hell breaks loose. Deep pain cuts not only through the hearts of each person in the couple, but also through the hearts of those in another marriage as well.

But it doesn’t stop there. That pain of the breaking of trust cuts through the family connected to the couple—through the hearts of the children, parents and grandparents, siblings, friendships, couple friendships, and even co-workers. Two families become broken, and it impacts everyone, in one way or another.

Am I trying to scare us straight? Maybe, but I’m doing it with the ingredients of reality; I’m not making these things up. I’ve seen too much hard truth to exaggerate, and I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again.

No one ends up in the basement in one leap; we end up there one small step at a time. Cutting things off at the first step, or at least at the earliest steps, we can avoid the darkness that will follow.


Who cares? You do.

Let’s say that you were the person who didn’t protect your marriage and took a few downward steps that weren’t honoring of that bond.

It wasn’t just one bond of trust that was broken. You may have been well-meaning, even naive, but knocking over the first piece of glass in the china shop set up a domino effect of other shatterings that you never foresaw.

This is your wake-up call. This is not just about you. Your small “personal” choices are anything but “just personal.” When you have a family, everything is bigger than you. The soul of your family, and the soul of another family, are at stake.

I have watched families become broken all because one of the spouses didn’t stay 10 steps away from the edge of the cliff, didn’t heed the warning signs early enough and blindly followed unhealed family patterns into a tiny hell of one’s own making.

Beyond that, when a marriage is unprotected, the children gain a new internal model for how love works. “Apparently,” they think, “You fall into love, and, apparently, out of love. Just like the movies and the music say.” Their lives and relationships are changed. Their family is shattered. Their new belief becomes this: “Even the most secure of loves falls apart.” Their marriages, and the marriages of their children, and a family line for generations, is broken.

And that’s all because one person, or both people, did not guard, protect, hold in highest esteem in private and in public, their marriage.

Yes, God can redeem and restore anything. But let’s avoid all the pain we can along the journey of marriage.


Here are 10 things that can be lost when a marriage is not protected. I won’t candy-coat it, and I won’t apologize for “not knowing your situation.”

If your first thought is to pick one that doesn’t apply to you, and then to write off the whole list, that may speak to you that you may be losing the plot—if any one of these applies, it can mean that more will follow.

Here’s what you can lose if you don’t protect your marriage from infidelity.

1. You can lose…your self-worth and self-trust.

We know ourselves, and we can lose trust and esteem with ourselves.

If you are a wandering spouse, and things go too far, you immediately become either a person who had an affair, or dealt with one with your spouse. Not just one family, but two families, are shattered. That will never change. You can’t erase that. You can be forgiven, but you can’t hit “undo.”

Think of the children, on both sides of the situation (I’ll assume, for this time, children are involved). Sure, you can personally heal from it, but only with deep, deep work and together with your spouse. You will see yourself in a new way, going forward. You’ve broken trust with yourself.

It’s not worth it, not this way. An affair is a breach of trust, pure and simple. No matter what state your marriage is in, breaking trust with someone is not the path of healing. It can even be a path toward self-loathing.

If you are not the wandering spouse, but you are impacted, you will struggle with your ability to be what another person needs.

2. You can lose…your relationship with your spouse.

Consider this. How many years have you invested in building trust, building memories, building a family, building a home, building relationships as a couple, building a life together? Anything worth building means it’s worth maintaining, cherishing, guarding, healing. It’s imperfect, but the alternative is to throw it all away. And you can’t just “start over” with someone else.

Things are lost in the breaking of trust. Build on what you have. Make it beautiful. Both of you—do whatever it takes.

3. You can lose…your trust relationship with each of your children.

According to the situation and the dynamics, an affair can irrevocably breach ones relationships with one’s children. I’ve seen parents and children heal, but only after much time and extensive (and damaging) pain. You never quite get back what you had, apart from a miracle and deep, long work. And each child is unique—each handles the situation differently.

Keep them from having to go through that, with all you’ve got.

4. You can lose…your trust with friends and co-workers.

Few people see this one coming. Once they’ve had an affair, their is a quiet question mark that rises in the minds of co-workers, bosses, and perhaps clients—can this person be trusted to be honest? It’s real.

When someone is playing with fire with their marriage, and with emotional bonds outside of marriage (it always feels innocent, but that is a lie we are telling ourselves), there is collateral damage with one’s friendships. People feel lied to. Deceived. You didn’t mean it to happen, but it does. Your social network is impacted.

5. You can lose…your financial future.

This one would take more time to explore, but let me say this. No one starts committing small acts of emotional adultery while simultaneously thinking about the potential financial implications that may follow. Separation and divorce can have massive financial implications. Tug on the thread in your imagination, and see just how extensive that damage can be. Is it worth it? From my experience, no, it’s not. And divorce? It’s absolutely brutal on finances, especially if someone has to pay alimony.

6. You can lose…your family circle and/or home.

If an affair happens and the couple stays together, there is a strangeness that enters the home. It can be surmounted as counseling begins, but the trust that was in the circle of your family will never be the same. If healing does not occur (and I believe it can, with much inner work) and the marriage is broken, it can be mean the physical loss of the home as well.

7. You can lose…your dreams.

I have often been amazed how someone’s hidden area of emotional immaturity, and inability to see what they are actually doing to destabilize their marriage, can catch them like a viper in the grass and shatter one’s most cherished dreams for the future. Think about it. Do you dreams rest on a breach of trust in your core relationship? I doubt it. An affair can kill dreams; I’ve seen it happen.

8. You can lose…your long-term happiness.

The longest study on happiness by Harvard (see the TED talk) reveals one thing—our happiness depends on the quality of our closest relationships. If we can’t maintain trust in the closest relationship with have with a person, and it rocks our trust-relationships with others, there is a long- term (and permanent if we don’t do some deep work over years) deterioration in our happiness. It’s science.

9. You can lose…your belief that another marriage can work.

What began as a playful flirtation ends up as a broken marriage. Then what? If the other person was willing to break their marriage to play a game with you, why would they be trustworthy in your relationship going forward?

People end up wandering from relationship to relationship for decades, if not their lifetime. It didn’t have to happen. You could have protected your marriage and your part in it.

10. You can lose…strength in your inner, spiritual life.

All of life adds up to our spiritual life. We can become a spiritual “failure” in our own minds. I’m not only talking about your faith life. I’m talking about your spirit. An affair and the aftermath can be absolutely soul-crushing. Self-inflicted suffering is one of the worst kinds of suffering.

Step away from the fire that seems warm, but will burn you. Step away. Spiritual thriving is not in that direction.


Here is my counsel, in four steps.

I’m not a counselor, but I have been a pastor for decades. I’ve also been married to the same woman for 37 years at the time of this writing. We’ve been through challenges to our marriage all along the way. We have some school-of-hard-knocks perspective from all of that, and from watching other couples rise, fall, and get back up again. I won’t take into account every detail of everyone’s situation, but here are some principles I can offer.

I offer them humbly; you’ll have to discern how they apply in your situation, and trusted wise counselors who have enduring marriages and know you well can help you with that discernment.

I.e. I know that I don’t know your situation, exactly. But I’ve seen a lot when I offer the following.

1. Protect your marriage, now.

Turn toward your spouse, not away. Decide you will not go the way of either breaking the marriage or letting it be broken by another. Fight for love. Fight for healing. Fight for friendship. Fight for intimacy. Show up to your marriage and family in full force.

Get counseling, individually if needed, and together. I encourage all couples to do some Family Systems counseling. Often these patterns have been repeating themselves in family members past and present. Getting therapy and healing is fire-proofing your marriage.

2. Confess and become accountable.

Coming to terms with the truth is what confession is all about. If you are the spouse who has wandered, confess to your spouse what has been happening in your heart. You don’t have to give all the details; that can cause more pain than is helpful. Again, a counselor can help with this.

Confess that your heart has been wandering, and you are committed to investing deeply in your marriage.

If you are the spouse who has not wandered, confess your part in letting something get this far (as applicable.)

Commit to getting help together, before a breach happens. Then, after confessing to your spouse and getting a plan together, find a trusted friend or two, who you are confident will not breach confidence, and let them in on your situation. They can support and pray for you both. If you can find a couple to confess to, do that as well. You need to be accountable.

3. Break ties, hard.

If you are the spouse who has wandered, this is triage; acting quickly matters. If there is an emotional tie to be broken, break it, permanently. Say it explicitly. End it. Stop it. Go silent. Delete them from your phone; block them if you must. Encourage them to confess to their spouse. Remove yourself from situations where you will interact, or you may be dragged back into it.

Avoid the cliff’s edge by keeping 10 steps away from it, not just 2 or 3. Get out of there. Remove yourself from the situation.

If you are the spouse on the receiving end, you may or may not have something to do. I’ve seen cases where the non-offending spouse needed to have a straight talk with the person pursuing their spouse. I.e. A come-to-Jesus moment to protect your family. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to protect your marriage and family. But the first work of breaking ties should be done by the person crossing the lines.

4. Wake up to one another, your marriage, and your family again—and get the support you need.

You’re not a bad person for struggling; we all do. But we don’t all act on our struggles. Turn your heart back toward your marriage, and away from the shiny objects.

Be kind to one another. Be generous with touch and communication. Treat the other like royalty. Really. Be compassionate, gentle, forgiving, and attentive. Become a student of the other’s delight.

Recognize that you only have one life to live, and care for the family you’ve built and getting through hard seasons together. It makes the relationship powerful. Deeply, deeply powerful. Unstoppable.

When you are old, you will be glad you stuck with it. Companionship, trust, family, are keys to happiness.


This is to those on this side of a challenge. Be grateful if you are; this is an opportunity for transformation.

Unless there are issues of violence, abuse, or profound manipulation in play, hang in their and fight for your marriage. It’s worth it.

The deep friendship that can emerge in a couple on the other side of this season (which may be painful for a time) is worth it, and you’ll be a trustworthy person who builds trusting relationships along the way.

Think of what you, your marriage, your family, your children, and their children, will gain if you lay a new foundation.

See yourself, staring now, as a Marriage-Flourisher and a Family-Protector. Take your role seriously, and do what it takes to deepen in love, friendship, trust, and wholeness with one another.

I, for one, believe God will help you in that process.


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Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash


Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms

Sheltering Mercy, along with its companion volume, Endless Grace, helps us rediscover the rich treasures of the Psalms—through free-verse prayer renderings of their poems and hymns—as a guide to personal devotion and meditation.

The church has always used the Psalms as part of its prayer life, and they have inspired countless other prayers. This book contains 75 prayers drawn from Psalms 1-75, providing lyrical sketches of what authors Ryan Smith and Dan Wilt have seen, heard, and felt while sojourning in the Psalms. Each prayer is a response to the Psalms written in harmony with Scripture. These prayers help us quiet our hearts before God and welcome us into a safe place amid the storms of life.

This artful, poetic, and classic devotional book features compelling custom illustrations and foil-stamped hardcover binding, offering a fresh way to reflect on and pray the Psalms.