[Author’s note: I am incredibly grateful to my husband for encouraging me to write about and share this very personal part of our story. He believes, as do I, that God has called us to use our past to encourage and give hope to others. For his selflessness and bravery, I love him all the more.]
There we are, sitting at a table in a busy restaurant, enjoying a “mom’s night out”. The talk at the table turns to a friend of a friend who is going through a painful divorce. Her husband had an affair and she is, of course, devastated and trying to pick up the pieces of her life. And then it’s said. That one sentence that I know is coming. “My husband knows if he ever cheated on me it would be over!”
Around the table heads nod in agreement and friends chime in with their unanimous support of this statement. And I shift in my chair uncomfortably. I pretend to study the menu a little more closely. I sip my drink until there’s just ice. Anything to avoid eye contact or weighing in on this conversation.
I know my friends have no idea how hard it is for me to hear this statement. How much it hurts. I know because ten years ago I could be found sitting around a table of girlfriends saying the same thing.
But that was before.
Before I knew what it was really like to be faced with that reality.
Growing up I saw the devastating effects of infidelity in my parent’s marriages. As a child I felt the repercussions. I also saw and lived through the life-altering effects of divorce, and at times grasped for a life-ring in the wake of the pain and destruction it left. From my child’s eyes it was so simple. I would never, ever get divorced, I vowed. That is…unless…he cheated on me. I mean, after-all the Bible gives us an out on this. As Christians we can say this in mixed company and no one will judge us. Everyone will agree.
Then your life, your marriage, doesn’t always go the way you plan. Hell, does anything go the way we plan?
We had been married for 5 years when I found out that my husband had been unfaithful. It was the most devastating experience I could never have fathomed. The air was sucked out of me and I was living a bad dream, just waiting to wake up. While it was a one-time occurrence, I found out that it had been triggered by a spiraling addiction to pornography that my husband had managed to keep hidden from me for the 9 years we’d been together. An addiction he’d struggled with since he was a boy. As with any addiction, it escalated, sending him down a dark rabbit hole and dragging him deeper and deeper until it was completely out-of-control. The shame, guilt, and fear he lived with everyday…well I can only try to imagine.
When the truth came out I was in a state of shock for weeks. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or where to turn. But I knew two things. 1. My life would never be the same, and 2. I didn’t want to pack my bags and leave like I had always thought I would if faced with this news.
I saw before me a broken, hurting man. The man I loved so dearly. Yes, I was angry. Yes, I wanted to scream and yell and hit him, and sometimes I did those things. But mostly I wanted to love him.
Once he confessed it all, he immediately offered to go seek the help he knew he needed. We both went to counseling, separately. Him to face his addiction, and me to deal with this new reality.
I told only two people in my life what had happened.
I prayed. A lot.
I went through days where everything seemed fine and normal, and days when I just cried for hours, barely able to get out of bed. I questioned him over and over again. What else had he done? Who else had he been with? What wasn’t he telling me? All trust was out the window and gone and I was scared. So, so scared that it would never be there again.
I won’t sugar coat it. It was hard. We went through some excruciatingly dark periods. For a while I had the number of a divorce attorney in my Rolodex at work, and many days I thought, ‘today is the day I will call’.
It took the better part of two years of counseling to get through the worst of it. And at least another two years before I really started to believe we were going to make it.
I recall one night lying in bed after an argument with my husband, crying and pleading with God. “How will we ever get through this? Will I ever truly be able to forgive and trust him again?” And I remember so clearly, as if He was in the room with me, God whispered in my ear and said “If I can forgive him and love him, so can you. If I can forgive you of all the wrongs you’ve done, how can you not also forgive him?”
I didn’t wake up the next day and find everything had magically fallen into place. But, after that moment I was able to see my husband as a beloved, hurting child of God who was worthy of forgiveness. And over time I was able to forgive him — really, truly forgive and let go — and eventually trust him again.
It’s been 9 years since I found out about my husband’s affair. I tell you the truth when I say I love and respect this man more today than I did the day I married him. He spent over four years in counseling working through his addiction, his past and all of the hurt and pain it had caused in his life. I am amazed at his fortitude and all he’s overcome.
Our marriage is far from perfect. We argue, and get on each other’s nerves, and sometimes…every once in a while…when we’re not communicating as often as we need to I still feel a little bit of the old worry and doubt creep in. But over the years this happens less and less; maybe one day it won’t happen at all. Or maybe it will always be there on some small scale as a reminder of where we’ve been and just how far we’ve come. I don’t know.
What I do know is that this does not define us. My husband’s addiction and sin does not define him as a man or a husband. Being the wife who was cheated on is not my label. Being the couple who survived infidelity is not who we are. We are so much more than this. We are sinful, broken children of God who are doing our best to live the life He called us to lead. To be the husband and wife He knows we can be. The parents He has blessed us to be.
Please, please know that this is our story only. I share this not as a model for what I think all couples who are facing infidelity must do. I cast absolutely no judgement on anyone who has walked away from a marriage broken and hurting. Everyone’s circumstances are different.
I write this and share it with all of you because I want you to know there is hope. If your marriage has been broken, if you are facing an addiction, living with shame — there is hope. You must want it, and you must work for it and, above all, you must be patient and trust the Lord to heal you and your relationship, but it can be done. Whether the relationship survives or it doesn’t, the Lord will mend your heart if you let Him.
Just promise me…next time you’re sitting with a group of friends talking about marriages and infidelity, try to remember that until you’ve been there and walked that broken road, you don’t really know what you will choose. And, God forbid, if you ever do find yourself in that situation, know that there is no shame and no weakness in choosing to stay.