06 Oct LEARNING TO LOVE AFTER BETRAYAL
“As much as I love God, you, Graham, and our unborn child, I loved myself more…I know that revealing this blackness inside of me is necessary…but I understand that in confessing this, the blackness and burden is now also felt by you.”
Those words and many more were read to me one Tuesday afternoon as my husband confessed to a lifelong addiction to pornography which eventually led him to commit adultery. With shaky hands and voice, he knelt at my feet with tears streaming down his face, begging for forgiveness. I’ve never felt as feared by another person in my life. Nick was fearful of my response because I had always made it clear to him through my attitude and actions that I am not a doormat. I had a habit of standing up for myself, even if I wasn’t remotely being threatened. So he was right to assume that in this situation, something was probably going to hit the fan. I had yelled, cussed, slammed doors and drawers in anger in the past, so it would be reasonable to expect all that and more when I found out he had been with another woman the night before.
But something had happened in the year leading up to this day that changed everything about my response.
When I had my first child, I realized I had a responsibility to raise him in a home that not only taught truth, but lived love. I had grown up with amazing parents who taught us from the Bible, and showed us by example how to love others because of God’s love for us. I knew my selfish way of life was not headed in that direction, so I signed up for a class that taught me how to read my Bible daily, and incorporate it into my everyday life. That led me to a deep, personal friendship with Jesus Christ. We talked each morning as I read His Word, and throughout the day in prayer, and I began to see changes in the way I was thinking, speaking, and acting. I was losing that selfish desire to stand up for myself, because I learned that’s His job, not mine.
So when I saw my husband crying at my feet, begging for forgiveness, my response was not at all what it would have been a year prior. I hugged him, and uttered the words “I forgive you” before I walked out the back door to get alone with my thoughts. Looking back, there’s no way I fully forgave him in that moment. Forgiveness takes a lot more than those three words. But I did have the intent to treat him with the same grace and forgiveness I had recently found in Jesus. So the first thing I did was to google “what’s the Christian’s response to adultery?” I hadn’t spent much time thinking about this topic, as I never dreamed it would happen to me. I read articles about infidelity, separation and divorce, to help me choose what would be the “right” response. I was in shock, and my emotions hadn’t caught up with me yet, so I was robotically trying to find the formula to fix it.
It didn’t take long for the gravity of this news to sink in and severely weigh me down. I didn’t want to tell anyone about this embarrassing secret. I started to internalize the pain, and took his adultery as confirmation that I wasn’t enough. I knew I hadn’t been a great wife, so I believed he was forced to find affirmation and affection somewhere else. I believed that I had been such a hard person to live with that he had no choice but to find a way out. I was 6 weeks pregnant with our second child, so I believed that the thought of my soon-to-be growing pregnant belly was repulsive to him, so he had to get away from me physically. I let those lies sink in until I believed them to be true. And on the flip side, I started to hate Nick. I hated what he did to our family. I resented him for the brand new life growing inside me, and the morning sickness on top of this emotional pain. I didn’t know it at the time, but there were still many more confessions to come.
I asked him to attend the 12-step-recovery program at our church, re:generation, and to find a counselor for us to see individually and together. He said that he had lost his appetite for pornography, so this wasn’t necessary, but that he was willing to do whatever I asked. Recovery from his addiction proved to be much harder than he thought. Even the strongest desire to change is not enough to kick a lifelong addiction. I’m so thankful he was willing to join a group of men and find accountability there. He also installed Covenant Eyes, a porn-blocking software, on all of his devices. In an effort to be honest and open, he added me as an accountability partner on the account, so I could see every site he visited. Sadly, this was one of the biggest mistakes in our recovery process. Having access to his Internet activity brought me to an unhealthy place, where I became an anxious, vindictive detective. He gave me passwords to all of his email and social media accounts, so I spent hours tracking down old conversations with other women, and finding rabbit holes that led to doubt and fear. My heart would race as I searched for things he was hiding from me. I would question him in the evenings, which sometimes turned into yelling fights in front of our one-year-old. I thank God now that this happened when our kids were so young. I was not handling this well.
One day soon after the confession, I was having a pity party alone on the couch watching Parenthood, when my friend Eleanor texted out of the blue. She asked if she and her son could come over to play. My first thought was to find an excuse to say “no,” but I knew this wasn’t a coincidence. Eleanor is the one friend I had at the time who had experienced adultery in her own marriage. I wept, knowing that God was sending that specific friend to me on purpose. That was the first moment I knew I was being pursued by God. He wanted to fill this void I had from the lack of pursuit from my husband. He heard my cries, even though they were rarely aimed at Him. I had been avoiding my Bible, drowning out any signs of love from Him. I felt betrayed by God, wondering how He could love me if He let me marry this man who would hurt me so badly. When Eleanor got to my house, she said I had come to her mind as she was reading her Bible that morning, and that’s why she had reached out to me. How sweet of our God to send me just the right friend in that pitiful moment. I told her everything, and we cried together, both in shock that this was happening. She gave me the best piece of advice that she had learned from her own experience. She said that holding infidelity against our husbands does not get us anywhere. It makes our husbands relive their shame, and it makes our resentment for them grow. Using their sin as a weapon is not worth it.
With God’s help, I took that advice to heart, and decided not to dwell on Nick’s sin when he was trying to overcome it. I decided to become his partner instead of his enemy. I visited my counselor weekly, and listened to every message on the topic of forgiveness that I could find. I knew that I could no longer spend my days checking up on his Internet activity, so I handed that job off to some trustworthy men in Nick’s life. They were to keep an eye his Covenant Eyes account, and he was to confess any slip-ups to me. As Nick worked through the 12 steps, he was convicted to confess another relationship he had while we were engaged, along with some inappropriate conversations with other women throughout our marriage. These confessions felt so much worse than the first. I lost all trust in him and his word, wondering what else he might still be holding back. It felt like we fell even further back than square one. But by this time, I was fully embracing God, allowing Him to pursue me and carry me when I was too weak to move. Most days, I couldn’t tell if I was so physically sick from my pregnancy or my crumbling marriage. My parents were gracious to let me come over and rest while they played with my son almost every day. They babysat while I went to the counselor each week. We had decided not to tell them the details until after Nick was finished with his recovery, but they took care of me as if they knew. The choice to keep the infidelity from my parents was to allow healing of my own heart before hurting theirs with the news. However, we had two couples who knew every detail. When we would have a rough night at home, I’d text the girls, and he’d call the guys in order to own our parts in the argument, and to be held accountable to reconciliation.
During this time, the Lord showed me through the story of Hosea, that He knew exactly how I felt in the midst of this betrayal, and I’m the one who made Him feel it. I realized that I had betrayed my vows to God during my early twenties. I had given my life to Him at a young age, but pursued other “lovers” in material possessions, status, my home, and worldly desires. “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) I thought I could have a foot in each door, but this verse makes it clear that it’s one or the other. When this truth hit me, I was overwhelmed that God’s response to my betrayal was to keep pursuing me with relentless love. “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life” (Psalm 23:6a, MSG) I was so thankful for God’s forgiveness and love, I knew I wanted to do the same for Nick. I ended up finding the answer to my Google search from Day 1, but it didn’t come from an article, but from the pages of my Bible.
By the time we reached our 5th wedding anniversary, about 5 months after the first confession, we decided to renew our wedding vows. I was still struggling to trust him, and we were still awkwardly distant, but we both knew we trusted the Lord with our future. I had learned that even in the midst of brokenness and pain, I have the relentless love of my Heavenly Father. Nick found that bringing his sin into the light brought intimacy and freedom he had never experienced before. So together, we looked to HIM and found what we had been wanting from each other all along.
Today, we are three years out from that confession, and neither one of us would say that we’re nailing marriage. We still have miscommunications, hurt feelings, and disappointments. But we’ve learned that our spouses were never meant to satisfy our desires for love and acceptance. Those desires are only fully satisfied in God, and He will never fail. Now we get to experience a level of mutual love and intimacy that would never have been possible if Nick had stayed silent, or tried to handle his addiction on his own. I’m so proud of the courage he displayed when he knelt broken before me. He says that power was something he was seeking when he used to turn to porn, and I’d say he’s found it now as he points others to God’s powerful work in his life. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
You can read Nick’s story here.