Better than I Deserve

When I look back over the months that Husband spent having an affair, one thing that stands out to me is how mean he was. I have to stop here and tell you just what a kind man Husband can be. He’s the guy that always treated me so nicely that women would stop me to ask, “Does he have a brother?” I was aware that people who knew me well, who knew all my faults, wondered how I scored the perfect guy. And he played the part well.

The truth was that he wasn’t always that nice in private. Not that he would be overtly mean, but he would do a lot of agreeing with things I said then doing the exact opposite, or raising his standards for care of the home or dinner on the table just a little more so I could never quite please him. I was never quite good enough, and he knew (from all the adoring women who would tell him often how awesome he was) that he was pretty much the perfect guy, and we lived unequally, with him on a pedestal and me on the bare ground.

At the time, I believed it. I really thought that I had married this great guy that I didn’t deserve, and that I needed to be just a little better, just a little more, to deserve him.

Then came the change. He started to be more unkind at home. If I had a complaint about how little time or attention I was receiving, he would caustically reply that I was so demanding. I hate to think back on the specifics because it still hurts a bit. I remember that I walked into the bedroom once where he was using the computer and he yelled at me for never giving him any time alone. (Now I realize he was communicating with her and trying to make sure I didn’t catch him, but at the time it was pretty shocking.) There were other times, other bits of venom spewed at me that seemed to come out of nowhere, but there’s no reason to dig it all up. Just understand that he changed suddenly and drastically with no explanation.

I started to fall into a depression. Of course, this made me even less of the wife and homemaker that I felt I needed to be, which fed the depression, which spiraled downwards until I realized that I was in danger of doing something awful to myself. It was the last week before the revelation of the affair that I realized how much his behavior had contributed, and I even made up my mind to talk to our church leaders and ask for their help with his behavior toward me.

The revelation came before I could have that talk. I could now see a different perspective on why he had changed. He was trying to protect himself and his privacy so as not to be discovered. But as I’ve reflected on it, there was also something deeper.

In the Bible, in Genesis, Adam and Eve do the one thing which is not allowed: they eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Suddenly, they see their own nakedness and cover themselves and hide. God calls them out, Adam first, and he immediately points the finger away from himself. “It was that woman!” Eve hardly distinguishes herself next with “It was that serpent!” When we are faced with our own sin, the first thing we naturally do is find someone to blame. “Yeah, I did wrong, but LOOK OVER THERE!” Husband’s behavior to me was, in part, his deflection of his own guilt. Sure, I’m cheating, but see how my wife fails to meet my needs!

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how he treats me. He’s acknowledged his need to look like a hero in front of other women (hence the difference in his public and private actions). As the way he sees himself changes—he’s not perfect—his view of me has changed. I’m worth so much more than he had ever seen. I think one of the reasons that we’ve been able to work through this affair is that we come together now as equals. He’s not perfect and I’m not inadequate—we’re flawed humans sorting out this mess together.

I Know What You’re Thinking

Counseling after the affair was, for us, good and bad. As quickly as appointments could be made, we each saw therapists individually and a marriage counselor together. I loved my therapist, made great progress, and “graduated” over a year after beginning therapy. Husband had difficulty getting appointments with his therapist and they didn’t really connect on the issues he felt needed to be addressed. Our marriage therapist was very good, but also failed to connect with who we are as a couple. This was disappointing, especially to Husband, who felt that he was left with little guidance.

We did, however, gain some real benefit from even those therapists with whom that connection was lacking. One of the lessons learned has changed the way we argue. (I tend to use the words “argue” and “fight” interchangeably, so don’t be alarmed if I say that Husband and I fight—it’s with words, not physical violence.)

We each have some natural destructive tendencies that we fall back on during conflict. One of mine is to become defensive. Extremely defensive. Defensive to the point that I will attack first from every angle I can find. I’ll lob a verbal grenade into a tense situation, then while Husband is reeling and trying to respond, I cut him off with these words, “I know what you’re thinking.” This is followed by my reading of his facial expressions, sighs, body language, or possibly that spot of mustard dripped on his shirt at lunch. It doesn’t matter what he does, I can read it.

Or can I?

I always believed that I had a good read on people. Actually, I just might. As a child I sat with my dad for hours “people-watching” as he called it. It’s a great way to study human behavior, and with practice one can even tease out possible motives behind actions, words, and body language of strangers. It’s fun! The problem is that what is a fun exercise with strangers doesn’t translate well into close, personal relationships. Am I really reading Husband’s hand to his forehead and deep sigh, or am I drawing from years of past behavior combined with insecurities about myself to decide that he is tired of talking to me?

When our counselor hinted that I might be defensive in a fight, I shot back, “I AM NOT!” Ok, I didn’t. But it was vital to realize that telling my husband what he must be thinking—and not listening to his protests because I know that I’m right—is actually defensive behavior, and destructive to building communication between us. How is he supposed to communicate with me while I speak for him? How can he convince me of his true feelings when I’ve convinced myself of a lie already?

Is it easy to break that habit? Nope. Worth it? I think you know the answer to that. Once I started biting my tongue instead of breaking out the crystal ball, he was able to start trusting me with his deepest emotions. Blessings upon blessings have resulted from that new trust, and I hope to someday retire the mind-reader act forever.

The Reality of Now

I’ve been reading some blogs dealing with affairs. It’s hard, as a betrayed spouse, to read some of these stories. Either I feel so deeply the raw pain and emotion of those who have been hurt, or I find myself angry at cheaters I have never met. My writing is so sanitized, in a way, compared with those who are only beginning their journey. I can write calmly about lessons I have learned and the process I’ve been through so far.

It’s funny to me that I can write so calmly yet I still have rough, jagged edges when Husband and I talk about the affair. I’m so raw, and he is so composed. He thinks about his words before speaking, sometimes to the point that I want to shake him by the shoulders and tell him to JUST SAY WHAT YOU’RE THINKING!!! I cry, I shake uncontrollably, I hide under a blanket(!), I say hateful words. Yes, it happens so much less than it used to, but I still do it. If time heals all wounds, mine may take all eternity.

Life continues, even after the moments and days and weeks in which you might wish for death. Tiny little green shoots of joy begin to slowly sprout from a scorched heart. If I look at everything that has happened and consider the many years ahead in which I will have to continue to work through the pain, it becomes so overwhelming and I feel as though a strong current has pulled me under water and away from happiness, from joy, from life. Husband has learned the look on my face and my body language when this happens. Sometimes I’m laughing and joyful then in an instant he can see the cloud cross my face and he’s suddenly lost me. He’s learned not to even ask “what’s wrong?” but to fold me in his arms and tell me that he loves me and only me. He tells me that he’s committed to me, to our marriage and to our family. He tells me that he wants to spend the rest of our lives together no matter what. It doesn’t fix everything, but it’s a pretty effective life preserver when I’m being pulled under.

I am learning to cope on my own as well. I must be able to turn to God, to a strength that is greater than Husband or than I. More reliable. Had He not been faithful to me before, during, and after Husband’s infidelity, I would not be here. Sometimes I still want Husband to be everything to me and for him to solve all my problems. I know this is silly, but I just want to be back in that naive place where I saw him as my superhero. It sucks to be realistic about how flawed his character has always been.

So that’s me. Raw and real. I’m imperfect, in pain, a work in progress.

Grace for Whom?

After the heart-wrenching pain of the affair subsided into more of a dull ache, other pain took the stage. One of the issues I have struggled with has been where is the grace for me? I forgave him early on in the process, even before I had worked through the pain. I’m not trying to be self-righteous in saying that, because forgiving him was more for my own sake at first than for his. I knew that if I held on to the desire to get revenge, to hurt him back, I would suffer far more than he ever would. I forgave him for me, then later for him too.

Grace was extended to him; he was forgiven freely and fully. There were and still are consequences. I think there always will be. You can’t break trust and not change the relationship with one you’ve betrayed. Yet he is forgiven not only by me but by our God, and he will not pay the ultimate price for his sin.

This is great news! Of course, from the perspective of a betrayed spouse, I saw myself as paying more in consequences than he has. I had my heart broken and my intimate life exposed to another woman, just to start. I felt abandoned and unloved and unlovable. There were other far-reaching consequences that still touch my life nearly two years after the revelation. Yet it seemed as though he had received a slap on the wrist and continued on his merry way. Much of the trouble that he stirred up in his own life was gone and behind him before a year passed.

I finally had to acknowledge that grace is unfair. Justice is fair. When we get exactly what we deserve after we hurt someone, Lady Justice with her blindfold and scales is satisfied. Grace leaves those scales wildly out of balance. I see those scales tipped forever in his favor and I wonder why the same scale seems so weighted against me. What did I do to deserve the pain, and what did he do to deserve such freedom?

Of course, what I’m really asking is the age old question of “why do bad things happen to good people?” If I hear the question posed that way, the answer that glibly rolls off my tongue is “there is none good but Christ.” Applying this to my life? Ugh. So hard. I want to be the good one in our marriage. But, you know, deep down, while I DID NOT deserve what he did to me, I’m not the “good one.” We’re both sinners. We’ve each committed cosmic treason against a thrice-holy God, for which we deserve death. Sure, my sins haven’t hurt Husband the way his have hurt me. But that is not what wins me a pardon from judgement–only the death and resurrection of Christ accomplished that.

When I put myself in perspective, I know that the scales are weighted in my favor, just as they are in Husband’s. That doesn’t make walking this path easy. But it does help me continue to forgive him each day. It helps me remember that he is valuable to God despite his sin, just as I am.

On Bashing My Husband

I read a blog post about husband bashing, or rather, why we as wives shouldn’t air our husbands’ dirty laundry for all to see. I came across it after seeing that a Facebook friend had “liked” it. Finding articles or blog posts in this way is dangerous for me, because I find myself reading reasons into why she or he liked a certain article when I really have no way of knowing what made a person click the thumbs up.

The post brought up some good points. Wives shouldn’t participate in “bashing” sessions with friends which escalate with everyone telling stories about how bad each husband is. I absolutely agree. No question, we don’t need to tell on our husbands to entertain others or to top each other and crown the worst husband of the bunch.

However, the author of the blog makes what I believe is a critical error. She starts this out by saying that when a friend comes to her and starts “bashing,” she gives the friend a weird look or cuts the conversation short. This makes me wonder whether what she is hearing is truly the running down of a husband, or a cry for help from a wife who needs support. She might not be expressing her frustration in the most Christ-like manner, but are we to expect people to approach us from a place of perfection before we listen or help or advise?

Maybe this blog post that I read bothered me so much because I have been very much like the author. I have been the woman who could hold herself on the pedestal of never having run her husband down, no matter what. Fantastic. Congratulations. Of course, I was also the woman who felt so alone in the problems in our marriage. I felt that I was struggling in a unique way that no one would understand. None of these other wives deal with a husband addicted to pornography! I mean, this is a church full of CHRISTIAN men and women. We’re different than these other Christians. I’m different. And so the lies built and I patted myself on the back about the respectful way I talked about my husband while his behavior spiraled downward into an affair.

Wives need to have a trusted female confidante outside of the marriage. We don’t need to parade a spouse’s bad deeds for the world to see, but that is not what a talk with a trusted, wise, Christian woman should become. I have a friend to whom I can say, “I’m struggling in my marriage,” and she will sit down and listen and talk with me, advise me, cry or laugh with me for hours. She gets it. I do the same for her. No one else hears what goes on in these conversations because they stay private. This is what friendships between sisters in Christ should look like! No “church face.” No “I’m fine, how are you?”

Tell the world the good qualities about your spouse. Build up your partner by praising publicly. But release the self-righteousness of keeping your problems hidden, and embrace God’s gift of walking in both the joy and the pain of life with your fellow believers.

The Beginning

I don’t know about you, but when I go to an affair recovery blog, the first thing I look for is the story of what happened. So if that’s why you landed on this post, welcome!

The story unfolded nearly two years ago. Our stable, even predictable marriage had seemed to go sideways, and I didn’t know why. Anger had replaced understanding. Withdrawal replaced intimacy. I remember watching a movie on the couch next to my husband, and as he gently touched my hand, I said, “That’s the first time you’ve been romantic with me in months.” I didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t know what to do.

Then came that day. If you’re reading this because your marriage has been through an affair, you know which day I’m talking about. I watched a sporting event on TV with the husband. Our team won, yay! He went out and bought me some of my guilty favorite junk food. He took care of my every need. I remember sitting on the couch after dinner and looking behind me down the hall as he returned to the living room. I smiled at him. That was the last time I smiled for a long time.

He sat down and told me we needed to talk. I could tell it was bad. He said it’s worse than I’m probably imagining. My heart seemed to stop as he confessed to an affair. It just couldn’t happen to us. We’re Christians! We’re GOOD Christians! I asked him if he loved her. He said yes. I thought it would be merciful if God just killed me at that moment.

Through the next painful hours, we talked through it. I thought he didn’t have enough spare time to cheat; turns out he had more than enough. I thought he wasn’t the type to betray me; apparently it only took adequate temptation. He ended the conversation and grabbed a suitcase, planning to leave. I asked him to stay, and he did, but he slept on the couch for the first time in our marriage.

I did not sleep. I sobbed and cried out to God and read the Psalms all night. It felt as though my life had ended, but it was only the beginning.

The first months of recovery were so painful. I was in a fog for much of it, and for that I am grateful. I don’t want to remember it all in the same vivid detail with which I remember Revelation Day.

So much time has passed now, yet some days it feels like yesterday. Sometimes I still cry for hours on my bed, but it used to be every day. I can smile again. I can even smile at my husband! We are both in awe of God’s grace and healing. We’ll never have a perfect marriage, but really, we never did. We’re just building a strong marriage. I’m ready for that.