Looking back, I realize there were many reasons I had an affair with Jack. But what lured me in was how he made me feel—with cards on my desk, flowers on my windshield, and calls just to say "hi." Finally, I was a priority in someone's life. I felt special and loved.
I met Jack when we both worked in the service department of a car dealership. Although I joked with all the guys, I noticed Jack paid more attention to me than the others. He made a point of showering me with compliments and making me laugh. Jack was fun, compassionate, and caring. He also was married.
When I started working late several nights a week, one night Jack worked late, too. Since we were the only two there, we ended up chatting late into the night. This quickly became the norm. When I was around him, I had fun, I laughed, I was happy. I could feel my attraction for him growing, but ignored it. I reasoned that not only was he married, he was also 11 years older than I. He couldn't possibly be interested in a 19-year-old girl.
But my naiveté shattered one night when we were talking in my office. I was perched casually on the edge of my desk, and he was in a chair across the room. After a brief pause in our conversation, he said quietly, "Come here." By the look in his eyes, I knew what could happen. In a fraction of a second, my mind raced through all my options. I could make the right decision—or the wrong one. I moved to him, and we began to kiss.
I'm sure part of my susceptibility to the affair stemmed from the fact my parents divorced when I was five. Although I wasn't aware of it for many years, their divorce destroyed my security. My daddy was everything to me. Not having him as a constant in my life left me feeling alone and unloved.
When I was 14, I met a young man and suddenly discovered a man's attention made me feel good. For the next seven years I jumped from one physical relationship to another, trying to maintain that feeling. I became adept at hiding this side of my life. My parents had no idea I regularly traded sex for a few minutes of "love." I knew God didn't approve, and I felt guilty. I'd grown up in a Christian home and vividly remember asking Jesus into my heart when I was four. I figured I'd done what I needed to do to avoid hell. I tried to be a nice person and do good things, figuring that was enough. I didn't understand I could have a personal relationship with Jesus.
Instead, I attempted to make my relationship with Jack fill my deep need to feel loved and valued.
Six months into our affair, Jack's wife found out. After an hour of waiting for him to show up one night, I angrily called his house. Either I'd gotten incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, because I actually asked his wife to speak to him. Without hesitation, she put him on the phone and then, unbeknownst to me, picked up the other extension. In the midst of complaining about being stood up, I heard her voice. For a moment my heart stopped. Neither Jack nor I said a word.
To my astonishment, she calmly asked me to come over to discuss the situation. Compelled by guilt, I went, fear mounting with each mile I drove.
For reasons I'll never understand, Jack's wife treated me with dignity and respect. She talked to me as if we'd been friends for years. She asked how long the affair had been going on, how it started, what I saw in Jack. She told me how they'd met, shared some of their best times together, said she didn't want to lose him. She asked Jack if he loved her, if he wanted a divorce.
I can't speculate why she reacted the way she did. What I do know is that I used her reaction to justify the continuation of the affair. If she wasn't that upset, why stop? On the other hand, I saw firsthand how considerate and loving she was. Several times I tried to end our affair and told Jack to go work things out with his wife. I even quit my job and moved out of the area for a while to create some distance from Jack, but something always pulled me back to him.
As tolerant as she was, Jack's wife had a limit. Six months later, on New Year's Eve, she reached it. She'd discovered what motel we were at and somehow figured out my parents' phone number. She called them, informed them I'd been having an affair with her husband for more than a year, and gave them the number to reach me.
When I heard my stepdad's voice on the phone that night, I knew there was no way out. I'd been caught in my own web of deceit. I was well aware of my parents' standards, and I knew if I wanted to live in their home, I'd be expected to end the affair. I felt trapped. Either I'd lose my family or the one man who'd ever made me feel wanted. I was so emotionally attached to Jack, I couldn't bear the thought of living without him. I told my stepdad I'd be home the next day to pack my things and move out.
That was 25 years ago. After moving out of my parents' house, Jack and I broke up, only to get back together again. We discussed our relationship's future for the umpteenth time. Where were we headed? Had he filed for divorce? Did he still love his wife? His answers confirmed my suspicions: Nothing had changed—he wanted his marriage and me. It began to dawn on me that nothing ever would change.
I was suddenly tired of being a mistress. One night as I lay in a hotel bed next to Jack crying, I had this incredibly clear picture of my future in this life of adultery—all the lies, shame, and guilt. I wanted a relationship I could be proud of, not one I was ashamed of.
I felt God offer me a second chance to make the right choice, and I was ready to take it.
Taking a deep breath, I sat up, dried my eyes, and calmly told Jack I wasn't willing to play this game anymore. I expressed my sincere hope he'd reconcile his marriage. Then I left.
I felt free for the first time since beginning the affair.
Within the next year, I met Kurt, the man who'd become my husband. Through his encouragement, I reconciled with my parents and moved back home. At the same time I started going to church and attended a Christian retreat. During that weekend, I saw God as a loving Father rather than the distant authoritarian I'd thought he was. I came to understand he cared deeply about me as a person and only wanted what was best for me. As I sat alone in my room at that retreat, I confronted my sins, asked God for forgiveness, and admitted I needed his help.
When I returned from the retreat, Kurt and I started spending all our free time together. I was astounded that Kurt never tried anything physical with me. He respected me; no man had ever done that before.
When Kurt and I finally married, although I'd taken steps in my renewed faith, I still dragged all my misconceptions about love into our marriage. I was unprepared for the reality of married life; I fully expected we would remain in a state of perpetual courtship.
The longer we were married, the more frustrated I became with Kurt's lack of romanticism. Whenever I felt disappointed, my mind would call up an old memory from my relationship with Jack—one of our rides in the country or afternoons in the park. Without hesitation, I'd immerse myself in the past, remembering how Jack used to make me feel and wishing Kurt would make me feel that way. My affair may have been long over, but it was interfering with my marriage all the same. Matthew 5:28 makes it perfectly clear: "I tell you that anyone who looks … lustfully has already committed adultery … in his heart." Thinking about Jack was no different from actually having another affair.
Each trip to the past caused me to question Kurt's love. Unfortunately, my perception of love was so skewed, I didn't recognize Kurt's attempts to show me he loved me. I thought love was all about romantic gestures and feelings, and anything short of that was unacceptable to me.
I knew my memories of Jack had no place in my life, but I couldn't seem to control them. Even when I tried to keep them out of my mind during the day, they'd invade my dreams at night. I begged God to take the thoughts away, but he never did. It took ten long years to realize my memories weren't leaving because I didn't want them to. God wouldn't simply take them away—I had to be willing to give them up. That realization terrified me.
Finally I confessed my reluctance to God and asked him to help me. I took a brutally honest look at myself and saw a woman who was desperately trying to control her husband. I thought if he behaved the way I wanted him to, it would bring me the ultimate happiness. Through wise counsel, wonderful friends, books, and Scripture, I realized that wasn't true.
I began to understand that being happy was a choice, not something dependent on other people's actions. It was easier for me simply to blame Kurt for not "meeting my needs" than admit they were based on fantasies and built on insecurities.
One of the first things I felt God led me to do was talk to Kurt. He knew I'd had an affair before we met, but he had no idea it still impacted my life or our marriage. As my teammate, Kurt needed to know what I struggled with in order to help me. I also needed to ask his forgiveness for trying to force our marriage to reflect a storybook romance.
Finally I got up my nerve and poured out the whole ugly story through many tears. Kurt listened quietly, then held me tightly, reassured me of his love, and promised to do whatever he could to help me. I felt such relief! He knew my secret and loved me anyway. That day I experienced what real love feels like. I also learned firsthand the truth really does set you free (John 8:32).
The more I learned about God's definition of love, the more I realized how misguided my definition was. I'd assumed love was based solely on emotions. Not only was I wrong, I was being unfair to Kurt, and ultimately, to myself. I wasn't allowing either of us to experience the love God intended us to share. I'd expected Kurt to jump through hoops to prove he loved me. If I felt special enough, I thought I was loved; if I didn't, I thought I wasn't. But slowly I started to see being loved isn't just about cards and flowers. Although that can be one aspect of love, it doesn't stop there. Real love goes much deeper. It's unconditional and unchanging. It's a commitment and a choice. Understanding that allowed my marriage to begin growing in God's direction. I was able not only to accept Kurt's love as he offered it, but also to genuinely love him in return. I no longer needed something tangible to feel his love. I felt it in the little things he did—snuggling with me on the couch, cleaning the kitchen, teaching me about the computer, putting our kids to bed. I saw it when he looked at me across the table or when he patiently tolerated my moods.
Together, we learned to honor and value each other even in the midst of difficulty, to respect each other even when we disagree, and to support each other under all circumstances.
And I found my value in God. I don't need anyone or anything to make me feel special anymore. I know I'm special simply because God created me.
It hasn't always been easy, and it hasn't happened overnight, but I'm learning to let go of my old memories and build new healthy ones with Kurt. Now, after more than 20 years of marriage, when I find myself feeling insecure or disappointed, I pray and talk with Kurt, and we work through it together. When thoughts from the past resurface, I refuse to relive them.
I'm not proud of having had an affair. But God promises to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), and he's certainly done that. He's taken a tragic mistake, taught me some valuable lessons, and renewed my marriage. For that I'll always be grateful.
Becky Gain, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Texas.
Copyright 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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