I don't know exactly when my affair started. My marriage of eight years had brought me three wonderful children and a beautiful home. While I'd like to say it brought me happiness, too, I couldn't. I questioned the direction of my career, I felt guilty leaving my children with a babysitter, and I believed my husband, Allen,* wasn't doing everything he could to make me happy.
I focused on what Allen did that I didn't like. Petty things such as making noises when he ate, telling annoying jokes, or not putting something away became the stepping-stones to what I thought were bigger problems. I thought, He never listens to me, he doesn't support anything I do, he rarely hugs me. By focusing on what he wasn't doing, I overlooked the things he did do: working hard to support us, helping around the house, encouraging me to take a break from my job, reading stories to the kids each night. He loved me, even when I wasn't loving toward him.
Still, I grew impatient and emotionally distant. I blamed my unhappiness on Allen. Soon, he put more energy into his work.
When he came home after a long day, I complained about the long hours he worked. Eventually, I avoided talking to him unless I had to. He then started working Saturdays, which added fuel to the fire.
I turned to Paul, a coworker. He was easy to talk to, and I enjoyed his company. Thinking I found someone who truly understood me, we spent more time together.
One evening after work a group of us went out for drinks. Paul and I were the last to leave, and as he walked me to my car, he kissed me. While I was surprised at first, I convinced myself there was nothing wrong with it because I didn't love Allen anymore.
Paul and I met often and I told him about my marital "problems." The more I shared how awful my marriage was the more my heart opened to Paul. I thought he possessed all the qualities Allen lacked. I thought he was the one I was meant to be with. I thought I was in love. Our relationship grew physically and emotionally, and eventually we also became sexually intimate.
At first, our relationship didn't bother me. I justified it by blaming Allen. After a few months though, guilt filtered in. The more I pushed it away, the more it consumed me.
Finally after a year, I told Paul we couldn't continue our physical relationship. But I was still emotionally attached to him. I thought I loved him and even though he never said it, I was convinced he loved me. I mentally created this perfect life with this other man. Over the next year, I pushed Allen further away. I hardly talked to him, and although we still shared the same bed, I shunned sex or affection.
Three months later I started to look for an apartment; I figured if I continued to act so badly, he would leave. Then I wouldn't have to accept responsibility for my actions.
It almost worked.
"I don't love you"
On Valentine's Day 2000, right after I found an apartment, I was ready to tell Allen our marriage was over. Allen took me to a nice restaurant, then we drove to a beautiful place where stars lit the sky. Coldly, I informed Allen I didn't love him anymore. He broke down in tears saying this wasn't what he wanted, that he still loved me.
I wasn't expecting his heartbroken reaction. How could he still care for me after all I'd done? He was supposed to say he didn't love me either. Then we could separate.
But he didn't.
Neither of us spoke about what to do next.
In the middle of the night after Allen tossed and turned in bed, he touched my arm and asked, "Is there someone else?"
I didn't answer, so he asked again. I told him there was someone, but I'd broken off the relationship. In my heart, though, I knew that was only partially true. That's when the yelling started. He questioned how I could do this to him and the kids. What was I thinking? Didn't our vows mean anything? I listened as all the hurt poured from him. When he could yell no more, he went for a walk while I laid in bed and cried. All the yelling and pain snapped me back to reality. The consequences of my actions were settling in, and it became clear what I'd done. To save my marriage, I was determined to end the other relationship at work the next day.
The next couple days were an emotional roller coaster filled with anger, confusion, sadness, and shock. I apologized over and over and told Allen this would never happen again. At this point I was at a loss; I needed help.
My family didn't go to church much when I was growing up. While I always knew there was a God, he wasn't part of my life.
But I needed God now.
Cry for help
While Allen was at work, I went into the living room, got on my knees, and begged God to forgive me, to come into my life and help me. I knew this was my last chance to save my marriage. I cried and prayed as I never had before, and soon a calm came over me. I felt if I trusted God, my marriage would survive. But I also needed my husband's forgiveness—and my own.
That evening, armed with hope, I asked Allen again for forgiveness and asked if we should try to work out our marriage or separate. With conviction he said, "I made a commitment to this marriage and I'm not going anywhere. If you want to leave, go ahead, but I'm not giving up." I was stunned that he wanted to stay. I told him I was willing to work it out as well. Then Allen said, "You're a great person. I guess I didn't think you had moral flaws. You made a mistake and I forgive you."
I stood listening to his grace and began to weep. At that moment I felt renewed love toward Allen and I wrapped my arms around him.
"I'll work hard to earn back your trust. I promise."
We agreed we needed God to be part of our family, so we found a church and attended weekly. With the help of my newly found faith, I adjusted my attitude and began to focus on all my blessings. I made sure Allen knew where I was at all times and when he could expect me home. I went out of my way to prove he could trust me. His attitude changed as well. He stopped putting in long hours at work, and I could see he was really trying to move past the affair.
Yet even with all the positive changes, our relationship was strained. The wound was still new and deep. Everything would go smoothly, then Allen would think about what I'd done and his anger and hurt would surface. If the kids weren't around, he'd confront me about it or would just ignore me. I grew tired of giving a detailed itinerary every time I left the house, and my guilt continued to weigh on me as I tried to maintain a positive attitude.
After a few months, I questioned whether or not I could deal with it anymore. I was weary of reliving what had happened. I wanted Allen to forget so we could move on. One Sunday when I was feeling especially depressed about our marriage, I found a brochure at church announcing an upcoming Marriage Encounter Weekend. I showed it to Allen and we signed up, hoping this would be the needed balm for our marriage.
On Friday we drove into the Rocky Mountains to a small retreat center. With our hopes high and our hearts still aching, we entered the weekend eager to heal. The days included group meetings where volunteer couples modeled good communication skills, then gave us a topic to discuss. Throughout the weekend Allen and I rehashed recent events, talked about the kids, money, forgiveness, and our future. We were able to break through some walls of hardness and spent a lot of time crying, laughing, and holding each other.
On Sunday afternoon, true healing came. Following a short church service, all the couples gathered in a circle and faced their spouses. We were going to renew our vows. The men went first. With tear-filled eyes, Allen renewed his vows to me. While he spoke I felt my heart open completely to him.
When my turn came, I swallowed hard and looked deep into his eyes as I vowed to love him for the rest of my life, in good times and bad.
I knew at that moment my marriage would last. We left behind the crumpled pieces of a troubled marriage determined to rebuild a stronger foundation--this time with God at the center.
Happy at last
It's been four years since that Valentine's Day, and we're now happily married.
The road to this point hasn't been easy. For two years Allen's emotions continued to go up and down. While many times I wished he would just let it go, I knew it was important to let him work through his emotions in his own time. I discovered Allen isn't responsible for my happiness. I have to choose to be happy. And when I feel bothered that our marriage isn't perfect, I ask God to help me focus on the good things in our relationship. I'm finally committed to my marriage and with the passing of each day, we grow closer to moving beyond my wrong actions.
Eventually we reached the point when we both decided to leave the past behind us and not bring it up anymore. Since then, life has been wonderful. We still have disagreements about money and the house, just like any couple. But in light of everything we've experienced, I figure those just come with the territory and I'm happy to face them. I wonder sometimes how we made it through these past four years. But as I look back, I see it was patience, trust, communication, love, forgiveness, and above all, God's grace.
Lyn Mackenzie is a pseudonym for an author living in Colorado.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.