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The Other Woman

We didn't kiss, or even touch. But the hold we had on each other wasn't easily broken
The Other Woman
Image: MAVO / SHUTTERSTOCK

I don't remember the first time I saw her. That's how little of an impression Amanda made on me. There was nothing about her face, or her figure, that made her stand out. We both worked as volunteers at a local youth outreach center. I led Bible studies and she tutored kids who were struggling in school. One evening, as we finished up a session, Amanda asked if we could get together to talk about the kids she was working with. Since I wasn't attracted to her, and since we'd be meeting in a public place, I saw no reason to refuse her request.

The following week we had coffee together in a crowded restaurant. As we talked about an upcoming fundraiser for the center, I had no way of knowing that our friendship would one day threaten my marriage.

Signs of Danger

I didn't know it then, but I do now—there are intimacies far more subtle than physical touch but no less dangerous to a marriage. When Amanda and I began meeting, I didn't recognize the pressures that were building beneath the surface of my four-year-old marriage. For one thing, money was tight. I was a self-employed contractor, and my clients were often tardy with their payments. But our bills arrived with maddening regularity. Our newborn was colicky and my wife, Sarah, was exhausted. Adding to the stress was our impending move to the Midwest. I can see now that the pressure we were under created an atmosphere ripe for temptation. Still, what happened with Amanda caught me completely off-guard.

After a few meetings over coffee, I was puzzled by how much I looked forward to seeing Amanda again. I'd get an idea at work, and I'd realize I couldn't wait to share it with her. Somehow, I assumed Sarah wouldn't be as interested.

In addition to our volunteer work at the youth center, Amanda and I shared an uncannily similar taste in music and literature. We began discussing the books we were reading, and our meetings grew longer and more frequent. As I got to know her compassion for others, my admiration of her literally changed the way she looked to me. One evening, as I watched her praying with a student, I realized I had become the friend of a beautiful woman.

Meanwhile, Sarah was struggling to care for our new baby and worrying about our precarious financial condition. When I'd come home excited about the way God was moving in the life of one of the students, Sarah would respond by mentioning that the bills were due and we were $200 short. She felt my spare time would be more wisely spent on a second job—not volunteering at the youth center. In fact, the more I struggled with my feelings for Amanda, the more stressed out Sarah became about our home and repairs that needed to be done. Home maintenance is not my strength, and yet it appeared to be Sarah's most cherished attribute in a husband.

Losing Control

Amanda and I had been meeting for about a month when a group from the youth center went on a weekend retreat. I began thinking about her as soon as I settled into my bunk. I imagined the walks we might take or conversations we might have, and instantly my conscience screamed out a warning: "These are thoughts you should be having about your wife! How long are you going to let this go on?"

As I prayed about the situation, I realized our meetings would have to end. The next day I broke the news to her.

"Sarah and I will be moving to the Midwest in about a month," I began. I saw the alarm in Amanda's eyes, and took a strange comfort in knowing she would really miss me. "And, well, my family is really important to me and I don't think we should be meeting together anymore."

Amanda was the type who had a small circle of friends, and she held them closely. Her voice was bruised and soft when she finally asked the ultimate question, "Why?" Without answering her directly, I reiterated how important my family was to me, and added that I didn't want to do anything that would jeopardize my marriage.

"You mean … " she began, then stopped. "I can't believe this. You're so perfect. I never thought that … "

Amanda hadn't suspected that my interest in her was anything more than brotherly. And my tacit confession served only to make us acknowledge our growing affection. Besides, I was intoxicated by her remark that I was "so perfect" when, in Sarah's eyes, I seemed to be merely a husband who earned too little money and who couldn't tune up a car like her dad did.

"We can work through this," Amanda said. "You're moving anyway, there's no reason we can't continue our friendship until then."

I suppose, deep down, I wanted to be swayed by Amanda's reasoning. We were both mature, committed Christians. And besides, I'd be moving soon. Surely we could keep a little mutual infatuation under control.

Facing the Truth

Amanda and I quickly discovered how difficult it is to take a relationship backward. Whenever we talked, it was almost impossible to avoid topics far more personal than the ministry we shared. Soon, I knew things about Amanda that no one else knew.

Every time I'd start to feel a pang of guilt, I'd think, "Look, we've never kissed, and we don't even hold hands. Can this really be sinful?" Besides, our friendship was a welcome contrast to the emotional loneliness I felt at home.

In an attempt to "prove" there was nothing improper going on, I encouraged Sarah to invite Amanda over for dinner. When Amanda showed up, it didn't take long for Sarah to figure out what was happening. That night, as we lay in bed, she asked, "Do you have feelings for Amanda?"

"What makes you ask that?"

"Because you look at her the way you used to look at me."

My silence said everything. Sarah started to cry and for the first time in our marriage, we didn't kiss good night.

Sarah's pain opened my eyes to the truth: I was justifying my behavior with the rationalization that we'd had no physical involvement. But my emotional link with Amanda was a blatant betrayal of my marriage vows. I had hurt my wife deeply, and I could no longer pretend that what I was doing was harmless.

Once the spell was broken, I had to admit that I had been using Amanda to ease the pain I felt over the emotional distance in my marriage. Was I really any better than a man who uses a woman for sexual pleasure?

A Way Out

Sarah and I sought help from our pastor and two couples at church. While we were getting plenty of support, it seemed Amanda was expected to go it alone. I asked one of the wives to meet with her. But instead of offering support and guidance, our friend blasted Amanda with a series of accusations.

Well-meaning friends were inadvertently pushing the two of us back together. I felt like I was the only one who could console Amanda. We shared the brunt of everyone's accusations, and those accusations became a new bond between us.

My pastor, as well as my friends, counseled me to cut off all contact with Amanda. "Wouldn't it be cruel to just drop a friend?" I asked. What I didn't understand was that the cruelty had already taken place, and there was no nice way to end a cruel act.

When I finally cut off all ties to Amanda, my marriage wasn't miraculously transformed. But my commitment to Sarah was, and still is, absolute. Having once tried to stretch the rules—and seeing the damage that was done—I will never again knowingly allow my neediness to endanger my marriage.

There are some things Sarah and I may never share in our marriage, but there is also something we can never replace, and that is each other. The joys of building a history together may not provide the same type of excitement you feel upon discovering that another woman finds you attractive. But that sort of excitement is to the soul what too much candy is to the body—short-term pleasure followed by long-term pain.

Today, when I look at our children—two of whom wouldn't be here if our marriage had ended—and I catch the sunlight reflected off my wife's hair, I can't imagine life any other way. I was a fool to think I could ever push against the boundaries.

Jim Peters is the penname of a writer now living on the East Coast. Names and certain details of this story have been altered to protect the privacy of those involved.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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