The shiny BMW motorcycle startled me as it rumbled into my parents' driveway and stopped beside my husband and me. In disbelief, I watched John,* a high-school boyfriend from more than 20 years ago, dismount and remove his helmet. After a confusion of hugs and handshakes, John insisted I not let his surprise visit disrupt the after-dinner walk with my family we were just beginning. Instead, he invited himself along.
Strolling through the neighborhood, my dad and children engaged John in spirited conversation while I tried to silently subdue muttered questions from my husband, Rob: "Who is this guy? Why is he here? When is he leaving?"
Married to me 15 years, Rob had no knowledge of this teenage fling. After all, high school days were long gone and besides, John and I had never gotten "serious" in our year of dating. Consequently, long before my marriage to Rob and the birth of our two children, I'd put away thoughts of John, never expecting to encounter him again, especially without warning.
Yet now, I felt surprisingly guilty for the mild attraction and intrigue surfacing in my mind after his reappearance. And I found myself hoping Rob might be jealous. It had been far too long since we shared any kind of stimulating conversation, fun, or even a simple declaration of admiration or appreciation.
Famished for Fun
Forty pounds heavier since marriage, I'd given up expecting compliments or kindness from my slim, disciplined husband. Instead, I'd learned to fend off insults, impatience, or indifference. Rob only seemed to notice my appearance after a haircut. Then he'd say, "Why did you ruin your hair? I liked it how it was before." (News to me!) If I came home from work later than he did, he'd bellow, "When are we going to eat?" My attempts to greet him with a kiss would meet rebuffs: "You have lipstick on" or "I'm too hot and sweaty. I can't hug you right now."
Although Rob's comments and behavior weren't abusive, his complaints and negativity wore me down. When I suggested doing a fun or different activity, Rob would question: "How much will that cost?" or "Why would I want to do that crazy thing?"
I tried to accept Rob's melancholy personality. After all, he provided for the family, kept the cars running and the house repaired, and made wise decisions. He was a model of consistency and dependability that many women long for in their husbands. He was just allergic to fun. Unfortunately, I was famished for it.
So after our evening walk, when John turned to me and asked, "Wanna ride on my motorcycle?" I said yes. I saw the challenge in John's eyes and the warning in my husband's. But I reasoned a momentary fling into the wind wouldn't do any harm.
I clambered on the seat behind him and away we went, "just around the block."
Once around the corner and out of sight, however, John slowed down, grabbed my left hand clasped around his waist, and pulled it against his chest. Then he turned his head just enough for me to hear him say, "You know, I've always loved you. I was a fool to let you go."
My heart banged against my chest. Dazed, I mumbled unintelligibly that we should turn around so my husband wouldn't worry.
When we pulled back into the driveway, John whispered, "Goodbye, pretty girl."
Rob's look told me my five-minute flight had been too long. He was right.
Don't Go There!
Over the next few days, my mind kept replaying the scene as I wondered, Where in the world did this come from? And why now?
Since our mothers were friends, I knew from Mom's accounts that John came into town to visit his folks on special occasions. What I didn't know was why he chose to include me. I wasn't in a position to have a relationship with him. Yet John's earnest eyes and caressing words were hard to forget. They left me feeling like a parched desert flower finally enjoying a drop of rain.
I fantasized about life with a man who made me feel desirable again, who wanted to spend time with me. What would it be like to see a man's eyes light up when I walked into the room? To hear expressions of delight and appreciation when I tried to do something to please him? To know my efforts at making a nice meal or looking attractive would really be noticed? To have an adventure without being badgered about the cost or inconvenience?
Still, I knew desiring the affection, lifestyle, or "escape" another man offered was wrong. My mind reverberated with Scriptures: "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14, NKJV). And "Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). A mere change in gender and this verse pertained to me. "Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires" (Colossians 3:5). These passages exposed the stark sinful reality of my desires.
Sensing the harm in harboring these secret fantasies in the dark recesses of my mind, I knew I had to bring my feelings "into the light." To preserve the integrity of my marriage vows, I decided to divulge this inner conflict. I didn't know whether Rob would kick me out or make me feel ashamed. But since I couldn't sleep and couldn't function well anymore with such conflict searing my conscience, I had to do something.
Telling My Secret
"Rob, I sense trouble in our marriage."
His head popped up and his eyes met mine. I actually had his attention for a change.
"Ever since John showed up," I admitted, "I've been thinking about a relationship with him."
"What do you mean?" Rob said.
"The way he looked at me and talked to me made me feel pretty and desirable, the way I wish I felt with you. But I haven't felt that way in years. I'm hungry for romance in our relationship. This desire is a weakness in me, and its absence in our marriage could have devastating consequences."
Rob bristled at my implications. "Then we'll just have to make sure Johnny-boy's not around to tempt you."
I shook my head. "I want our relationship to be good, Rob. I don't want to look elsewhere. Being attracted to another man scares me."
Rob paused and then, to my surprise, replied, "Me, too. Thanks for telling me how you feel." He stepped toward me and put his arms around me. "I think I can help get your mind off him."
A few sweet, wonderful kisses later, I believed he might be right. Then, when Rob took my hand and led me to the couch to have a real talk about what needed to change in our marriage, I grew hopeful that our marriage really could change for the better.
Making a Change
After our talk, we decided to start paying attention to those things we used to do but had stopped. We started by getting a babysitter and going out for a long overdue date. He began to pay more attention to me when I talked instead of walking away or acting impatient for me to finish. Compliments began to trickle from his lips. Nothing fancy or romantic, but genuine. Housework became teamwork. It wasn't a magical transformation but a decided effort in the right direction that satisfied me far more than John's seductive flattery ever could.
I began to thank Rob more for his efforts and worked a little harder on my weight, as well as my thoughts. When I looked honestly for what Rob did right instead of what he did wrong, it made a monumental difference in my attitude and his.
A few weeks later, I saw a compassionate side of my husband I didn't know existed. When my dad died unexpectedly, Rob provided the love, support, and understanding I needed during that time of overwhelming grief. At night when I sobbed into my pillow, Rob would hold me tenderly and wipe away my tears or get up to find me a tissue.
Thanks to the healing in my marriage, I was spiritually and mentally prepared when, a few months later John surprised me at my workplace. I excused myself and went to a co-worker who'd already promised her prayer support for my struggle with temptation. So I wouldn't be alone with John, she joined me in my office.
I shared with John how his words and actions had reminded my husband and me to cultivate and show affection for each other. "I've fallen in love with my husband all over again. But even if Rob hadn't made changes, I still need to keep my promises. I want to do the right thing, even if it's not the most exciting thing."
John left discouraged. Later, he called me with a resolution: "I've decided never to get involved with a married woman. I couldn't bear to break up a family. And besides, a woman who'd leave her husband for me would probably leave me for someone else. So there's really no point in that kind of relationship."
We parted ways for good that time.
Looking back, I'm grateful God opened my eyes to Satan's attempt to destroy our marriage. Yet 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds me, "The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure." We just have to be willing to look for the escape.
Recently, I saw a church sign that summed up my near-disaster: "Forbidden fruit makes bad jams." Thankfully, God provided a way of escape that preserved my marriage instead of creating a "jam," which would have tasted bitter to any who ate of its fruit.
* Names have been changed.
Cyndi Eller is a pseudonym.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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