Are you willing to stay in the prison of a marriage with little or no intimacy, or are you willing to pay the price-even if it is costly?
Consider Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. Andy lived in prison for nearly 20 years for murders he didn't commit. He lived in a situation that would seemingly never end. That’s how dealing with an affair felt to me. I wasn’t sure how I would ever get through the crap to live happily with Ann again.
Eventually, Andy used a small geologist's hammer to tunnel out of the limestone prison. His friend, Red, said, "I remember thinking it would take a man 600 years to tunnel out of the wall with it. Andy did it in less than 20." Red continued, "Andy loved geology...geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really. Pressure and time."
Like Andy we have a choice. We can play it safe and go back to our prison cell or we can risk crawling through a pipe of crap that goes on longer than we ever imagined we can endure to emerge in freedom. Pressure and time are part of affair recovery.
Keep going. Be willing to keep going, even if it hurts so bad you want to stop, even if the crap stinks so bad you want to vomit. When almost every ounce in you wants to turn around, keep going. As long as you keep moving, if both spouses are moving, even if at different paces, there is hope.
Don’t give up.
We’ve seen this process of redemption in our lives. When other couples seek our guidance, trapped in pain following an affair, we help them experience the rescue and deliverance to freedom that filled our souls.
You really can do this even if you don't see the way out of the prison cell right now. Know that God sees you. He sees ahead beyond the pain that obstructs your vision of the future.
For Ann and me it was worth going through all the crap to find freedom in our relationship with God and in our marriage. At times all we can do is raise our hands in worship to the mystery of a God who redeems the mess of our greatest wounds and our greatest sins.
The previous two Easters we've gathered with friends and we've read the book of John out loud. Our black chair with multicolored circles is designated the reading chair. We rotate reading a chapter at a time out loud. There are twenty-one chapters in John so we take a brief break after chapters seven and fourteen. All together it is three hours of stunning oration. The oration isn't stunning because James Earl Jones or Meryl Streep has joined us. It's stunning because it is our little common group, our common community of everyday voices speaking the profound story of mercy, suffering and Life of God.
Hearing the word read in a plethora of voices impacts my soul. To hear the gospel in both feminine and masculine voice reaches new and uncharted waters inside me. Also, readers have remarked how the chapter, rather Jesus through the chapter, that came up for their reading touched tenderly an area of importance in his or her soul.
I'm impacted by Jesus own tender dealings with those that are deemed 'less than' throughout the reading. He heals the lame and blind, reveals his true self to an outcast woman at a well, protects and speaks words of life to a woman caught in adultery, and provides meaning for his friends with regards to his life on earth and his death on the cross.
Ultimately, it is the cross that gets me. As the evening progresses, there as a slow motion dread that builds within, hearing the dogged, inexorable march of Jesus to his crucifixion on the cross. I grow fond of Jesus as his narrative, the narrative of God on earth, rests on our room and my heart. I don't want him, so loving and courageous, to die.
But die he does. His death tears at my scalp and back, vibrates in my wrists and shins, and pounds and pounds my chest, where my grief tends to physically reside. Even though I know the story isn't over, I ache and ache and wish there was another way the story could go than persistently and unavoidably through the dead center of the cross.
The book of John records the burial of Jesus but doesn't say much about his followers during that terrible thirty-six hours or so while he is in the tomb. Tomb time. That's what I call most of affair recovery. The great trauma has happened, and the resurrection isn't yet known to be true. It's a mysterious, painful time.
Then John and Peter run to the tomb and take note of the absence of Jesus' body. They leave. Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb weeping. She weeps just as Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. I believe there is meaning in his approaching a woman and a woman in tears. Her grief leads her to an encounter with Jesus.
Always the question asker, he asks, "Why do you weep? Whom do you seek?" It almost seems playful. He then speaks her name, 'Mary' and she recognizes him. He is risen.
Grief provides us a pathway from our story to the larger story of God. His life and interaction with others touches our deepest longings to be seen and loved. His death rips at our hearts touching the part that was ripped by the revelation of an affair. In tomb time we reside in mystery. The ache becomes a real part of our lives and we get somewhat used to it, though we are most always ready for it to leave. With his resurrection and the speaking of our names we know God sees us in our grief. He comes towards us with good intentions towards our hearts, even though he allowed great pain.
How merciful you are, Lord, that you forgive us our sins, all our sins. Teach us the merciful art of public and private confession, not for our shame but for the cleansing of our sins and the fallowing of our rough hearts. Amen.
Staying together after infidelity has occurred is an irrational act. It really doesn't make logical sense. It sure didn't to me until I went through it. Every now and then, even today, I ask myself, what the heck was I thinking? Can I really ask others to go through this kind of pain without any promises and guarantees that it will all work out in the end? The answer is yes but it certainly isn't reasonable.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) made a fascinating observation during the days of Cervantes (1547-1616): Philosophy is based on reason and is, therefore, rational. Faith is based on revelation and is, therefore, irrational. Consequently, the greater the impossibility of the thing you believe, the greater the honor to God.
Faith is an irrational commitment of the heart, the pattern-recognizing right brain, not the deductive-reasoning left.
He had my attention but I hadn't really connected it to marriage...yet. He went on to say this about the irrational nature of marriage in general. If this is true in general imagine how much more irrational it is to rebuild a marriage after infidelity. He said,
But here, I believe, is the best irrational commitment of them all:
"…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."
In case I haven't made it clear. I am in favor of irrational commitment. "It is not good… to be alone."
On June 7, 1947, Paul Compton made an irrational commitment to Jean Johnson and in later years he would be called to deliver on his promise: Alzheimer's disease stole Jean from Paul, but left her frail body in his care. Strengthened only by the memory of their years together, Paul faced the never-ending job of caring for her empty shell 24 hours a day. And he did it without complaint for 20 long years.
I've never known a better man.
Paul and Jean had 4 daughters, all of whom work shoulder-to-shoulder with their husbands and have done so for more than 30 years. Miraculously, each of the girls is still married to her first husband, though none of those husbands is a prize. Trust me, I know them all. I'm the 18 year-old boy with no money and no future who married the youngest daughter.
If you would taste truth and beauty and grace, you must reach for the fruit of a tree planted deep in the soil of irrational commitment.
Are you struggling through the aftermath of an affair and wavering on whether to stay in it through all the pain? I've ventured deep into the soil of irrational commitment and have tasted the truth, and beauty and grace of which he speaks. It is a sweet, sweet fruit. You just have to sink your hands and feet into a lot of dirt and manure before the fruit sprouts.
As you rebuild trust, it is important to try to remember what drew you to your spouse. In the pain and chaos of an affair it is easy to recolor your history - to say we never really had much in common or never really did have much real fun together. In one of our first counseling appointments the counselor asked us what was good about our relationship in the beginning. I (Ben) couldn’t think of anything. With the coffee colored glasses I was seeing through at the moment our whole relationship seemed fake and dark.
Fortunately I recovered some clearer lenses to see through. These rationalizations of not having any good in our relationship aided in minimizing pain instead of facing reality head on. The truth for most couples is in the beginning they really just enjoyed spending lots of time together. Though it can be painful at first, try to remember what specifically brought joy early in your relationship.
The movie The Story of Us has a great scene to illustrate this. In the movie, Bruce Willis (Ben) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Katy) are married with two kids. Their marriage is in trouble, and divorce seems inevitable. The kids are coming home from summer camp, and the couple decides they will tell them about the divorce the next day after picking them up from the bus. They discuss going to Chow Funs restaurant for dinner but decide they can't talk there so they choose another place.
The night before, Katy takes a long look at all the pictures of the family on the wall. Memories of their shared life together pour through her mind in the space of her solitude. The following day, she and Ben are on the way to meet the kids. Memories again speed through her brain from their dating years, engagement, wedding, kids being born, kids having crises like pets dying, Ben's dad dying, fights, hot sex, tender times, angry times, door slamming, phone slamming, I love yous and I hate yous.
They arrive to gather the kids from the bus. After the kids are in the SUV, Katy stands away a bit and tells Ben, "I think we should go to Chow Funs."
Ben: "Chow Funs? I thought we both agreed we couldn't really talk at Chow Funs."
Katy: "I know."
Ben: "What are you saying?"
Katy: "I'm saying Chow Funs."
Ben: "Are you saying Chow Funs because you can't face telling the kids? 'Cause if that's why you are saying Chow Funs don't say Chow Funs."
Katy: "That's not why I'm saying Chow Funs. I'm saying Chow Funs because we're an us. There's a history here, and histories don't happen over night. You know in Mesopotamia or ancient Troy or somewhere back there, there are cities built on top of other cities, but I don't want to build another city. I like this city. I know where we keep the Bactine and what kind of mood you're in when you wake up by which eyebrow is higher; and you always know that I'm quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly. That's a dance you perfect over time. And it's hard. It's much harder than I thought it would be, but there's more good than bad, and you don't just give up. And it's not for the sake of the children, but God they're great kids. Aren't they? And we made them! There were no people there, and then there were people! And they grew. I won't be able to say to some stranger that Josh has your hands or that Erin threw up at the Lincoln Memorial. Then, I'll try to relax.
Let's face it. Anybody is going to have traits that get on your nerves. I mean why shouldn't it be your annoying traits? I'm no day at the beach, but I do have a good sense of direction so at least I can find the beach. Which is not a criticism of yours it's just a strength of mine. And God you're a good friend, and good friends are hard to find. Charlotte said that in Charlotte's Web and I love the way you read that to Erin, and you take on the voice of Wilbur the Pig with such commitment even when you're bone tired. That speaks volumes about character, and ultimately isn't that what it comes down to - what a person is made of? Because that girl in the pith helmet is still in here. “Beeboo, beeboo.” I didn't even know she existed until I met you. And I'm afraid if you leave I may never see her again. Even though I said at times you beat her out of me. Isn't that the paradox? Haven't we hit the essential paradox? Give and take, push and pull, yin and yang, the best of times, the worst of times. I think Dickens said it best, the Jack Spratt of it - he could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean. But that doesn't really apply here does it? I guess what I'm trying to say here is I'm saying Chow Funs because I love you."
Ben: "I love you, too."
In the movie, Ben and Katy developed a renewed commitment to their relationship when hope waned by Katy revisiting their highlights and lowlights. Their history. Spend some time really pondering your shared story. Tell stories to one another about your dating years and pre-affair years of marriage. Don't let the present pain color it all. Fight to remember the good as well as the difficult.
What are your thoughts and suggestions on this post?
Affairs of the Heart: Emotional Affairs Are A Dangerous Game in a Marriage I thought you'd want to know what an impact it (your article) is having. We know the great ministry value an article like this can have and are very thankful to you for sharing it with us. We pray it reaches many more people who need help and healing in their marriages and relationships.
~Valerie Hancock, Lifeway.com
"Your ministry is crucial. So much infidelity, so little restoration. I bless you both for what you are doing. On behalf of the church, thanks. You've paid the price to be able to share what you do."
Larry Crabb, author of over 20 books including Inside Out, Soul Talk and Marriage Builder