22/444 Healing from Infidelity: Our Grief
Grief strips away the pretense of life. Grief is very much about being HONEST with life and feeling the pain it brings.
Ben: First, I had to accept the pain after the revelation of the affair. There was the initial shock and trauma with the why, why, why and how could you's. Slowly, I began to realize that this was indeed my life and the pain would be waiting to crash in a split second after I opened my eyes each morning.
I had to grieve the ideal Ann I had in my brain. In my mind Ann could be tempted, but when it came to actually shaking her jeans down to the ground with another guy I would see her saying no before that. I didn't see her being capable of that. But I had to learn that she was and is capable of it and eventually own that so am I.
I was lulled into this sense somewhat by a conversation I had with a woman I was emotionally enmeshed with. I brought up the topic of sex with her. She said, "Ben, you don't want to do that. I did that and it ruined my marriage. You have two young kids and a chance at a good marriage." A counselor helped me see that if she had been more willing as Ann's partner was that most likely we would have ended up flinging our jeans to the ground.
The other side of that was learning to love the real Ann. Ann was capable of having an affair. She could sin with the best of them. I had to own and grieve the ways I had failed to love her well. I had left her lonely by my emotional affair, left her unchosen, left her with most of the burden of toting around and caring for our kids. I lost focus of all the wonder and glory that resided in her beautiful feminine soul. None of that excuses the affair, but it makes it understandable and it was important to grieve my part in our shiny on the outside and gnarly on the inside marriage.
In my grief I didn't care to bs about life. The pretenses were dropped. There is a scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey has reached that place. At the urging of his wife he tells his daughter about his day at work, "Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go f*&^ himself and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus." After some arguing with his wife he ends up tossing the plate of asparagus through the window.
So, I'm not advocating that. I'm giving you a peak into my soul at the time. During an argument near the kitchen table with Ann I slammed a chair into the ground (again, not saying that was the best thing to do). A spindle broke. Ann pointed and said, "That's Grandma's chair." Me, "F*&^ Grandma's chair! How about my broken soul!?" Materialistic things didn't seem as important either.
I didn't want to pretend anymore. Following the time I called out to God to 'take me back or show me the way', I felt free and had a growing healthy sense of self. Gradually, as we moved into the church I put my masks back on though this time instead of the party guy I was the good guy. I was sick of masks, didn't really know which way was up, but I was going to feel what I felt. Grief is messy because anger is a huge part it.
Ann: I didn't feel like I had the right to grieve. I was the one who had created the mess we were living. Why should I experience the soul-healing balm of tears as they washed away my pain, which was also great?
I felt a deep sense of guilt and shame for the choice I had made. I had always believed that if Ben were to ever have an affair that would be the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, and that I would then feel justified in divorcing him. And then, what did I do? I did the exact thing I thought that I would divorce him for...to him. Initially my tears were more about the sorrow over the choices I had made rather than for the pain I had caused.
And I had caused Ben much pain. Given our history of not addressing conflict, I never imagined he would be so hurt and show it in such volatile ways. I thought it would be one more thing that would create some silence for a few days and then we'd sweep it under the rug along with so many years of trash. As we began to shake out the rug and see what was really under there, as we began to remove the masks and see what was really under there, we began to grieve. And with the grief came the ability to forgive.
As Ben began to forgive me, my tears became more about the pain I had caused him and myself and our children and friends and God. A shift began to happen in both of us. Much like the overflow of Godly sorrow as described in 2 Corinthians 7, "And now, isn't it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You're more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you've come out of this with purity of heart."
The tears washed away the guilt and the shame and left behind eyes and a heart that could see more clearly God's design for my soul and my life.