Stephanie's Story: Surviving an Affair
Stephanie is one of the amazing women I’ve had the honor of meeting through Gather Women. She is also one of the Truly Movement Instagram followers that has said, ‘I need to send you my story…I will… one day!’. Well, ladies and gents, today is the day!
Now I have to be completely honest, I had some funny reactions when reading her story. Why? Well, because it’s the way I was hoping mine would work out…but it didn’t. You know what though? I’m okay with that now because I see how God has rescued me and restored me. At the time, however, these were the kind of stories that I felt were the only ones that mattered - the expected - the ‘redemption’ versions.
Let me just correct that now, though. That is not the case. While, yes, this story is one of redemption, forgiveness and restoration… so is mine (you can read it here) . The working out of that redemption, forgiveness and restoration, however, was different. Stephanie’s story is one of personal and marital restoration - mine is one of personal restoration. This story provides you with invaluable insights into the question ‘What to do after an affair?’. K- I’ll shut up now and let you read.
On August 25, 2011 my husband of 19 years came home and confessed of a 3-month affair with a staff member from the church we had been attending. SHOCK was a word that came to life in a very real way. Then, in almost rapid succession the full wheel of grief: anger, denial, loss, confusion and overwhelming sorrow. This was NOT happening, not to me, not our perfect life!! We were the couple that everyone asked "How do you do it? What's the secret to a good marriage?" How did infidelity worm its way into our lives?! My world imploded. My heart was shattered into a million tiny pieces. Would it ever feel whole again? Years of our history together seemed forever altered by the disillusionment of what I thought we were and who I was, really wasn't. Yet, this was the beginning of learning my true identity. And the beginning of understanding grace in its fullest form.
After breaking every wedding photo, chucking a carton of milk & a bottle of Tide at my husband and putting a hole in our wall, we went upstairs and did something normal; we folded laundry, then we went to bed. At 6am, after no sleep, I finally cried and looked up "what to do after an affair" on my phone. I had no roadmap for this type of crisis. My husband called our pastor who arrived immediately and began to develop a plan with us for healing. Some more secrets came out that we had both been hiding. He said, "divorce is an option but I really don't think that's God plan for you." I clung to those words. My understanding of grace was not well formed in my moment of deep grief. That would come though, through the long journey of surrender, gratitude and forgiveness.
We saw a counsellor a few days later. She was tough. We did the homework. My husband took full responsibility for his actions. I knew that it was his choice and not my fault for why the affair happened, yet the experience wasn’t lost on me either. I went to work to peel back the layers of my own behaviours in order to make changes in my life. Our children were told of the deceitful events. We felt it best to inform them as deception and secrets were no longer a lifestyle we held fast to. It was a stark discovery for them as well. Something they were not expecting at all. My husband was forthright, remorseful and very emotional as he explained what had happened. The next day we were all in family counselling together. This continued over the next year as we did sessions together and separately. I feel it really helped each of us to navigate our own emotions and healing during a tender time. It was instrumental in our recovery. My husband and I also attended a weekly recovery group program. Our plan to heal included many changes to our previous lifestyle like attending activities we used to do separately we now did together from work related events to errands. We didn’t drink alcohol separately. We cleared our schedules and spent time praying, listening to healing messages, taking walks, and having long, painful but deep intimate conversations about our past, fears, hopes, dreams, secrets, desires and what we needed from each other. Even though we had a great friendship, parented three lovely children together and had a good sex life - we really didn’t know each other deep down. There were a lot of things we were scared to feel and to talk about. We wore many masks in order to hide our secret shame. In all of the repair and healing, we chose to see the redemptive story of grace. We offered forgiveness and real love to each other even when it got brutally difficult. We made many intentional decisions to humble ourselves and put the other first. Hanging onto bitterness and resentment, although tempting and satisfying, did not serve me or our repair. It was a daily choice to choose forgiveness and to trust in those early months of recovery.
Our community of friends, family, work colleagues, and church supported us. Many people helped us through these very dark days and nights as we cried many tears. The beautiful thing was that we never felt judged - only loved. We surrounded ourselves with people who, like us, wanted our marriage to survive. This encouragement was our life support!
Nine months later, like a birth, my husband re-proposed on the beach in Florida on my birthday. He got down on one knee (very different than our first proposal which was more of an ultimatum after an argument) he took my hand, presented me with a new gold ring, looked me in the eye and said “I didn’t do this right the first time, I wasn’t the husband I should have been, but I love you more than anything and I want to marry you properly this time with a clean heart”. I said “yes”. We celebrated our 20th anniversary with a vow renewal in October that year with a hundred friends most of whom knew our story and had walked alongside us that past year. Hope bubbled up. A new marriage - built on truth, pure love and transparency!
We are different people now. We have done the hard work and are enjoying a vibrant marriage and life. If I said everything was totally amazing, I’d be lying. Infidelity leaves a mark that never goes away. There are still triggers and thoughts that can sideswipe me even on the best of days, but the decision is whether I choose to live there or not. I choose to accept that this devastating thing happened, but it won’t define me. It doesn’t get the last word, I do. And in believing that what was meant for evil God is now using for good, and for the saving of many lives (we share our story openly to give hope to those whose marriage resume is also marred by infidelity). We trust that if we didn’t have THAT we wouldn’t have THIS and THIS is so much better because we now live in the light! Life is good again. A new normal. My heart has been mended, but with cracks where the light of God can shine through so others can see hope from a very wounded place. Our marriage is stronger, yet vulnerable, in a very authentic wholehearted way. Leading with forgiveness and love is a daily choice.