My wife got married today. Well, my ex-wife.
It seems sort of surreal in a way. It surely makes one think about the past, especially if you’re prone to being a little melancholy like me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m OK. I’m better than OK, actually. We’ve been divorced for 9 years, and some of the pain that I had assumed for so long would never go away, is gone. The saying, “Time heals all wounds” has some truth to it, as does the saying, “Time wounds all heels”. When you look up the word “heel” in the dictionary, the very last definition is “a contemptible person : a person who is self-centered or untrustworthy.” Yes, time does wound those people, and I should know. I was one of them.
Personally, I believe there is nothing more painful, with the possible exception of losing a child, than being cheated on. It was excruciatingly painful for my spouse, who was cheated on, though it was also painful for me. My pain may have been delayed, but when it arrived, it felt like a wall of bricks were falling continuously on the top of my head.
There were times when I wished that would actually happen, or at least that something would happen that would put me out of my misery. Ironically, when I started the affair and stepped outside of my marriage, I was trying to escape pain.
I’ve known for a long time that one of the default modes that I go into in a lot of difficult situations is either to escape from something, or escape into something. That’s certainly what I was doing when I entered the affair. I was actually doing both: escaping from the pain of betrayal of one of my closest friends, and escaping into something new – excitement, no matter how sordid it was, and living a second, hidden life, which is deceitfully exciting… at first.
But let me warn you: This particular kind of escape is like escaping from a net that’s wrapped tightly around you, only to discover that you’ve fallen into a much bigger net that you can seemingly never get out of. From the pan into the fire.
This particular kind of escape is like escaping from a net that’s wrapped tightly around you, only to discover that you’ve fallen into a much bigger net that you can seemingly never get out of.
There’s another phrase you’ve also probably heard: “Hurt people hurt people”. I was hurting deeply at the time, so I stepped over the invisible boundary of infidelity. Hurt people are also, unfortunately, very short-sighted. Picture throwing a rock into the middle of a still mountain lake, and watching the ripples go out farther than you could ever have been able to fathom. Not a single cubic inch of the lake surface isn’t affected. Everyone you know is touched by it.
You may wonder what my wife had done that caused me to step outside of my marriage in the first place. The answer is nothing. Oh, sure, we had the normal quarrels and struggles that any marriage has, but nothing out of the ordinary. The reason I did what I did was to escape from the pain that other people had caused me. I felt betrayed, and not just by anyone, but by one of my dearest friends, who happened to be the pastor of the church where I was the worship leader.
We had worked together for years, and were as close as any two biological brothers could ever be, and then had a major falling out. This man was one of the best friends I had ever had in my life, and now it seemed our relationship was going up in a cloud of smoke. I felt like he turned his back on me, and consequently, I became mad at the guy that we both worked for: God.
I became mad at the guy that we both worked for: God.
I quit my job at the church and found a similar job in another state. I uprooted my family and left everything that I knew behind, hoping that the change would renew my spirit and eradicate the growing anger that I was feeling. It did neither.
I needed to stay still during that time and let God do some work on my heart, but anger is a very powerful emotion, and it repeatedly got in my way of me doing what was most important. I needed to forgive my friend. Instead, I allowed bitterness to grow quickly and steadily like a blackberry vine in the summertime.
It eventually became overwhelming. I felt so incredibly justified in my anger, and when things weren’t resolving as I thought they should I became even more angry with God.
I was on a severe downward spiral that nobody knew about but me. Not even my wife knew the whole thing. I’m sure she was seeing some changes in me, but I was keeping most of the really dark stuff bottled up inside.
I was keeping most of the really dark stuff bottled up inside.
I quit my job at the church that I used to love and to which I wanted to return, and I didn’t feel like I had a person in my life who I could really talk to about any of this. I was dead. Empty. Broken. Angry. Lost.
At the end of it all, I lost everything. I honestly felt like I had lost my very soul. The jarring reality of losing most of the physical stuff that’s comfortable and familiar (and gives your life a certain measure of stability) was bad enough. But losing the presence of your family – your wife and kids at the same time – was harder than anything I’ve ever experienced.
If there is one single thing that I could tell every man and woman on the planet that I’ve learned in my life, it’s this: Don’t do it.
Don’t step outside the boundaries of your marriage. It will scar you. You can eventually heal, but it will always hurt a little bit, even years later. The pain in the beginning is so intense, it would be cruel to wish it on your worst enemy.
Now that I’ve made it clear what not to do, let me leave you with what I would do if I could go back and do it all over again.
I would do the hard work of getting healthy in my mind and spirit.
I would talk to people who were close to me, and not assume they couldn’t help me.
I would seek spiritual guidance from a pastor and mental guidance from a professional counselor.
I would double down on the original commitment that I made to my wife many years before.
I thought all of that was going to be too hard. Too much work. But I really don’t believe there is another solution. “Pay me now or pay me later” is another phrase you’re probably familiar with. It’s usually more costly to wait until later, because by then the damage is already done.
Pay the price now. While you can.
For another story on someone who struggled with infidelity, watch our new White Chair Film: