There is no pain like the pain of learning your spouse is having an affair.
I lived through this very betrayal over a decade ago when I learned that my then-pastor-husband was having an affair with a woman in our church. I'll never forget that first night as I scoured emails and needed to know every single detail. I screamed, and I cried. I even begged God to take me home.
In those early days, I felt trapped. As a stay-at-home mom of three young children, I saw no escape. Financially, it wasn't feasible to just walk away because I had no way of supporting my children. The betrayal was so deep, so devastating; I also saw no way to stay with him. I was a prisoner in my own home, my own marriage.
Slowly, God began to soften my heart and give me a sense of clarity. He began to reveal truth to me that penetrated my heart and led my decisions. It was a very long journey that forever changed me. It was a journey that took me to a deeper relationship with God than I ever dreamed possible. It was a journey that shaped my heart and my purpose.
As I continue to minister to women suffering the pain of adultery all these years later, here are five things I encourage you to do when you discover your spouse is having an affair.
1. Take Time to Breathe
In those early days, getting out of bed can be a challenge. Doing anything productive is probably more than you can do at this time. Choose to live minute by minute. Simply focus on getting out of bed, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking time to sit with yourself and your emotions.
Do you feel like crying? Then cry. Do you need to go outside and walk while getting some fresh air? It's a great way to clear your mind. Do you need to yell? Then, find a place where you can scream and let it out!
There is no right or wrong way to handle your grief. Your emotions will be all over the place, fluctuating from anger to love, from hope to hopelessness. You won't be able to think clearly, and you certainly won't be in a position to make decisions. So, live in the moment.
Be kind to yourself. You may find yourself acting in ways that are totally out of character. It's ok. It will pass. No one knows exactly how they will respond until they are thrust into the situation. So just breathe. Whatever you need to do, do it.
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7
2. Find a Safe Person
When I learned of my husband's affair, I was so worried our church would somehow think differently of me. I was horrified and embarrassed. I was ashamed.
And I went into hiding.
I will never forget the day I walked into a room filled with church members. The love they showed me in that moment changed the direction of my life!
God did not design us to do life alone. Instead, He encourages us to gather together with the Body of Christ. He tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Just make sure you find someone who is safe and will safeguard your heart and your marriage.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ can be a source of encouragement. They can give us wisdom as we walk through our pain. They can be a sounding board as we try to make decisions. They can simply listen as we pour out our pain.
In those early days, I remember crying out to God, "Lord, I don't want this journey, but if this is what you have for me, I will take it. Just don't let my pain be in vain." Over the last decade, it has been my honor to be a friend to thousands as they walk this journey. You see, there's nothing like having someone who understands and has been down the path before you. They can understand your pain like no one else.
And the beauty is that they can also be a picture of hope. You see, there are many of us who not only survived the pain of adultery—but we are thriving! Adultery is not the end of life; it can actually be a new beginning!
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:4
3. Understand There Is No Easy Button
People seem to think that divorce is the easy way out. Can I tell you that there is nothing easy about divorce?
Sadly, I tried to save my marriage. I begged God to heal my marriage and to give us a ministry of reconciliation. I fought with all my heart and soul to save my marriage and family. It simply was not to be.
After 17 years and three kids, I found myself in divorce court. I lost at least half of everything—half of my finances, half of my friends, half of my life. I lost my hopes and dreams for the future, the beautiful life I had been building in my mind. I lost my ministry and my church. I was forced to start over in middle age. I spent most of the next decade raising my kids alone, fighting to keep my head above water. While I can look back now and smile at the beauty of those days, it was a very long and hard journey. It certainly was not the easy way out, as some would say.
But reconciliation would have also been a hard journey. It would have required me to look deep inside and see the ugliness in my own heart. It would have required me to learn to forgive the deepest, darkest betrayal known to man. It would have required me to learn to trust a man who had absolutely destroyed me. It would have required me to trust God in ways I never imagined possible. Those are also lessons I learned in divorce, but they would have looked different in the context of reconciliation.
No matter how your story ends, it will be a challenging journey that you can only successfully navigate by walking closely with God. Let Him guide your every step. Let Him do a new thing in you.
But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19
4. Embrace the Journey
This one piece of advice was one of the most valuable nuggets I ever received!
I hate road trips. Mostly, I hate being in the car. Maybe it's because I'm too impatient. I have a plan, and I want to skip over the journey and get to my final destination. But if we get in a hurry on a road trip, we will miss the beauty along the way. And it's the same with this season of your life. While I know you want to get to your final destination, don't miss the trip because it's the journey that changes you. If you embrace the journey, you will see God at work all around you.
Let's look at the Israelites as they fled Egypt. God guided their steps by a pillar of cloud by day and a fire by night. He parted the Red Sea. He provided just enough manna to sustain them each day and night. He sent quail to feed them when they complained about the lack of meat. He provided water from a rock. Each day was a new day with God, a new opportunity for God to show His faithfulness and His power.
It's the same with your journey. You will find yourself totally broken and terrified, with absolutely nothing. And yet, in your brokenness, you will see God provide in ways you never imagined. You will see Him carefully tend to your every need and heal every broken piece of your heart. You will come to know Him deeply and intimately in ways you never dreamed possible.
You will see Him change you when you embrace the journey.
Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn't wear out, and your feet didn't blister or swell. Deuteronomy 8:2-4
5. Cling to God and Not Marriage
If you aren't careful, you will find yourself clinging to your marriage instead of God. It's a really fine line, but I beg you to make sure you are looking to the One who can and will heal you.
For many years, I clung to my marriage instead of clinging to God. At first, I clung to my marriage and the hope of reconciliation. After my divorce, I clung to the hope of God bringing me a new husband and giving me the opportunity to enjoy marriage. In both ways, I made marriage an idol in my life.
It wasn't until I finally let go of the idol of marriage and began to cling to God that I found the beauty of His love and redemption. Clinging to Him helped me find He is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). Can I tell you that those days of pain are a distant memory, and I have the most beautiful and full life! While I lost much, I have gained even more than I ever lost.
I gained an unbelievable intimacy with God. I experienced renewed faith in the Great I Am. I gained a passion and a purpose I never experienced. He has given me opportunities to minister to people around the globe. I also have a wonderful husband who loves me as Christ loves the Church. There's no end to the amazing blessings I have experienced because I embraced the journey and let God change me amid one of life's most painful experiences.
And I am convinced He will do the same for you!
Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12
Originally published Tuesday, 23 January 2024.