I searched Nancy’s eyes for that familiar fire. Seeing none, I thought, Who is this woman? My wife of two years had become an instant stranger. She repeated the sentence I could not understand, “I’m moving out.”
I asked, “What are you saying? Why do you want to leave?”
“I’m unhappy . . . lonely . . . miserable, actually. There, I said it. You make me miserable. Maybe with a little distance between us we’ll get closer.”
I touched her arm, but she pulled away as I said, “That doesn’t make any sense. How can distance make us closer?”
“I don’t know, but I do know that I can’t stay here. I need some time to sort things out—a little space. I’m not even sure I love you . . . that I ever did.”
I stood, frozen as I begged, “Please don’t go now. Can’t you wait until tomorrow?”
She silently picked up her suitcase, flung her purse over her shoulder, and with a dramatic toss of her hair, walked out our front door.
I knew I hadn’t been the best husband, and that I got angry at her too often and that my need to be “right” often made her “wrong.” I knew that, lately, she had been distant.
But what I didn’t know was that my wife was having an affair.
During the month Nancy was gone, I was a mess. Each time I called her, I would ask her what I could do to get her to come home, but she evaded my questions with one-word answers. Then she would abruptly say, “I gotta go,” and hang up.
When Nancy told me she was filing divorce papers, I believed our marriage was over.
I asked friends to “spy” on her and they said she seemed fine . . . happy. They told me to move on with my life and try to accept the fact that she was gone. When Nancy told me she was filing divorce papers, I believed our marriage was over.
However, one night, after a miraculous change of heart, she came home and said, “I’ve been lying to you for months, but I’m going to tell the truth now. Ask me anything.”
“Is there another man? Are you having an affair?”
She looked away and whispered, “Yes, there’s a man at work. But it ends today. I’m going to quit my job tomorrow and I will never see him again. I hope that you will take me back and we can stay married.”
I do not regret my choice to forgive Nancy.
Her affair was a symptom of a terminally ill marriage. I’m not excusing her behavior, but I was NOT an attentive, loving, encouraging husband. She repeatedly told me how sad, lonely, and discouraged she felt, and I selfishly tried to talk her out of her needs. I didn’t compliment her enough, I called her profane names, and I was not the spiritual head of our home. Our marriage was a mess and a lot of that was my fault. I was also tempted to stray and may have if someone pursued me.
The decision to forgive came quickly, but the rebuilding of our marriage took a long time. I would feel good one day and hopeless the next. Then she would get frustrated and confused. Some weeks we would be caring and loving, and then we’d slip into old patterns and need to remind ourselves to get back on track.
The first thing we did was go to a Christian marriage counselor, and then we started reading marriage books. We knew I had to find out what my role as a husband was, and what that looked like. Nancy had to find out what her role as a wife was too. We learned some practical ways to stop our bad habits and develop healthy ones.
Probably the one thing that helped me the most was the verse in 1 Peter 3:7 where the Word instructs me to dwell with my wife in understanding.
For years and years, every comedian on television says, “Oh, I can’t understand my wife.” It’s the proverbial joke in our culture. But if the Bible tells us to dwell with our wives in understanding, it must be possible.
That became my personal mission—to understand my wife.
I learned that my wife is more sensitive than my buddy. I can tease and make wisecracks at my friend’s expense, and he’s just going to respond with a playful insult. But when I make fun of my wife’s weight or her cooking, it hurts her, and she pulls away from me. So I stopped the mean-spirited teasing.
I learned that if my wife says, “You’re tailgating and it’s scaring me,” I should slow down and stop tailgating. If I love her, why would I want to frighten her?
The more I understood my wife and respected those God-given differences, the less we argued. We’d often had “brushfire arguments” that were little spats that turned into World War III in 90 seconds. The more of those brushfires we eliminated, the more our love and intimacy grew.
When we first got back together, it was a good day if we could say “please” and “thank you” and be polite to each other. If we didn’t fight or yell, that was as much as we could have hoped for.
We offered each other mercy while we were trying to change.
When we slipped up, we tried not to get too bent out of shape over it because we both knew we were trying. It was like we were two parallel pendulums swinging back and forth, just missing each other. But through self-control, studying God’s Word, and putting those principles into our marriage, eventually, we became like two pendulums swinging in sync. But it took time, lots of hard work, and a strong commitment to our marriage.
Many of the habits we had established were very difficult to break. Before, we were just waiting for the other person to make a mistake, so we could point it out. But when we began this new cycle, I was trying to please her, and she was trying to please me. We slowly went from a critical mindset to an encouraging one.
Through these new insights, Nancy realized how much my forgiveness meant to her. She thanked me many times for being willing to take her back. She treated me with new respect and I began to appreciate her.
It’s been over 35 years since Nancy’s affair, but we’ve never stopped learning from it.
Our theory is: Always fine-tune your relationship. Never let your guard down for a moment. Never take each other for granted and be careful not to get caught up in negative emotions because they can deceive us.
We had to learn that the Word of God is our value system. That’s the premise we started from, and although our emotions may change, God’s Word doesn’t change. The truth is the truth.
We are amazed at how far we’ve come—we laugh a lot now and really enjoy each other. When we disagree, we do it without a brushfire. Our adult son often sees us holding hands and he knows that we are living examples of mercy and restoration.
We had a broken home—but with the Lord’s help and a lot of hard work, it’s fully restored—stronger than before. My wife’s affair shattered and saved our marriage.