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Our Infidelity and Redemption--Grief

This is the third post from our talk at Restoring the Glory in Golden, Colorado. The first one covered our insight into gender. What does it mean to be a man or a woman. The second dealt with the revelation of Ann's affair. This post shares our raw, shredded hearts following the illumination of the truth. We both battled suicidal thoughts. We both wanted to stay in the relationship and we both wanted out. We had lost much and were grieving in different ways at first, but more together as time went on.

Ben

I didn’t realize at the time that we were doing a lot of prayer. It’s just not what we normally think of as prayer. There was incredible chaos inside both of us, in our lives.

“Crying to God from the depths is how most Christians through the centuries have matured in prayer.” Eugene Peterson

We were maturing in prayer. In the presence of God we are free to express any feeling even if we feel betrayed or abandoned by God. I definitely felt that.

I was in incredible pain. I just hurt. It felt like I had to think about breathing to breathe. I woke up every morning wondering when will this go away. When will I ever feel normal again? Whatever normal is.

But I did one thing right in that I made a commitment to face all the pain that I could every day. I knew there was going to be so much pain that I had to face. I didn’t want to be somebody twenty or twenty-five years later that had this resentment circling around, snaking around in our relationship. I didn’t want this hurting us way down the road and me getting older and angrier and bitterer. So it was a good feeling to experience as much pain as I could even though at the same time I was in some shock and experiencing some numbness.

There was incredible anger for me. I never knew I could feel so angry over what had happened. But the most important covenant we could ever make, as humans was broken. I read in Torn Asunder that the amount of anger I would feel was roughly equivalent to the amount of pleasure that Ann felt during the affair. She needed to experience some of my anger to realize how great an impact she had on me.

Some of that anger was very wild. We could be having a great day and then watch TV and I would see something that would set me off. There are a lot of sexual innuendo and affairs on television. I never realized how much until we had to deal with our affair


For a while Ann wouldn’t know who was going to walk through the door. Was it a nice Ben who was glad to be home or would I come home dark and brooding. Much of the time there was a thick tension that permeated our house. I was in pain and didn’t hide it.

Some of the time I would express my anger well. I could share my hurt and simply tell her that I was very angry over what she had done. “I am very angry over the lies that you told me. I am very angry that you had sex with another man.” Other times I didn’t express it so well.

One way I didn’t express it so well involved a mirror that I had given Ann. It was an expensive antique mirror that went on the bottom of a Murphy Bed that folds up into the wall. I went through a lot of covert planning to give this mirror to her without her having any knowledge of it. It was a symbol of my love for her. It was one of the first extravagant gifts that I had given her.

One day, she and the kids were out shopping. I looked at the mirror. I began to zone in on this mirror and what it represented. I saw my love there and how she had trashed it. I felt that inside. Being the golfer that I am I went and got a golf club. It was a three iron. I couldn’t swing at it right handed because of the doorway so I swung at it left handed as hard as I could. I expected the glass to shatter. But you know what, there is thick glass in those old mirrors. My three iron hit the glass and I heard ka-thunk. So I hit it again and again and again until it came down. The glass was all over the carpet. Then I looked up at the wood.

I thought to myself that she could just replace the glass and then she’d still have it. I took the wood down off the wall, went out into the garage, got my circular saw down and did surgery on that mirror. This was an expression of my anger over what went on. But that wasn’t a good way to go about it. I wish I had that mirror today. It would be a wonderful symbol of God’s redemption in our lives.

So there were ways I expressed my anger well and ways I expressed it poorly. With anger there is a lot of energy. It would have been better for me just to take a whiffle ball bat and beat the bed for a while or to go for a run or to play racquetball etc.

One manner that did help me deal with all that energy involved a job I began. I took a job for Federal Express at the airport in Kansas City. I worked on the line. I would grab boxes off of the conveyor belt and put them in the big cans or I would take boxes out of the cans and put them on the conveyor belt. I was using up a lot of physical energy. That was very good for me to be able to do that.

I felt ambivalence. I felt a lot of strong feelings one way and a lot of strong feelings the other way. “I love you Ann. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” At the same time I would feel, “I hate you. I don’t want you any where around me. I am very angry. I am extremely irritated over what you’ve done. I can’t believe you did that.” I would swing right back to let’s sit down and hold hands and be together.

God did also humble me in my anger. It involved me beginning to write a story. I was feeling rather justified in my anger. Arrogantly, I felt like I was doing rather well following God and then wooooosh, I was nailed to the wall with a thousand nails. You can hear me identifying with Christ in that. I was about halfway through the story and God tapped me on the shoulder, “Ben, we need to talk about a relationship you have at work.”

He said, “This woman that you’ve been close to at work isn’t honoring to your marriage. Your relationship with her is a problem.”

I hadn’t perceived my relationship to her as a problem. We had moved closer and closer, but the relationship never became physical. So as that desire passed for me to have sex with her I felt relieved as in that was close but no harm done. God began to show me that wasn’t really true. There was much harm.

I was giving my heart to this other woman at work. I had left Ann lonely, abandoned and emotionally vulnerable. I had to begin to own my share of that and how I had hurt Ann.

In every affair, people hide in different places. It isn’t always with other people. A classic example of that is the man who works too much and puts all of who he is into work. Work becomes his mistress. The woman begins to feel that and she decides to put all of her energy into the kids. It can look really good. He is earning kudos at the office. She is always with her kids somewhere. But, she isn’t being honest with her heart and he isn’t either.

We can put our hearts in a lot of different places.

I finally labeled my relationship with the woman at work as an emotional affair. I had an emotional affair with her. Emotional affairs are just as devastating on a marriage. When I say that sometimes I am asked why wasn’t there a huge explosion in our marriage when we realized I had had an emotional affair. Part of it was we were already in the process of dealing with our marriage. It was important to deal with the affair, but it was most important to deal with the overall picture of our marriage. We were already doing that.

Also, with my emotional affair there wasn’t a trail of lies to deal with. I didn’t lie to Ann about my whereabouts or whom I was with. My deception was mostly with myself. The other reason the emotional affair didn’t cause a huge explosion involved the great amount of shame Ann was feeling over her own affair. She didn’t really feel the freedom to express her anger with me at this time. We did eventually talk through my emotional affair. I admitted my sin. I owned the damage I caused her soul and asked her forgiveness over this and she has forgiven me.

I also had to deal with wanting Ann dead. At first I felt that would be the easiest way to deal with all of this is just to be rid of her. Gradually, my view clarified. I really wanted Ann to be alive and to be with her. What needed to die was this ideal Ann I had in my mind. This ideal Ann was not capable of committing adultery. The truth is we’re all capable of committing adultery. I realized who I had to gradually kill was this image I had of her. There is great glory in Ann, but she is also capable of heinous sin.

In all of this I felt like I was in a tug of war. I was thirty-two when I learned of Ann’s affair. At twenty-eight I had called out to God, “This can’t be what you intended for my life. Either take me back or show me the way.” That is when my life changed. The Spirit came into me at that point. I quit drinking. I began to feel better about myself, about life. But at thirty-two I was feeling all of this pain. I’d go to church and I’d hear, “Come to Jesus and your life will be terrific.” Well, that wasn’t my experience at the time. I was in pain.

I would turn to God and feel pain. I would turn to Ann and feel pain. Satan would whisper that he could relieve the pain. Start drinking again. One time Ann was out of town and I took one long walk down the liquor aisle in the grocery store. I wanted to drink and numb the pain. But something else in me remembered where that road went; it went to despair.

Briefly, I also thought about suicide. But I had battled that idea before too. I was dealing with that when I called out to God at twenty-eight. No, I didn’t want to do that.
I realized that more than anything else God is what is good in this world. By a thread, it felt like to me, I was hanging on to God.

Ann
For me, the first sixteen-eighteen months of dealing with the affair I was still fairly suicidal. I had a plan. I knew what I was going to do. I was going to take the dog with me. It showed the depth of my pain that I was feeling. I had made a commitment to finally feel the pain and there was a lot there to feel. There was so much that I didn’t even know was there. I would tell myself that everyone would be better off if I weren’t here. They could heal if I wasn’t here.

But God and my kids kept me from it. I didn’t want my kids to grow up without a mom. In God I found hope. That was my thread that I held onto. Some days that thread was all I had that kept me from going in my garage, turning on the car, and going to sleep. Hanging on to that one little thread of hope kept me alive.

Otherwise, I was facing Ben’s anger. I didn’t know how to do that. We had never done that. We were Conflict Avoiders. Before if conflict had come up we wouldn’t address it. We’d slam doors. We’d throw Tupperware. I only bought Tupperware so I could throw it. It wouldn’t break so there wouldn’t be a mess to clean up. That was our inefficient manner of dealing with conflict.

Expressing emotion was new to me. It was very, very scary. I didn’t know how to do it and Ben sometimes wasn’t doing it very well. Because his anger was not predictable, I was walking around on eggshells. I never knew who was going to come home, ‘the everything is ok’ Ben or ‘the I want you to die’ Ben.

I had never experienced Ben being so alive before. He had been awakened. He was not awakened in a positive way, but it was good. I did not know how to process it or experience it. Like he said the amount of anger he felt needed to correspond to the amount of pleasure I felt in the affair, but that was very difficult. Most people just want to avoid that difficulty by not even expressing it. But the answer isn’t in not expressing it. The answer is in expressing it well.

My own tug of war that I experienced was between my job and my marriage. I was experiencing all of this anger from Ben. I didn’t know what to expect. I told my manager because she needed to know since my performance was going to suffer. I was suicidal.

I called her and told her what was going on. She said, “You really shouldn’t stay in the marriage just for the kids. I can tell you all about that because I did that for twenty years. You really shouldn’t do it. If the problem is this other guy at the company, we’ll just get rid of him. You can keep your job. You are the best thing that ever happened to this territory.” Wow.

I was getting all this affirmation, building up. I felt so good. They wanted me. Did I feel like Ben wanted me at that moment? No. My tug of war. People from the national office even called. They left messages to call back so they could talk me out of leaving. They didn’t want me to quit. They wanted me to stay.

Of course, they weren’t really trying to build me up. They were looking out for the company. My dilemma was whom do I listen to? Do I listen to all of these people who are being so wonderful to me or to this man who is so angry with me or do I listen to God. Thankfully, I was obedient to His voice. I listened to Him. I chose my marriage.

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