You can catch up on our “marriage story” here.
“Tell me anything and everything. I want to know you, everything little about you. Even the secret corners of your heart that feels hardest to let be seen and known. I want to know those places most of all.”
Fast forward to our 15th anniversary, February 11th 2017, six years after the affair.
This night we sat across from one another celebrating more than just the fact that we made it. On no, we had so much more to celebrate than just making it together.
Grace had won! It means that failure, guilt, shame, bitterness – even death, didn’t get the final say.
Life and love won out and we were IN love, which is so much different than just making it together.
We made it out to the other side of this having gained so much more than we had before. That is the true miracle we’ll never get over. Something much bigger, greater than us had come into our darkness and breathed life into all that was dead, and filled us full to overflowing of the all the grace and power that we could never have conjured up on our own.
On that night of our 15th anniversary, Anthony had lined up a different restaurant for each phase of the evening and we made our way through them; eating, drinking, laughing, talking. It felt much like when our love was brand new and we were getting to know one another for the first time, falling in love, only better.
Better because this time, our love was different.
This new love had been deeply forged in the fire into a love that is deep and wide and sturdy.
Because we have seen the darkest parts of one another; and stayed to walk through the dark together hand in hand, on our knees, one carrying the other at times – we remained still when we wanted to run, instead choosing to do the hard work rather than walk away and discard everything good and everything that went wrong in hopes of a better, brighter life with someone else.
The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you’ll see their flaws. That’s just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don’t last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they are out of money or under pressure, or hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship. – Anonymous
We shared so much that night, holding nothing back. And I realized that after 15 years of marriage, we have learned how to be emotionally intimate with one another…which adds a much greater depth to our love that mere than physical intimacy ever could.
Every year on our anniversary since the affair, we’ve tried our best to make it a point to go away alone together. It always, always brings back the memories of those few days we spent together just after my admission of the affair. How dark and how painful that time was, reminding us just how beautiful is the new season we’ve come to know.
The entire weekend was more that just a celebration of us, it was a time of reflection and celebration of what we know God has done. What He brought us from, and where we know He is taking us. It was a night (a weekend) we will never forget for as long as we live.
We’ve had more people than we can count, ask us this one question: “How? How do you get from there where you were to where you are now?” It’s an incredibly intimidating question to try and answer because any answer almost feels insufficient. And truth is, we know that none of them come with a promise that things will turn out well for every relationship.
And ya’ll, I hate lists and bullet points when it comes to the stuff of life because well, life never fits neatly into human formulas or bullet point lists. This, I know well.
But if we had to attempt to lay out the skeleton of a blueprint for how we not only made it through my affair, but how we have learned to continuously forge a marriage that doesn’t just defy all the odds, but is beyond ordinary; these are the things we would list as the most important “weapons of our warfare” and we want to let you in one every little nugget of truth for a wonderful marriage that we have tried and found to work.
- God. I’m sorry if this seems “canned” or too “Christianized” for some. There is just no way around the fact that the Holy Spirit was and is the only reason we are anything at all. Period. If you are looking for a different solution to your mess and your hurt, I’ve literally got nothing for you. We invited Him into our mess, and He empowered us to do and feel all the things that would never have been humanly possible in our human strength. His enormous presence in our story made (and still makes) ALL the difference. Nothing we list below would matter much at all without this first, most critical weapon in our arsenal against the many enemies of our marriage, our family, and our lives.
- Our faith. Our faith IN God, is the literal foundation that we have tested thoroughly and found to be sturdy and sure when everything else in our lives is not. When everything was dark chaos, and the bombs had obliterated everything we thought we had, the foundation our faith rests upon never crumbled or even shifted beneath us. Jesus was what we clung to when He was literally all we had left, and who we continue to cling to as we work to build a life and love together that stands when everything in life falls away.
- Removing divorce as an option. We realized early on that as long as we entertained divorce as an option, and kept throwing around the word at each other on the worst days when emotions were raw and hurt was so deep, we would have little reason to fight to do the hard work of rebuilding from the ground up as long as there was a big flashing, red “EXIT” sign on the most painful doorways of our marriage. As long as divorce remains as an “out” there is little chance of saving a marriage, much less rebuilding anything that is healthy and good.
- Restoring & building emotional intimacy. = “Into me you see”. We figured out real fast that if you can’t get 100% honest with one another about everything; the good, the bad, and the real ugly, then you literally don’t have a ice-cube’s chance in hell of healing or having a great marriage. Emotional intimacy is hardest for men, but necessary and possible when a man (or woman) is willing to lay down their natural bends and “comfort zone” for the good of the relationship. It is a learned part of any relationship and takes two to forge a deep, emotional bond of 100% transparency and honesty. Healthy emotional intimacy literally means you give one another the freedom to bare your whole soul (past, failures, disappointments, hurts, fears, hopes, dreams, fantasies, ect.) without fear of anger, consequences, or judgment.
- Individual introspection & soul work. Introspection is the ability to reflect deeply and critically (not judgmentally) on oneself and honestly evaluate what is good, what is life-giving, what might need work, what is toxic, and what needs to change. Soul work is like taking a good look at your heart from an outside perspective and realizing, “Oh, these are the rooms, the places filled with junk and need to be cleaned out so the light can shine through.” When we stopped focusing on what was wrong in one another and started to ask God to reveal the truth about our own heart, healing took on a whole new momentum. Soul work is done individually and personally, and can look like: prayer, repentance before God and the other person, digging in the Word of God, reading books to help gain wisdom, counseling, journaling, times of reflection, and listening to (and acting on) the wisdom of wise friends, mentors, pastors, and counselors. A marriage is only ever as good as the private inner life, spiritual health of the man and the woman individually because we can never give out what we do not possess.
- Counsel Seeking out wise counsel is critical in all points of life, but never more necessary than when you’re in the midst of a crisis. In fact, it’s scriptural! “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” – Proverbs 12:15 “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” – Proverbs 11:14
Wise counsel often takes the form of spiritually mature friends and mentors in our lives, a non-judgmental pastor or spiritual leader, wise and spiritually seasoned family members, and of course, professional (faith based) counseling. We KNOW this is a hard step for many. No one is comfortable with the raw vulnerability of laying bare their darkest places in front of anyone, and then doing the hard work of working through the tough issues. It’s never easy or fun. We get it. But this is a step you can’t just skip past and think you’re going to heal individually or together in a healthy way. It’s worth every bit of the hard work, every tear, every hard discussion, every cent.
- Repentance & Forgiveness If there is one thing we realized, was the no affair is ever about just one spouse. It is rarely (if ever) just about one person screwing up. Affairs are the symptom of a festering problem within the person and in the marriage. And since a marriage consists of two, both have to shoulder their own role to play in it all. This was certainly true for us. And there were crucial and pivotal moments in which Anthony and I both had to get so honest about our individual junk (sin) with one another. You know, all those places we keep hidden away so we don’t have to face or deal with them, convincing ourselves that they aren’t that bad, all the while hoping no one else will notice or call us out on it. Our marriage healing, was a time when nothing could be left uncovered or undealt with. It was “get it all up and out” time because I mean, what else did we stand to lose? We intentionally pulled the black sheet off of every hidden corner of our hearts and in humility (not shame) confessed them, asking for the forgiveness of both one another and of God – without condemning one another. I believe that this one thing alone made ALL the difference in things. For there to be healing, there MUST be repentance (genuine sorrow for sin & turning away from it) and genuine forgiveness must be mutually exchanged.
- Accountability Truth, though not impossible, it is much more difficult and less likely that we would fall into the traps of pornography, infidelity, addictions, ect. and not be open and honest with one another about it if we have true accountability in our lives. Scripturally, accountability should be a given in our lives that we have other people we stay in community with and are also accountable to, even with our private lives. But in our individualistic society, this just will not happen unless we make it a priority. Anthony and I have first made ourselves accountable to one another..and a trusted (spiritually mature) friend or two that is truly for you that you can confide in and they won’t spread your dirt. For example, if he is struggling with his private thought life or temptation to run to porn, he comes to me and lets me into his private world and we walk through those things together rather than just struggling alone. When I am struggling in an area or tempted, or a man attempts to start up a private conversation with me via social media or text, ect., I tell him. We do this to “out ourselves” because sin literally cannot grow when it becomes exposed to light. When we use the honesty of accountability to shine a bright light on the dark corners of our own heart and let one another into that place, much of the private allure fades away and we can hold one another to a higher standard of purity in all areas of life. If it can’t be your spouse, find a trusted friend who will hold you to that standard and BE HONEST.
- Boundaries Through the affair, one area we realized we had been lax was in the area of setting boundaries in our marriage. And to be honest, there have been times since that we have missed the mark in this area. But we regularly evaluate things and put boundaries in place that make it harder for either us to end up falling into a well-placed trap. A few examples of current boundaries are that we do not text or message members of the opposite sex on our phones or social media UNLESS we include the other in on the conversation. We do not meet in private with a member of the opposite sex for any reason – even for counseling. And we do not engage in any behavior on our devices or in real life that we would need to “delete” or hide from our spouse. These are the simple “seemingly innocent” ways that most forms of infidelity in marriage begin and can be lessened simply by having firm boundary lines up front that you have decided you will not cross.
- Lots of intentional quality time alone together I do not put this one last because it is least important. In fact, it should be up closer to the top of the list honestly. Our marriage comes first. Period. The kids do not, work does not, friends do not, church does not and family does not. We have learned the need to be intentional about making margin in our lives to get away together (if it just means shutting our bedroom door for a few hours on some weeks) because if we don’t, the demands of life crowd in and we find ourselves collapsing in bed together a 9 pm realizing that the best parts of us have been spent on everything in the world except one another. And that is how any marriage begins a slow, sneaky decent downward and in completely opposite directions. Quality time and actually doing life together is one of the most powerful ways we prevent ourselves from ever finding ourselves sitting across from one another in a lawyer’s office realizing we have become two strangers who used to be in love, on two totally different paths in life, wishing to just go our own ways.
- Pursuit Why is is that we pursue one another when we are dating and then stop when the honeymoon is over? I mean, does passion really have an “on/off” switch? The truth is, I had missed being pursued by the man who held my heart, and so did he. When this happens in a marriage we begin to selfishly try to fill up those holes of longing with “other things”. Pornography, food, children, ministry, work, sex, addictions, toxic relationships, other people. They are all cheap substitutes that will never ever take the place of holy, passionate pursuit of God and of one another. When we began to go out of our way to pursue one another again, we started to fall in love with one another all over again in brand new ways and deeper levels.
- Leadership in the home First of all men, I don’t care how she may come across at times. If there is one thing almost every woman secretly longs for in a man, it is a strong leader who will fight for her. Even one who will stand up to her as he loves her and consistently fights for and pursues her heart. Sure, she may be yelling and throwing dishes (or giving the silent treatment) but what her soul is secretly crying out is, “Lead me!” It is built into women to desire to be lead. The trouble is that too few men are leading. This was an area of our marriage that we needed to address, and one of the hard things I learned to express to him. Apathy slowly sneaks in and our strong leaders turn into apathetic, luke-warm couch potatoes who barely even notice that the enemy is rummaging their house, stealing the best of the goods, much less have the desire or capacity to do anything about it and lead. Men, MAN. UP. Stop apathetically allowing the women to lead and leaving them in want of someone to lead them and BE THE MAN of your home and the man that your wife longs for and deserves.
- Submission Submission to God and to one another is a cornerstone of a Godly, fruitful marriage. As we serve and submit to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the natural fruit of that is service and submission to one another. As Anthony serves and submits to the leaderships of the Holy Spirit in his life, I can submit myself to him…even when I don’t understand or agree, because I trust His leadership and this his heart is for me.
This “list” though certainly not exhaustive, is the meat and potatoes so to speak of the logical action steps we took in the very beginning of working through the aftermath of the affair, and what we do today to continually build and maintain a thriving marriage that is mutually fulfilling and life giving.
Do we get it right all the time? Definitely not. We are human. We get distracted, side-tracked and just plain tired sometimes just like everyone else. But what we have is a sure and steady foundational blue-print to go back to when things start to feel dull and shaky or just plain off kilter.
These are the “every little things” that have become the sturdy foundation we have built beneath us from which every single other thing in our life flows out out; our home, our children, their futures, our futures, and how we are able to impact a watching world to come to know by seeing this Gospel of grace and power lived out; this Jesus who has saved us in every way possible for two lives to be saved.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27