Before we get started, I’d like to remind the folks who are commenting that this question is from a real person. Feel free to say what you will about my reply, but I beg you to be kind to her. Remember that even though you’re commenting on the Internet, your comments will actually mean something to Laurie—let’s love her well.
I recently broke off a relationship I’d been having with a married man. Long story short—I met him at work, he started pursuing me and one thing led to another, and now I’m the “other woman.” Really, he isn’t a bad person or habitual cheater. We have a very strong connection on many levels—but it is a connection that has been misused and now has to be severed.
My previous marriage ended because of my ex husband’s unfaithfulness, so my heart breaks for so many reasons, not just for the enormity of my own actions, but also for the heartbreak this could bring to him and his family—which I know from personal experience. I’m not a slut, I’m not a homewrecker, I’m a woman who has found herself in a huge mess.
I just don’t know how to recover and move forward. Any advice would be appreciated.
Laurie, on so many levels, I am incredibly grateful that you wrote in. First, because it’s a good question and comes from a perspective we don’t often think about. Usually, in an affair between a married and non-married person, the conversation is centered around the married person who cheats, which makes sense in a lot of ways. But we forget that there’s a suffering other-party involved who might not be trying to rebuild their marriage, but is simply fading away as a footnote to a sad season.
Additionally though, I’m grateful you wrote in because I’m going to get to tell you something, over and over again: Jesus loves you deeply. Got that? Let’s do it again just to get things going: Jesus loves you and thinks you’re just wonderful. With that, let’s look at the realities of your situation.
Reality #1. You Are Not a Bad Person.
Laurie, you need to remember that you are not the sum of your sin. You are not defined, at least in Jesus’ purview, by sin. You are defined as Laurie, a child of God, and someone whom Christ loves very much. And Laurie, I’m starting with this reality because I know that you are spiraling right now. It’s hard to know how this will ever end, how you’ll ever not feel disgusting about yourself and curious about what will become of your life. But friend, if you can just believe me and listen to me, I need you to know that you are not a bad person. The sin is rough, but it’s not you. It’s something you’ve become entangled in, and it’s something that you can separate from. Here’s how…
Reality #2. This is Fixable
Really, it is. But, you’re going to have to do a couple of things…
1. Sever it, completely, no exceptions.
I’m going to make a bold prediction here, and I know I may be wrong. But I’m getting a sense that even though you say it’s done, that it may not really be done. You wrote, “We have a very strong connection on many levels—but it is a connection that has been misused and now has to be severed.” Here’s what that sounds like to me, it sounds like you’re rationalizing a bit. It sounds like you’re creating some fiction around him that maybe, just maybe, he’s the one you were designed for, made for, and if that’s truly, really the case, how can it be wrong?
It’s wrong because that scenario is a Hollywood rom-com lie. What you’re feeling is a mixture of lust (perfectly fine in the right context), acceptance (perfectly fine in the right context), and maybe even romantic love (perfectly fine in the right context). However, can you guess what’s wrong here? The context. He’s married, and I can assure you that God isn’t calling you to something that would also invalidate His own covenant promise between a man and a wife.
So Laurie, you need to end it completely. No final goodbye, no grand romantic collecting of clothes and records that you left at his place, nothing. He is a drug that you just can’t shake, and even small doses will keep you on the hook forever.
2. Believe and admit that this was wrong.
Laurie, there is a part of this process that’s going to require that you admit to God that this was a sinful behavior. Part of me thinks you get that now, but part of me also feels like you’ve justified it in your head to a point where your actions seem OK. And how couldn’t you? I mean really, you had to get pretty far down the road to be able to flirt, connect, have sex and be in love with a married person. This took a lot of rationalizing, but it felt right, and comforting and accepting, so you did it—because drugs work to numb the pain, even if they’re just doing more damage.
But at some point, you have to admit to yourself that this was a mistake. It wasn’t somehow right because it was him, it wasn’t right because of your history and own pain, it wasn’t right even if you feel like God was calling you to it. It just wasn’t. It was an affair, and a sinful season that you need to ask God to forgive you of—which He will and already has. This isn’t the unpardonable sin, but it does need to be pardoned.
3. Go to counseling.
Listen, people hate it when I say that someone has to go to counseling. They always say stuff like, “If she begs God to change her heart, then she’ll be forgiven and healed!” OK, I get that. But sometimes our hearts are deceitful, and while we want to listen to them, the noise of our pain rings way too loudly for us to make any sense of what’s God versus what’s woundedness.
Laurie, you have to get into counseling in order to turn down the noise.
What you don’t know is killing you, or at least driving you into the arms of unhealthy partners: first, a man who did cheat on you and second, yet another man who is himself so deeply wounded that he would be willing to use you as his drug of choice. Friend, you have no idea what to ask God for, much less hope that the asking will change you. What you need is someone to come beside you and help turn down the noise. Get to a counselor right now, and prepare to get really, painfully, shockingly honest.
Reality #3. You Will be Treated Unfairly.
You are not a slut or a homewrecker. If anybody wrecked his home, it was him. But that’s not fair either—sin wrecked his home, and he succumbed to it. However, while you’re just a part of this whole disaster, you’re still going to be the unwitting brunt of the anger. Here’s why: The community knows what to do with him. They know he’ll grovel, apologize, repent, go to couple’s therapy with his wife, and then lace up his boots and save the marriage—and they’ll get behind that narrative (which is great!).
But what will they do with you?
Well, they’ll have no idea what to do with you. Your path is less obvious. You can grovel and apologize, but to whom? You can repent, but they won’t see that. And you can go to therapy, but your results won’t be tangible to anyone but you. Laurie, even after it’s all said and done, you’re going to be seen as the problem and the wild card, which is why you’ll be outcast because people hate facing anything that makes them uncomfortable.
And for that, all I can do is say I’m sorry and it’s not fair. I wish Christians loved better.
However, I can also tell you that even with all the realities I’ve outlined, and even with the hard work that you’re going to have to do to someday, finally, be in a healthy, honest, loving relationship, it’s worth it. Because you are worth being loved, Laurie. You are more than an “other woman”—you are a child of God and you are more valuable than you know.
Have a question? Good! All identifying information will be kept anonymous. Send an email to AskRELEVANT@RELEVANTmagazine.com
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.