Rebecca Halton didn’t set out to have an affair with a married man. But for six months in her early twenties, that’s exactly what she did. The girl who grew up in a Christian home, attended a Christian college, and had always judged “the adulterous woman,” found herself in a situation she never anticipated.
That’s not where her story ends, though. Her story is, as she writes in her book Words from the Other Woman: The True Account of a Redeemed Adulteress, “the story of how I fell from grace, and then how graced saved me.”
In her book, Rebecca writes candidly about the affair. While she’s vague in specifics, in an effort “to protect innocent people directly or indirectly involved,” she speaks truthfully about how the relationship was wrong and the responsibility that was hers. Now, on the other side of the affair, Rebecca is an advocate for “Christ-centered relationships and boundaries in co-ed friendships before and after marriage.”
I recently had a chance to chat with Rebecca via email. We discussed the affair, how she’s learned to forgive but not forget, and what life looks like for her now.
Being “the other woman” wasn’t a role you envisioned yourself in. You grew up in a Christian home, attended a Christian college, and considered yourself a “good girl,” so how did you become entangled in an affair?
The main red flags I could see in hindsight are these:
- I had become really complacent. I had so much community and emphasis on spiritual discipline in college, that I thought I didn’t need to be as intentional after.
- I was prideful. It’s true what the Bible says about pride before the fall. I was prideful and thought I could never do what adulterous women were doing.
- I lacked accountability in my life. I lived alone, so I didn’t even have the “built in” accountability mechanism of a roommate, to whom I at least had to explain who this guy was and why he was coming over.
- I wasn’t seeking the Lord for the love, affirmation, etc., that I was so deeply craving. On a very simplified level, think of what happens when you go grocery shopping hungry: things end up in your cart that you wouldn’t normally look to for satisfaction.
For you, the attention you received from this married man, made you feel powerful. Can you elaborate on this and why it can be an area of temptation for us as women if we aren’t on guard against it.
Feeling desired can be very empowering. Empowerment isn’t always a positive, though, when in my case it empowered me to make wrong choices. I know this was wrong to think, and may be hard for some readers to “hear,” but to feel like a man desired me more than his own wife felt very affirming. And prior to meeting him, I was very in denial about how much I longed for affirmation. In denial about that longing, I was also in denial about how vulnerable I was to having it met in the wrong ways.
Something that stood out to me was your statement: “Thinking I wasn’t capable of making some of the choices I made was another one of my first mistakes.” I’ve talked to other women who have found themselves in a similar situation and have told me, “I never imagined this could be a possibility.” Why is it important for us to realize, as Rich Mullins once wrote, “we aren’t as strong as we think we are”?
What a great quote! I mentioned before that one of the “red flags” was pride. When we’re prideful, I think we more susceptible to making foolish choices because I think pride has this “false invincibility” effect. We think we’re above certain consequences, which can blind us to the riskiness of some of our choices. It’s like thinking we can carelessly walk right into a minefield; there are minefields in life and relationships that we shouldn’t even think about stepping foot onto.
You share the emotional strain and anxiety that became a daily part of your life as a result of your relationship with a married man. What finally caused you to end the affair?
A couple things: The man I was committing adultery with would periodically say he wished he could give me more of the relationship I deserved. It took me months, but I finally got to the point where I believed that for myself! The other thing was prayer: I had confided in several friends and a couple family members, and I know they were praying for me. I can’t take all the credit for my choice: I had people interceding for me, to have the strength and courage and steadfastness to finally, truly, walk away.
In one chapter, you write, “You can forgive and be forgiven, but I don’t think you should forget.” Why is it important to remember?
It’s the memory of my mistakes and pain, and God’s mercy amidst them, that inspire me to avoid making choices that could lead me down the same path. Why do children avoid touching a hot stove if they’ve done it once before? Their little hands heal, but they (hopefully) avoid doing it again because they remember the pain! I’m so thankful for the freedom of redemption and forgiveness: I’ve been liberated from any guilt or shame, but I’m also thankful I remember why it is I don’t want to ever make those choices again.
As I read your book, I not only appreciated the vulnerability with which you share your story, but also the responsibility you take for the decisions you made. You make no excuses for your behavior — and, in a day and age where so many do — I find that refreshing. Was that a hard place to come to?
I did have to overcome initial fears of what people might think if they knew, but the more I brought into the light, the more liberated I felt. And the more people I shared with, the more I saw God use my story to help others. The awesomeness of being used like that just makes me want to share as often as I can! Finally, I want to thank my parents here: I grew up being taught to have a strong sense of personal responsibility, and that did inform my decision to own my mistakes. And I think when we own our mistakes, they can’t own us.
How did you learn to accept grace and forgiveness?
In life, this is an ongoing lesson. Grace, in particular, is still a beautiful but sometimes baffling gift I can’t pretend to always or fully understand. But based on the case of my adultery, I think it’s really been a work of the Holy Spirit. What’s been within my power, though, is repentance. Repentance was essential. For me, repentance was the pivot point at which I willfully turned from guilt to grace, from bondage to freedom. It’s the point at which I acknowledged how much I truly needed the Lord. When that happened, I was receptive — no longer resistant — to actually receiving His grace and forgiveness.
If you could share one thing with another woman who either finds herself facing the temptation of an affair or in the midst of one, what would it be?
It really won’t be as satisfying as you think it will be; God has so much more and better in store for you. If I could get you to take me solely at my word, it would be this: It’s not worth it. I know it can feel difficult to walk away — I often tell women to brace themselves for “withdrawal,” like they’re detoxing from an emotional drug — but it’s critical that you do. The Bible is clear about the way of adultery and the wages of sin, both of which are death (Proverbs 7:27, on adultery — “Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death”). God is the Lord of life, and His ways are the High Way to restoration of a troubled marriage, of freedom from condemnation and shame, and of what will truly satisfy our heart’s cravings for love and affirmation.
Since writing Words from the Other Woman, what have you been up to? Share with us what life looks like for you now.
God is so good! He didn’t have to bless me and use me in the ways He has. I’ve been blessed to be invited to speak personally about my testimony at churches, small groups, and even back at my alma mater! I also finished graduate school and had some amazing work or travel opportunities.