I will never forget the moment I found out my husband was having an affair with one of my closest friends. I was devastated.
It wasn’t that our marriage was ideal up to that point. We had a rocky relationship even before then. We were two people whom the phrase "opposites attract" definitely applied to. During our wedding ceremony the priest that married us called me "Type A" and my husband "Type Z."
Our marriage that first year sure proved his point. But both my husband and I had vowed that divorce wasn’t an option for us. We’d made a commitment and we intended on keeping it — for better or for worse.
While we loved each other very much, we didn’t always act in loving ways. Most of the time our differences were more highlighted than our love for one another. Often it seemed like we tolerated each other more than cherished one another.
Then, to add kindling to the fire of marital discord already brewing, our three-month-old son was diagnosed with a rare and chronic heart disease. The serious illness of a child is one of the most common reasons for divorce and can certainly stress even the strongest marriage — which we didn’t have.
We both handled our son’s illness in very different ways. I steeled myself for the worst so that any other news was easy to cope with. Because of this, I dabbled in negativity and had to guard carefully against it. My husband, the eternal optimist, didn’t even want to hear the bad news. His desire to focus solely on the good caused him to dabble in denial.
Neither of our coping mechanisms was bad in and of itself, but it certainly brought to the forefront our differences. And instead of being able to respect and admire each other for the way we were handling our son’s illness, we often judged or tried to change the other. But again we vowed that our son’s illness wasn’t going to destroy us. "What God has put together may no man put asunder" became my mantra. And so we continued on. Sometimes barely hanging onto our marriage and most of the time not in the happiest of homes.
When I learned of the affair, I was sure my marriage was over. I remember thinking, "Well, he clearly does not love me. I have biblical grounds for the marriage to be over, so I guess it is." Yet my next thought was one of sorrow. I was so very sad. The sadness didn’t stem from the fact that I was nearing divorce, but because I somehow still loved my husband. That’s what made the affair hurt so much — because I loved him so.
Within a few days after finding out about the affair, my anger started to subside enough for me to see that I wanted to fight for my marriage. Not because I was a saintly woman capable of great forgiveness on my own. Nor because I was a doormat who was willing to take my husband back at any cost. This desire to get my marriage back actually took me by surprise. I knew with 100% certainty that it was because it was "of God."
For 30 years, I’d firmly believed there was no way I could be with someone who cheated on me. I’d always said that an affair would end my marriage and I felt biblically justified in this decision. However, when it actually happened to me, my desire was to save my marriage, not end it. Thankfully, my husband was fully repentant for what he’d done. He also wanted to fight for our marriage and "win" me back.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was an easy decision to fight for our marriage. I’d never known a hurt like I experienced then and I was timid with fear. But as one of our pastors has said, "Fear is a subtle form of atheism," and I knew God was working in both my heart and in my husband’s. So when it all came down to it, I didn’t need to, nor should have at that point, trusted my husband. But I trusted God. And, although it’s true that He does allow for divorce when it comes to adultery, He was telling me to fight for our marriage. To love and forgive my husband by showing him what Scripture terms agape love.
Agape is a Greek word that translates into the English word "love." Yet when looked at closely, agape is much different than the love that’s popularized in our culture. Agape love is "divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love." It’s the sort of love that loves and expects nothing in return. It isn’t based on good or right behavior. This term is used in the Bible to illustrate the sort of love we’re to have first and foremost for God and then for one another. And it’s enough — more than enough — to sustain any relationship, even the ones most broken.
I came to see that it’s only through God that I could have this sort of love. If I’d been left to myself, I’d be typing this article as a divorced woman. It was the grace of God and His example of agape that I was impelled to show the same sort of love to my husband despite the hurt he’d inflicted on me and our family.
And with this decision began the fight for our marriage.
Now, months after the affair, we’re on the road to recovery, both grateful to be in each other’s lives and that our family is intact. We’re nowhere near perfect in showing true agape love, but with each passing day we learn more and more what it means to love like God does.
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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What Women Are Saying
--Rachel Starr Thomson, author of Heart to Heart: Meeting With God in the Lord's Prayer
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
-- Gary Chapman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages
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