My husband’s affair caused me to lose several things. There were physical losses such as. sleep, appetite, and focus. There were also emotional losses like the ability to control my thoughts from obsessing.
But those losses were all short lived. It’s the more permanent losses that came through the recovery process that I’m most glad about. And I hope to remain in the loss of these things for a lifetime.
I lost the pressure to appear “perfect” to everyone.
Facing friends and acquaintances after we told everyone about the affair was awkward at first. But I survived it. Surviving that kind of awkwardness and shame improved my mental toughness. Everyone around me saw that my life wasn’t perfect and eventually, I realized what a blessing that was.
Without realizing it, I lived for 36 years caring what people thought of me. Losing my image when an affair hit my life caused me to lose the image of having a practically perfect life. I also lost the desire to ever pick that image back up. I hadn’t realized how exhausting it was until I lost the image of perfection.
I can live life well even with people in the world knowing that my life has flaws. I can even be happy. The affair was the perfect teacher of that reality.
I lost the desire to please other people.
There will always be critics and self-righteous people in the world. Going through an affair made me see that there are some people worth having and respecting in my life, and there are some who aren’t worth my time.
In the months that followed the affair, I really started to get clear about what kind of people I wanted to surround myself with. God still loved me. My friends still loved me. I became more and more transparent and authentic and vulnerable with people who loved me. The result was that they loved me even more.
I don’t have to try to make the right people love me, they just will.
I lost naiveté.
I had always just assumed that affairs happen to people in bad marriages. I assumed they happened to people with low moral standards. I thought affairs were the exception rather than the norm. I assumed affairs happened with someone who was prettier, younger, or more intelligent than the spouse. I assumed affairs usually happened because the unfaithful partner wanted to leave the marriage.
I was wrong.
I lost the desire for stuff.
An affair takes you perilously close to losing what you value the most–your spouse. And of course if you lose your spouse, you are going to lose time with your children. As I recovered from the affair, I became more and more irritated with things that took me away from those I valued most. I don’t want to be picking up items in the house when I would rather be jumping on the trampoline with the kids. I don’t want to be ironing shirts when I could be holding hands with my husband on a walk. I want to invest my time and money in experiences with my family that bring us closer together, that build memories, and that strengthen our bond.
So we got rid of over half of our stuff. (And we liked it.)
I lost the desire to live life by default.
The affair was the perfect catalyst for getting intentional about what we wanted our marriage, family and life to look like. When Andy and I wrote down our vision of what we wanted our life to look like, we were expressing our dreams to each other. A couple that can dream together is forming an exciting bond over what their future can look like together. We each wrote down our life mission, as well as our vision for things like spiritual life, family, health, finances and work.
Now my husband knows what I want in life and I know what he wants. We are on each other’s teams to live that life. We are equipped to live with intention and to live life well.
I lost shallow friendships.
There’s nothing like the discovery of an affair to bring about some social awkwardness. I soon discovered who loved me enough to push through it, and who simply backed out of my life. The affair allowed my true friends to love me deeper than they ever had before. They were there when I needed them week after week and month after month.
I feel much more free without superficial relationships that I have to feign to maintain. The affair put an end to them.
I lost shallow conversations.
This relates a little bit to my previous point of losing shallow friendships, but also extends to new contacts. Think about it. When you meet someone new, he or she inevitably asks what you do. Well, my whole career is based on helping couples navigate and survive a horrible situation that I’ve gone through. No less, a situation that most people are completely hush-hush about because there is usually so much shame surrounding affairs.
As soon as I tell someone what I do, it leads to why I do what I do. When I talk to someone about my husband’s affair with light in my eyes and energy in my voice–emphasizing hope and the amazing changes that took place in my life–well, you can see why there is no room for shallow conversations for long.
I lost the illusion that leaders are perfect.
For someone like me who was raised in church, it was always pretty natural to assume that the guy behind the pulpit had it all together. That he got to be up on stage by merit of living a perfect life that everyone else could model. That he somehow lived in a realm void of struggles, loneliness and temptation.
What a damaging belief! When church attenders have the illusion that leaders are perfect they put them on a pedestal. Think of a statue in a park on a pedestal. The statue is all alone with everyone else just looking up at him. If the statue on the pedestal falls, it will be a long hard fall that does plenty of damage. If the statue had been on the same level as everyone else, someone could have put a hand up to steady it when they noticed it begin to wobble.
But often church attenders put distance in the relationship between them and their leaders because they don’t see the leader as being an equal human being. At times, the church leader facilitates the false notion that he is perfect. Maybe he casually name drops his prestigious seminary friends and tells stories only about the perfectly harmonious events of his life. He perpetuates the illusion of perfection, possibly because of his own insecurities.
But just as often, the fault lies with the attender who won’t see past the leader’s title to find an actual person who needs authentic friends. The attender doesn’t have a healthy understanding of the purpose of the church and doesn’t act on his or her role in it. Then he or she is aghast when the unthinkable happens–the leader falls.
I am glad to have lost the illusion that leaders must be perfect. Of course, it hurts that my false assumption was proved wrong so close to home, but the result is that my heart will always have a place of empathy for those in leadership.
Do any of these attitudes and realizations resonate with you? When my husband first told me about his affair, I knew that he would be doing a lot of work on himself and probably changing a little bit. I had no idea that I would change so much too, especially in my attitudes and perspectives. The affair was horrible. The changes in my life I consider to be wonderful.
Friend, embrace the journey. Recovery from an affair is multi-faceted. You will grow and change in ways that you do not yet anticipate. Lean in to the journey of healing and you will find that your best days are ahead of you.