The following letter is the Prologue from Torn Asunder: Recovering from an Extramarital Affair (FYI don’t let the title cause you to wonder why I am reading it, this is a pastoral issue that I want to be well prepared for). It struck me just how dangerous and destructive our relationships can be without boundaries. I hope Pastors, laypeople, and anyone with an eye for ministry takes heed of this. Note that this woman was not insidious – she desired to see kids love the Lord! It’s not the odd-looking individuals we need to be careful of, but the darkness in our own hearts. This is the story of the “other” woman:
In my fervor to be the super-Christian wife and mother, I began to dominate many of the functions in our family, taking complete care of the car, bills, planning, scheduling, home repairs, and so on, while my husband, Tyler, got more and more passive in the face of my hyperactivity. His job entailed ten- to twelve-hour days, and he flexed his energy muscles there instead of at home. And why shouldn’t he? I was doing everything anyway.
In my flurry of activity I didn’t even notice that Tyler and I were growing more and more distant. I didn’t see us traveling in separate orbits. I didn’t even know that many of my needs weren’t being met—I just kept chasing my tail each day, falling into bed exhausted, trying to get enough energy up to run the treadmill the next day.
At church I began to get involved in the youth ministry and had some success there. The ministry was growing, lots of kids were getting saved and growing in their faith, and it was highly satisfying to me.
In that ministry I worked closely with the youth pastor, a man I’ll call Tim. I found myself enjoying Tim’s company more and more. I felt alive around him. He looked into my eyes when we spoke and gave me his full attention. He noticed when I wore my hair differently or wore a new outfit. We would talk and talk for hours about our goals in the ministry, better strategies for reaching out, and so on.
As I write this, my eyes are filled with tears because it’s all in ashes now. All the lofty goals, the dreams of ministry to young people, the joys and successes of that time are dashed upon the rocks. Tim has withdrawn from the ministry in shame and disgrace, and the church has suffered tremendously from the revelation that once of the pastors was sleeping with one of his volunteer staff members: me.
I remember the first time I felt my heart begin bonding to Tim’s. I shared some of the pain in my life with hi, especially in the family I grew up in. Tim listened intently and compassionately, and when I had poured out my heart, said to me, “I don’t want anyone to hurt you ever again. I want to protect you.” Those words electrified me, as buried emotions welled up in my heart.
I couldn’t get those words out of my mind for days. Tim would protect me—that thought felt good to my wounded soul. By the way I was acting at home—playing the take-charge “tough guy” role of super-mom and super-wife—my husband had no idea that I needed to be protected or that I even wanted that. I was sending him all the wrong signals.
Another attraction Tim had for me was his leadership. When I would tell him of a problem I was having, he would listen fully, then suggest a strategy to overcome it. In contrast, Tyler would listen partially and then respond, “Whatever you think is best.”
As my relationship with Tim heated up, I found my view of my husband changing. In hindsight I can see that Satan was getting his hooks into us and that we were seeking to justify our illicit feelings toward each other, but Tim and I started to list all the faults our respective spouses had. Instead of tolerating Tyler’s failings and normal shortcomings, I constantly harped on them—to Tim and in turn to Tyler by nagging him and complaining.
Tim and I tried to stop our ever-accelerating relationship, since we could see it was headed in the wrong direction, but we didn’t take drastic enough measures. We tried becoming accountable to another person, but it didn’t work. Our passions soon blinded us to our reason, and we fell into each other’s arms with abandon.
Somewhere along the way, we made an unconscious decision to live our lives completely by our emotions. I knew what would happen if we were ever caught—his career would probably crash and burn, and my marriage might go up in flames—but we both were convinced we’d never be discovered.
Then it happened. Tim’s spouse caught us red-handed. She gave us until the end of the week to decide what our course of action would be. Tyler was out of town that week on business, and I was petrified with fear and indecision.
Strangely enough, Tim’s wife was of the opinion that I should not tell my husband—I think she and Tim were afraid of his losing the pastorate. They thought we could seal off this unfortunate chapter in our lives and go on. I liked that idea, as I dreaded facing Tyler.
Tim and I talked by phone that week, and we decided that was our best option. We prayed together over the phone and said good-bye. In my heart, I really didn’t believe that Tim wouldn’t call me again. Wishful thinking, I guess.
But a week went by, and he didn’t call. I saw them in church that Sunday, arm in arm and laughing together with another couple. His wife was radiant, and Tim was obviously enjoying himself too. I was crushed. I couldn’t help myself—I just burst out crying right then and there.
I was deeply hurt. I felt as if Tim had used me, and now that it was over, his wife was number one in his life. In my state of distraught emotionality, I couldn’t stop thinking that just a few short days earlier I had been the most important woman in his life. Now she was back in “my” place, and it was over. I felt used. Worthless. Discarded.
At church in those moments of my despair, Tyler was, of course, puzzled, and we hurried home. I was totally undone—a basket case. Tyler wanted to know what I was so upset about, and I thought it would be more than I could handle to tell him right then.
But he persisted, and I thought it’d be worse if I continued the charade, so I blurted out my whole ugly story.
Tyler was floored. It was a long while before he could believe that my story was true. He walked around in a daze for weeks.
In the meantime, I was totally depressed and even considered suicide. Satan had a foothold in my life through my sinful actions, and he continually accused me: “How could you give yourself so freely to someone like Tim? He was so weak in his sin, too—and him a pastor! See, he never really loved you; he’s dumped you and gone back to his wife. You’re a fool.”
Needless to say, Tyler soon called Tim’s boss, our senior pastor, and the result was Tim’s resignation. The church board knew, but they tried to keep it from the congregation, terming the reasons “personal.” Personal indeed! Thinking that they could keep the secret was wishful thinking on their part.
Soon my friends began calling me to see if what they had heard was really true. Many of them unwittingly hurt me even further, and I still wonder why they thought it necessary to admonish me, a person who had sat under Bible teaching for years, that my actions were sinful. Didn’t they know that I knew what I’d done was wrong? I knew that all too well and wanted to end my life some days because of it.
The net result of my so-called friends’ reminding me of my failure was that I wanted my true friend Tim all the more. I felt as if nobody understood me except Tim. Tyler was trying to understand me, but he was pretty upset and it wasn’t easy. Besides, we had put quite a bit of water under the bridge by not communicating at a deep level, so that relationship didn’t provide much relief. I craved unconditional love and acceptance but found practically none.
Several months went by with no contact from Tim. He seemed to be settling back into his marriage, a distinct contrast from my situation. I continued to feel cut adrift, exposed, and ashamed.
Then one day, while Tyler was at work, Tim called me. He told me how much he missed me and how much he still loved me. He had only waited so long to call me, he said, because he wanted to wait until the dust settled a bit. He had taken a job in a fast-food restaurant, and his wife was starting to relax about monitoring him. He asked if we could see each other that afternoon. We got together all right.
In my state of burnout, I sucked up Tim’s renewed affections like a dry sponge. The flames of our affair immediately burst into a conflagration like a spark landing on dry kindling.
We carried on that way for months, with neither of our spouses suspecting. Tim told me that his love for me was so important that he’d risk anything. Even losing his ministry had been worth it, he said.
I felt more loved than ever and eagerly reentered my fantasy world: I began dreaming again of marrying Tim someday. Surely our spouses would find other people to remarry, I reasoned foolishly. In our renewed affair, my pain was temporarily salved, and I began to emerge from the emotional dumps.
Then we got caught again.
I felt like an alcoholic addicted to booze. Except my liquor was Tim.
Tyler leaped into action this time. He insisted that we change our phone number to an unlisted one and that we change churches. I agreed to the changes; we both knew it was my last chance to reform—it was now or never. Tyler and I really began to communicate now.
We had many late-night tearful sessions. I remember one night where I really “came clean” with him regarding my weak resolve and self-control. In tears I literally screamed to him, “Help me! I don’t know how to stop! I’m weak, and I don’t even know what’s right anymore. I’m blinded and can only see what I’m feeling right now. Please, Tyler, help me stop!” I wept and wept in Tyler’s arms that night. It was a turning point for us.
Tyler and I entered counseling and today are slowly but steadily recovering. God is teaching me some important lessons, such as leaning on Him and on finding my identity in Him, rather than on any man, whether my husband or a lover. Of course, my husband is my primary person to lean on, but even he is not my sole support. If he listens to my troubles less intently than another man might, that’s all right. My chief goal is to walk with God and with Tyler, letting my husband know of my needs but not desperately seeking to have them met in another man.
One of the ideas that helped push me back toward staying in my marriage was the reality factor: I read a very helpful book, The Divorce Decision¹ that spoke of the harsh realities of a broken marriage. Staggering financial costs, angry stepchildren, visitation hassles, ex-spouse headaches, blended families, haunting guilt, depression, and the like really do follow when you decide to divorce your spouse and go off with your partner. When I looked that squarely in the face, it sobered me up. I began to give up the fantasy world I dreamed of where Tim and I would go off and live happily ever after.
I could go on and on about the lessons I’ve learned from my behavior but will close by encouraging you, the reader, to delve into the material in this book. I pray that it will be a source of wisdom and blessing for you. It is helpful and practical for those who have experienced infidelity. But more than that, it’s a word to the wise for every married couple.
Guard you heart. Invest in those you are committed to. Establish healthy boundaries.
“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Provers 14:12)