What could have ruined our marriage

and how God’s grace intervened

During our 30+ years of marriage we had occasionally heard of couples ending their marriage due to infidelity. But, for whatever reason, in 2015 Lynne and I heard story after story of marriages falling apart caused by affairs. It broke our hearts. And we knew it could have been us. So we talked and prayed and talked some more – and we decided to share our story.

It’s a story of how God’s grace intercepted what could have been much worse than it was, and the choices we both made to walk in grace towards each other. Our purpose in resharing this is twofold: to plant seeds that could prevent an affair, and to encourage you in your own marriage if you are currently in the midst of this struggle.

For the one confessing:  How I avoided a full blown affair

For the one receiving the news: How I responded when my spouse confessed attraction for someone else.

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Fighting For Love – Even What It’s Hard

Valentine’s Day and anniversaries are often viewed as a barometer for our romantic relationship. But it’s NOT roses and romance a couple days a year that define a relationship — it’s the deep commitment to fight for connection no matter what.

— ROUND 1 —

Jim’s and my 25th anniversary evening was an adventure to say the least. Jim planned a boat outing on a nearby lake, and packed sumptuous hors’ d’oeuvres. I had composed a song about the joy of our journey and would surprise him when the mood was right. As we hit the lake the wind kicked up and was soon blowing 40 MPH! This hampered our ability to freely cruise the shoreline, so we headed for the protected side of an island and made a wonderful campfire.

How I Avoided a Full-Blown Affair

One day, early in my career, I found myself growing attracted to a woman at work. I felt competent and respected in this rewarding and harmonious relationship. It was fun. It was new. It was energizing. I found myself wanting to be at work more. With her more. I didn’t even notice it at first, it was so “innocent” and natural.

My affair had begun.

How I Responded When My Spouse Confessed Attraction for Someone Else

Since our engagement Jim and I established we would not hide things or keep secrets in our marriage. It’s easier said, in nice marriage vows, than actually done – but in our young lives we’d already seen the power of secrets to grow like cancer in relationships. With this in mind, from the beginning, we challenged each other when something seemed “off.”  A centerpiece question became “What’s going on?” and we were committed to answering with details.

This commitment met a grueling test one evening early in our marriage when the truth was deeply painful. Jim was unusually uncomfortable as he began. “I realize I’ve begun to be attracted to someone at work.” He told me who it was — a woman I knew.

He continued, “I knew I needed to tell you about it when I realized I was starting to plan how we might stay and talk after the others had left. I don’t know what else to say. I’m really sorry. I don’t want this to grow bigger, and I know that if I keep it secret that’s what would happen.”

I sat in gut-punched silence.

My soul was tossed into a tumultuous rapids of self-condemning comparisons. I knew this woman. She was delightful. I pictured this woman laughing and smiling with him. In those stressful years of parenting our intense young crew, she was everything I felt like I wasn’t: young, vivacious, attractive, with a great sense of humor, and always sporting an engaging, sincere smile.

I felt old, negative, un-fun and unappealing. I knew that was my stuff and I had to face it. I managed to not cover it up with anger or blame. A harsh, condemning response from me could be fertile soil to grow his attraction to her. I also knew that the kind of feelings Jim was having can happen to anyone. Choosing to confess those feelings was incredibly honorable, courageous, and an example of his heart to protect our family. He gave me a precious gift that day.

So I responded carefully, “This is really hard. I can’t imagine anyone who would trigger more insecurities by comparison than she does. But I’m very glad you told me. It shows how loyal you really are to be so honest when things are hard.”

Bringing his feelings out in the open, and receiving a safe, grace-filled response, was all Jim needed for the attraction to begin to dissipate. We continued to communicate about his feelings toward her. We set up clear boundaries for work. We made an effort to bring more fun and connection back into our marriage.

A few years later, I also found myself feeling a growing attraction for someone else. I shared this feeling with Jim, and we had a similar conversation in reverse, with a similar end result.

Our practice of being safe with each other, even about scary-honest things, has helped us to thrive in our marriage. It’s even bearing fruit in the next generation as our oldest son has this same practice with his wife. They are intensely dedicated to building stability and safety in their marriage, even when the honesty gets scary.

What will you do to protect the vital union that gives your kids stability and safety?

Here are some practical ideas:

  1. Keep “like” alive. Dr. John Gottman, marriage and family expert, concludes from his extensive research, “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship… a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples know each other intimately… They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in big ways but in little ways day in and day out.” What attracted you to each other? When do you still have fun together? Nurture those things!
  2. Be safe in the small stuff. When discussing lesser problems (like dishes and toothpaste caps!), instead of lashing out with blame, focus on identifying and changing your own issues. I remember on many occasions thinking, “Okay, this conflict is my sin running into his, so I’m responsible to work on mine.” Then work toward a solution together. Practicing safety with small stuff equips you to be safe with the big stuff like affairs and addictions.
  3. Commit to full honesty in the hard stuff. Talk with your spouse now and make a commitment to bring your thoughts into the light the first time you realize something is “off,” like when you have any small feelings of attraction and eagerness to see another person. 1 John 1:7 – “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another [including our spouse!], and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Practice by keeping the small things of your heart in the light, and commit to bring the big things into the light too.

This kind of honesty is scary. Vulnerability exposes the very tender parts of a heart. We learned over the years to embrace the truth that, “What’s concealed gains power, but what’s revealed can be healed.The more we lived by this mantra, the more graceful our truth telling became. Honesty and grace when it’s most difficult may be just what your family needs to help it thrive!

Read Jim’s side of the story.

Please consider sharing this article on your social network. Right now a friend or an acquaintance could be facing a similar conversation. This encouragement might be just what they need.

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“How can I be loving and supportive when I think my spouse is wrong?”

Recently we received this question from a mom in response to one of our posts.

Q: When I watched the video about Jim and daughter Bethany’s conflict I realized that Lynne answered the phone but didn’t intervene. My impulse would have been to tell my husband to calm down because I often feel the need to step in and “teach” my husband to be a better parent. So this raises the question for me, how can I be more loving and supportive spouse when I think my spouse is wrong?

How to Parent Together When You’re Total Opposites

When I married Jim, I was very attracted to his fun-loving playfulness. He frequently made me laugh with his gregarious joy. (Even as I write this he is singing and chatting while making our coffee!) He loved how responsible and focused I was and how I thought deeply about things. Opposites attract, right? We were smitten.

Ten years and 3 kids later, our opposite personalities caused more struggle than attraction. My vigilance about schedules to keep, messes to clean and laundry to do were a mismatch for Jim’s tendency to avoid responsibility in the name of fun. While we had a deep and abiding commitment to each other and a shared vision for the kind of family we wanted to be, the surface issues rooted in our differences were gaining power. We found ourselves sliding into polarized “Fun-meister vs. Task-master” roles that often had us feeling like we were pitted against each other instead of two members of the same team.

The Best Defense against “Hook-up Culture” is a Good Offense

American culture is more sexually charged than at any other time in history. Sex is no longer valued by the general population as an intimate expression of love and commitment to be shared in a committed marriage. It is viewed instead as a normal part of growing up. Adolescents often consider themselves “ready” for it whenever the juices first start to flow. What a tragedy!

Many kids have been and will be drawn in. For them, tremendous grace is needed as a safety net for their healing (we’ll write about this soon). But let’s not just assume it will happen. Let’s start young and do our part to raise kids prepared to stand strong against the temptation.

For children to stand strong they need parents who model joy-filled sexuality in a marriage, and communicate more clearly and passionately than the culture that surrounds them. This is no small task! It requires constant attentiveness to how our kids are being influenced and constant engagement to teach the value of rich intimacy.

How One Small Change Made a HUGE Difference

Patty and Carl had been through more coaching sessions than most parents, and felt a bit stuck. Patty chronically focused on her shortcomings as a parent, and felt plagued by resentment toward her oldest son.

I knew that they needed help beyond parent coaching, so I made a suggestion that was not about changing their parenting: “What if you try this: Schedule a once a week in-home “date night” to talk about what’s been going well in your family and what you feel good about in your parenting. Then pray for your family.” Of course as a lover of good decaf and dark chocolate, I suggested some treats to make it a special time for the two of them.