94. The “Other” Woman

94. The “Other” Woman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The “Other” Woman

And you know, when you’ve experienced grace and you feel like you’ve been forgiven, you’re a lot more forgiving of other people. You’re a lot more gracious to others.

~Rick Warren

Me? Forgive her? No way. She was the woman who put my marriage in jeopardy, the one who flirted with her coworker and let it go too far. How could I forgive such a foolish and selfish person? She was the reason for my heartache. If I forgave her, she might do it again to another husband or another coworker. I was afraid to forgive her. She might betray me again. What made it more unforgivable is that “she” is me.

I was the one who betrayed my husband. I was the one who lied to my parents and friends and coworkers. Strangely enough, they had all forgiven me, but I could not forgive myself. How had I wandered so far from my values and morals?

I would often think about the “what ifs.” What if I had not let our office friendship drift into the danger zone? I justified my need for male friends because my husband Ron had become distant, critical and cold. I was lonely and in need of reassurance, and Jake was more than willing to accommodate my needs. Each small decision to let Jake get closer was something I needed to forgive myself for. As first, we just sat next to each other when a group went out for lunch, but then we started going to lunch on our own. Then one day, dinner after work, which required a lie to Ron about where I was going. Next, we would meet after work in secret locations. Each progressive step was small, but led to a large cliff.

I knew it was wrong to deceive Ron and the guilt weighed heavily on my heart. My emotions told me to run away with Jake, but my rational mind knew that it was not right to leave Ron without giving him a chance to save our marriage.

After a conversation with my parents and their wise advice to talk about the problems in our marriage with Ron, I decided to see if it could be saved. Surprisingly, Ron was very open to working on our relationship and he confessed that he had been distant and impatient with me. But when I told him I’d been having an affair, his answer was even more surprising. He said, “I knew something was very different about you. You felt so far away and disconnected. So now I know why.”

I told him that I was willing to walk away from Jake, if we would go to counseling and try to rebuild our marriage. He said, “I want to stay married. Please end it with him. We have both done and said terrible things to each other. Our marriage was a mess—and a lot of it was my fault. You have betrayed me, but I choose to forgive you.”

After I told Jake it was over, and quit my job, Ron was able to begin again—miraculously. He let go of the pain. I, however, got stuck in the sorrow of regret. Receiving and believing in my forgiveness was tedious, treacherous. One step forward, two steps back. The memories kept haunting me, surprising me—triggered by the scent of a stranger’s cologne or the melody of a song. The shame of past pleasures followed me.

My lies had been so tangled with truth that I wasn’t sure which was which. I slowly began to untie the knots of my life. I was relieved to be done with deceit, but because its shadows, exaggerations, and half-truths had been my companions for months, the light of the whole truth seemed harsh.

I was full of self-doubt and couldn’t believe how easily I’d been swept away by my feelings. I didn’t plunge into adultery—I drifted in and I had to use all my strength to pull my heart back.

Eventually though, I came to see that I would have to surrender to the forgiveness in order to free myself from the prison. I already had the keys, but I had refused to use them. Finally, one day, I did.

I found victory through surrender as I prayed: “God, I give up. I cannot carry this anymore and today I choose to receive forgiveness. Now I ask for strength as I let go of the guilt, the shame, the sorrow, and choose to walk in the light of truth.”

I refused to entertain the stray thoughts anymore. Instead, I replaced them with images of the new life that Ron and I were building. I also discovered that encouraging others with our story of forgiveness gave a purpose to our pain. This summer, decades after my affair, we celebrated our thirty-sixth wedding anniversary and our marriage is strong, loving, and healed.

~Nancy C. Anderson

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