Forgiving the "Other Woman"
- 2010 29 Apr
I was 22 years old, married for just over a year, when my mom said the words that opened my eyes. "That dog won't hunt." It's a phrase my southern mom has used for years when the story being told doesn't add up to truth in her powerfully discerning mind. Mom's never been wrong when she utters that sentence. When I described to her the goings on in my marriage and she came back with those words, I knew she'd just declared what I hadn't wanted to face. My husband was cheating.
I never considered that betrayal would enter my marriage. I suppose that was a bit naïve given the prevalence of betrayal in the marriages around me - my dad's first marriage, two aunts, some cousins, several friends. Throughout my childhood, marriages around me kept falling apart due to adultery. Yet it simply didn't occur to me to be on guard.
My world shattered that day. Everything I thought I knew to be true suddenly came into question. Who was I? Who was this God that would allow my life to get so off course? Who was this man whose last name I shared? Where was the future I'd so meticulously planned since my girlhood days? How would they respond at the megachurch for which I worked? What sentence could I say to my husband to put everything back the way it had been - if only in my mind? Could I forgive him? Stay married? I knew the Bible allowed for divorce in the case of adultery, but it doesn't demand such. That left me with choices to make instead of a dictated path.
My dad is a marriage counselor - how's that for irony? I spent hours on the phone with him, wrestling over what course of action to take. Just as suddenly as I'd decided to forgive and stay, though, my husband decided the future. In a phone call from his mom's, he explained that he simply wasn't "created for marriage" and had "made a big mistake." He moved out on December 1 - my birthday.
For the next few weeks, I lived in a haze of disbelief. Questions and thoughts swirled through my mind like a southern twister in a thunderstorm. One kept coming to the forefront. How could one woman do this to another? I couldn't wrap my mind around someone purposefully causing this much pain and confusion in another's life. Weren't we women supposed to stick together and help each other out?
Throughout my life, as others were hit by betrayal, I'd had an image of the "other woman" as manipulative, scheming, cheap, tawdry, and desperate. The entire Hollywood cliché formed my image of her. But I couldn't reconcile that image with a woman my husband would be attracted to. And if that image was wrong, then what belonged in its place?
I read a lot, cried bucketloads, threw up my hands, journaled my heart out, and prayed even more and eventually picked up When Godly People do Ungodly Things by Beth Moore. Beth shared scripture which revealed that satan plots against each individual Christian. He's fine if the ultimate demise he's after takes years to accomplish. What else does he have to do but wait for his own defeat? And so he plots - he plans, step by step, how to pull a believer down into the muck and mire.
Can't you just envision him now? Rubbing his hands with glee or chewing on the end of a pencil as he studies you and determines exactly which buttons to push to steer you down his path?
I've got a lot of buttons and - entirely too often through the years - I've allowed satan to have control over me. I've let him lead me right into the story he wrote. I've hurt people in the process - parents, family members, and friends.
It dawned on me, sitting there with Beth's book in my hands and an image of a scheming satan in my mind, that I wasn't very different from the "other woman". I don't think she - or anyone who commits adultery - wakes up one morning and says, "I think today I'll commit adultery." I highly doubt that's what my husband did. No, I think it's a gradual process of steps laid out expertly by a grand manipulator. Our fault lies in taking those steps, in ceding authority of our story to one intent on our demise.
When I saw her in that light, I could empathize with the "other woman". I could forgive. I could understand. She gave up control of her story just like I've done so many times in too many ways. Her decision wreaked havoc in my life, but I've done the same in others' lives in other ways. If I couldn't forgive her this, how could I expect forgiveness myself?
It would have been easy to judge this woman, to judge my husband, to spend the rest of my life comfortable on my high horse and safe in my solitude. I tried that for a while. But, in reality, my horse rides lower than a lot of folks and keeps going only by the grace of God. He's a God who is clear about how forgiveness works - asking for it without giving it doesn't work.
He's also clear about His ability to make beauty where sorrow stood. In forgiving, I became able to love again. To trust in His story for me again. To take steps toward healing and acceptance. Today, nearly six years later, I'm a (usually) happily married woman with a three-year-old son and a daughter to be born in October.
When I sat down to write my novel Coming Unglued, I knew that Kendra (my main character) was ripe for an emotional affair. She'd taken enough steps in satan's story of her life to be at that monumental moment. I checked with my husband before embarking on this novel's writing because I knew the emotions would affect our marriage. He prayed me through, handing me Kleenex as I cried while I typed and patting my back as I shook my head at Kendra and at the remembrance of my first marriage.
I get asked a lot how I could write a story from the "other woman's" point of view, given my history. I smile, knowing that I'm just as fallen as any "other" woman. On days when I yell at my son or take my husband's love for granted or fail in any number of ways, I'm grateful for a God who forgives and who surrounds me with people who forgive. In the face of such a gift, how can I not offer forgiveness in return?
This article originally posted Sept. 22, 2008
Rebeca Seitz is the founder of SistersInk.net, a popular social networking site for scrapbookers looking to connect. Rebeca joins 26 million American women who scrapbook to capture fleeting family milestones, many of whom can relate to the juggling act of a career and motherhood. Rebeca's latest book, Coming Unglued, is the second in the only line of trade-size novels with a scrapbooking theme. The series, "Sisters, Ink," includes humorous works of contemporary fiction set against the backdrop of scrapbooking and chronicles the often-complicated lives of four multi-cultural, adopted sisters. For more information, please visit www.sistersink.net.