“How can I help my friend? Her husband has been unfaithful to her.” It’s a question that lands in my inbox all too often. I’ve hesitated to write openly about this subject, not because I don’t want to help, but because it requires me to revisit parts of my past that I’d rather leave buried.
But God never wastes pain, and I believe it’s time for me to allow Him to use even these parts of my past for His glory.
Before I begin, I want you to know I’m not a licensed counselor. My school is the school of experience, and the degrees I’ve earned are the scars on my heart. God has brought me to a place of healing, and I share my story with the prayer that it will help others come to that same place of healing.
In 2014, I lost my 16-year marriage to adultery. My husband and I were heavily involved in church and Christian school ministries, and of course those ministries came to an abrupt end. We lived in Australia at the time, and my three sons and I moved back to the States to start over.
Not only did I have to deal with the betrayal and shame of losing my marriage, I also had to help my boys cope with the separation and subsequent divorce, and losing their friends, school, church, home, and native country all in one fell swoop. Add to that the stress of looking for a job, a place to live, and a thousand other details of moving internationally, and I was broken.
No, broken isn’t the right word. I was shattered.
Into so many pieces I feared I would never be whole again.
But through the all-sufficient grace and love of Jesus, and with the faithful help of my friends and family, I now live a life filled with peace and joy. My purpose with this blog post is to give you insight into ways you can help someone living in the aftermath of of their spouse’s adultery.
Although this article is focusing on how you can help others, I’ll also post quick links below to four articles I’ve written on healing—a series is called Silver Linings: Reflections in a Broken Marriage. You can access them here:
In the following paragraphs, I’ll attempt to give you a glimpse into the heart of one who has been betrayed. Please don’t feel like you are unable to help a friend just because you haven’t experienced what she is going through. None of my close friends in Australia experienced adultery, but God used them in amazing ways to help me. Their love was a balm to my broken heart.
Today I’ll share three things your friend is feeling, and three ways you can help her cope with these feelings. In Part Two, I’ll share more practical ways you can encourage her.
One: She feels INTENSE emotional pain.
It’s extremely difficult to fully describe the feelings of betrayal in marriage. I once had a friend ask me how it felt. I said this:
You know those beautiful glass sculptures? Imagine someone swinging a hammer into one, and it splinters into thousands of pieces. The sound of those pieces shattering and raining down—if the pain of my heart had a sound, that would be it. It’s the sound my heart makes every waking moment. The hammer just keeps smashing, and the pieces just keep breaking.
Another way to describe it is this:
It’s like trusting the one you love most to keep you from falling over a steep cliff. He held your hands, looked deeply into your eyes, and pledged that he would never, ever let you fall. He even said he would die for you. But when you stumbled, he didn’t just move out of the way to let you fall over the cliff.
He pushed you.
These are hard descriptions to read, I know. But this is what your friend is feeling. She has been betrayed in the most intimate area of her life, and now she wonders if she ever was truly loved, or if her entire marriage relationship was a lie.
What you can do to help:
Be there for her, grieve with her, hold her, cry with her, and share her pain.
I know it sounds cliche to say, Be there for her. But hear me when I say, she needs you. She cannot carry this intense pain on her own. Our bodies were not created to cope with death (God created Adam and Eve to live in a perfect world), and adultery is the death of trust, the death of a relationship, and often the death of a marriage. We cannot cope with death on our own.
Don’t be afraid to cry with her. She will gain strength from your tears.
I will never forget how my pastor had to pull his car over to the side of the road because he couldn’t see through the tears he shed for me and my family. And I’ll never forget how two of my friends stood in a blackberry patch, pleading with God to help me. Rain began to pour as tears slid down their cheeks, but they stood in the rain, praying and crying for me.
Share your friend’s grief and pain. Your tears will help her heal.
Two: She feels completely unattractive.
I’m not talking about the annoyance of having a bad hair day, or the dissatisfaction we feel when we’ve gained a few pounds. I’m talking about looking in the mirror and absolutely loathing what you see. I’m talking about standing in the shower and hating every inch of yourself. I’m talking about crying gut-wrenching, soul-rending sobs, thinking if I just looked better, he wouldn’t have done it.
(Which is a complete lie, by the way. Adultery isn’t the result of not having an attractive partner or not having one’s needs met. It’s a matter of having a sexual, addictive sin that one refuses to confront.) I know those things now, but I didn’t then, and it took me a long time to accept the fact that the sins of another person/people were not my fault.
What you can do to help:
Reassure your friend that she is both beautiful and loved. Tell her in person, in cards, in text messages. It will be a long time before she believes you, but keep telling her until she does. She may be doubting the love of God, and one of the ways He assures her of His love is through YOU.
Three: She feels physically disoriented, and may need reminders to take care of herself.
I am in no way anorexic, but in the days following our family’s tragedy, I was nearly unable to eat. I simply couldn’t tolerate food, and I dropped six pounds in less than 48 hours. One of my friends noticed, and she did something about it.
Knowing my favorite snack was salted cashews, she bought me a small bag and slipped it to me. She asked to me try to eat one every once in awhile to see if it would coax me back into eating.
It worked. To this day, when I see a bag of cashews, I remember my sweet friend and how she helped get nutrition into my body when I was in too much anguish to care about eating.
In closing, I’d like to share a couple verses that sum up all these things.
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
When experiencing the betrayal of a spouse, the temptation to give up on life—on everything—is very strong. Your friend will not have the desire to get up again when she stumbles. She will have days where she just wants to lie in the mud where she fell and die.
That’s why it’s so important that you stay by her side. She will fall, and if you’re there to help her up, she’ll be okay.
Don’t leave her alone.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
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