“I was married almost 10 years when I cheated on my husband with another married man. This fall from grace was, in truth, a rescue mission for my dying heart. But how do you come back from that? How do you rise from such an ugly, demoralizing, and damaging mistake, to finish the work you set out to do in the first place? These were questions the internet did not have answers to when I went looking four years ago, as my life imploded around me.
I had been a devoted and outspoken Christian all my life. My ex-husband and I met on a mission base in Kansas City, Missouri some 12 years earlier. I remember when I first laid eyes on him, I knew deep in my core I would marry him and I believed this was God’s plan for me. We dated eight months before we got engaged, and within two months of marriage, I was pregnant with our firstborn son. In the specific Christian culture I grew up in, dating and marrying rather quickly was common, so while I saw some red flags, I pushed onward. I wanted to slow down and figure out if those red flags could turn into yellow traffic lights; but I was struggling to reconcile my deep-held belief that this was part of God’s predestined path for me, with the internal alarms that were trying to tell me this man and I had work to do before anyone said, ‘I do.’
Part of growing up in the faith meant you were taught not to trust your heart or the lusts of your flesh. This wasn’t done overtly, no one said, ‘You can never trust your heart,’ but it was reinforced through principles and beliefs. I was conditioned early, by my religion, to deny the natural God-given instincts of my body, and told in so many ways that the heart and your feelings can’t always be relied on. The Word of God alone was what a Christian was to stand on. You can see this message reinforced every day across the body of Christ. When you tell a young man what he is, is simply a feeling, you are teaching him not to trust himself. If he ‘feels’ like he’s gay then he can’t also be a Christian. So if I truly believed this was of God, to question it, also meant on some levels to question my ability to have faith in God to work out the details. Not a line of thought several smart Christian leaders around me would have agreed with, but I had a knack for hiding my fear even from myself. Misguided in retrospect, but looking back it made sense to the 20-something me who longed with all her heart to please God and be married.
The other reason I jumped into my marriage, despite my heart trying to tell me to slow down, was because, at almost 28, I was getting tired of waiting. Even though I grew up as a Christian kid, when I hit high school, boys, sex, and booze became far more appealing than youth group. Being made to wear my dad’s t-shirt over my one-piece bathing suit, so as to not ‘tempt the boys, but protect them’ was growing old. Not to mention confusing. Who was I protecting them from? Themselves? Good grief, that’s a whole other topic, come by the blog for that one. By 23, I knew it was time to get serious about my life, and in that season that meant chasing my wildest dreams before it was ‘too late.’ Ironic, as I sit here at 41 doing the same thing, again. I believed I couldn’t do that without God, so I decided to give my life back over to my faith (essentially meaning I needed to start following the rules again). I never abandoned my belief in God, so it was more of a return to a lifestyle I had let go of, rather than a full conversion to a belief system. But all the same, from 24 to 27, I didn’t date a man, kiss a man, let alone touch a man.
When I saw my husband for the first time at church, he stuck out. A new guy around the mission base, and older than most of my peers. Tall, dark, and handsome, a New York Italian boy who worked harder than anyone I had ever met. He was driven and extroverted and loved people so well. I remember being a bit shocked and simultaneously in awe of him when I witnessed him preaching and teaching. He took great care while listening to people struggle to be human, and I loved the way he could chat it up with my girlfriends. He was very endearing and approachable, and that remains one of my favorite things about him. And he could make me laugh, like really laugh. He loved God and righteousness, and I trusted that was enough. On paper he was perfect. But I had no butterflies when I kissed him. My skin didn’t heat up when he touched my hand. When we would disagree, it was a complete character assassination that led to a bloodbath. These fights almost always resulted in me needing space from the whiplash and him needing us to be close because his childhood trauma would be triggered. I slowly learned how to shut down in order to stay in the relationship. None of this changed over time. It was just two broken people stumbling over little landmines trying to thrive.
I stayed in that wild loneliness for many years. My husband was there too, but he was across the room in his own loneliness. He got a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, followed by a Ph.D., I think partly to prove his worthiness, and partly to give us a better life. He sought to hush the loneliness that existed in the delta of what I couldn’t give him, and the unbearable pain of his memories with other women too. I used our children to quiet mine. I believed the idea we were all sold as women, that being a mother meant laying it all down for our children. A martyr mother. I paused my dreams because I truly believed there was no way two people could chase two dreams at the same time and still give their children a full and present life. Looking back, it was a bit self-righteous on my part, but it came honestly. I was also exhausted, there was always that.
As the distance in the room grew larger in width, I recall not being able to get to that place deep inside my husband. I couldn’t access the space where the dark was and save him. So, the way I loved him was by covering the loneliness. I threw parties and barbeques. I made our home feel like a home. I cooked him dinner and raised our sons with every single fiber in me. I filled our space with all the loyal faith I had the day I married him. I was his constant in every way. And this, this is how I learned to love him.
And then one day, I just couldn’t anymore. I was bleeding out, and I tried to hide it all. I asked for a fourth baby. I rallied myself with my Christian commitment to never divorce even though there were lies even he couldn’t hide anymore. I outed myself when I realized I had a crush on one of the kids’ school teachers and went to therapy because that was even hard to hide from my own conscience. I prayed more. I prayed harder. I threw fewer parties and started to go a little dark with my closest friends. I just needed to survive this next part, whatever that meant. Something extraordinary was about to happen, and I could feel it all over me, but it did not register as extraordinary. It felt more like the apocalypse was coming. I had no idea that in roughly six months from the beginning of that bleed out I was going to let it all. burn. down.
In the late fall of that year, in an almost out-of-body moment, the world finally stopped spinning and my feet found the floor. The bleeding was done and the rallying cry of death pangs was about to begin. I stood like a f***ing warrior full of rage and fury staring down at what was the field of my life. This was it. I was about to live, or die. It felt like the whole earth went quiet in a solemn bow like it knew before I did what I must do. The next moment was holy, and then I lit a match to all that I had built.
The affair I had was not the match, but it was the fire I needed to leave my marriage and the woman who had stopped listening to her own heart so many years ago. I am often asked if I am happier now that I am divorced, and that is a hard question to answer. I highly UN-recommend divorce and infidelity. The fall out from the infidelity alone is still more than I can bear most days, four years later. Being a part of the destruction of another human’s heart, especially when they are innocent, is not something you ever really recover from. When I set out to save my own brave heart, it was never my intention to hurt someone else’s. And the climb from that fall may have been harder than the one after my divorce. There was no one out there that could reassure me it was going to be okay, in fact, it was mostly people calling me a homewrecker and a husband-stealer.
In their judgment, however, I remained happier. Not because I had found a home in the arms of a man I wasn’t married to. Not because I was free from a lonely marriage that likely needed more pre-marital work on the front end. But happier because maybe for the first time in my life, I was listening to my heart and letting her take the lead. I was wide awake and feeling for the first time in decades. I shed my religion like an animal that no longer needs its winter coat. Of all the things that match destroyed, I would have never seen that one coming. Yes, there were rumblings for years and questions in my gut that did not make peace with what I was being preached about on a Sunday, but I never thought I would stray from my Christian roots. The good news is, you can leave Christianity and still take God with you. What I am learning through my affair and divorce is what Kaylee Friedman said best, ‘Honoring yourself might mean that you have to be the bad guy in someone else’s story.’ Sometimes saving yourself is in fact, actually loving what matters. If I spend the rest of my days honoring my heart and trusting myself above everything else, I’ll be the bad guy any day.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsey Kasten from Petaluma CA. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook and her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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