on his affair being my fault

The conversation started with, “Why do you think he had an affair?”

Between a string of “I don’t know”s, I spoke of it not being the first time… of the strains of ministry leadership… of a pattern that had been modeled for him… of the hardships in our marriage… of the choices that, one by one, little by little, led down a slippery slope. Her pursed lips and nodding head let me know it wasn’t the answer she was looking for, even before she reworded her question.

“How do you think you contributed to his affair?”

I swallowed hard and blinked back tears, to no avail. They were quickly streaming down my face.

She leaned forward with an I-didn’t-mean-to-make-you-cry look in her eyes. “Oh, why are you getting upset? I know he made the choice to have an affair. But there had to be a reason he looked outside the marriage. Why her? What was she offering him that you weren’t?”

I sat there, incredulous—and, not knowing what to do, I just started rambling through the sobs. I explained why I think he chose her… I hypothesized on the reasons our complicated, cross-cultural marriage was so challenging… I outlined a long list of my own flaws and failures… The conversation eventually ended, though I don’t think my responses ever fully satisfied her. Then again, I still don’t know exactly what she wanted out of me.

Looking back, that conversation was one of my lowest moments.

Because I was forced to defend what shouldn’t need defending. Because I allowed someone to treat me as though the affair was my fault. Oh, she said all the wrong things in all the “right” ways—making sure to avoid words like fault or cause or reason—yet that is still what she was implying. I felt trapped in a corner, trying to defend myself against a pointed finger and assigned blame.

Disappointingly, I believe her take-away from that dialogue was that I was resistant to taking a close look at my own heart and shortcomings—that I don’t allow friends to ask hard questions. And while I know that isn’t true of that conversation (or others like it), I was (am) frustrated and hurt at feeling so misunderstood and misrepresented.

Because I’ve owned my part of the challenges of our marriage. Soon after the news of the affair broke, I processed at length with my therapists about my own personal issues, faults, and sins, and how those impacted my relationship(s). I even had difficult, humbling discussions with my still-unrepentant husband in which I apologized for the ways I’d hurt him and our marriage.

I am extremely introspective, self-analyzing, self-critical. If anything’s gone wrong or anyone is upset, I automatically believe it must be my fault. So to assume I haven’t taken a hard look at myself throughout the journey of the past few years—the most grievous, painful, heartwrenching season of my life—would almost be laughable. If it wasn’t so hurtful.

Believe me. I blamed myself plenty, all on my own.

I waded through the blame my ex-husband heaped on me as well. I analyzed to death all the things that I could have done differently, wondering if it would have led to a different outcome. I assure you—regret, shame, and self-blame abounded.

Even in this, as with most everything—joy and grief, faith and uncertainty, pain and healing—I grapple in the ampersand arena. I live in the tension of two opposing truths I am forced to accept together: I am a co-contributor to the demise of my marriage relationship, and my husband’s decision to have an affair is not my fault, in whole or in part.

Both true. Both painfully hard for me to swallow. And both have caused me heartache enough for lifetimes.

You, my friend, need not add to it.

{photo credit}

Originally posted on A Deeper Story.
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17 Responses to “on his affair being my fault”
  1. brandiej says:

    wow, Alece. i’ve not had those words spoken (i’m truly grateful) but i’ve felt them and spent more than a few hours distraught over the accusations in my mind. i, too, know my own sin all too well and how i hurt him over the years….but, as i told his mother, it was harmful to both of us for me to take the blame for all our problems, including his sin. and i very much agree with your closing thought of having to wrestle through the two simultaneous truths, it’s very true.

    i do wonder if part of our “fault”, along the way, that led to their affairs was our introspective natures, all too willing to see our own sin, and take ownership of the problems. it allowed them to avoid consequences, continue in unrepentence, have increasingly hardened hearts, and blame us for their sin. i’m pretty certain this dynamic played a significant role in my marriage.

    however, i would never want to try to explain that to someone like the “friend” you described. my take-away from your story is to never be that person in someone else’s life, and i’m sorry that those words were spoken to you.

    • i do know that my tendency to own what isn’t mine to own — to play peacemaker to a fault — has led me to live life as a doormat all too often. trying to break those tendencies is such hard work… and i feel as though i fail more than i succeed. but i’m working on it…

      i so appreciated your thoughts, brandie. thank you.

      • Sammye Campbell says:

        Alece and Brandij – I read your words as a wife of 38 years and as a woman who is an self-examiner, peacemaker and nurturer to a fault. There is a wisdom in both of your words and it hurts my heart that you have come to this wisdom through such pain. Often, the very gifts of personality and character that have been built into us by the Sovereign Creator, are the ones that the spirits of Darkness will seek to use for our destruction. In marriage, as in every human relationship, there are two individuals who are accountable for their actions to God. Even when our behavior is AFFECTED by the actions of others, we are responsible for our own actions, not theirs. Yes, we must look at our own lives and answer for the wrong we have done, but we do not bear the blame for the choices made by others. There is a fine line that exists here, because we never want to be the “cause” for another’s sin, but they must choose between right and wrong.

        In marriage, as in life, each partner is an individual personality and is responsible before the Lord. That is one of the beautiful mysteries of a good marriage, the intertwining of TWO into one. It is not only the physical act of uniting that creates this oneness – it is the interweaving of two unique persons and lives into a ONENESS that over the years become so woven together, that the two are almost indistinguishable. In the marriage relationship, as in every relationship, each will make mistakes and each will fail the other miserably. It is only as we set aside the ALL ABOUT ME attitude that we are able to allow others their humanity and move into stable, long-lasting relationships. Relationships require each participant to do BE ABOUT THE OTHER, just as Christ was about US, not himself. It is a very difficult endeavor, but it is doable.

        How does this long exposition even touch on your blog, Alece and your comment, Brandi? Girls, it is a gift from God to be a peacemaker and want to avoid confrontation and to see others spared pain as they work through the struggles of life. But it is only as this gift is placed under the Lord’s leadership that we are not beat down and walked upon as we function in our gift. It saddens me that you both trod upon by men who did not see the blessed woman they had been given. It saddens me that the spirit of Darkness was able to destroy, but as you walk out these life altering experiences, your lives can be a testimony and many lives will be changed because of your wisdom. Alece, I have been a spectator in the dramas of your marriage. My daughter, Saige, is one of your greatest fans. Your influence in her life, through all of this, has been powerful. Her dad and I have prayed for you and felt the pain of loss for your your marriage and a powerful ministry. Don’t stop being you! Yes you did make mistakes, but none of your mistakes gave him excuse to break the commitments and promises you made together before God. He alone carries the burden of that sin. Are you wiser, Yes! Will God take this and cause it to work for your good – Yes, He already has an He will continues. I hope this very LONG comment makes some sense. Blessings to both of you, Alece and Brandi.

  2. SorryForHerComment says:

    This woman clearly had an agenda; her own ideas were more important than anything else in your conversation. She wanted a lesson to be learned as though she was a Teacher with superior knowledge. She doesn’t seem to care about you or have a close enough relationship with you to have the right to challenge your deepest pains.

    Every individual in a marriage has flaws and strengths. The faithful spouse also has a hundred reasons to take the slippery path – but they don’t do it. One is still responsible for their own choices and actions at the end of the day. Right or wrong is set before the wandering spouse over and over as the situation starts small until it consumes, and the spouse made the conscious choice each time to take the selfish, God-forsaking turn every single minute of every single day of the betrayal. God stood at the door constantly offering a better road but the path of sin was a personal and conscious decision until God’s options were drowned out. An affair for a Christian is far more about resisting God and consciously following the tempations of the world than it is about rejecting the spouse. Trust me, I know.

    Sure, one can search and find faults in each spouse but even the most faithful of marriages would reveal genuine marital flaws. And some people have the worst marriages but remain faithful. It is a personal choice to sin. Accept no responsibility for his decisions. If you want to learn from it, that it your choice – and yours alone to initiate or discuss – but your learning is from experiencing a spouses betrayal NOT from taking responsibility for another adults actions.

    • “An affair for a Christian is far more about resisting God and consciously following the tempations of the world than it is about rejecting the spouse. Trust me, I know.”

      Thank you for this.

      • faith says:

        Agree, agree, agree! Well said.
        I too know all too well!
        I also feel that this woman has the mind set that most women do “this could never happen to me” and by her talking to you she might be feeling insecure for some reason and wanting to reassure herself that since she doesn’t do what ever you did that it In turn could never happen to her. The flaw is in thinking that if you can do everything right on your side that everything will go right on both sides. Not going to happen. Same thing with parents who do everything right and their kid still turns out messed up.And the only real insurance you can take is putting your trust in God that even if you do your part and your world still falls apart then He is still in control and has you right where he needs you.
        Does that make sence? Just the other month I was talking to a friend about this and assuring her that she could have done nothing more to make her husband stay. And for Christians it really is about rebelling against God more than anything. I’ve never really thought about it in these words.

    • brandiej says:

      yes, thank you for this. you have put, eloquently, into words the very truths the Lord has spoken to my heart to heal me from the pain of adultery. blessings upon you.

  3. Alece,

    I have read your story off and on, and found this article to be hard and sad. Thank you for sharing your story at a Deeper Story.

    Jennifer Dougan

    • Hard and sad in what ways, Jennifer?

      • Hi Alece,

        Yes, you’re right, let me clarify that. :) “Hard and sad” in the hurt that happened to you by your friend’s witting, or unwitting, statement. You are right, that while there are usually two parts in any “marriage’s demise” or fights in general, as you said– nonetheless, your husband’s choice to have an affair is not your fault. He chose that. He sinned. We can only own our parts, and can’t take on blame for anyone else’s bad choices, easy though it may be sometimes.

        So, I was joining you in the hard and the sad, and sorry for the pain that friend’s comment caused in you. I imagine they wished they had said that differently too.

        Sorry for the pain you have gone through, and appreciative of your sharing it here at times.

        Sincerely, respectfully, warmly,
        Jennifer Dougan

  4. Hi friend! I am baffled a bit by how your friend approached you with questions and in talking with you about the affair. When you needed hugged, prayed with and listened too most…that was not what you needed. You needed someone to bear your burdens with you not to accuse you of doing something to make your husband choose to sin. We all sin…daily..hourly! Marriage is a HUGE relationship that God uses in our sanctification process. Yes…no marriage is perfect but, he made step after step to sin and walk into that affair. You did not. Loving you today. Praying for you as you most likely hear from others who are in situations similar to yours. I have not personally been through this but, my husband has with his first wife and I’ve seen my parents deal with these issues when I was a kid. Scares are left but, that skin from those scars is tougher than the original skin! You will come out and have been coming out of this stronger! Live your life for His glory alone!

    • i fear my tough-skin scars will leave me hard, jaded, and cynical… i’m working on that one. on asking Him to keep me soft while still gaining wisdom and discernment from my previous experiences…

      so appreciate your words and heart here, jennifer. thank you.

      • Ellie says:

        My son has a scar. A cut that took 40 stitches to repair. The skin is tough. Not so pretty as the smooth flesh that was before. Interestingly, years on, the scar is still sensitive. He feels the whisper of a touch. It tingles and he reacts.

        Alece, your scars will leave you hardened and more sensitive. Don’t be afraid of them.

        I know. My past. How many times I hear people say when confronted with child sexual abuse. “I can’t imagine. I can’t keep thinking about that. It is too awful.”

        I can imagine. It has made me tougher. I can imagine. I can keep thinking about it. I’m tough enough to handle pain. And I am more sensitive. I feel the whisper of pain in a voice, in averted eyes.

        Our scars are not beautiful, but they harden and soften us.

        And Jesus had scars. We’ll be in good company in heaven. The fellowship of the scarred.

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