A few weeks ago we had a pretty big argument. I wish I could tell you what even set it off. What we were even mad at each other about or fighting over, but for the life of me, y’all, I can’t even remember. The fact that I don’t even remember what it was that caused this particular flare up in and of itself is an important detail in this lesson.
We are over 3 and a half years in to our story. And y’all know, since I’ve shared nearly every moment of it with you, how incredibly hard that has sometimes been. Y’all also know how amazing and beautiful it’s been. And now that we are over 3 years in, we tend to have a whole lot more amazing and beautiful and easy days than hard ones.
But every once in a while, one of those old ugly triggers will pop up, or maybe it might not even a be trigger, but maybe just a normal, run of the mill, married couple disagreement. Which, by the way, are never just a normal, run of the mill, married couple disagreement after an affair. Every disagreement, whether related to the affair, or a trigger, or a memory, or not, holds a little more weight. The undertones, the fears, the insecurities, always seem to somehow integrate themselves into these disagreements, no matter how mundane or unrelated those disagreements are. It’s one of those built in consequences of an affair.
So whatever that argument we were having was about on the surface, it quickly became a doubt filled extravaganza focusing on the fact that the affair still has effects on us and whether or not it ever really goes away, (side note: it doesn’t.), and words being tossed out there such as how it’s easy to see why people give up and walk away because it’s frustrating and it’s exhausting….and wait, wait,wait, let’s back up a minute here, did you just insinuate that you are considering walking away…., or that it’s even an option at this point??? Like for real? Is that where we are at right now? And if so, how exactly?? Because I’m pretty sure this is not even close to what we were originally discussing when this argument started, and things haven’t actually been bad between us.
There are alarms going off. Alerting us that something, something isn’t right here. And we both know it. We know we shouldn’t be hurling out these words we’re saying. Deep down we know we don’t mean it. Yet it’s hard to grasp on to that truth because these big, big feelings of frustration feel so big and so real. These things we are saying to each other, they feel real in the moment and larger than life, yet we know, even as we are still saying them, that they don’t quite ring true. And just for a second, we recognize those alarms going off in the back of our minds, and we push through the haze and start to question the direction this argument has taken.
How did we go from a seemingly normal day to we suddenly aren’t sure we can do this anymore? I mean, just yesterday we were great. Weren’t we?? Actually we’ve been great for WAYYY more days than we weren’t. And wait, WHAT were we even arguing about and how did this suddenly turn into every thing is terrible and nothing is really better and we will never get past this? And that’s when the smoke cleared, and we realized that everything is not terrible. Things really are better. And ok, so maybe we aren’t past it, but maybe we shouldn’t really ever fully expect to be. Regardless of the answer to that, one thing is for sure, this argument is not going to be the end of us.
Y’all know how that happens. That downward spiral that starts small and ends up feeling like the bad stuff is all encompassing and all the good stuff fades into the wall of smoke swirling around you, and you suddenly forget that everything IS so much better and you have actually made a TON of progress and you’re so disoriented in the moment that you can’t see that this is all just a giant smoke monster, a dirty little trick that fear is playing on you to ruin all the good God is doing in your life and keep you from the fullness of seeing that through.
But that is the truth of these downward spirals, sucking you further and further in to the dark smoky air, trying to suffocate you and snuff out all the light you’ve worked so hard to find.
A couple of nights ago, the house across the street from us caught on fire. We watched for hours as the firemen fought it. It would be completely out, and then suddenly, a small flame would pop up in a far corner, just the tiniest faint flicker, and within seconds the fire would be raging again. As I watched, it occurred to me how much it reminded me of how an affair ravages a relationship. How in the beginning, after the initial discovery, after the decision to try to find a way to reconcile, the fire just keeps popping back up. Aggressively and persistently. You put one out just for another to pop up. One step forward, three steps back. Every reminder, every argument, every trigger, bursting into a flame that threatens to destroy everything that’s left of you. The fight with those persistent flares seems to last forever. A never ending, exhausting cycle.
The burns you sustain in the fight, the damage to the nerves, causing a nagging, constant pain that never seems to fully dissipate. But you push through, things get better. The pain fades a bit. Sometimes, you almost even forget to notice it at all. It becomes mostly just a small twinge, or maybe a dull ache, that can sometimes get worse and slightly more noticeable when a storm is near. You adjust to it. It becomes a small part of you, and though it’s not something you ever wanted, you learn to see that there can be purpose in it, and that it’s maybe even somehow made you a better version of yourself in some ways. Because it’s made you stronger, wiser, more empathetic. You see that you can rebuild something new in the ashes of what was left from the fire. You see the hope, and the beauty of the possibilities.
The fire is out. but the faint smell of smoke always lingers, the memories clinging to every surface they can find like a dark coat of soot and ash. And somewhere, in the dark corners of the attic, the fear that any tiny sense of a flicker of things not being right between you, tends to stir that fear that you could go up in flames at any moment. Or maybe, the fear that yes, you survived the flames, you survived the fire, you think you’re in the clear, all the smoke has settled, but suddenly and out of nowhere, you’re coughing and struggling to breathe. You survived the flames, but the smoke, the smoke that filled the air for so long after, the after effects of the fire that destroyed everything you knew, that is what can sneak up and kill you if you’re not careful. If you forget that the fresh air that you need to fill your lungs with is right there, just on the other side of that deceptive wall of smoke.
We fought for nearly two days, over that apparently so insignificant a thing that I can’t even recall it now. Because we all know our arguments are never about whatever it is we are arguing about anyway. We all know the argument is actually seated in our fears, our anxieties, our deep seated insecurities. The arguments are not truly about whatever thing you did or didn’t do. They aren’t about the mean words you said when you were angry. The argument is really about these questions: “Do you really love me?, Do I matter to you?, Am I safe?, Do you value me?, Are you going to break my heart?, Will we ever truly get past this?, Did we go through all this, push through all this, just to end up a failure, just to end up with nothing?”….. etc.
It is when you are able to see that these flare ups, these bad days, that, depending on where you are at in your healing might be happening frequently, or only a time or three per year, they aren’t really at all about whatever the fight began with. It’s when you are able to take some time to calm down, and come together and acknowledge that at the core of these flare ups, are all those questions and fears that I just listed, that you’ll be better able to pull yourself back from that destructive spiral, and move past them. All the other stuff, the petty arguments, are just ornamental fluff to the real issues underneath the surface.
So you sit down and have a discussion. And you focus on the truths, the real answer to those questions, instead of the lies fear is feeding you.
1. Do you really love me?: “More than you could ever possibly comprehend.”
2. Do I matter to you?: “Absolutely. You mean the world to me.”
3. Am I safe?: “I hate what I did and will never do that to you, to us, to our family again.”
4. Do you value me?: Yes, and I will never, ever take for granted the gift that you are.”
5. Are you going to ultimately break my heart again?: “I never, ever want to see the pain in your face again that I saw after what I did. Ever.”
6. Will we ever get past this?: Y’ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THIS ONE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. IT’S ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL YOU HEAR ME ON THIS. An affair is not something you “get past”. It is also not something you will EVER get over. NOT EVER. You will not get over it. Do not expect your spouse to ever “get over it”.
The only way for it to ever disappear from existence would be for someone to be able to go back in time and change the fact that it happened. And that is not possible. It happened, and there are consequences and long lasting effects that there is no way to avoid or make magically disappear. You can make things better. You can even make things great. But you can never, ever take away the fact that it happened, or erase the pain and the scars it caused.
An affair is not something you can ever “get over”. It is something you “get through”.
You do not get over it, any more than you get over any traumatic experience or any great loss. BUT YOU CAN GET THROUGH IT. And you can have a better life, a better marriage, and a million blessings you never, ever imagined not only despite having gone through it, but because of having gone through it.
Even if your marriage didn’t survive, even if reconciliation was not an option for you, you can still get through it, and you’ll find God’s blessings waiting for you along the way.
7. Did we go through all this, push through all this, just to end up a failure, just to end up with nothing?: The answer to this one, well, it’s completely up to you. As far as your marriage goes, it’s up to both of you. Only you can answer how much your marriage is worth to you. Only you know how much of the “hard” you are willing to push through. And you really have no control over your spouse’s choice on this matter. I can’t tell you with certainty that your marriage will survive. But I can tell you that if you are both willing to push through, and to fight your way out of the belly of those smoke monsters that come for you every so often, your chances of having an amazing marriage that you never would have believed to be possible, even on your best days before the affair, are extremely high. It’s not easy, not even a little bit, but the result is worth it.
In the words of our wise counselor and life coach, Joey Grubbs, when I asked him what if we failed, if we spent all this time and energy trying to save our marriage, what if in the end, it just didn’t work, he said : “You will never regret putting in the work to try and save your marriage. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s never a mistake to do everything you can to work towards reconciliation and redemption.” And he was right. Even if we had failed, even if we do fail at some point in the future, I could never regret knowing that we gave it our all. And the work that we’ve done not just in our marriage, but ultimately on ourselves, will serve us well for the rest of our lives. It is never a mistake to work towards being the best version of yourselves, and the best version of your marriage. It is never a mistake to work towards becoming the person that God intended you to be. In the end, no matter what, God is for you. And He has good plans for you, no matter the outcome.
So, today I encourage you to stay the course. When the smoke gets stirred or the sparks start to fly, or you maybe even find yourselves hurling some of that soot at each other, try not to get caught up in it. It’s so easy in that moment of chaos to forget how much progress you have made. How much goodness you actually do have. How far you’ve come and how much you’ve pushed through and the possibilities and opportunities that still lie ahead for you if you will just stay focused, and not lose your way in the smoke.
Fear is a liar. A giant, ugly, smoke monster. He will sneak up and consume you, blind you, and choke the very breath from your lungs if you let him. Don’t let one, or two, or even seven straight bad days trick you into forgetting all of the good ones. When you find yourselves having one of those days where things suddenly seem dark again, look that smoke monster in the eyes and remind him who you are. Remind yourself who you are. Remember how far you’ve come and all the goodness that you have. Remind yourselves that those big feelings, and those words you’re exchanging in the heat of the moment are not the truth of who you are and where you’re at in this process. Remind yourselves of what you’ve overcome.
Push past that veil of smoke and take a deep, deep breath of the truth.
You’re doing great.
There was a fire, and it was devastating and life altering and you will never, ever forget it. But you survived. All you have to do, is stay the course, get back on track, call those smoke monsters out for the fear mongers and liars that they truly are, focus on the good, and just. keep. breathing.
Amy Thurston Gordy