In college I cheated on a boyfriend.
More than once.
In fact, one boyfriend told me I should have a big red sign on my forehead that read, “DANGER.”
It’s a wonder I’ve been married for 12 faithful years. By grace alone.
But here is what I want to tell you about what I know about cheating and consequences from a place of experience.
To the Person Who Hasn’t Cheated But Is Considering It
Picture this: Your husband is sitting on the couch and just read the story about Ashley Madison. He looks at you and says, “Have you ever cheated?” Your stomach turns. Your palms begin to sweat. It was just a kiss. At first. Oh God, help me. You smile, a little, out of nerves. His eyes are searching yours now and he knows. “Yes.” You tell him. Your heart is beating wildly and is about to jump out of your chest. He tells you to tell him everything, and through tears you tell him, and you hate yourself in the telling, and he starts crying, and everything is falling apart. One of your kids walks in and asks what’s going on…
You can fill in the blanks from there, just use your imagination. And yes, I’m seriously telling you: use your imagination. Think about the consequence your cheating would bring. Think about the fall-out, the destruction, the look in your children’s eyes. Actually think it through.
It’s not worth it.
So run. Run from temptation. Tell a friend. Talk to your spouse. If there are issues in your marriage and you feel alone and unloved, talk to him, or to her, or to a safe friend or counselor. But don’t go down that treacherous road of adultery. What looks like glitter is shard glass that will cut you up and leave you to bleed.
“…each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” James 1:14,15
To the Person Who Has Cheated But Hasn’t Told
Walk into the light. For one, you will be free, and for the other, the other person will be free, free to choose whether or not to stay with you. But at least that’s honest and real and there is no hiding.
And speaking of hiding, it is a terrible, lonely, broken place to stay in the dark. Yea, it’s terrible to confess a sin like adultery, but once you do, you’re free. Free to be honest. Free to heal. Free to begin again. The consequences may be painful and heartbreaking, but there will be light and freedom.
In college I was seeing a counselor for my many issues, and in the session I told her about my cheating. She said, “You need to tell him.” I didn’t need to. I could hide. I could pretend. I could cover it all away by “not lying” just “not telling.” And then she said in so many words, “You will never change if you don’t face the consequences of your sin.”
When you face what your sin has done, or could potentially do, you are ready to change.
I went home that day from my counseling session and I told my boyfriend what I had done. He told me to get out, that I was just like my mother, and that I would never change.
And it was painful. But you know what that did? It made me grow up. It made me look directly at my sin and the pain and upheaval and damage it caused. Do you think I ever what to face the consequences of that sin again? Emphatically no.
In fact, the times I have felt tempted, I have pictured what it would be like to look into the eyes of my husband and speak the words, “I cheated on you.” I have imagined looking at my children and explaining to them what I’ve done, or why mommy and daddy are going through such turmoil. I don’t ever want to have to tell my family I cheated.
For All of Us
The sin of adultery lures us in and makes us feel good. We feel wanted and loved and seen and beautiful and chosen. We feel powerful and seductive and we feel like we have no choice over our bodies and our reactions. What deception. The pleasure of sin is fleeting. It feels good for a time, but afterward it wrecks you and those around you.
We Have a Choice
Do not believe the lie that you can’t choose. You can. There is hope for everyone and for all marriages.
There are thousands of couples who have been faithful for years and years and years of marriage. They have integrity and vision and they see that this world is short compared to eternity. They have perspective and wisdom. Whenever I want to give up hope that there can really be faithfulness in marriage, I am reminded of the faithful ones who have gone before me. My in-laws. Sally and Clay Clarkson. Dave and Cathy Bowman, to name three off the top of my head. They’ve all been married 30 or more faithful years.
And I’m reminded of myself. Yes, me, the once cheater who did change because a wise counselor taught me to face the truth and the pain, and because I cling to a God of grace who at every turn has given a way out.
If You Need a Way Out
Call a friend. Tell your spouse. Get out the secret before it gives birth to a full-fledge affair. It will be hard, and maybe embarrassing, and it might hurt for a time, but it will save you.
You are not alone in your temptations, but you do have a choice. A choice to run away, a choice to tell, a choice to be free.
There is always hope, and there is always a way out.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.” -Tim Keller
12 years. Faithful and free (hard-fought). Praise be to God.
With love, SM
P.S. I just got an email from a woman who had an affair. She gave me permission to share what she wrote:
“You mention in your article to confess KNOWING that things will get ugly…just do it…you are so right! There is such freedom in the light…even through the pain, shame, guilt…the freedom is still there! And, my husband still loves me. I’ll admit, I don’t understand that…how he can love me despite my betrayal.
I never anticipated the self-loathing, the self-hatred, the shame, the guilt, the complete loss of all you knew to be true, the loss of yourself. Even from a purely selfish point of view affairs are NOT worth it. And, then, as a believer you add in the separation from God, grieving the Holy Spirit…it’s a disaster…of your own making. But, then the glorious takes place…conviction, confession, repentance, redemption and restoration!!! Praise God for His love for us. Praise God that he’ll leave the 99 for the 1…all for His glory!
So, just…when temptation comes…RUN!!! When you have to start making excuses for why someone “befriends” you, how they speak to you, how often they contact you…regardless of their position…RUN!!!”