I’ll never forget the day I started cursing.
It was the day my husband admitted to having an affair.
Even though I had suspected for a few months, all I could do was whisper “Bastard” and walk out the door. (I know, pretty low on the cussing scale, but we all have to start somewhere!) It was the only fitting word for the man who betrayed me. Without question, this still stands out as the worst day of my life, a day that turned into two years...but let's start at the beginning.
I promise it won’t take two years to read!
I grew up in a conservative Christian home, with strong morals and values, especially for marriage. My parents worked for a nationally-known family ministry in Arkansas and I was taught to fight for my marriage, submit to my husband, and “lean on God” when things got tough. So I did all of these: some of them worked and some didn’t. Josh and I were 21 when we got married, our first ministry was far from our families and friends. (I say “our” even though Josh was the one they hired because we both poured our time, sweat, and tears into those students.)
But unfortunately, the campus ministry is where this all begins.
Surviving an Affair
A few facts about this situation:
- I am under no illusions. This was completely Josh’s choice and fault, but I also learned a ton about myself in the process.
- Although he made the choices, we lacked any support from local churches and head staff. We were stranded and the staff atmosphere was toxic.
- We worked our asses off for years to put our marriage back together (and Josh will admit I did the most work for this, especially at the beginning). But really, we weren’t “putting our marriage back together” so much as starting a marriage, to begin with.
So, after months of suspecting something, I asked my husband’s co-worker about what I was seeing. “Please tell me I am crazy and I haven’t been watching Josh flirt with another woman these last few months?” This woman, who would later become our best friend, ally, and godmother to our children could only silently reply with tears in her eyes.
When the worst is confirmed, there’s only one thing to do, right? Talk about it, straight up, then and there. (Oh, is that just me? If it means anything to you, I’m an 8 on the Enneagram,) So on a cool March afternoon, I sat my husband down and simply asked, “Do you have feelings for __?”
I know I say this so casually, but my hands were sweaty, my heart racing, and my voice cracked. I held my breath for his reply.
“Yes, and I am so sorry,” was all he could say.
It was at this point I called my husband a bastard.
A Living Hell
I would hear the word “sorry” hundreds of times over the next two years, but what did it mean? What did it matter? I wanted it not to have happened. I wanted him to be done with it and forget she existed.
But it did.
And he didn’t.
Look, I am capable of buckling down and tackling a problem with very little emotion. I am strong-willed and can say exactly what is on my mind without bothering whether I’m hurting the person who’s listening. I can be cold and logical and know when it’s time to cut loose.
But I also have the stupid ability to hope in almost all situations. I am capable of making peace where it seems impossible and to discover grace for people even after their worst mistakes.
I won’t get into everything over the next two years but let me just say it was Hell. There would be emails and texts found, more circular conversations, hurtful words, and ultimately, Josh lost his job quite suddenly (along with the co-worker I’d spoken to earlier - because she knew and didn’t report). Rumors would start, the relationship would continue in various ways, and I would contemplate divorce. I had a plan: I knew exactly how I would provide for our two-year-old son and how I would also win sole custody (did I mention that sometimes I like revenge?).
So where does this story end?
It doesn’t. I mean, isn’t that what a story is: something we are constantly adding to? But this section of the story does, thankfully, have an ending. Today, when Josh and I talk about this part of our story we talk about how much strength it took, what forgiveness can look like, frankly, how exhausting it was (and also how this was the day Mikala started cursing!).
We talk about how we viewed marriage as twenty-one-year-olds, as opposed to ten years later. We talk about how we are both so different now than we were; how - through the process - we experienced freedom and became better versions of ourselves. How we wish so fucking badly that it didn’t happen, but we’re grateful for where it’s brought us.
Remember what I was taught about marriage growing up? Well, we realized how true it was that marriages must be fought for - not only when they’re under threat like that - but daily, when the boring routine of life can numb you into distance. And we quickly found that I am not a submissive person! I am not one who will be content to “give it to God” and sit contentedly under my husband’s decisions. We learned how to do things together. How decisions between two people are very rarely made 50/50, but instead 30/70, or sometimes 70/30 - because we need each other in our separate strengths and weaknesses.
Giving It to God
“Giving it to God” is a complicated one. I was hurt and didn’t understand why something like this would happen to me when I had “done everything right” in my marriage. I “gave it to God” and look where it landed us. Today I have faith, but I no longer believe there is some large man in the sky controlling everything that happens down here. Instead, I had to realize I am a strong, independent woman with the power to make things happen, and that’s good. I can figure life out without feeling like God was punishing me for something. God is involved, but shit happens because we make choices and we must use the tools we have to deal.
During this season, I often wondered if Josh was worth the fight. Would it just be easier to leave him and start over? And would I even think twice about this if I hadn’t grown up the way I did? But then that word grace would show up and I would decide we could choose to create a new life together.
I worked my ass off for my marriage. I shed buckets of tears. I yelled, screamed, and sent Josh to the spare bedroom many times. I questioned if I would ever be loved the way I felt I deserved. Seven years after my first curse word, two more kids, two moves, and almost twelve years of marriage later we are still together. I can say that I can’t imagine life without him - not because I was forced into something by my husband, family, or especially my religion, but because I wanted this.
Our youngest child’s middle name is Grace because we had finally made it out of those woods and could look back to see how much our choices and hard work brought us through, but also how much something else, something beyond us, gave us the strength to keep coming back into the ring.
The Next Right Choice
One last note: my story is not yours.
Sometimes, people need to leave.
Sometimes, different people in different situations must give themselves permission to move on - no matter what you’ve been taught God wants. There is nothing easy about living through an affair, and there is no easy way to fix it and move on. So if you need permission to throw in the towel, here it is.
My marriage with Josh is what I personally wanted and needed, and it happened because that is what we both pursued. But this is my story, yours can be different. Either way, let yourself express the pain (maybe with a choice word or two), and make the next right choice.
Bio: Mikala Casey lives with her family in Bloomington, IN, where she is pursuing her education and career in social work. She keeps her desire for world domination in check by leading her kids PTO and church vestry.
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