I remember the moment I felt an unmistakable attraction to a man who wasn’t my husband. It would mark the beginning of an infatuation that waxed and waned for nearly a year. He and I were both active in a local community organization. For at least six months, we had greeted each other and exchanged superficial pleasantries on a weekly basis without anything remarkable transpiring. But on this particular day, we had a long, substantive conversation. Through it, I discovered that we not only shared many of the same perspectives but also clicked well—to the point my heart rate increased and the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up.
I don’t know if he had felt any of the same things as I did. If so, he didn’t show it. Our parting was casual and friendly. We didn’t hug or shake hands. But as I got in my car, I couldn’t stop grinning. I was hyper-aware of all my senses.
Looking back, it’s not surprising it happened. I was in the midst of a major identity shift that was changing the way I saw myself and how I fit in the world. After learning previously unknown stories of my family, I had come to embrace my Taiwanese heritage—a development that caused me to abandon many of my long-held beliefs about race, class, money, power, and social responsibility. The opinions and ideas that had once fostered solidarity between my husband, Peter, and me were now a source of friction.
At home, I constantly felt hurt, misunderstood, and frustrated. I prayed about these negative feelings, but doing so didn’t magically erase the pain and isolation caused by not feeling seen or understood by my life partner. I still loved Peter and knew he loved me, but an ideological and personal chasm had opened up between us.
Now, some other man had listened to what I had to say and had given me nothing but validation. When the desire to keep that feeling alive provoked a deep longing, I knew I was in trouble. Before I even put my key into the ignition, I reached for my phone, called Peter at work, and told him about the conversation, who I had it with, and what I was feeling. He didn’t miss a beat. He thanked me for letting him know about it and said we would talk more when he got home.
I should offer some background here.
Two months before our wedding in 2006, some important but undisclosed information came to light in a way that caused deep emotional pain and destroyed trust between us. Up to that point, our courtship had been easy and conflict-free. The unexpected revelation blindsided us both.
In the New Testament, there are 18 occurrences of the word apokalupsis, the Greek word from which the English word apocalypse is derived. Modern usage of the word apocalypse refers to a world-ending cataclysm, but in the Scriptures, apokalupsis connotes the process by which something hidden is revealed, laid bare, or uncovered. What happened during our engagement seemed apocalyptic in both senses. It felt cataclysmic, but it also led to a deeper uncovering of the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ—of his suffering and death on the cross.
Immediately after discovering the truth, the person who had been hurt by the deception considered ending both the engagement and the relationship but also wrestled with how and what it meant to forgive. A breakup would have been easy to justify, but the wrongdoer had taken full responsibility and shown obvious indications of deep and specific repentance. As a result, it became impossible to separate the option of ending things from vengefulness (the desire to make the other person pay with a permanent consequence) and self-righteousness (an underlying belief that the wrongdoer was more sinful and therefore deserved scorn and rejection). Yet the thought of staying in the relationship conjured up a different kind of intense pain. As New York City pastor Tim Keller writes, “In all cases when wrong is done there is a debt, and there is no way to deal with it without suffering: either you make the perpetrator suffer for it or you forgive and suffer for it yourself.”
In spite of the agony, we leaned into our “apocalyptic” state—even when it scared us. The author of Hebrews writes, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). These verses used to fill my imagination with frightening images of the Last Judgment, where every shameful thing in my life would be aired out before the world. Paradoxically, the shocking exposure of something hidden between Peter and me—something that never should have been hidden—ended up being the catalyst that enabled us both to better understand, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
In the weeks leading up to our wedding, we began practicing confessing our disordered thoughts, feelings, and habits to one another and learning to be emotionally safe people for one another. This practice, coupled with the ongoing work of forgiveness, helped us rebuild enough trust to make it to the altar on our originally scheduled wedding day and exchange vows before God and hundreds of witnesses. Because of Christ, we learned that apokalupsis wasn’t something to fear; it was something that led to freedom from shame and punishment, from having to manage and hide behind façades.
Those Who See Me
By the time I called Peter, our policy of transparency and commitment to being emotionally safe for one another was well established. It’s why I didn’t hesitate to call and tell him everything. It’s also why he was able to listen without being judgmental and without feeling threatened. When we finally spoke face-to-face in our kitchen, his exact words were, “I get it. He’s scratching an itch that I can’t right now.” We prayed together and asked the Lord to help us. After that, I confided in my best friend, two other female friends, and even my live-in mother-in-law. They were all mature Christians who committed to pray for and walk with me through this struggle.
Sharing what was taking place in my heart with the people closest to me initially diffused the power the attraction had over me. The endorphins dropped off. But I soon found out the struggle wasn’t going to resolve as easily as I thought. The other man and I still had commitments to the community organization, so running into him was unavoidable. In-between sightings, the feelings would lose their intensity and I would start thinking it was no longer a problem. But whenever I did see him, they would come flooding back, and I would have to resist the urge to seek out more time with him and replicate the sense of synergy I had felt with him that one time.
While Peter was understanding and always willing to listen, I soon realized that it wasn’t healthy for him or his self-esteem to hear me articulate every unfiltered thought or feeling I had about this other man. The women in my life became a lifeline to me because I regularly processed my feelings with them as the struggle became more chronic and repetitive in nature. Their involvement enabled me to maintain the same level of honesty in my marriage without becoming careless with Peter’s heart and also to be sensitive to his feelings without compromising transparency.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Judy Wu Dominick