If you’re reading this right now, chances are you are striving to be as intentional as you can about starting your marriage right—or at least about nurturing a healthy relationship with your significant other.
But today let’s talk about what can happen un-intentionally. To any of us. My guest is Rebecca Halton, and I’ll let her introduce herself to you.
Q: Rebecca, you once kept a secret that caused you unspeakable shame and guilt, and yet now you are willing to tell the world about it. What is that secret?
Rebecca Halton: I was the adulterous “other woman” in an extramarital affair—an experience I’ve chronicled in Words from the Other Woman.
Q: You certainly never set out to be “the other woman.” It’s not like you decided one day this was the path for your life. So what happened? How did this start?
Rebecca: You’re right—in fact, I pridefully thought I was “above” committing adultery. Like most things in life, it started with a series of choices, each one being another step down a destructive path. Specifically, it started with an instant physical attraction that I neglected to guard against. I ignored the red flags. I thought I could face temptation, when I should have fled it instead.
Q: What are some common red flags that others should watch for in their own relationships to make sure they don’t go down this road?
Rebecca: Here are the primary red flags I urge people to watch out for:
1. Complacency: I was complacent about growing in my faith and guarding my heart. I wasn’t personally seeking God for the affirmation and emotional intimacy I needed.
2. Pride: Like I mentioned, I thought I was “above” committing adultery. I would hear of others in adulterous relationships, and thought I could never do what they did. That judgmental arrogance definitely came before my fall.
3. No accountability: I was lacking accountability in my life. I didn’t even have a roommate. Living alone prior to marriage isn’t wrong. However, it does mean you need to be even more intentional with boundaries and accountability, because it’s easier to be secretive.
4. Lack of community: Though I seemed successful and thriving—by the world’s definitions—I felt very emotionally isolated. I wasn’t connecting with a church. I was lacking the fellowship and discipleship that help deter us from sinful and destructive decisions.
Q: When did you decide your affair was wrong and that you had to stop?
Rebecca: I definitely knew better, right from the start. I was not only raised with the belief that adultery was immoral, but during my adultery I was consistently convicted by the Holy Spirit. There is a big difference, though, between knowing you should walk away, and actually walking away. It’s kind of like the difference between knowing you should exercise, and actually going to the gym. It took me about six months, a lot of pain, and the many intercessory prayers of friends, but I was ultimately determined to “walk the walk”.
Q: How long did you keep this secret hidden? And why share it with everyone who will listen, now?
Rebecca: Initially, I kept it a secret for weeks, then began confessing only to close friends and my parents. I had started to admit to myself that I needed help. But in the months and years since it ended, I’ve become more and more open with any- and everyone. I want others to know how real, powerful, and freeing God’s redemption is for all of us. Plus, having glimpsed how much the devil delights in stealing from us, I get a lot of joy out of sharing a testimony that, frankly, sticks it to him!
Q: What do we all need to realize about ourselves?
Rebecca: We all need to realize that our hearts can’t be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things, and Proverbs 4:23 says to—above all else—guard your heart. Our hearts can mislead us — even mislead us into thinking we can trust ourselves in situations we should avoid altogether. We’re all fallen. We’re all capable of sin. We’re all in need of God’s grace, mercy, wisdom and strength.
Q: Have you been released from guilt? How?
Rebecca: Yes—this has been one of the most amazing effects of God’s redemption! I cannot talk about redemption, though, without also talking about repentance. I chose to repent of my adultery — fully turning away from it and asking God for forgiveness. From there I could really start moving towards the future God still has for me, without being haunted by my past.
Q: Where is the hope for others reading this who may have their own secrets of either emotional or physical affairs?
Rebecca: It’s not too late. It’s not too late to return home, just like the Prodigal Son. But to walk in greater freedom requires actually taking steps away from the source of bondage. In John 8, we see Jesus step in on behalf of a woman caught in adultery. It’s important to note that Jesus did not condemn this woman, but he also instructs her to stop sinning.
Q: What advice would you give someone who has had an affair and wonders how she or he can get past it?
Rebecca: I couldn’t have gotten past it on my own. I am not my own redeemer. God is my Redeemer, and Jesus my Savior, and the healing process couldn’t have happened without them. I did need take some practical steps, too, though. I sought prayers and counsel from friends. I began attending church again, and personally invested more in having my emotional needs met by God.
And I finally went “cold turkey,” which is one of the most important things I could have done. Too often, I’ve heard from other former “other” women, who still maintain some level of communication with their married men. I strongly believe I couldn’t have moved on if I hadn’t blocked his e-mail address, changed my phone number and deleted his, for example. These are bridges that should be burned.
Q: What is the number one message you want to share with couples who are engaged, or just beginning their marriages?
Rebecca: Go the extra mile in proactively protecting your marriage, and be unapologetic about the God-glorifying lengths to which you’ll go. In Song of Songs we see one of the best pieces of relationship advice in the Bible: “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” (Song of Songs 2:15, NIV) Foxes are sneaky and slinky and small, able to slip through smaller holes in your relationship. And they’re kind of cute, which is also deceptive. Be vigilant, be intentional, be united and guided by God’s Word and wisdom—the world’s way will lead you astray.