Not very long after my husband ended his affair with the OW, we got a package from the OW in the mail. By package, I mean a box, not simply an envelope. Not knowing what to expect, my husband opened the box and looked in it first. I then looked it in. It was full of mementos from their tumultuous relationship. It was puzzling that she would waste her time and money to send such a package, and it was absolutely pointless. I do not know what her intentions were in sending the package, and I really do not care. It is what my husband and I did with the package that is of importance.
There was no long, drawn out, tense discussion about what to do with the box and the items it in. My husband wanted nothing that reminded him of that relationship, and, if he had wanted something, my answer would have been a resounding “No.” There was no way we were keeping any of the items, but we weren’t going to waste our money by sending the items back to her. Instead, we promptly agreed to burn the box and everything in it, and that is exactly what we did. As we stood outside, holding hands and watching the contents of that box go up in flames, I felt some satisfaction and peace. It was as if by burning those mementos, we were burning any existing bridge to that ungodly relationship. It was a moment of great significance to me, and I believe it was a turning point in our marriage.
Now, by this time, my husband had vowed that he would spend the rest of his life trying to make up to me all the hurt he caused. He had already told me he would do whatever was necessary for me to trust him again. He told me and others in our family that he would NEVER under ANY circumstances give me any reason to even wonder if I could trust him. He would never put me in such a position again. He had been living what he had been telling me at the time we got the package, and he continues to live up to what he told me then to this day.
By the time of the “bridge burning” I was already reading every email, text message, letter, etc. that he and the OW exchanged, and had been doing so for quite some time, so I knew exactly what was/was not going on and who said and did what. At random times, with no warning, I would get his computer or his phone and see who he had been talking to or which sites he had been visiting. He never had any problem with me doing any of those things, either, because he no longer had anything to hide. There would be no more secrets or lies. I knew he was serious about trying to save our marriage. He showed me this consistently by his actions, not just his words, over a long period of time. He knew it would take much more than his words to earn my trust again.
I do not claim to know all that happened in that relationship, but I know far more than people realize. I know my husband lied to me countless times, he manipulated me, he deceived me, and he greatly dishonored me. The OW also is guilty of her sin and her part in the relationship. Frankly, I do not care to know every little thing that happened; I know the things that matter. I know how my husband got to the point where he could cheat on me, I know how and where they met, and I know that both were guilty. I also know when my husband ended things with her for good and his reasons for doing so. Those are the things that mattered to me. I never have desired to know everything that happened. I still don’t care to know. It is totally irrelevant to me now and has been for a very long time. I refuse to live in the past, and choose instead to continue to move forward. There is absolutely nothing that I could learn or discover that would change my decision or change my opinion of my husband. The man he was during the affair is NOT that man anymore, nor is that adulterous man who sinned for a season of time the same man I married. All the horrible stuff that happened was then; this is now. I’m living in the present, not the past. You can’t go back once the bridge has been burned, which is why it was so important to burn it, even if only symbolically.
When I forgave my husband, I forgave him of all his wrongs against me. Of course I knew that I didn’t know everything. I’m not naive. Forgiveness did not mean I condoned what he did and that he never needed to be confronted to own his part of it. And it does not mean we have not talked about the relationship from time to time. Of course it is necessary to talk about things, especially since he has a son from that relationship. If he had not had a son with the OW, we would hardly ever, if ever, talk about the relationship now. We are well past the point where that relationship is front and center in our minds or in our lives. It is a sad, regrettable part of my husband’s past, the absolute worst relationship he has ever had. Why would either of us want to dredge it up unless it was absolutely necessary?
Now, when trust is being rebuilt, there are some very honest and painful discussions that cannot and must not be avoided. Like forgiveness, rebuilding trust is a process. There is no easy way to go about rebuilding it. It is very hard, and there is no set time frame on how long it will take to begin to trust again. I didn’t just start trusting my husband again all of a sudden. It took months, if not a year or a little over, to really get to a place where I knew the man of God I married was indeed back. He was once again a man after God’s own heart. He hated himself for a long time after ending that affair; indeed, he hated himself while he was involved with the OW because he knew he was sinning. He also had to forgive himself, and that took him quite a while, too. He never had peace or true happiness in that relationship because he knew all along he was sinning, and, despite his great sin, he knew enough about God’s character to understand that God could not and would not bless that relationship under any circumstances. He wrestled with those issues until it got to the point where he was broken before God with godly sorrow. Once he humbled himself before God, confessed his sin, and asked for forgiveness, he was able to pick himself up from the pit he was in and walk on with God’s help.
The Bible tells us that when King David committed adultery, he attempted to cover it up by having Bathsheba’s husband killed. However, everything done in secret comes to the light; God sees every thing. When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sin, David admitted it and cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness. You can read David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51. I witnessed that same kind of brokenness and godly sorrow in my husband. Without godly sorrow, sorrow we feel because we know we have sinned against God and we know it breaks God’s heart, there can be no true repentance or change. My husband’s sorrow was not over getting caught; he had already been caught not long after the affair began, but he did not end it then. His sorrow, the sorrow that led to him getting his heart right before God and finally ending a relationship he knew all along had been sinful, gave him the willingness to, from that point forward, be completely honest with me and to do whatever it took to see our marriage restored. He was leaving his sin and that relationship in the past, where it rightfully belongs, just as the apostle Paul admonished in Philippians 3:13-14: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” For my husband to go forward in Christ, he had to let go of the past. In order for me to move forward, I had to let go of the past, too.
I hope that one day you will each get to have a “burning bridges” celebration. A celebration that means there is no looking back and no living in the past. A celebration in which you, for the first time in a long time, feel like the worthy, beautiful, and highly valued woman you are. A celebration when you realize that you are once again the one your husband desires and treasures above all other people and feel the joy of knowing that your husband thanks God for you because you refused to give up on him. My husband tells me every day that he loves me more than I will ever know, and I know he means it. He thanks God for me every single day because I am a virtuous woman who fears the Lord (Proverbs 31), and that virtue is what made me fight so long and so hard. Where he once dishonored me, he now honors me, and he has yet to give me any reason to question his character or his faithfulness. He made a terrible mistake, but he refuses to let that mistake forever define who he is. He chooses instead to let God define who he is and to let God continue to mold him into His image.
However, I am quite aware that many of you will not experience a “burning bridges” moment. Sadly, your husband may refuse to repent, or you, for reasons I can well understand, just cannot get past the hurt and pain he caused and cannot bring yourself to ever be able to trust him again. Even if you find yourself in that situation, you can still choose to burn the bridge to your past. It does not mean you will forget about what happened; it does mean that you refuse to allow it to define you or defeat you. You will never be able to move forward in life if you keep looking over your shoulder at the past and keep one foot (or both) firmly planted there. It takes faith to take the first step towards finding peace by letting go of the past. It is hard, no doubt about it. If for no other reason, do it for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to remain in chains over what happened to you. Break free of that bondage so you can run the race that God has laid out for you. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)