I drove up to work, my eyes puffy from sleeplessness and sobs. I’d left our four-month-old with my aunt and driven to the school where I taught, still in a daze, still feeling like I was in a dream.
I sat in the parking lot and took a few deep breaths. “You can do this. You can be normal. Things can still be normal.” I cocked the rear view mirror to check my reflection, just to see how obvious it was that things were definitely not normal. I looked tired. My eyes were glossed over with a film of tears waiting to spill out.
It had been three days since I’d found out about my husband’s infidelity. Three days since I’d found out that while we were engaged and newly married, while I was pregnant, and while our baby was fighting for his life in the NICU he’d been fighting his own battle, an addiction much bigger than him and me.
I stepped out of the car, grabbed my bag, and walked into the office I shared with three other teachers. I tried so hard to act like nothing was wrong, but I couldn’t. Normally bouncing in with a smile on my face, they could tell something was off.
I’m not good at hiding things, so I spilled the beans. I might have vomited the beans all over them and then soaked them with my tears. But they listened to my heartache, my shock, my fear, and then they told me to go home. They were right. I was in no position to teach eight-year-olds today. I was relieved someone had given me an out.
But before I left, I knew one of the other women had a similar story, so I asked her, “What’d you do? When you found out? What happened after that?”
“Oh, I left him. I told him to take his crap and get the hell out. I wasn’t going to be the woman who stuck around and let it happen again. Sure, he begged for me to give him another chance, but I slammed the door in his face.”
I hung my head. I knew she was right.
Strong women walk away and don’t look back.
Strong women don’t let their husbands walk all over them.
Strong women stand up for themselves and put their foot down.
Strong women don’t need any man.
I felt so weak. And so sad.
I heard that message over and over again for weeks. I started to fear that if I gave him another chance, somehow that meant I was weak, because the message I kept receiving was exactly that: strong women don’t stay.
But as the weeks turned into months and the fog in my brain started to clear out, I started to wonder if that was true.
Absolutely, it’s hard to walk away. Really hard. It’s brave and scary and sometimes the only way out.
But just because it takes strength for one woman to walk away, doesn’t mean the woman who stays isn’t equally strong. It’s not one or the other: one is hard and one is easy, one is brave and one is cowardly, one is standing up and one is giving in, one is strong and one is weak.
One night, while crying to my dad about all my millions of fears, he said to me, “Listen. Infidelity is hard to recover from, but it’s possible. However, don’t stay with him because you’re afraid or because you feel like you can’t live without him. You can. I’ve seen you these past few months and you’re SO STRONG. You will be fine if you walk away. But if you choose to stay, stay because you believe him when he says he will fight for you. Stay because you truly believe God is working in Him. Let him show that to you.”
It took a while, but I did start seeing God working in him. I started realizing restoration might be possible.
And then, I started realizing that to give my husband grace, to hold his hand and walk through this tunnel not knowing what would be on the other side, to choose to love him every day in spite of what he’d done, in spite of how I felt, was not weak.
In fact, it required more strength than I thought I had.
And I didn’t know if I was strong enough—
to not bring it up every day,
to not run away when it felt like too much,
to not stuff down the bitterness and let it fester for the rest of our lives,
to not hold it over his head.
But six years later I can say with full confidence, I am no doormat. I didn’t choose to stay because I am weak. I chose to stay because I am strong. And I am stronger today in my faith, in my wisdom, and in my marriage because of that choice.
And I’m so, so thankful I stayed.