Bad things. Bad choices. Bad people.

I am a researcher. It is part of my DNA. No matter the issue or situation or challenge or victory, I research. Often when I’m watching a “historical” film, I pull out my lap top and begin to research to see how authentic the presentation actually is.

So when I found out that infidelity was a theme in my marriage, research immediately became a big part of the process. I researched to see the impact of divorce on older kids. I researched statistics. I researched methods of revenge. I researched practices for healing. I researched who and why men cheat. Why women cheat. How cheaters get away with their lies. Whether the betrayeds know. (How I could be so stupid).

I researched other women, and dug deep into the hearts of the betrayed. I tried to find evidence that there could be healing for me. Eventually, I looked into healing for us.

There is a recurring theme of conversations that niggles in my soul. It is about bad. Here is this healing, madly-in-love-with-her-former-cheating-HUSBAND betrayed’s view on bad:

Bad things:

Affairs are bad things. Period. No matter the situation or the circumstances. No matter the ten-year sexless marriage, or the financial trap, or the abuse. Affairs are not the way to solve problems, and ultimately only lead to more problems. If you are desperately – or even pretty – unhappy in your relationship – get help. If you have tried and your partner won’t (cause you cannot do it alone), get out. If you think you are trapped, that is a lie.  But so is the lie that an affair will be an answer. It is heaping more problems on an already really shitty situation, no matter how good it feels in the moment.

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Bad choices:

Affairs don’t just happen in an instant. There are always a series of small, infinitesimal choices along the way that get you to a place of vulnerability and risk. Choices like not addressing your spouse’s sadness at the dining room table. Agreeing to go separate ways more and more frequently, even in your free time. Not being brave or aware enough to see that the only thing you are talking about is finances, kids, or problems. HUSBAND and I both own these choices, and work hard now to press in to these places and not allow them to gather dust.

But then…there are choices like finding yourself talking about your spouse in less than positive ways. Sharing intimate details about your thoughts and hopes with someone other than your spouse. Forsaking real intimacy for porn. Hoping your feet don’t touch in bed. Every one of these moments is a choice. And then, taking her number, or texting back. HUSBAND shared that he sent a text to his last AP the morning after running in to her at his high school reunion, saying “Are you headed back to Atlanta?” (She had traveled to the event with her 16-year live-in-lover). She responded, “Not yet. Why…what do you have in mind?” His choice: text her. Her choice: respond provocatively. Choices. A series of bad choices.

The Town With Britain's Highest Youth Unemployment Rate.

Bad people:

No doubt, there are some really bad actors out there. Narcissists who are incapable of really deep compassion and affection for anyone but themselves. Serial cheaters who never own their painful behavior. Partners who continue to lie and deceive But aside from those scary people, the majority of people that end up in affairs and ripping the very soul out of their partner are men and women who can do and be positive and good in many ways. It’s one of the reasons I never suspected any betrayal…after all, HUSBAND was such a good guy. HUSBAND is the man who is the first neighbor to help in a crisis. He lends our equipment and stuff to friends, and shares our abundance with everyone. He loves to help people learn and takes time to teach the best methods of fishing and hunting to kids, to other dads, to anyone interested. He is dad-extraordinaire, creating fabulous science projects with each of our children and never missing a game or event throughout their lives. He was team-dad alongside me as team-mom, dragging coolers and water and meals and snacks and never getting cranky or frustrated (I did). He loves to engage and interact with anyone and has a real skill for making them feel good.

This goodness is real, but it was also a desperate and constant attempt to hide the dark side of himself, the reality that he was capable and culpable of lying and betraying and cheating the ones he loved most. His goodness convinced him for a very long time that ‘he wasn’t that guy’ and yet one day. One day he was gripped with the reality that he was that guy. That guy who cheated, who betrayed, who had taken the most precious ones of all and blighted them with lies and deception.

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As far as his cheating partners…one of them has evidence of goodness in her life too. She is married, and was married, when they had their year-long affair. To hear HUSBAND tell the story today, the work-place affair started years before with mild flirting and low-level sexual tension between them (see above: bad choices). They’d actually gone on one date many years prior to their affair, before either was married. It was around her ten-year and our seven-year mark that things shifted. All it took was that one choice – that one innuendo carried a little further with a “do we dare try it” kind of dangler and they were off to the races. Pure sex, nothing emotional on that one. If I’d known then, perhaps I’d be less able to see the evidence of goodness in her but…I see she reconciled with her husband. I see she loves her kids. I see she left the company after the affair ended. I see that she is caring for a dying family member. I see some good in this woman who stole from me without me having any idea at the time.

The other major AP…the one HUSBAND was going to leave me for…the one who showed up at his house before I was in the picture – when he was a young, single working man to tell him ‘she’d always wanted to jump his bones’ (after which they had their first roll in the hay). The one who came to our wedding and watched us pledge ourselves to each other. The one who, less than two years later, drove him to her house rather than home when he was too drunk to drive (where they rolled in the hay again) and then proceeded to engage in an affair – his first – while I unsuspectingly took care of his firstborn and was nurturing our second in my womb. The one who, 25 years later, asked the leading question after he made the (bad) choice to text and embarked on another affair with HUSBAND. The one who encouraged him to have the best rest of his life – with her – and to forsake me and his children and his faith and all that he deeply wanted to be. That one? I have a hard time seeing the good in her. Never married, works a corporate job, doesn’t spend much time helping others or making a difference in her community. Lies to her own long-term lover (and as it turns out, to HUSBAND as well). I do see evidence of her being good to her dog – guess that’s something.

And then I’m faced with the reality that she was someone’s little girl. She had hopes and dreams once. Now, she is at this stage in her life and can look at lots of things she has been able to accumulate, but little if any people and relationships in which she can find joy and hope and peace. When I can see her through those eyes, through the eyes of my Savior who gave His life for me – and for her – I feel sad. I don’t see her badness as much – I see her brokenness.

Bad people? There are some. Broken people? Seems like we all fit in that category. I’m grateful that there is a path from broken to healing, and that as rocky and dangerous as it is, I’ve found it. My plea for you is that whichever side of broken you may be…don’t stop fighting for whole.

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Still saving shards…

Susan

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Still More

A year ago, I wrote a post about how I began to understand the path to healing. Infidelity – serial cheating – rocked my world with four Ddays that started April 12, 2014 and finally ended two months later. Each revelation took me deeper and deeper into the abyss of pain and I had no tools, no belief, no comprehension that I could or would ever be able to become whole again.

But I have.

The funny thing is the whole I am now is MORE than I was before, when life was full of delusions that I could not see.

The path to my healing has been treacherous and raggedy and scary and I didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to go. My being screamed to run and hide and patch myself up with coverings and salve and platitudes and self-help books…to protect myself at all cost and be angry and build a fortress of protection.

Yet somehow, it didn’t work for me like that.

I ended up following the path forged by my Savior more than 2,000 years ago. The way was filled with stripping rather than covering. It required pouring out rather than patching up. It meant bleeding out rather than bandages. Nothing that made sense, and yet, it is in this dichotomy that I have found more…hope…more…freedom…more…love. I never would have chosen this way on my own. It was all because He went first, He did it first. All I had to do was follow.

CrazyLove

Trust.

We just passed a milestone in our world, HUSBAND and I. This past weekend, we passed the 3 year anniversary of the last time he was physically with SW, the last AP. Who was also the first AP twenty-five years before that, when we had a baby marriage of less than 2 years.

I remembered, not because I was overcome with a massive trigger this time. Not because I was fixated on the date or the questions or the anger or the despair. I remembered when Facebook sent me a memory of something I’d posted the day I arrived home from my trip that I’d been on, affording HUSBAND the opportunity to set up the tryst.

I remembered and looked at IT, looked at then and looked at now. Looked at what I thought was going on in my life, based on both the FB post and my memory, and what was really going on in my life, uncovered two months later.

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I remembered and considered how different everything is now: the person I am. The person HUSBAND is. The marriage we have.

People often ask how we got here, how we made it through not just to “stay married,” but to have a marriage we really never had before. A marriage of connectedness. A marriage of intimacy. A marriage of passion. A marriage of love.

And now, a marriage of trust. Trust?

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I would have sworn I couldn’t. Trust him again. Maybe anyone. Almost every adage told me my gut was right. Almost every saying on pinterest. Almost every book, and certainly ChumpLady. Yet…here it is three years out…and I realize that I do, trust him, that is. With healthy reservation, and intermittent verification, but overall, I trust him. So how did this happen, how did we get to this place despite the savage destruction of HUSBAND’s past actions?

He got sorry. Really, really sorry. During our marriage, HUSBAND would rarely say “I’m sorry.” The words sometimes came out of his mouth, but with that inflection that says I’m not really sorry and it is really all your fault but you are so crazy/bitchy/stupid/nasty that I’ll just say it to shut you up. Or sometimes the words came out of his mouth followed by all the reasons whatever had happened (that he was sorry for) was REALLY MY FAULT. But this time, once he began to embrace the bigness of his wrongness, he began to be sorry. No blame. No excuses. No hidden messages. Just sorry.

He received my emotions. Once he moved into real sorrow and began to see what he had done, he allowed me to feel. Somedays I felt rage. Somedays I felt disgust. Somedays I felt sad – really, really sad. Somedays I felt stupid or humiliated or embarrassed. But on the road to trust, for the first time ever in our marriage, I was not manipulated into thinking my feelings were wrong. He just allowed me to feel.

He did not hurry the process. HUSBAND did not say “aren’t you over this yet?” He did not ask me if I was going to punish him for life. He did not push me to move at any pace other than my own as I moved into my own healing, and began to consider whether I had interest in being married. To him.

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He allowed me to ask questions. And ask them again. And again. Betrayal is trauma. Trauma survivors often need to relive and rehash the times and moments as they work to put it all together in their brains: to assimilate the perception of reality with reality.  HUSBAND did not enjoy my repetitive questions, but he endured them. He endured them and answered everytime I asked. He did not act frustrated, or put-upon.

He practiced truth telling. Even in the little things. Instead of telling me he had left the office while he was still packing up, or that he was on the highway when he was still a mile from the entrance ramp, he started telling the truth. And if he reverted back to those habitual untruths, he told me. Quickly. “I told you I had a burger for lunch…actually, I had two.”

He became consistent, and wanted to show me. His actions started to match his words. They really never had, but they’d never been HUGELY off, so I was conditioned to just believing he was a poor planner, or miscalculated time or money or whatever. But once he moved into recovery, and he began to see truth and practice truth, he wanted to demonstrate to me that he was different. Going to Lowes? I was sure to get a text part way telling me where he was. And when he got there, a selfie with the store sign behind him. A text when he was leaving, and his arrival back home in a reasonable time frame.

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He became transparent in any way I needed. Or even ways I didn’t need. He shared all his passwords. He showed me his phone log. He told me when he spoke to people that I might have fear about. He shared conversations with coworkers and friends and neighbors. He told me any struggles or thoughts that he had about the process, and revelations as they unfolded in his recovery. When he didn’t know what to do with some of my pain, he held me. He held me and prayed for me and stroked me and told me again, and again, and again, how sorry he was. He became bare in every sense. Bare, and vulnerable.

And slowly, without me being able to perceive it happening, I began to trust. To trust this new man that had I shared my bed and my life and my heart with, yet whom had never really shared back. Now, after three years, our two broken souls have mingled intricately and I see that we are beginning to fill the wounds with truth, and with love.

lord-close-to-brokenhearted

The Prism of the Present

I just took a shower. Routine event…sometimes I get out of the shower and am toweling off and realize I had not remembered, specifically, washing my hair or using conditioner or shaving because I do those things so rotely they take no real awareness.  Sometimes I even have to rub my hand down my leg to make sure I did do all the shower tasks (but don’t tell ok?)

I do a lot of thinking in the shower. I write blog posts, or a book. I solve problems and have imaginary conversations. I often think of the past or something I didn’t do or something that is weighing on my mind…

There was a bad shower day: it was a few days after I discovered HUSBAND was a cheater, and that he had shared a cabin by a creek in a small town in North Carolina with the OW. As I reached my arm up to get my shampoo, suddenly it was her arm, SW, and it was her in the shower and his hands were on her and I couldn’t discern her from me and his touch on me was really on her…it was horrible and I sobbed.

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So today, I had a different kind of experience. Turned on the water, just like always and stepped in when it was the right temperature. I let the water roll down my hair and my face and my body and suddenly, that was all there was. Me, the water, the shower. I noticed the tile and the perfect force of the showerhead’s delivery of water to my body – why had I not realized this before? And when I squeezed the shampoo onto my hand, I smelled the gentle fragrance that appeals to me, and makes me think clean, and I noticed, no – REALLY NOTICED – the way it sat in my hand. I put my hands to my head, and washed my hair and felt the stress and the debris and the stuff work out of my scalp and hair and fall with the water into the bottom of the shower and run down the drain. For the first time ever, I moved every moment of my shower with intentionality. Intentionally in the present, fighting off the urge to look behind or ahead.

A crazy thing happened. I saw and smelled and felt and sensed so much to be grateful for. In the shower, in my shower. Things like: A clean shower. Hair product that I like. The ability to take showers any time I want. To make the water temperature just so. To have delightful homemade soap to clean my body. To wash my face and get every nook and cranny clean and fresh and new. The gratefulness in the space was palatable, it was real, it was present in the shower with me.

It hit me how hard we have to fight to live in the present. To fight off the what-ifs, and the I need to… And no matter what our past story is, whether it is betrayal, or rejection, or abandonment, or fear, or addiction, or success and power…we really only have the present. This moment. Right now. As I breathe in the present moment, I discover that my eyes are often opened to both flashes of beauty, and possibility. Possibility that the next moment may hold a flash of beauty…and if not, finding the thing in one moment that is strong can carry me through the ugly and hurtful and dark until the next time I can see a moment of good.

BreakingThrough

It was pain that taught me to live in the present. It was the pain of discovering I was a betrayed wife that overcame me with such force that all I could do was take the next breath. Literally, the next breath. I learned that I had to allow the pain to be, to look at it, to feel it. This was the first time in my life the pain was so enveloping and strong and permeating that I could not shove it aside or just smile and nod. I had to let it be and experience it and let it own the moment. That present moment because there was no way I could look beyond where all I could sense was more pain. So I was forced to the present. It was there, in the present pain that I began to find healing. I survived. I slowly saw a flash of beauty. Just a flash, mind you. But then another and another.

Happy Labor Day…and may we each find a sliver of beauty in one present moment today.

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Transported

Have you ever had one of those moments…drifting into, or out-of, sleep, and time is suspended. Caught in a state of not being, yet being; and everything is completely not real, yet incredibly real.

I just had one of those moments. One of those moments between the state of sleep and awake, of reality and fantasy. And in that moment, I was watching my first born get out of our car at his new university campus and walk up to his freshman college group as instructed. I was dropping him with people that would now take my place – that would tell him right from wrong, and move into his head to determine priorities….and plans…and the future.

In that moment, I was there, I was RIGHT THERE and I was grieving and yet excited…not sure I’d given him everything I was supposed to give him and wishing I had just a little more time…just a couple more days when he was an infant and a toddler and a boy and a teen. I was desperate to turn back time, yet so excited to watch him step into his future.

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All that was real.

And then I saw me, and HUSBAND and for a moment, we were untarnished by betrayal. We were there in that car, together, yet quickly my mind saw that we were the young couple that had pledged love and fidelity, that had birthed this boy now leaving us for college, that had spent tears of worry and mountains of time and money together for his best, that had figured out how to make sure there was always good food to eat and clean clothes in everyone’s room and school supplies and he’d gotten all the required shots, and it took us both and even though we were older, we’d achieved this and it was good and we were real, we were us.

As this all fluttered by quickly in my head as dreams do and then suddenly the images froze.

And shattered.

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All that wasn’t real.

It wasn’t real, that picture that I thought was our life, and our family wasn’t the only story going on during much of our life together. I gasped, I jumped, I awoke fully.

In a rush, the pain and grief engulfed me, and I couldn’t get enough oxygen and I was being CRUSHED beneath the weight – yet as quickly as it came, it left. I still see it, but it is not covering me, and I can breathe again. I sit here now, contemplating the reality that I’m not sure what is reality then. Or then. Or then. So. Many. Thens.

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So I will choose to live in now.

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They Didn’t Ever Fight

Never. Not one time did I see my parents have a fight. I was born into a home with a dad and a mom and a big sister and I never saw my parents fight. My parents were married 59 1/2 years when my dad passed away, in my home, and I honestly never saw them have a fight.

When I was growing up, they made sure that we knew they didn’t fight. It was like a gold star they proudly wore, the “We Aren’t Like All The Other Couples Out There. We. Don’t. Fight” prize.

I was well aware they did not fight because I heard it regularly, and then observed it daily. Dad would get up and go to work. Mom would get up and take care of us. I would get up and go to school. The reverse happened as the day wore on. By the time dad got home in the evening, I was expected to defer everything to his will…didn’t matter what television show was on that I had watched 2/3 of, or what conversation I was in with my mom – if dad wanted a different show or to take my mom away for a conversation, not only did it happen, but I was considered ungrateful and inconsiderate if I expressed frustration.

As the years of my youth rolled on, we lived in detached peace in our home. No one ever really asked me anything about how I felt, or what I loved, or if I had fears. No one connected with my soul, and I got kudos for the good stuff and punished for the bad. I got adept at covering the bad, at just not talking about it. I learned to shield the responses of my spirit, my deep down, to protect it from injury. I learned to tell what would please my lovely, we-don’t-ever-fight parents and hide any of my questionable thoughts. Or actions. Or decisions. Or fears. Or hurts. I could wordsmith with the best of them, rewriting a situation or an incident so that I looked good, or at least, not as bad.

But inside, I was crushed and crumbling.

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I did not know it, because it was all I knew. But I gained great skill at shaping a message not only to those on the outside, but to myself. Since there never were fights between my parents, I knew any tension in the house or in our family life was because of me, right? And since no one ever talked about being scared or fearful, if I had those feelings, it must be me, right? But I just kept all that to myself, and figured out how to pretend I didn’t hear those voices.

As HUSBAND and I have worked so hard on ourselves, and on our marriage, these scary, tightly wrapped layers have begun to peel off my being. I don’t blame my sweet parents, oh no. They were trying so hard to be great together and great to us and their way of being great was to not have anything in our lives or in their lives that was un-great. So they were doing the same thing they were so effectively teaching me: pushing down any feelings and hurts and fears and pains as best they could. My therapist likens it to floating on a ball in a pool…you have to constantly try to keep that ball carefully centered and balanced precisely under you and it works and it works and you adjust and it works and you change pressure and then POP! Out shoots the ball from under you when you least expect it. If that happened, my parents would quickly grab the ball and put it back under themselves, balancing carefully…adjusting…and never acknowledging the ball had escaped…

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And so did I, for my youth and for 27 years of marriage.

I don’t balance the ball anymore. I have learned to allow myself to really feel, to grieve the sad things and rejoice in the amazing. I’ve learned to be realistic about my fears, and to find solace first, and then hope with the overwhelming promises of God lived out in Christ and evidenced by the beauty from ashes that is my life. I’ve ventured into the amazing place of freedom through vulnerability, and sharing my shattered soul, finding that it can really meet the other tattered soul in the oneness that marriage is meant to be.

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But it is luring, and a regular fight for me not to retreat back into my deep down. To make myself stay exposed and risking. I have to make sure I never, ever forget that the safe place really wasn’t safe at all but actually a place I was dying a slow death, and that out here in the risky places are where I found I could love. And be loved.

love heals

 

Redemption in Telling

Recently, the great wordpress blogger, @crazykat, posted this about sharing her story. It was a really great post, and one that I found resonated in many ways for me. It got me to reflect on my attitude, on our attitude of revealing our story…so here it is.

I kept things very secret for a bit, but HUSBAND and I have a small, close circle (4 couples) of friends with whom we have traveled some other challenges. One by one, I met with the wives and shared our story…my story. HUSBAND met with the husbands and shared our story…his story. I blogged about telling our children (difficult, but ultimately amazing) and his parents (awful and ultimately a mistake).

Then, when the Ashley Madison hack occurred, a local tv station decided to make a story and called (our therapist) to see if there was a couple who would agree to a confidential (voices changed, faces not shown) interview. He asked us, and we did it. Interestingly, as it was airing on the news that night, one of my friends texted me that she was proud of us (so much for anonymity). Of course, this was one of that small circle of friends who knew, so I still felt protected.

A few months later, at a small retreat, HUSBAND told a very abbreviated, cryptic story (just said he’d done “everything to trash our marriage” but we were experiencing great healing) but it started a tumbling down of transparency amongst a few people at the retreat. That led to our church asking if we would consider making a video. We did. The morning it aired, to kick off a series on being “Strong and Courageous,” I felt anything but. Yet the individual people, and couples, that began to reach out and share their pain with us made me certain we had done the right thing.

That led to a local tv station asking if we would do a more in-depth story/interview about sexual infidelity and the possibility of overcoming the pain. We did. It was for a daytime (11:00am) very-low-viewer talk show, and we felt fairly safe watching it, knowing few people would see it. Until about 4 that afternoon when a friend posted a link of it to our facebook talking about our bravery. By the time I saw it, numerous people had liked the link (or I would have removed it). HUSBAND and I decided that it was meant to be, and more people poured out their hearts to us about their lonely marriages, their quiet desperation and sometimes, their own sexual infidelity.

At every juncture, we have encountered other brokenness…individual sex addicts who didn’t have a name for it, didn’t know there was help. Spouses who have been devastated by infidelity in all forms and either stay in silence punishing themselves (because it had to be their fault, right?) or leaving the marriage with their gaping open, bloody wounds and no healing. Couples who were white-knuckling each day but living in misery, thinking they were alone in the situation. We have discovered the problem of shitty marriage with or without infidelity is so widespread, so vast and we are incredibly overwhelmed, but desperately want to shine light on the darkness of this reality. The darkness that marriage is mediocre at best, toxic at worst, and often leads to cheating. We meet with couples almost every day, coach couples through an intensive weekend monthly and follow up with group meetings weekly.

There have been casualties of our openness: We have “friends” who have smiled, nodded and walked away…not wanting to “catch” what we had. I get it, I probably used to be that person although I would have denied it. We definitely have family that wants us to be quiet, that have clearly shunned us, but they were unhealthy relationships anyway, so for us there is no real loss other than what we always pretended family to be. But mostly what we have found is an ever-increasing number of hurting, desperate people who need to know they are not alone. Who need to know there is help. Who need to know there is not a path that is predetermined and that they must take. Who need to know they are cared for, and loved. So much pain, who knew?

For me, there is redemption in sharing our story. There is sharing the redemption that IS our story, obviously. But now, there is the deep awareness I have of the widespread sadness amongst married couples. It is more the norm than actual satisfaction whether there are affairs or not. The impact this has…that our children then grow up with deeply imbedded (where they cannot even identify it) pictures of marriage that is less than satisfying – countered by literal fairy-tales on the big and little screen that can’t be replicated and lead to even more confusion for all parties. This is the legacy we are leaving our kiddos when we live in mediocrity, when we live together and “stay married” but really, have no intimacy or connection or love. Seeing this, and speaking/living/walking into it…this is redemptive.

It is redemptive to walk alongside broken marriages and provide hope, encouragement and skills to increase their ability to reveal, to be safe, to love. To watch them heal, or make a healthy choice to part but with more care and dignity and kindness. Now, HUSBAND and I see that sharing our story is an incredible privilege, and one of the sweetest outcomes is that evil did not win. Instead, love wins.