Dear Betrayed Missionary Spouse

Dear betrayed missionary spouse,

I hope this letter finds you in a room that feels familiar, comforting even. I’m writing because I want you to have the letter I wish I’d had on our Discovery/Disclosure day (D-Day). I want you to feel seen and less alone. 

I was a missionary wife. Perhaps like you, I’d taken commissional vows, the most prominent being “to walk worthy of the calling,” and I’d meant them. I’d poured my heart into language school, cultural acquisition, and work that comes alongside rather than presides over. I’d chosen faithfulness when I’d have rather been lax. I thought my husband partnered with me in that. 

I missed the first signs of trouble because he would never, plus we talked about everything, and I was doing everything I’d heard good wives do. So when he began to practice poor boundaries in friendships with other women, I believed him when he said that I was just hypervigilant due to my ultra-conservative upbringing. I believed him when he said he didn’t know why he was no longer interested in sex. I believed him when he said there was no pornography. 

Ours had not been an unusually troubled marriage. Sure, there had been some hard seasons, but nothing that prayer, friends, and counseling hadn’t addressed. We spent years in chronic stress and intensity, yet we had the kind of home where people came to know Jesus because of what they saw in our day-to-day interactions. We were friends, and we were transparent about our desires, struggles, and temptations. 

Until we weren’t. 

One month, all that transparency, warmth, and shared camaraderie evaporated. I didn’t suspect adultery because he would never. But he wouldn’t answer my questions about lesser concerns—not honestly, I learned. “It’s just stress,” he’d said, and I’d responded with, “Now? After consecutive years of severe stress? We’re used to stress. What’s really going on?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he told me. 

We went from friends to soul strangers under the same roof. It’s just a season, I whispered to myself, it’s nothing major. But major happened when my husband announced that we were moving back to America. Maybe it’s for the best; we are severely underfunded and can’t stay much longer anyways, I thought, and began the process of packing my bags. We’ll come back as soon as we have the financial stability to do so. 

The first year back was brutal. I grieved the loss of my community on the field, helped toddlers understand cultural transitions, made money stretch, and tried in vain to find a spot in friend circles we’d left years earlier. The great void could no longer be construed as a season; it had become a way of life.

We need to get our finances in order and start thinking as friends again, and then we’ll go back, I thought. I tried to push the grief away with the promise we’ll go back.

The great void persisted. He entered counseling but gave me an insufficient answer as to why. I asked a friend to please pray that God would reveal what was wrong in our marriage, fearing that God would reveal that I was a horrible wife in ways I hadn’t figured out, but I was desperate for answers.

And then, several years into the great void, over a year after our return to America, months after confessing pornography, and a few weeks after my friend and I asked God to reveal anything hidden in our marriage, he disclosed adultery to me.

I did not enter D-Day full of hope and vigor, ready for one more challenge. I was already lonely and soul weary: bereft of my ministry, half a world away from teammates I dearly loved, a parent to toddlers who had not responded well to the massive cultural shift, and alone in a marriage whose hard season had turned into years of distance. 

Our immediate responses to D-Day could not have been more different. For him, D-Day initiated the joys of forgiveness and relief from secrets; for me, it initiated anguish and depression.

I asked all of the questions, sobbed my heart out, and entered a depression so deep I’d forget what time of day it was. I set recurring reminders on my phone to remind me to brush the kids’ teeth at the correct times of day, and we relied heavily on rotisserie chickens from Walmart. I was too depressed to cook and clean in the evenings.

The marital vows had meant nothing to him; the dishes and photos celebrating those vows meant nothing to me. I preferred barren walls to the reminders of what my husband had destroyed, so I took down our wedding photos and disposed of wedding dishes.

First though, I asked the important questions: “How old was she? Where did you meet her? How certain are you of her age? Was she financially comfortable, or have you taken advantage of someone financially vulnerable to you? Does she know that you were a missionary—did you use spiritual posturing to facilitate this relationship? What opportunities did you have to say ‘no’ to this, and what was your thought process each time you said ‘yes’ instead? How are you going to repent of the deception that enabled this?” 

I hadn’t yet learned of “trickle truthing,” but I knew that the only path forward was a transparent path. He answered my questions, and this time, almost all (95%) had that ring of transparency; his response to “Have you confessed absolutely every single thing?” did not. I caught some unconfessed things later in the week and began taking steps towards divorce.

We were part of a faith group that doesn’t believe in divorce for any reason. My husband had delayed his confession, knowing that I’d be one woman from that group who’d consider all of her options. And I did.

I told God that if he indicates that he is not fully repentant through deception or recurring sin, I’ll divorce; if God works deep repentance into his heart, I’ll reconcile this once. I would not agree to be just one woman in a union of one man and many women – genuine repentance was an absolute must.

We had one fully heartfelt conversation that weekend, but not that of a typical married couple. We conversed as two exes and friends answering, “How did we arrive here?” Years of secrets poured out of him without one request for forgiveness or one hint that I consider reconciliation. Finally the great void made sense, and his transparency began to close the distance. I stopped pursuing divorce and put my weight behind reconciliation.

We renewed our vows, just the two of us, on a beach; my husband kept the photos as his screensaver. I see the blotchy face, the sudden weight gain, the anguish, the vows I made without a shred of naivete or romantic idealism. He sees the relief of forgiveness and reconciliation he wasn’t sure would be his. 

We’ll go back disappeared under therapy appointments, books, date nights that felt utterly unromantic, and years of post-infidelity marital repair. All of the losses associated with betrayal were mine to process, plus the full loss of my ministry. 

Additionally, we lost many church relationships: our setting at the time held unhelpful perspectives of male sin, wives’ responsibilities, and the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. A church friend had insisted that I needed to heal from past trauma so that I could give my future husband enough sex so that we could have a great marriage. After the adultery, I held shattered certitude and navigated public shame, but God knew the reality: I’d pursued healing, given sex, refrained from nagging, and praised him abundantly. 

A lifetime of believing, fundamentally, that male holiness depended heavily upon female effort fell to pieces – only for me, not for those who taught me – but God was in this shattering. A longtime church friend told him that he was just a sex addict, and my only option was to spend the rest of my life repeatedly forgiving sexual sin. We distanced ourselves from that friend. We distanced ourselves from pastors who told other church members things about our marriage/us that they hadn’t told us themselves. Other church connections distanced themselves from both of us without explanation. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Some churches walk excellently with reconciling couples. But our church at the time largely failed us here, and I’d be presenting an inaccurate view of our recovery if I didn’t mention how significant the spiritual losses were. Mercifully, most of the friendships that were already genuine and years-long remained stable, and we count some of our former church companions among true friends. 

My husband indeed found the core motivation behind his adultery; his personal motivation and growth are his to share when he chooses. We bought the book How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair, kept our therapy appointments, and in great agony over time, made it to the other side of recovery.  

Friend, I want you to know that anger, depression, and brain fog following betrayal are normal. A wayward spouse who basks in forgiveness while the betrayed crumbles in grief is so common. I am so sorry. Your D-Day may have been discovery day, not disclosure day, and you may be furious at what you’ve found, furious that you had to find it at all when it could have been confessed. I wish I could spare you, tell you the darkness will end soon, or sit with you if your D-day is recent.

If you are processing your griefs similarly to how I processed mine, you might find these brief thoughts—the right length for those experiencing grief brain—helpful. Grab a pen and sticky notes, and write down the ones that speak to you.

  • God grieves adultery, too! He designed marriage to involve one man and one woman for life, emphasis on “one.” Polygamy, adultery, and ancient orgies/modern pornography—one man and many women, in any format—scorn His original design.
  • I was free to divorce, free to reconcile. Jesus gives me autonomy. He sees me as a person, not an inferior component of a violated covenant.
  • Nobody says “hell maybe!” Give your marriage or your divorce your “hell yes!” but don’t try to “hell maybe” reconciliation. (This was from our counselor.)
  • Transparency builds trust. (Also from our counselor.)
  • To his friends who assumed that he must have sinned to be experiencing his many losses, Job said: “I will not agree with you that you are right. Until my dying day, I won’t give up my integrity” (Job 27:5 CEB). I found comfort in the memory of how I’d walked with God in the ordinary. I’ve been faithful, in His strength.
  • God will remember my faithfulness. This was a rebuttal to the whispers of a branch of religion that saw my husband and me as one unit, equally complicit in his sin: our faith group considered my husband disqualified, and whispered that I, too, needed to step away from work I loved given the infidelity.
  • My husband might not deserve my faithfulness, but Jesus does. The temptation to return the betrayal shocked me, as did the lie that justice could be accomplished with willful sin. I wanted justice, and had to turn my attention to One who is faithful.
  • God is utterly faithful, and injustice and unfaithfulness are offensive to Him. God will be utterly faithful to me.
  • I am like Hagar, alone in the wilderness, unsure how long I’ll be here or how bad things will get. God is the God who sees, the God who hears.
  • “Emmanuel!” is the serenade over us: “GOD WITH US!” Marvelous, considering He has seen and heard us fully.
  • He will tend to His sheep in my absence. He understands my forced absence.
  • He sustains the weary.
  • He comforts those who mourn.
  • He is angry every day with the wicked.
  • He will not shame me for someone else’s sin.
  • It’s wonderful to feast on the Psalms, and to delight in God-with-us.
  • He is near to the broken-hearted.

I don’t know how you got here. I don’t know what’s next for you. If your D-Day is recent, things may get worse before they get better. In fact, they probably will: trickle-truth is a monster, but it is wildly common among adulterers. 

Please know though, that as an image-bearer beloved by God, you are still capable of reason, autonomy, joy, connection, and belonging. You are still you: you are not a different person, you are simply experiencing a depth or kind of grief you may have never experienced before. The darkness of soul anguish, grief, and betrayal is a darkness our High Priest knows and understands. 

That’s it, friend. I don’t have a to-do list for you. You don’t need a to-do list beside the one you already have. You are seen; you are heard. He delights over you with a faithful, fully-knowing love. We are beloved by the One described as Faithful and True, and He’s hanging onto His own far more faithfully than we could begin to hang onto Him, especially during our seasons of darkness.

Love,
Another betrayed missionary spouse

~~~~~~~~~~~

The author lives in a sunny part of the US where she participates in a variety of religious, volunteer, social, and career activities. She writes prose, letters, essays, rigorous academic content, and to-do lists. Injustice angers her, as does writing masterfully in her sleep and forgetting the entirety when morning comes. Hobbies involve baking, sewing, reading, listening to sound sermons, and strategizing how and when to visit Asia, the location of one of her favorite homes.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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