Melody and I have been fielding a lot of calls and emails since the news broke last week that Ashley Madison, the #1 cheating site boasting over 39 million now not-so-anonymous members, was hacked and subscriber information released to the public.
In each of our conversations with those experiencing firsthand the emotional shrapnel that ensues when the “secret” first comes out, a common question almost always surfaces…”How do I fix this?”
And our answer is always the same, “by going toward the pain.”
Whether your name was on the Ashley Madison list and you cheated or were looking to cheat, the reality is that your secret is now out. Hoping to find an easy, quick-fix to get things back to “normal” is not an option. Pain-free is not an option either. You are not only at an obvious crossroads in your marriage, but you are at a critical crossroads as an individual as well. There will be pain no matter which road you take, but the pain on one road leads to healing and the pain on the other only leads to more pain.
I know this because I have been down both roads.
There are 4 crucial steps that need to happen to get you walking down the right road. But first, a little of my story.
When I married my wife Melody, I had been secretly struggling with pornography for 12 years. Like many guys who are single and struggling, I reasoned that getting married would fix the problem. It didn’t. The secrets that I kept from Melody made genuine intimacy impossible because intimacy is about being known fully and loved unconditionally. I never gave Melody the chance to fully know me because I was unwilling to bring my secrets into the light out of fear that she would leave or reject me.
When it became apparent that marriage was not going to fix my problem, my secret life grew and I began spending more and more time visiting porn sites and in adult chat rooms. Four years into my marriage, my secret life with pornography and adult chat rooms was exposed when my boss got on my computer to do a routine update while I was out of the office. For the first time in my life, someone else knew my secret.
Upon my return to work, he called me into his office and let me know that he was going to have to let me go because I had violated the company’s Internet usage policy. But what he said next helped propel me further down the road that led to more pain. “I’m not going to tell Melody,” he said, as if he was doing me a favor.
So I packed up my stuff and headed home and fabricated a story for Melody as to why I had lost my job. My secret was safe! I had avoided the devastation of Melody finding out.
Two years later I had my first affair.
By the time Melody did discover all of my secrets two years after that, I had had a total of seven one-night stands. Covering up secrets only delays the inevitable. Am I saying that if my boss had outed me to Melody I would have never had an affair and possibly avoided the pain and devastation of divorce? No, I have no way of knowing that. What I am saying is that he was not doing me a favor by helping me to keep the secret.
The problem’s not Ashley Madison. It’s what we believe about God and His view of us that leads to our secrets.
Although I absolutely hated it at the time, I can honestly say today that God was loving me well when He exposed my secret sins. Although it hurt like nothing I had ever experienced before, out of His intense and furious love for me, He completely obliterated the world I had carefully constructed and began to teach me grace as I sat in the rubble that was left of my precious reputation. The road to healing forced me to endure the painful, gut-wrenching process of knowing myself.
We live in a broken, fallen world and none of us has escaped the pain and the heartache that results. During the years I lived with my secrets, I pretended to have it all together. But when I truly started to believe the Gospel−that God loved me intimately just as I am−I realized I no longer had to pretend I wasn’t wounded or broken! Rather than spend so much energy denying my own woundedness, I could invite God into those broken places and allow Him to begin the healing He desired to do in my heart.
My friend Paul Coughlin says, “If you take ownership of your life…then what you may call a catastrophe is likely the beginning of a better life for you and for those who love you.”
So let’s look at those 4 crucial steps that can help you begin that better life for you right now.
- Talk to your pastor or spiritual advisor.
As soon as possible, get with your pastor or spiritual advisor and get the secrets out in the open. James 5:16 instructs us to “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” Your pastor can help you determine the best course of action to do a full-disclosure with your spouse.
- Listen to these podcasts.
On our weekly podcast, Undone Redone, my wife Melody and I share openly and honestly from our story of brokenness and restoration. You can find our show on iTunes or Stitcher Radio. Look for these episodes that will offer perspective to where you are right now.
:: Interview with Michael Warden on the Healing Process
:: Interview with Michael John Cusick on our Deep Desires
:: Interview with Chris McAlister on Identity
:: Interview with John Lynch on The Room of Grace
:: Interview with Adam Calvert on Rebuilding Trust
:: Interview with Bob Flayhart on the Transforming Power of the Gospel
- Find a good therapist.
Trust me, you are not going to be able to figure out why you have done the things that you have done on your own. A good therapist can help you dive into your personal story and uncover places that are wounded and in need of healing. We often overlook the impact of emotional pain in our lives, but it is usually underlying pain that we are dealing with in unhealthy and destructive ways.
- Register for an intensive.
Everything that I mentioned in point #3 applies here, but, instead of unpacking things with a therapist an hour at a time, an intensive gives you an extended period of time, without interruptions, to plow up much-needed ground. We offer a 4-day intensive for men called EMBARK and our next one will be held November 12-15. CLICK HERE for more information.
If you are reading this and your name is on the Ashley Madison list, God has not and will not abandon you.
There is a life of authentic freedom and grace available to you if you are willing to release control and bravely and boldly trust God with your story and take the road that doesn’t offer a shortcut. The healing that you so desperately desire is found as you begin to bring your secrets into the light and walk in truth with others.
It will hurt like hell.
No sense lying to you or sugar-coating it for you. But trust that there is a pain that heals and that, like a surgeon, God wants to deal with your wounds once and for all and introduce you to a life where secrets are not necessary. You can be fully known and experience the genuine intimacy that you were looking for on Ashley Madison and other web sites.
So there is a road to healing and a road that promises a shortcut through the hurt. Both involve pain, but only one will lead to freedom and a life without secrets. God wants to bring beauty out of the ashes.
Will you let Him?