Confronting the Unthinkable
About the Guest
On today's broadcast, author, speaker, and teacher Laura Petherbridge talks to Dennis Rainey about the day in 1984 when she found out her husband was having an affair. Hear Laura's advice on what not to do when you find out friends or family members are divorcing.
Laura PetherbridgeLaura Petherbridge serves couples and single adults with topics on women’s issues, relationships, stepfamilies, co-parenting, single parenting, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is an international speaker and author of four books including, When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with stepfamily expert Ron Deal and endorsed by Gary Chapman (Five Love Languages...more
On today’s broadcast, author, speaker, and teacher Laura Petherbridge talks to Dennis Rainey about the day in 1984 when she found out her husband was having an affair.
Confronting the Unthinkable
Bob: Laura Petherbridge was a wife who found herself stunned one day when her husband said he wanted out of the marriage. Looking back, she says she shouldn't have been as surprised as she was.
Laura: You know, sometimes I would say to him, you know, "What's bothering you?" or things like that, but, you know, he ran a business and I just assumed there was a lot of stress from the business, and so I was trying to be the supportive wife that just doesn't address it, don't rock the boat.
So one thing I would have done differently is stop sweeping the issues under the rug. When you know there's something wrong, don't sweep it under the rug.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 9th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about why learning important lessons from the past is a critical part of moving forward.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. You know, as a ministry, we encourage people to honor their commitment, the covenant of marriage we talk about here on FamilyLife Today, and, ideally, couples find a way to make a marriage work, and that's the direction we try to press couples – to find a way to resolve issues and to keep their covenant with one another. But it doesn't always happen, and when it doesn't, it's hard to talk about.
Dennis: You know, how do you talk about a marriage that dies? I mean, there's no easy way to go about it, Bob. But we have a guest who is with us today on FamilyLife Today, Laura Petherbridge, who is from Atlanta, Georgia, who has experienced the death of a marriage, and, Laura, I just appreciate you joining us here on the broadcast.
Laura: Thank you very much.
Dennis: Laura is an author, she's a speaker, a teacher; lives in Atlanta, along with her husband and two sons and how many grandchildren? Three?
Laura: Three, mm-hm.
Dennis: And trains couples extensively in the area of divorce care and divorce recovery, and this story really begins in your life, as you say, on April 7, 1984. What took place on that day?
Laura: Well, I got up that morning expecting to attend a luncheon with my mom, that she and I would go to once a year. It was an annual fun thing she and I would do together, but didn't ever make it to the luncheon. I began crying that day and didn't stop for a very, very long time. I found out that my husband was having an affair. I basically came out and asked him. He had been acting a little bit odd for several months, but I couldn't really put my finger on it, and finally I just, out of the blue, asked him, "Is there someone else?"
And at first he said, "Well, there could be." And I said, "Well, this isn't could be."
Bob: What does that mean, yeah?
Laura: Exactly, it's like being a little pregnant.
Dennis: Yeah, exactly. Now, at that point, how old were you and how long had you been married?
Laura: We had been married two years. We had been together – we dated for five years, but we had been married for two, and I was 28.
Bob: And so you popped that question. Something in your heart, in your mind, prompted you to say, "Is there somebody else?" He said, "There might be." Your heart had to sink at that moment.
Laura: Yeah, that's – I believe every person that's married's worst feeling. You know, the haunting feeling, "Could that ever happen to me?" And because I am an adult child of divorce – my parents divorced when I was eight years old, so I had one goal in my life, and it wasn't to write a book or to become famous or even to make a lot of money or have a great education – my goal in life was to never be divorced. I will never be divorced.
So when he answered that, "Well, there could be." I just basically came out and say, "Yes or no? Are you in another relationship or not?" And finally he said yes.
Dennis: Now, at that point, take us back to that day in 1984. What does a woman feel when her husband expresses that he is seeing another woman?
Laura: The immediate emotion was anger. I physically began hitting him and throwing things. So the rage, rage is the immediate "How could you do this?" That was the immediate emotion. Obviously, crying, hysterical, anger. And, you know, your emotions start to float from that point. You almost go into a shock. You know, when it's catastrophic, when you're finding out real quickly like that. Some people, their marriage dies over a period of time, like slow-growing cancer. But mine was like a plane crash. You know, I got up that morning thinking I was going to lunch and, you know, by noon of that day my marriage is dying.
And so it was an automatic sense of "This can't be happening. It can't be happening to me. I refuse to believe it." It was almost like a dream. So, yeah, that immediate anger and rage, but then also a sense of shock – no, no, no, no, no.
Bob: Well, and the fact that you've just found out that your husband is involved with another woman doesn't necessarily mean your marriage is over.
Bob: And I’m sure that somewhere in the back of your mind was the thought, "Well, we can fix this."
Laura: That's correct. Especially being – I was a new Christian, and I knew God hated divorce, and I hated divorce, so I was thinking, "Okay, we're going to fix this," and so that is the immediate – after you've come to your senses. You know, it took, actually, a couple of days before I really came out of the immediate fog, the immediate shock of that.
Bob: And did you allow him back in the house during those couple of days?
Laura: We owned a business, and we lived above the business, and he ran – it was his family's business. So I left that day. I was staying with a girlfriend, and so tried, over many days, to discuss with him or talk with him, you know, let's go to counseling, let's go talk to the pastor, and pretty much the message he was giving me at that point is "I'm in love with this person. I want out of the marriage."
You know, it wasn't 100 percent saying that. Sometimes he would say, "I'm confused," or "I don't really know for sure," but most of the time he would say, "I'm really happy with her. I'm in love with her, and I just don't think I want to be married anymore."
Dennis: You know, Laura, you mentioned one extreme in terms of a response when a woman is confronted with a situation like this and, for that matter, I would imagine it could be a man's response as well, and that's anger. There's another extreme response, and that's withdrawal, denial, and masking the pain.
It wasn't long before you moved in that direction.
Laura: Yes, yes, unfortunately, the way I tried to mask my pain was with alcohol. I had had an issue with alcohol earlier in my life and, at that point, I was just drinking socially. I would occasionally drink, you know, if I was out with friends or something like that, but when I found out he was having an affair, I immediately began drinking very heavily again to anesthetize the pain. I was in so much pain, the shame, the guilt, the sense of abandonment, the fear, was so overwhelming that at times I would drink to numb that pain. And it was so hard to find anywhere to go to get any answers to try to figure out what am I supposed to do now?
Fortunately, I had a great pastor who was willing to sit and listen to me and answer some questions, but, for the most part, you know, I did go into some withdrawal or into shock, denial, all of that and, unfortunately, what I did is I did it with alcohol.
Dennis: How long did that last?
Laura: Fortunately, only a few months. I only did that for a few months. I had a bunch of really great Christian friends who did not ignore me or drop me or abandon me, and I had a great church that didn't abandon me. And that is not always the case. I now know that I was very, very fortunate to have that because I deal with a lot of people now, after 17 years of divorce recovery ministry, that that is their biggest wound – "Yes, my spouse left me, but my church left me, too." And fortunately, I didn't have that experience. I had a great church that stood beside me.
So they wooed me back. They loved me back to fellowship with God; to finding Him as the answer to my pain rather than the alcohol.
Dennis: I want to make just a brief comment, because, Laura, I think the Christian community – well, frankly, I don't think we know what to do when we see someone, especially someone we love, have a train wreck.
Dennis: I mean, there is all the debris, there is all the hurt, there is the emotional wounds that are gaping, and so not knowing what to say, we say nothing.
Laura: Yes, or the wrong thing.
Dennis: Yeah, and we spout verses off, you know, and yet a relationship for someone who is hurting like you were is the lifeblood. I mean, someone coming alongside that wounded party and, again, not masking the pain, not denying the pain, or not fueling the anger or the bitterness, but to come alongside and to love them and to speak the truth to them and to encourage them in the midst of that – that's absolutely critical, isn't it?
Laura: It sure is, and I actually devoted a whole chapter in my book to that. It's called "Someone I Love is Divorcing, How Can I Help?" And that – what you're describing is exactly the reason why I included that chapter is because so many people would come to me and say, "I don't know what to do." And so I broke it up into emotional things you can do, financial things you can do, and things you can do for the kids. And I did do's and don't's, because so often the don't's are just as serious and just as important as what to do.
Bob: What are some of those? What are some of the don't's?
Laura: Well, some of the don't's are don't assume you know how that person is feeling, because you don't. If you have not lived through it, you do not know how it feels to have this kind of a situation in your life. The other thing is, don't try to get the children to hate or dislike the other parent. Very often, grandparents or family members or whatever – all of a sudden, they're so angry at the other parent that they share that with the kids, and so that's very, very destructive.
A real positive do is if you can financially help them with little things – you know, buying groceries, even – simple little things because divorce is financially devastating, and so – but don't lend them money if you can't afford to not get it back, because it will ruin the relationship. So that's a don't.
So there's all kinds of great things to do and not to do.
Dennis: Laura, it seems to me that, as a woman, here you are, you're 28, you're barely out of a newlywed category, and now you find out your husband's been cheating on you for virtually the past year. I mean, that would be devastating.
Laura: I was devastated. I wanted to die. I thought about killing myself many, many times. I played that out in my mind, I can't tell you how often.
Dennis: You know, I want to go back just for a moment, though, because it's already proven in this culture, research has shown that about two-thirds of all the divorces are occurring in low-conflict marriages. In other words, these marriages are not – they may not even have something as dramatic as an affair. They're just occurring around stuff. And yet people are tossing the towel in, and they're not fighting for their marriage, not determining to go after their marriage, and I would just say, even if you are separated, that time of separation can be a time to clear your heads, clear your hearts, find some resources and some tools to see if you can't make a go at this together with a new set of blueprints.
It's not a matter of just a minor revision here or there of the blueprints, but get the biblical blueprints. That's why we have our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences all over the country. We find couple after couple who come to this conference and at the end say, "You know, we were about to divorce over virtually nothing. We didn't give it a chance."
But even to that person who is maybe – well, they're already divorced but haven't remarried – recently, there was an e-mail that came in from a listener, and the man was just kind of bemoaning the fact that he'd heard our broadcast, and that he and his wife were divorced and neither of them had remarried, and that he was thinking about marrying this other woman.
And I read that e-mail, and I left it, and later in the day came back and reread it again and then reread it a third time, and I got back in touch with him to ask the question, "Is there any possibility that you need to pursue reconciling before you move on to remarriage, because it's not nearly the solution that you think it may be. You're still going to marry an imperfect person. You are now going to be bringing the bags of divorce in addition to all the other bags that you've been carrying in life into a new relationship. And it's not a matter of swapping one imperfect mate for a perfect one. It's a matter of an imperfect mate being swapped out for another imperfect spouse."
And, you know, I just listen to you talk about that, even in the midst of a situation that would not be considered a low-conflict marriage – how you wish you, at that point, would have maybe built a couple of walls or barriers to have at least made one more try at that marriage relationship.
If we're talking to someone who needs to do that right now, I just want to encourage you – go to our website, FamilyLife.com, find where our conferences are located, the Weekend to Remember, and stay in separate rooms, but get there. At all costs, get there. Go to that conference and get a fresh set of blueprints.
Bob: On the day in February when your divorce became final, you wore black to the court.
Laura: Yup, it was a funeral.
Bob: Did that start the cycle over again for you? The grief cycle that you had been in, or were you at the point where it was kind of like, this is just a formality.
Laura: I thought it was. I thought it was just going to be a formality. I mean, I knew it was a sad day, but I thought it was just a formality. That's why I didn't ask anybody to go with me. I went alone thinking this was just the gavel dropping, and it's over.
And what I didn't realize was the actual legal process of being in the courtroom that day, and I lived in New York at the time, every state has different laws about you go about doing this, but it was just me and my lawyer, and the lawyer had already told me what questions he was going to ask me, and that the only thing I had to do was just say "Yes." Just answer yes, that I agreed to all of that, and the judge would listen.
But as he would ask me each question, I started to cry harder and harder and harder, and even the judge, who does this all day long, that's all this poor guy does – even he – you could see emotionally was shaken by how emotionally upset I was getting with each question.
And I believe now – I didn't know it at the time, I was too distraught at the time, but I believe now that that was God's way of showing me that He was weeping. That even though this judge, who is supposed to be just this impartial, cold person, just signing the paper, I believe it was God's way of saying, "I am with you, Laura, and I am weeping right alongside you."
Bob: I want to take you back to that scene we were just reflecting on, because 20-plus years later as you start telling that story, the emotion is fresh.
Bob: Is that because of the profound depth of it; that it's always there? Even here, 20-plus years later you help people through this all the time. You and your husband now are in a great marriage, but to reflect back on that, the tears come back.
Laura: It was definitely the most devastating thing that ever happened in my life, and I agree with what you said earlier, Dennis, that the marriage you are in is the best marriage to be in. Don't go looking for something in a second marriage that you don't have now. If there is any hope of restoring the marriage you are in, give it another chance.
Dennis: And even if there isn't any hope, you don't see any hope …
Laura: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Dennis: Give it another chance.
Laura: Even if you don't feel like it. But what I'm saying is if the person hasn't remarried, and there is a hope of that, because it truly is – and I am remarried and happily remarried, and so I'm not saying that to discredit my present husband. I don't weep because I wish I was still married to my first husband, that's not where the tears come from. The tears come that God could take something – the worst that could happen in my life – for me, divorce was the worst thing that could happen in my life, and that God could take that – Philippians 4:6-7 was the verse that I clung to during my divorce. In my Bible next to that verse I have written, "O God, when will the pain be over and a purpose clear?"
And this book that I've written came out exactly 20 years to the date, almost to the month and date of when I wrote that in my Bible. So part of the reason why I tear up, and part of it is because I've asked God not to let me forget. Not that I live there all the time, but because I minister, it's easy to forget how bad it was, and so I read my journal often, and I go back, and I read my own book often so I will remember how much it hurt.
So that's part of the reason the pain comes back, but the other reason is because I look at what God has done with the most horrible thing that could have happened in my life, He has now turned it into something where I bless other people, I encourage other people, and sometimes I help them to restore their marriage.
Dennis: Philippians 4:6-7 is one of my favorite verses – "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
You know, it's interesting how much of life comes out of our most intimate relationships – marriages and families. I mean, Chuck Swindoll said it's where life makes up its mind; it's at home. And what you've just challenged us with here, Laura, I think is worth noting. If there is a person right now in a relationship who is listening to us and who is really wondering whether they ought to toss the towel in, they need to take that request to God.
They need to consider one more lap around the racetrack, because I really fear today that many, many people, especially this younger generation, are tossing the towel in much too soon and not really giving, I think, God a chance. Give God a chance. You've tried it your way. Why not give Him a chance to build a home, because He promised He'd do that.
Bob: You know, we've talked to a lot of these couples you're talking about who have come to our Weekend to Remember conferences, and many of them have said, "This is the last lap. We are done if this doesn't work."
What's always encouraging to me is to hear from the couples who write us five years later or 10 years later, and they talk about the transformation that has occurred. They were at the brink at one point in time, and now they are happily married to one another, and we're about three weeks away, four weeks away, from starting our spring season of Weekend to Remember conferences.
I want to encourage our listeners, if you've never been to one of these conferences, or if it's been past three years, can I encourage you to set aside a weekend this spring, and the two of you get away and experience this weekend together? We have them in cities all across the country.
Go to our website, FamilyLife.com. There's a red button that says "Go," in the middle of the screen, and if you click that button, it will take you to a page where you can get more information about dates and locations for upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences.
There's also information on that page about Laura Petherbridge's book, "When Your Marriage Dies, Answers to Questions about Separation and Divorce." Along with that, there is a book that our friends at Divorce Care have produced that is a storybook for children where a family has gone through a divorce – a read-aloud storybook for parents to read to elementary age and younger children.
Again, there is information about both of these resources on our website at FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the page where you can find out about these resources, and if you order both of these books, we'll send along at no additional cost the two CDs that feature our conversation this week with Laura, and you can pass those along to a friend as well, or listen to them again yourself.
Again, the website, FamilyLife.com. You can also call us at 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will let you know how you can take advantage of any of these resources, or they can get you information about an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.
When you contact us, someone on our team may ask you if you'd like to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We're listener-supported, and the revenue that we receive from making resources available here on FamilyLife Today or from registration for our conferences, that does not cover the costs associated with this ministry. In fact, more than 60 percent of our ministry support comes from folks like you making a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
During the month of January, if you can help us with a donation of any amount, we would love to send you a guidebook. It's called "Getting Away to Get it Together." It's for a husband and wife to have a planning retreat together; to get away as a couple and do some strategic planning for your marriage. You can request a copy of this book when you make a donation of any amount during January either online at FamilyLife.com or when you call 1-800-FLTODAY.
If you're donating online, you will find a keycode box in the donation form. Just type the word "away" in that keycode box, and we'll know that you want the guidebook for the marriage getaway. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone and just mention that you'd like the book that's being offered this month, and we'll be happy to send it out to you. It's our way of saying thanks for your financial support of this ministry, and we appreciate hearing from you.
Well, tomorrow we're going to be back to talk more about what you do when a marriage falls apart, and it's not what you wanted. We'll talk with our guest, Laura Petherbridge about that tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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