Jen & Ryan's Story
After 8 years of marriage, Ryan confessed to multiple affairs. This interview took place a little over a year after that confession, as both speak candidly about their efforts to save their marriage.
NOTE: This interview was originally published using pseudonyms for the clients ("Julia & Rick"), but they have since chosen to be very open about their story and have given permission for their real names to be used.
Be sure to listen to their follow up interview, Jen & Ryan: 7 Years After the Affairs.
Be sure to listen to their follow up interview, Jen & Ryan: 7 Years After the Affairs.
Talk about the beginning of your relationship. What attracted you to each other?
Jen: I met Ryan on a blind date and I was instantly attracted to him physically and then, within the first few minutes, I realized how easy he was to talk to. I'd never met a guy like him before that... so easily engaged in conversation with me. I thought he was funny, too and was also attracted to the confidence he portrayed.
Ryan: There were several things that attracted me to Jen. I thought she was beautiful, and as a guy, that has to be somewhere near the beginning of the equation for attraction. I loved her personality, too. She was easy to talk to right away; she had gentleness and quiet confidence.
Jen: I was a music nerd in school and always liked the athletes but they never gave me a second glance. Ryan was athletic, hilarious and got a lot of attention everywhere we went.
Ryan: I liked what she did for a living; her profession didn't define her but it was an attraction to me.
Jen: Our first date lasted until almost 5 AM and we spent the entire time talking. I told myself, "If this guy calls me tomorrow, I'm marrying him." I thought I had landed my dream man.
Ryan: Yeah, there was chemistry between us. I'd seen beautiful women, and met a lot with personality, but it was rare to find the trifecta that included chemistry.
You dated for 11 months and then were engaged for 11 months. What were your expectations of marriage?
Jen: I thought it would be wonderful; that we just grow deeper in friendship and in faith and be madly in love.
Ryan: I expected marriage to include lots of passionate love-making, good conversation, and growing old together. And as long as there was plenty of good love making, most everything else would work itself out.
Jen: I have always been a daddy's girl. My father was amazing... always supporting me, telling me how proud he was of me, and loving me no matter what. I expected my husband to love me like that, only on a deeper romantic level.
So did it turn out that way? How would you describe the first years of your marriage, before finding out about the affair?
Jen: Within a couple of months of our marriage, something switched in Ryan. He started treating me like I was a nuisance. He seemed very easily agitated.
Almost immediately, he got a second job that kept him from home on the weekends. During the weekdays, we had opposite work schedules. He would go to work early in the morning and I would get home from work four hours after him. He'd go to bed soon after that, hardly spending any time with me.
Even when we later changed jobs, our schedules kept us apart a lot. Ryan started to complain a lot about me, too. He was upset about things like my housekeeping, my weight, and meals not being ready in time. It kept getting worse and he barely resembled the funny, sweet guy I dated and was engaged to.
He usually wanted nothing to do with me. Any positive attention he would give me, even though it was small, I would soak up like a dry sponge. Sometimes, the comments he would make about me would be laced with verbal rage. I started being afraid of him. But I also started to believe the things he was saying about me were true; I started believing something was wrong with me. I mean, here I was, with my "dream man" and I wasn't enough for him. He would give me just enough positive attention randomly to keep me around and only used me when he needed me in small spurts, for things like income, meals, and sex.
He wouldn't let me look at his cell phone and there were times he would go outside to talk on it. I let it go because he grew up with an overbearing mother that was always in his business and the last thing I wanted was to be compared to her. Pretty soon, his apparent disgust with me got so bad that when I came home from work and I would see him sitting behind the computer desk just glaring at me with a look of hatred I will never forget. It made an indelible mark on my self-image that has been very hard to remove.
Ryan: I wasn't happy, but it was probably guilt more than anything. I went into marriage thinking that my former college party days and sexual explorations would be things of the past, not needed or wanted anymore. But marriage felt like a restriction. I tried to suppress that feeling, but eventually gave into the desire for more sexual exploration.
Once it happened once, I literally thought to myself, I can never tell Jen about this, but I should enjoy these experiences because they make me feel good. And so I did, frequently, with whoever was available at the moment. I spent so much energy managing those affairs and hookups that I had little left for my relationship with my wife.
Jen: He was very image conscious. He started working out and tanning a lot. Something inside me told me that he was not doing any of this for me, but I was in denial and didn't allowed myself to entertain those thoughts.
When my work took me away from home and I called him in the evening, he sometimes wouldn't answer. The next day, he'd tell me it was because he was asleep. I found an email once on our computer from a girl that went by "Dream Girl" and she was thanking him for spending the night with her and the best night ever. He freaked out a little when I confronted him with it and basically lied his way out of the "spending the night together" part but acted slightly remorseful for his "flirty personality" and told me to pray for him. Somehow, I convinced myself to believe him.
I never gave up hope for Ryan. I prayed and prayed to God, asking for the sweet guy to return to me. I believed that at his core, Ryan was better than this, but he would not let me connect with him at any deep level.
Jen, how did you find out about Ryan's affairs?
Jen: During the seventh year of our marriage, Ryan went to a men's retreat sponsored by our church. He came back a little different. I started noticing his hard edge was wearing off quickly and he began to be sweet to me again. He started telling me a little more how much I meant to him and stopped complaining so much. Instead of getting angry with me, he started telling me that I was more beautiful to him now than I ever had been. He just seemed to be noticing me again, and I thought this was the beginning of the answer to my prayers.
He started telling me there was something he was wanting to talk to me about, but he said it with a smile every time so I didn't think it would be anything bad. He kept saying he wasn't ready, but that he would be soon.
I'll never forget the day he told me. It was a Saturday. We had a great day together, attending an art festival and then going out for frozen yogurt. That night at home, I was in my pajamas and we were on the couch watching TV. He turned the TV off and said, "Um, I want to talk to you." I said, "Okay..." and he asked, "Do you know what happened?"
I was confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, do you know what happened. Before. In our marriage."
I hesitated. "Well, I had wondered at times deep inside of me if you had ever cheated on me, but I never knew if..."
His voice broke and he started sobbing. "I was unfaithful to you... many times.... and it's been killing me. I know you'll probably want to divorce me after I tell you this, and I don't blame you, but I'm begging you not to. I love you so much and you are so amazing and I just couldn't live with myself anymore. I am so sorry."
I sat there in absolute shock and disbelief. It's one thing to wonder, but it's a completely different thing to hear it for the first time come out of your husband's mouth.
I didn't shed one tear sitting there on the couch. I was literally frozen in horror. Eventually, I asked "So that's it. Is there anything else?" and he said no. I got up from the couch, went into the bedroom, locked the door, and cried all night long.
Ryan: It would have been easier to walk away and never tell her and maybe find someone new. But I wanted help. And I wanted to be married to her. I know I risked losing our marriage, but I had to tell her the truth.
Jen: I woke up the next morning exhausted, sick, still crying uncontrollably. I had to go to work but didn't speak to him when I left the house. I wanted a divorce. I couldn't even look at him; the sight of him made me sick. But at the same time, I knew I still loved him and this thought terrified me.
I texted him from work and completely insulted everything about him. Then I told him that if he really wanted to stay married to me, he would make an appointment for us with a counselor of my choosing, that he would participate in counseling without having to be coaxed, and that all appointments would be made and kept by him or else I would not move forward.
He made an appointment with Tim. We went to the first session and both liked him immediately, which I was so grateful for. He talked to us about a truth telling session where I would ask Ryan questions about his affairs and he would need to answer honestly in order for the wound to heal correctly. We met separately with Tim to help us prepare for this.
That night of the truth telling session was honestly the worst night of my life. Ryan confessed to having more than 20 sexual affairs over a period of almost 8 years of marriage. He told me they had been strictly sexual affairs, except for one that had been more emotional than the others.
I was horrified and disgusted. Some of the women were people I knew: neighbors, our real estate agent, acquaintances at our gym, even a girl who I thought was my friend.
We drove home that night mostly silent except for me hurling random insults every now and then. The minute I walked in the front door, I was so angry, I walked over the dishwasher and started emptying it by throwing things at him. I started screaming, then walked over and punched him as hard as I could about 3 times. He just stood there and took it. He never once got defensive or violent or raging back. He just let me get it out.
Ryan, did you think about telling her about some of the past relationships instead of admitting to all of them? Why did you tell her everything?
Ryan: I didn't want to only tell part-truth, but the whole truth so that she would know everything about me; no lies or things hidden away only to be rediscovered later on, having to deal with the shock all over again. And I needed accountability. I wanted to stop keeping secrets and avoiding consequences I wanted Jen to know what I struggle with and know I was serious about moving forward with her.
Jen: After hearing the whole truth, I wanted a divorce. But Tim encouraged me not to make any rash decisions about my marriage while my emotions were at level 10+. He never pressured me to stay in the marriage, but he recommended I give it at least 6 months with counseling before making a final choice. I decided to stick it out and see if this marriage could really be salvaged, but I didn't have a lot of confidence that it would.
What was it like being together in the weeks and months that followed?
Jen: It was very difficult and extremely painful. There were some days I could not pick myself up off the floor, the pain was so deep. I was angry that I compromised who I was for him in order to meet his ridiculously high and unattainable standards, just to find out that none of it really mattered... that it was all a lie. I felt like I had been punked, and I was angry at myself for putting up with it for so long.
Ryan: My thinking was so selfish. I literally thought she'd be hurt but forgive me quickly so we could start our new life together. That's not what happened. Now I'm glad that she was able to release her feelings about my betrayal rather than just holding it in. It was important for me to understand how hurt she was. It was hard to watch and experience, but it really made me think about the effects of what I'd done.
Jen: He was unbelievably sweet to me and treated me with a tenderness I had never seen before. I suspected he might just doing it because he felt bad about hurting me so much. I wondered if his attention to me would eventually stop, but it never did. He was complimentary even when I was insulting him, sending me emails from work multiple times a day telling me how much I mean to him, buying me presents, allowing me to have my space but constantly telling me how much I mean to him. He bought me flowers and gifts much more frequently than ever before. I would get angry and scream at him or send him mean emails and every single time he allowed me to do it but then responded with how much he loved me and how unbelievably sorry he was.
Ryan: I saw sides of my wife I had never seen, and hope I never see again. She had mixed emotions all the time; anger, hate, sadness, grief. Sometimes she wanted to be held and other times she was throwing dishware at my head when I walked in the door. It was definitely the hardest and darkest part of the process.
Jen: I put walls up because I did not want to let myself get hurt again. Eventually, though, his obvious commitment to change and to love and to truth began to convince me that his intentions were pure.
It was very hard because we were at different places emotionally. He felt free from his secrets and sins and really acted like a changed man, excited to start this new life with me. But I just had a bomb dropped on me and my heart was completely obliterated. I hated him, yet loved him all at once. It was extremely difficult to deal with these conflicting emotions.
Ryan, what did you do to assure her that you were committed to being honest with her? How have you tried to win back her trust?
Ryan: I tried to assure her I was committed by telling her the whole truth up front. She's also watched me be more open with her by talking about what she's feeling, and about what I'm feeling, too. I'm open with my username and passwords to personal sites and computers, touch base more often when she's out of town, and openly discussed my old patterns of cheating so she can be more aware of what I'm doing.
I make specific attempts to show her how I care about her, whether that's sending her little e-mails or text messages affirming my love for her, or setting up a date or time to spend together. I try to let her know that she's most important to me.
I've also established some great mentors in my life that I can be open and honest with. I'm not trying to do this thing all by myself.
Jen: It may sound like a cliche, but he is honestly a different person. I still cower sometimes because I think he will react like the old Ryan in certain situations, but every single time he reacts completely different. He joined a men's group at our church and told his story to the guys in the group the very first night he attended, so that he could create an environment of honesty and support. He has been hyper-vigilant about change, and I honestly don't even recognize the old Ryan in him anymore. I joke with him and say "I'm on my second marriage. I divorced my first husband. I love my new husband so much more."
Ryan: We're learning to do this thing together. It takes effort on both our parts. But that concept of second marriage rings true for me, because it is.
It's been over a year since finding out. Do you trust him?
Jen: Yes. Not 100% yet, but not because of anything he is currently doing. He went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and still does. He kept every counseling appointment and did everything Tim suggested he do for the healing process. He gave me every password to every account he has, took the lock off his phone so that I am free to check it anytime I want to. He would call me if he had to work late from his office phone so that I could see the call coming in from his desk on caller ID.
We have certain boundaries now that he maintains as far as contact with the opposite sex. He has never once, since the night he told me, done anything that would make me wonder. In fact, he goes out of his way to make sure I am comfortable in all situations. I'm not going to lie, it is still hard, but it is getting easier.
What gives you the confidence that there won't be another affair?
Jen: I know there is a risk in staying in this marriage, but also getting divorced and marrying someone else would come with its own risks, too. My confidence lies in my faith in God to sustain us and the work that we have done up to this point. And honestly, Ryan has created an environment that makes it easy for me to trust him. I am super sensitive to any old behaviors that would possibly come back now and I would be very vocal if I saw even a hint of it them.
Jen: There are times when I still feel like I could go misbehave. I've certainly had opportunities. Even when you're not seeking them, they can sometimes seem to just fall in your lap. But I've learned that those experiences are not really satisfying; they're only temporary. Returning to that behavior would damage all the work we've endured over the past year and a half. And it would not help me become the person I truly want to be; a faithful husband who truly loves and adores his wife.
Sometimes when I've had feelings I know aren't good, I've actually told my wife. I tell her it's not her fault or anything she's done, but that I'm struggling and could use her support and prayer. I also use the support group around me; other men who struggle as well. They give me support and help me regain my focus.
Has anything hindered your healing?
Jen: To be honest, the pain has been very difficult to deal with at times, especially in the beginning. I didn't always release my anger in a healthy way and it began to change who I was. I just wanted to get revenge on him and everyone else in the situation that I felt had done me wrong.
I contacted a lot of the other women in anger, against Tim's recommendation, and it really did nothing to help me; it only gave me more anger to hold on to. Although I felt temporary relief for getting things off my chest, many of their responses were just downright cruel and unapologetic, which added to my bitterness.
I also was haunted continually by images of the other women in my head, comparing myself to them constantly and how I felt I didn't measure up but I really finally came to a realization that it wasn't even about me. Ryan continually told me that it wasn't about me at all; that it was about his own brokenness. Even his insults, he said, were because he felt so disgusted and shamed. In order to cope, he would insult me and blame me instead of paying attention to his own faults and brokenness. That's helped me heal.
Ryan: It's been over a year since I told my wife and just recently would I say her former personality is coming back. I know she still struggles in her mind more frequently than I recognize, but it's much better now. She's found a way to live out her new normal.
What other things have helped your healing?
Jen: Focusing on what is true presently and realizing that in order to move forward, I would either have to forgive him or would have to walk away. It took me a solid eight months before I really decided that I was going to stay in the marriage and that was because Ryan was intent in showing me he truly had changed and wanted no part of his old life. He went out of his way to show me how much he really did love me.
When I decided to stay, I decided that I would begin to study forgiveness and what it actually meant and how to go about moving forward in that. I realized that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. I had no feelings of forgiveness for him whatsoever at first. Most days, I hated him. But I eventually decided that each minute I would choose to walk in forgiveness with him, and began to act in a way that was forgiving. It was only after I chose forgiveness and began to put that into practice, that eventually the feelings began to slowly change.
I also realized that I needed grace just as much as he did for some of the ways I reacted in the process. There was nothing Ryan could do to take back his actions and give me back the last eight years of my life, so the only thing I could do was move forward, to focus on the true meaning of forgiveness and learn to walk in patience, kindness, gentleness... believing that my marriage could be restored. I am now honestly amazed at the resurrection of our marriage and redemption in both of our lives. It really is a miracle.
Ryan: Honesty, openness, and discussion have been the elements that have helped in the healing process. Additionally, my wife and I are Christians. I had walked away with my daily relationship with God for nearly a decade. Through this process, I've re-experienced God's grace. Embracing the grace and releasing this guilty weight has been the most freeing experience. Now, I daily pray, read, and allow my heart to be aligned with the things of God. It's allowed me to live in freedom for the first time.
Jen: Counseling was also a huge part of our healing. I looked at Tim like a coach, helping us through the process. Without counseling, we would have been lost, and I honestly doubt our marriage would have survived.
Knowing everything you know now, if you send a message back to yourself on that day of the confession, what would the message be?
Jen: That there is hope. Even when it seems like a situation is impossible, hope starts to shine and becomes the light that leads to healing. It is a hard and difficult journey toward restoration, with pain and processing along the way, but it will lead you to a better place than you were before.
My old marriage is dead and gone and my new marriage is better than I could have ever expected it to be. I love my husband today more than I ever thought possible. We are intentional and committed to making our marriage and love our priority. He truly is my best friend and I have a wonderful life with him.
Ryan: It won't initially feel like it, but you're doing the right thing. It'll be hard and you'll wonder at times why you chose to share the darkest parts of your life with the person you vowed never to do this too, but it will eventually create the deepest level of intimacy you will ever experience here on earth.
Listen to Tim's interview with Ryan and Jen years later: "7 Years After the Affairs"