They were close friends first, having met in a fellowship group, then playing in a college Christian rock band. Somewhere in the mix Ruthie and Jacob fell in love and three and half years later married and moved to Massachusetts. He worked from home as a building manager, she as a social worker. They remained the best of friends … or so Ruthie thought.
Next door neighbors, Mark and Chrissie, provided the bulk of their Christian fellowship in the largely secular city of Boston. So when Chrissie started struggling with depression, Ruthie encouraged Jacob, who was home during the day, to reach out. "She was vulnerable, and I basically gave her my husband," said Ruthie. According to Jacob, he and Chrissie spent a lot of time talking.
"At first it was an emotional relationship based on her need and my concern," said Jacob "Within a year, however, it turned physical." Unbeknownst to Ruthie, the relationship would carry on for three years.
"I thought everything was fine," said Ruthie. "I felt like we had a good marriage and we were good friends on all levels." When Jacob finally did confess the relationship, her world crumbled. "The betrayal was incomprehensible to me," said Ruthie. "I don't know what felt worse, that my best friend had stabbed me in the heart, or that I encouraged it."
"For both of us, there was no question whether or not to salvage the relationship," said Jacob. "We decided we would do whatever we could to repair the friendship and honor the commitment we made to each other and God."
"We also committed to the process of reconciliation because we saw value in each other and in our relationship," said Ruthie. "Neither of us could imagine living without the other. I remember telling Jacob that I loved him in the midst of horrible, painful, tearful conversations."
The first act Jacob and Ruthie took was to spend a week in the Colorado wilderness. It was a time of simply being together and building new memories. They spent a lot of time talking and crying.
Jacob and Ruthie did all the right things to repair their shattered friendship. They went into marriage counseling and found support from their church. "I don't think we would have made it without professional help," said Ruthie. "We learned how to communicate, and we learned about the brokenness and behavior patterns we brought into the marriage. Clearly there were issues that had lain dormant for years."
The couple also cleared their lives of all time commitments outside of work, "We needed intense face time," said Ruthie. "We had to face deep, painful and uncomfortable things about one another, and we had to do it alone.
"Jacob said over and over to me through tears, 'I can't be trusted.' I checked in every day to see if he was being honest and faithful. I policed his Internet use. This kind of exercise fueled my suffering. Finally my counselor told me that Jacob needed someone else to monitor his thoughts and activities. He entered into a transparent accountability relationship with our pastor."
Ruthie knew she also needed accountability, a compassionate ear, and encouragement. A mature Christian woman from her church stepped forward and provided that support.
"Jacob and I became a lot more intentional about reading the Bible, said Ruthie. "We read it out loud every night, and we prayed every morning together. And seven years later we still do! Our prayers then were cries of desperation; we knew we wouldn't make it without Jesus in the mix."
"I didn't know who I was anymore," said Jacob. "I was dependent on God for everything. Every step that actually worked was a miracle and I knew that God was in it. God also gave me patience. My wife turned into an angry, bitter woman and I didn't know if and when she would ever heal from the wound I inflicted."
On the sexual front, Ruthie did not know how she was ever going to be naked in front of her husband again. "We took small steps toward intimacy," she said. The betrayal took a long time to get over." It would be years before she didn't think of Chrissie during their most intimate moments.
The couple credits the affair and its aftermath with the creation of a transparent, vulnerable and rock solid friendship. These are the hallmarks of their relationship today:
- They spend significant "face time" together, taking care to connect when life gets hectic.
- They've made a habit out of thanking one another for the mundane, such as doing the dishes or taking out the trash.
- They engage in little every day kindnesses. They serve the other at every turn.
- They are accountable to one another.
- They've found many common passions and they engage in them regularly.
- Jesus is the center of their marriage.
Jacob and Ruthie remain best friends.