When I was a young girl attending a private Christian school, I knew that there were two reasons for getting a divorce, and no more.
2. Abuse of spouse or children
It was presented to me as a set of laws, cut and dry, black and white. I never really thought about it any further than I was told.
I grew up and got married (at the ripe age of 20) and learned immediately that marriage is one very hard fight. You're fighting for something you both said you wanted against every ounce of selfishness in each of you combined. For Brian and I, it was very rough and took a long time. We went through loads of hurt and even some betrayal (to a smaller degree than cheating), which I will eventually share, but I finally got it. Marriage is tough, and it's not for the faint of heart. We were willing to stick it out and bury our feet in the dirt, hand-in-hand, but it didn't get any easier until we both matured and let God do some serious work on us.
After seeing how difficult marriage can be, I started thinking about the two laws of marriage I had been taught in school. No wonder it was 'okay' to get a divorce after someone cheats. This thing is hard enough as it is! Who could take that?
Someone who embodies all the humility and grace as Christ Himself did when He walked the soil of earth. Someone who is willing to say no to the hatred wanting to collect in their heart and say yes to the hard road of forgiveness. Someone who knows there's more to life than just being happy, and there's more to commitment too.
Armelina and Ben Stevens were married when they were eighteen and nineteen years old, in Spring of 2007. They were Christians, but didn't have relationships with Jesus. Their communication only existed to bring one another down, they argued constantly, their lives were all about themselves and never each other.
"We had no idea what it took to have a good marriage, nor did we care. We each did what we wanted." Armelina tells me.
"After a few years and three kids, we both ended up having affairs. At that point we were both so broken."
Armelina went on to share with me how her kids were unhappy, aware of their parents' misery, and she and Ben saw that. Ben eventually saw the signs of an affair in his wife, and knowing that he himself had been unfaithful, he went to the pastor who had married them for counsel. The pastor advised him to confess and pray with her, and go from there, which he did.
Some incredible things have happened in the Stevens family since that dark time, and I sat down to interview Armelina and get her story. It's one of those ones that should be shared with the world, because it's a bright white beam of light and hope in a world where ending a marriage means little more than the inconvenience of paperwork.
Me: So Ben came to you about his affair, knowing about yours, and you sort of had it out that night?
Armelina Stevens: Yes. It was a hard talk to have and I ended up leaving, going outside, and not wanting to talk about it or deal with it for about a week. I was furious with him.
Me: You said divorce was never an option, even after you and your husband came clean about your affairs. What kept you from feeling like your marriage was too broken to be worth saving?
AS: We have always been Christians, but we didn't have a relationship with the Lord. I spent the week after smoking cigarettes outside, processing, thinking of what to do. My husband said he was willing to bring us back to church, get back to God. I saw that God was changing him right before my eyes. I knew that had to mean something good, something different. I just couldn't say 'see ya later' after that. I could see what God was doing and what we were able to become.
Me: What was the state of your feelings toward your husband during your affair? During the reconciliation?
AS: I didn't show much of my negative feelings at first because of the kids. There was this one day where I felt God on me, and my feelings were completely overridden by His presence. I had peace.
After everything happened, I kissed him for the first time in a parking lot, a week after we confessed to each other. That was the most passionate kiss I've ever had. It felt like we were remarried. You could feel the fresh start.
Me: You said your kids were hurting because they saw you were arguing and unhappy together, and you both saw that in them. Did you initially stay together just for them, and that led into loving each other again?
AS: It really wasn't about the kids. It was just a desire to be a happily married couple, to love each other through even the toughest times till death do us part. We really wanted that deep down. Our pastor told us, it's God first, then each other, then your kids. I heard that and thought, "yes, I want that kind of relationship." Now our kids are so much happier that we are putting each other first.
Me: You mentioned it took about a week after his confession for your worlds to break down and for you to come together willing to work on things. Why was it a week? What were you feeling and what was going on during that time?
AS: I just felt so guilty for what I had done. I just wanted to cry and get everything out. A part of me wanted to believe that his affair was worse and I was so angry; I wrestled with that during that week. Eventually I realized sin is sin, there are no levels. When you ask forgiveness God casts it away from you, and that's it. I knew if things were going to get better I had to act that out in my marriage.
Me: What would you say to the wife who has been unfaithful and doesn't know what to do now?
AS: Get counseling. Pull your Bible out. Talk to a trustworthy, godly friend who will encourage you in your marriage. I didn't have that. I only had friends who told me to leave my husband. That was so hard, and I had to make friends through a new Bible study. Basically, buckle down and pray. It's so cliche but it's honestly the best thing you can do. That's where God speaks to us.
Me: What would you say to the wife who has been betrayed in her marriage, and chosen to forgive and move on, but continues to bring up the past to her husband?
AS: Oh I struggled with that so bad for a couple of years after we reconciled. I would just get so angry and irritated, Satan kept reminding me of what Ben had done and I would throw it in his face. The fact is, who was I to say something to him?! I had done the same thing. So to that wife I would say, keep your mouth shut. Open it only to encourage and pray for your heart and for him. You chose to forgive so keep on choosing it.
Me: Were there any specific verses or quotes that really resonated with you during the moving on process?
AS: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. That's the passage we were given to read together. Love endures all things, it never fails. That's God. How amazing is it that we serve a God who forgives and forgets? Not once does God bring it up again. That's a model for us in our marriages. It's such an overused passage but when I took it for that horrible situation, it came alive and took on a new meaning.
Me: I'm gonna get awkward and ask the question I think a lot of women need to hear about from someone who has been through it. Was coming together again sexually a bumpy road for the two of you? How soon after everything did that happen for you guys?
AS: It was after we went to counseling. My husband was willing to wait until I was ready and he told me that. I felt God moving us into starting the healing process, and being intimate with one another was what that looked like for us. I didn't need a waiting process.
Me: Do you have any advice for other wives in similar circumstances when it comes to being intimate with their husbands again?
AS: Do it only when you're ready. When you feel completely ready to give yourself back to your husband physically and not think about anyone else, or not be worried about him thinking about anyone else, that's the time. Before our affairs we were both bored and just not really trying. After all this happened, our intimacy is amazing. I'm so glad you're asking me about this because it's a part of the process I think is surprising that I really wanted to share to encourage someone who needs to hear this. I wasn't enjoying it before at all, but now sex is so much more pleasurable and romantic and sweet. We are so much more connected. I am more attracted to him and I can't wait for him to get home every night. Every time we are together it gets better. I am so thankful for the changes that difficult time brought to our sex life. God woke us up. He woke us up in every area. We weren't having intimacy before.
Me: Do you think that's because you weren't giving yourselves over to each other emotionally that your physical intimacy wasn't satisfying?
AS: Yes, absolutely.
Ben and Armelina are the picture of what God can do if you'll allow him into your relationships and into the brokenness that comes from being human. I am so honored they let me share their story, and so thankful to Armelina for her raw honesty. We shouldn't feel shameful for our stories of sin and restoration. These are the stories that will change the world.
Armelina and her husband, Ben are two people redeemed by grace. They have three children and live in Southern California.
Note: Cheating is horrible and painful and so sorrowful. I want to say that I do not believe staying in a marriage after unfaithfulness is always the answer. I know someone who was cheated on over and over again and she remained in her marriage as long as possible, until the circumstances became abusive and incredibly harmful. Sticking around and taking that kind of abusive behavior is a totally different story. Praying for the Holy Spirit's guidance in these hard situations is crucial. I'm just here delivering Armelina's story to share a glimpse of hope and healing and faithfulness, because sometimes it is the way to go, although not always.