Gary Shriver and his wife, Mona, share the painful story of his infidelity and describe the long, painstaking process of healing that has led to the complete restoration of their marriage. They offer the hope and practical wisdom that has been the foundation of their long-time ministry to many other couples that have been impacted by adultery. (Part 2 of 2)
Gary Shriver: I did not wake up one day and say, “Gee, I think I’ll go out and have an affair.” Absolutely not. It was just one baby step after another.
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John Fuller: Gary and Mona Shriver were with us last time on Focus on the Family. And after 19 years of marriage, Gary confessed that he had been unfaithful, but God restored them, and now they’ve been happily helping couples for over 20 years. And you’re going to hear more from them today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, this is one of those testimonies of hope. And I know, so often we hear the tragic end of the marriage where there was an unfaithful spouse and it ended. But you know what? God provides a way that it doesn’t have to end. He does - he does say, for this purpose, a divorce is legitimate. It’s biblical. But He hates divorce. And I so admire couples that have gone through this kind of gut-wrenching betrayal, especially that spouse that had to hear the news “I’ve had an affair,” and yet, they find a way to put their faith and their hope and their trust in God, not in their unfaithful spouse, and then begin to crawl back to a point of happiness and joy and trust in their relationship. You’re gonna hear the second half of the story today. And if you missed last time, I really would encourage you to get the download for your smartphone or contact us here. We can get you a CD if that’s how you would like to listen to it. It’s important for you to hear the full story.
Jim: Gary and Mona, welcome back to Focus.
Jim: Man, I couldn’t stop thinking about the things you were sharing with us. You married, as unbelievers. Probably five years into your marriage, Gary, you became a Christian.
Jim: Three years or so after that, Mona, you saw the light.
Jim: I love it.
Gary: Came over from the dark.
Jim: And you know, again, what I so appreciate about what you said is you read the Word.
Jim: You took a challenge to say, “Okay, I’m gonna read it to see if it applies to me. God, you get - you get one shot.”
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: And He usually says, “Okay.”
Mona: I know.
Jim: “I’ll take that!”
Gary: “I’ll take it.”
Mona: Yeah, He’s big enough.
Gary: Yeah, right.
Jim: ...He speaks to your heart through that.
Jim: ...Point of setting that up again. And then you got the news...
Jim: ...That Gary had been in a three-year affair...
Jim: ...And had a one-night stand in addition to that. The Lord used that one-night stand, Gary, to really grip your heart...
Jim: ...And say, “Listen, you’re wretched; you need to get this straightened out.” And it caught your attention. A younger, much younger co-worker said, “You got to ‘fess up to this, or I’m going to tell Mona.” That was good pressure.
Gary: Yeah, Buddy.
Jim: And Mona, the day came when...
Mona: The day came.
Jim: ...He confronted you. You described it so eloquently last time. Let’s pick the story up there.
Jim: Your - your breath is taken out of you. It’s gut-wrenching. You’re now trying to decide, “Am I in for the long-term?” Speak to that decision-making process. Because we left off last time where you weren’t sure if God could work a miracle. You weren’t sure if you wanted to stay married. What advice do you have for that spouse who hears that news over the next few hours, few days, few weeks? What can they do to get their equilibrium just to make good decisions?
Mona: Well, and I think probably that’s a point to be made is that they’re not in a place to make a good decision right now. So, give themselves some freedom. They don’t have to. Now, you know, if there are safety issues and such, there are other avenues, but it’s just...
Jim: Hit that hard, because...
Jim: ...When we’re talking about abuse, that’s...
Mona: That’s another...
Jim: You gotta get free...
Jim: ...Of that. And you got to find a place of safety. We always say that. Call us here at Focus, and we can have referrals for you in your local area hopefully...
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: ...For shelter and all those things.
Mona: There are biblical reasons, I believe, for separation, but the goal is always to restore the marriage, if it all possible. And so, those - there might be some decisions that need to be made in that regard, for safety for you or your children. But I think the point is to take your time and take a - breathing was difficult. When you say take a breath - that took energy. Everything takes energy. So we often tell couples, or someone who just found out they were betrayed, that you almost have to treat yourself like you were in a car wreck. If you’d been in a car wreck and you had two broken legs, you would not continue doing life, per norm.
Well, you’ve been injured. And it is that severe. So, people don’t see your legs, they don’t know about the car wreck necessarily, but you cannot do life as normal. So, you get it down to the basics. You get down to, you know, take care of your body, get the rest you can, get in and get the support you need. We really do believe that most couples profit by professional Christian counseling. Of course, Gary and I and our ministry, Hope and Healing, provides a lot of peer support. We believe in that wholeheartedly. But the main thing is take your time and let God do the work. Lean into God. Let Him...
Jim: What are some short-term things that you can do, even in the fog of the betrayal that are important for potential survival as a couple? What are those things you can say, “Okay, I hear you, it’s been a few days, these are my thoughts, this is what the Lord’s been saying to me and my prayer time about this?” When you recovered and kind of got on your feet, A, how long did that take just for that?
Jim: And then, B, what were some of the things you and Gary talked about, to say, “Here are the ground rules moving forward?”
Mona: Right. When I - I can’t even tell you when I recovered. It was such a gradual thing. It was impossible to pray for some time. All I could do was cry out “God, Jesus.” And then you take solace in that verse that the Holy Spirit prays for you, when you don’t know how to pray.
Jim: Were you mad at God at all or just Gary?
Mona: Not in the beginning, but there will come a time when - you know, it’s like, I went - “I spent three years getting close to You and learning about You, and this is my reward. Thanks a heap.”
John: This was further down the line.
Mona: But, that’s down the line, because - and the anger can be first, Jim.
Mona: It just - there are...
Gary: Everybody’s different.
Mona: ...commonly seen responses to the news. So, it can be anger. But we have to understand that’s somebody shouting from the rooftop trying to survive. All I could do was hold my Bible. I couldn’t even read my Bible.
Jim: That’s incredible.
Jim: I mean, that really is. It’s so tender. There’s almost poetry to that that you’re so broken inside you don’t know what to do. I...
Mona: You don’t. You don’t.
Gary: She was literally in the fetal position for a very long time.
Gary: Well, you see, at this point, I’m at the - I hate to even say this, but I’m at the best place I was spiritually for a long time.
Jim: Because you felt cleaner.
Mona: He was cleansed.
Gary: ...It’s in the light. It’s - you know, God’s move - I was closest that I was to God for a long time. And - but I just knew in that - in those initial stages, she was broken. She was bleeding. She was just, you know, on the carpet and um, and in the fetal position, quite literally. And that was something that - that as - I knew that I needed to be in that damage control mode to help her to get through this, to do whatever I can. And I’d really - really like to speak to that, because I think that to think that she would have had the thought to be able to say, “Well, let’s take a step at this point, or let’s do this,” she was just - this was a total trauma that’s happened to her. She couldn’t think at all.
And, I had to be there for her and help her through this. And so, to say, to make some sort of a commitment at that point, there was no way she could have done that. And I think that what’s really important is to give the permission to the offended spouse out there that you don’t have to at first. It needs to be something that you just have to be willing, if you can possibly, lean into God and just, because they’re befuddled. They don’t - the whole horizon is out of focus. They can’t think. They can’t do anything.
Mona: Foundation’s rocked...
Gary: Just - just lean into God and just know that He is faithful to take that next baby step of restoration and bring that into focus for you, and then give you the boldness to take that step. And that is unique for every couple. There is no silver bullet - “Hey, here’s the answer” - not at all. Because everybody’s different. Some, it’s met with anger. Mona, it was met with absolutely just - she was on the floor. She couldn’t even talk.
Jim: Yeah. The key there - and it’s really good advice - is you have to move with the flow of it.
Jim: I mean, it sounds kind of odd. But, God’ll be present.
Gary: Yes, He will.
Jim: Mona, I do need to ask you, how did you not - I mean, in my mind, I could picture you pounding on Gary’s chest, I mean, just like this, How could you - How could you do this?
Mona: The anger will come. We have a saying in our ministry that betrayed spouses find their anger, because it’s a normal part of it. Of course, you’re angry.
Jim: So, it could be immediate, it could be days, it could be weeks, maybe months.
Mona: Even months.
Mona: Yeah. And I think part of what we try to help couples understand is, it is so convoluted, and it is a long process and to ride the roller coaster. We try to normalize a very abnormal situation.
Gary: That’s right.
Mona: You let her rest. You - you do whatever you can...
Gary: You minister to her.
Mona: ...to relieve her burden and not - don’t press her for anything except survival right now.
Mona: Those talks will come later.
Jim: ...of the two days we’ve been together about the healing process.
Mona: We ended up at a counselor, because of our troubled middle child. And when we met with him, we said, “By the way, you ought to know what’s going on at our house,” and that changed the whole dynamic.
Jim: I can imagine...
Jim: ...The counselor...
John: Time out, yeah.
Mona: And one of the things he shared with us was that the kid’s not going to be okay, until mom and dad are okay. So, he encouraged us to put our focus on us and not the kids. My kids watched more TV during that time than they ever had. We ended up with a really good counselor. He helped us a lot. Honesty was huge - to be transparently honest with one another. And that was the commitment Gary made to me. It was a commitment I made to him. We, neither one, were going to pretend we were okay i
Mona: ...healing process.
Jim: Where was that tipping point for you, Mona, where you said, “Okay, I’m gonna be in for the marriage?” Because there must be a point in time - maybe it wasn’t as - as straightforward.
Jim: But you had to say, “I’m committed.”
Mona: Right. Probably the big tipping point - and, again, I didn’t have the words for it at the time. I only knew it had occurred. But there is a moment in time where the spouse who has been unfaithful gets it.
Mona: I can’t define it any better than that, but they get it. You can’t fake it. Your betrayed spouse will know when you get it. And I remember a time - Gary and I had gone away on a camping trip, and we were having one of our conversations. Actually, we were having fun, and we were - and then we got into a conversation. And, he got it that night. It was really dramatic. Now, that was after several months of counseling and several months of talking.
John: When you say he got it, what do you mean?
Mona: Go ahead.
Gary: ...Just would love to explain that, in the early stages, I was in a - and this is very common - in a damage control kind of mode and just had lots of energy and could just do and everything. And so, as she’s getting angry with me, or whatever, I can - I can kind of maintain through the whole thing. But, there comes a point that you get weary, because - because it’s just such a long thing.
Gary: And in this particular instance, I remember that it was - I finally saw the gravity. I finally saw the depth of the wound that I caused. I saw daddy’s little girl, just broken and bleeding and the - and the devastation that I brought into this. And - and that was something that was - I think I even say it in the book, it was - it just hit me. Like, oh, my goodness, how could I have brought this home? And I knew that I needed to get behind her eyes. And this was for the first time; God was just really revealing and allowing me to get behind her eyes with empathy and compassion as to where she was. And it took a while, you know, because I was in, like I said, that damage control mode, and trying to control and do everything, and you just can’t. You have to leave it...
Gary: ...to the Lord. And when He did open my eyes to that, I could see. And that was - and that night, I just - I just remember, it was a night that I just absolutely broke. And I think I even say it, it was the night that I held her, while I cried.
Jim: Yeah. The beauty of that is deep.
Jim: And I want to tie this to God’s heart for us, because I think it’s critically important. Mona, as you describe it, it’s the reality of real repentance.
Jim: I mean, what you’re saying is when you knew he got it...
Jim: ...That’s what that is.
Jim: That is repentance.
Mona: Yeah. And what I think betrayed spouses need to understand, too, is that he didn’t get it because he’s so thick-skulled, it took that long - it’s because you have to realize what he had done to justify his behavior for three years, so he could look in a mirror. And those defenses fade away. And it takes time for him to really comprehend, and a lot, a lot of talking. That working together enables him to get behind my eyes and to see what he did.
Jim: So, the couple that is listening, or a spouse in trouble, either they’re the ones in the affair, or their spouse is and they’ve recently found out, tell me why you think it’s worth the hard work.
Mona: Oh, my goodness. We’ve had 20-plus years since the infidelity. We’ve had moments that I will cherish forever. It does not destroy everything about your marriage, although it feels like that...
Mona: ...In the beginning. There will be some things that are lost, and you’ll have to figure that out. And we talk about that in the book. But, there are some things you can reclaim. You know, the same God that takes the sinner and makes him pure before His holiness can do this to the marriage. It’s - it’s not impossible for that. I
Jim: Who’s this from?
Mona: This is from a woman whose husband had a 4-year affair that was revealed 15 years after denial.
Mona: And they attended - we have weekend intensives for adultery recovery. And they intended - attended our intensive about a year and a half ago. They were about six months into their recovery, and now they’re about a year and a half. Other than their counselor, they have chosen not to share this journey with anyone, including their children.
Gary: Very common, too.
Mona: So - and which is very common. So anyway, I just - I - she and I spent a lot of time talking and emailing. And she - she really struggled. And we spent a lot of time together. And I - she - God laid her on my heart just a couple of weeks ago. So, I just sent her a quick “Hey, how you doing? Haven’t heard from you for a while.” And this is some of her letter.
It says, “We are not where we were and not where we ultimately want to be. However, having experienced God’s grace, healing and guidance, we are becoming more and more confident our future together will be unexplainably and inconceivably more than we can ask or think.
Jim: One thing that has been said is when couples go through this and they heal - that their trust, their honesty toward each other is at a much deeper level.
Gary: Much deeper, yes.
Mona: Much deeper.
Jim: And you found that.
Mona: Yeah. And it’s not because the marriage is better. That used to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, because it’s like, “Okay, what were the first 20 years?”
Mona: But, what happens is God continues to make us into the man and woman He created us to be.
Mona: So Gary’s married to a much better woman today than he was 25 years ago. And I’m married to a much better man than I was 25 years ago. That’s what makes the relationship better.
Jim: When you look at - at the Scripture, and you see this story played out in many different ways - obviously, King David...
Jim: ...Comes to mind. And you see that God says of King David that he had a heart for Him.
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: The legalist, Mona, where you were in your early years in viewing Christianity from that perspective says, you know, he committed the big ones.
Jim: Murder and adultery. How could God even say that? We act as if God is surprised by our sexual appetites...
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: ...That He created in us to be in the context of marriage.
Jim: We treat Him like He’s a grandpa...
Jim: ...That doesn’t know what happens.
Jim: He knows. And then you come back with that heart of repentance like David.
Jim: He saw his sin. And I think, when you look at that, that’s why God said, “This is a man after My heart.”
Mona: It is.
Jim: It’s not that you fail - it’s what you do with failure.
Mona: Exactly. Exactly. And the other thing
John: Mona, I just - for the listener, who’s - who’s been following along, saying, “Wait a minute, it wasn’t a single thing, it was three years...”
John: “...It was multiple offenses...”
John: ...How do you get over that?
Mona: The single thing of infidelity. No, they’re absolutely right. There were - forgiveness for this is a very long and detailed list. It’s not one thing I forgive and move on. And the big difference between forgiveness, trust and reconciliation.
Jim: Yeah. Mona, I need to ask this on behalf of - of the wives that, I think, struggle with this idea that, you know, they’re shooting for a life in Christ, that is as close to perfection as they can get to. And I think women load that guilt upon themselves...
Mona: They do.
Jim: ...So easily, much more so than men. And I...
Mona: They do.
Jim: I’m not wanting to stereotype here. I’m just - move with me in the generalities of this. Men, because of our ego, we tend to say, if we can’t reach that, fine, forget it, we walk away. Women say, “What did I do wrong?”
Gary: Yeah, exactly.
Jim: It’s a big difference.
Jim: And in this context, I’m thinking, you know, of helping that wife understand that, in our human condition, people are going to let you down. Your kids are going to let you down.
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: Your husband may let you down.
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: And if you’re living in a place where you’re striving to be perfect, it can be withering to those around you.
Mona: It really is.
Jim: What advice do you have for that woman who’s disappointed in everything around her, because nobody around her is living up to the standards she has for them?
Mona: Well, I think our culture still lays that guilt trip in that, if you’re a good enough wife, your husband won’t stray. And first of all, that’s a lie. So I’ll - I’ll share with you what our therapist shared with me, when I expressed that - was that there is no good enough reason for sin, for infidelity. So, I don’t care if I was the worst wife in the world.
Mona: Gary had other avenues to take besides acting out in a sinful way and committing adultery. So his sin of adultery had nothing to do with me. That’s 100 percent on Gary - his choice, his issue. Now he brought it home. We were going to have to deal with it. But the other part of healing from infidelity is the marriage. Now in the marriage, it’s 100 percent me and 100 percent him. Those are issues that we have to look out and face, because we’re going to change something. We can’t go back to the way it was. We’re going to make it better. And as a betrayed spouse, it’s almost impossible to separate those two things, initially. But if you could do that, if you can separate the actual infidelity from the marriage, then you can start dealing with those things and make some changes and see your culpability and whatever, but it’s not the result - it didn’t happen because of that.
Jim: And I love that instruction.
Jim: ...Struggling in that area. You just need the want to.
Jim: And that’s not - I don’t say that easily. I know that’s hard. You can barely breathe perhaps...
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: ...Like Mona described. But, Gary and Mona, what an amazing testimony. And I so appreciate you standing up in the gap for marriage. I hope 20 and 30-somethings are listening...
Jim: And if you have a young adult in your life, and you’re older - maybe your son or daughter...
Gary: Are going through this.
Mona: That’s right.
Jim: ...This is the kind of show you need them to hear. And hopefully, they can be receptive to that.
John: Yeah, really.
Jim: ...Call us and say, “I need help.”
John: Yeah. And our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. So much help here, if you’ll just call us. And online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/radio. While you’re there, look for a special video conversation we’re going to have for you there with our guests, offering some practical help about what to do when an affair occurs and you have to confront that. You’ll find those steps and so much more at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: ...At your own - you know, your own conferences. So, thank you again for sharing your story with us.
Gary: And, Jim, if I could just say one more thing before we go. And speaking to the couples that may be going through that out there right now, that you need to know that infidelity is not the death sentence to your marriage. You just need to hear that from a couple that has walked this path before you. All those things you think you can never have again - the love, the trust, the intimacy, the forgiveness, the respect - those things that you just think will never happen again, they can.
And it’s not just Gary and Mona. We have had the privilege to be able to come alongside hundreds and hundreds of couples in the span of our ministry here at Hope and Healing Ministries.
Jim: Well no, and I so appreciate that. And I think, you know, really, for those who support the ministry, that’s a pat on their back because they fuel it, they make it happen.
Jim: And we can’t do it without you. And we so appreciate your prayers and your support.
Gary: Love you guys. Thank you.
, as our thank you.
Well, coming up next time on Focus on the Family, Dr. Gary Chapman explains how to improve the relationship with your teenager.
Gary Chapman: A lot of teenagers do not feel loved. So we have to be more than sincere. We have to learn how to communicate love so that your teenager - that specific teenager - feels loved because one size does not fit all.
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