A letter to you, dear brave woman.

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Last week, I received a voicemail from a friend that I initially met here on the blog. She later joined an RLFW support group and is now in a place where she is helping women at her local church. She was preparing a letter to women in her community that reach out asking for support. She wanted to know from me – what are the 2 or 3 things that I think might be valuable for women to hear when they reach out for help.

It got me to thinking about all the things I would want a hurting woman to know after she realizes her world won’t quite ever be the same – the moment she realizes that her husband has betrayed her. I wish I could meet for coffee with each of you. To sit across from you and tell you these things…

Dear Brave Woman –

I know your heart is hurting. Chances are, it’s the most painful thing you’ve experienced to date. Your husband wasn’t who you thought he was. You chose someone that you were convinced would protect you. Someone that only had eyes for you. And now you are faced with the truth that he has betrayed you.

There are a several things you must know as you move forward on your journey. First – please know that you didn’t do anything to cause this to happen. Chances are, your husband has blamed you. Possibly in subtle ways and possibly in more explicit ways. It might be that he told you he wished you’d have more sex or different sex with him. Or maybe he complained about how you dressed or wore your hair – all under the guise of – “I’m not attracted to you anymore.” All these hurtful things, chances are, were said well before you even became privy to his problem.

And if your husband hasn’t pointed the finger, well then, it doesn’t help that our culture points the finger on the woman that has been betrayed. Your friends might even make comments about random women on TV or in real life that go through the heartbreak of infidelity and say {stupid} things like – “no wonder he cheated on her, given the way she treats him…”. This is so incredibly hurtful, damaging and inaccurate.

Trust me when I say this – betrayal has no proclivity to one woman over another. Women of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes, colors, statures (the list goes on and on) are affected by betrayal. Fill in the blank – if only I had _________ or __________ this wouldn’t have happened. Well, let me tell you – it’s not true. Even if you had __________ or _________; it wouldn’t have prevented this from happening to you.

Your husbands choices were just that – his choices. And those choices were informed by the wounds from his childhood. They were informed by his inability to be intimate with others and his choice to cope in an unhealthy way that ultimately hurt you.

Please don’t change who you are, how God created you, knit you together in your mother’s womb because of his choices. It’s so easy to want to fix it this way but learn from my mistakes – it won’t fix a thing.

Second – There is a lot (I mean a LOT) of grieving work to do. This might be your first shot at grieving or maybe you’ve had experience in this area. For myself, it was my first big shot. I want to encourage you to buckle up and get ready for the ride. It’s intense. It’s crazy. It’s unsettling. Some women find they don’t want to go to the deep dark places (I can’t blame them) and they hope to get through it as quickly as possible. Others deny it and skip over it all together. It’s been my experience that while we can try to bury our grief – it won’t ever completely go away until we work through it. But how? Well, similar to how you’d eat an elephant – it’s one bite at a time.

Not only can it feel insurmountable and like the most daunting of tasks, but it’s also difficult to grieve if your husband isn’t capable of giving you the empathy and compassion that you need (this is very common early on in the process because he hasn’t had a chance to do his work yet). One of the most painful things I’ve seen in my work with women is when she has to carry the grief alone. It’s antithetical to how we grieve best – which is in the presence of others. So if he won’t create space for your grief, find a trusted girlfriend or group that will. And be clear about what you need – you need someone to sit in the pain with you. To listen and not fix. To encourage you and pray for you.

It would also be nice if we had a road map for the grief. You know what I mean – an A to Z process for how to get over it in a timely manner (pretty please) and only at convenient times (NOT when my children need me or when I’m giving a presentation at work). You know, we could check boxes and see our progress as we move forward?!

I hate to burst your bubble but this is not how it goes. Grief is unpredictable, it ebbs and flows, it takes us by surprise and then when we are ready and willing to grieve – it won’t join us.

“Emotion is rarely convenient and often intolerable…”

– Josephine Barry (Diana Barry’s great aunt in Anne with an E)

When the grief did wash over me in those early days, I feared it would take me out. What I didn’t realize is this: the cleansing work of deep grief is actually just what I needed to breathe lighter and easier. Going to the dark places moved me closer to healing. I couldn’t check a box or see some great improvement week to week; but when I looked back over the months – I saw that the work was paying off.

So give yourself permission to grieve. Find someone that will hold you in your pain (a girlfriend, mentor, therapist, coach or husband, if he is capable) and know that it’s the most unpredictable thing ever.

Third – Self Care. And I don’t mean the things you think you ought to do but don’t want to do. I’m talking about the things that will help you survive this season that actually bring you a sliver of joy. For those of us that are energetic, it could be a run or a walk in nature. For those of us that get energy from tidiness, it could be organizing a closet. And for those of us that yearn for comfort, it might be sitting on the couch with a cozy blanket and watching a NetFlix show.

I can’t emphasize this enough – finding those couple of things to help you get through the day. Every day. Your life is dependent on it.

Much love – Shelley

Image #1 – Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Image #2 – Photo by Iswanto Arif on Unsplash

Image #3 – Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

21 thoughts on “A letter to you, dear brave woman.

  1. Kristy

    June 12, 2019  |  12:29 pm

    Really needed this today. Trying to reconcile how someone that I fully trusted to protect me could betray me over and over again is so painstakingly difficult. I want to get through the grief and pain as quickly as possible but it doesn’t work that way – it is not a fast process. It all feels so overwhelming – and also just so unfair. Reading this letter is very helpful in talking directly to what I wrestle with day to day. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:27 pm

      Thanks for sharing your heart Kristy! Agreed – it’s painful, overwhelming, unfair. You nailed it. I know you are capable of getting through this Kristy, one tear at a time. xo – Shelley

  2. caroline

    June 12, 2019  |  12:58 pm

    Beautiful, sound advice Shelley.
    1-Know the truth
    2-Grieve in community
    3-Seek the comfort of God through healthy self care

    Its so easy to get stalled out on #2. Grief affirms what was good, and show that we hold valuable the same things that God says are valuable, but it can be so hard to enter. We don’t want the extra pain it will bring (numbing seems better) but we resist the process to our own detriment.

    Grief does promise to change us, but in a really good way. Leaving us more compassionate and more capable of sharing the sorrow of other, we find we are a little deeper, a bit richer, and more human somehow.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:26 pm

      Caroline – I’m so ready to read your book whenever you write it. No pressure of course but I just love your words! Compassion, I hear, is a “deeper”emotion and one that is a bit harder to cultivate. And yes, grief helps us become more compassionate and empathetic. So important. Lots of love! xo – Shelley

  3. Laurie

    June 12, 2019  |  02:36 pm

    Thank you, Shelley, for this letter.
    You are so right…this is the most painful thing I have ever had to go through. The pain is indescribable. Thankfully, my husband is working hard on his recovery but he is still not a safe place for me, so I find myself alone a lot. I am learning that this journey is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes I feel like I am taking baby steps then days later I am back at square one. This process is not a straight line; it has many ups and downs. Through it all, I am starting to see things in me that God needs/wants to change in me which is humbling but awesome at the same time. Would I choose this path for myself, no. But God allowed it for some reason and I am here to learn all that He has to teach me.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:24 pm

      Wow Laurie! I love your humble heart! And you’re right – this process is NOT a sprint. I think we all wish it were, but it’s not. Thank goodness that God uses our pain to cultivate gifts in us – like humility. It certainly helps with the marathon. xo – Shelley

  4. L

    June 12, 2019  |  04:21 pm

    Love this timely post, Shelley. Thank you.
    Hope naps count as self-care, cuz that’s about all I have energy for some days.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:23 pm

      Naps are golden! xoxo – Shelley

  5. Bonnie

    June 12, 2019  |  07:03 pm

    Thank you Shelley. You were the first place I landed after my husband reveled his secret, and I’ll never forget that midnight hour of finding your blog and being blown away that I was not alone.! Then being part of your phone group helped me find my voice. Now, nearly 5 years !! Down the road with lots of council, prayers, tears, forgiveness and forgiveness again, I had grief jump up and smack me in the face after a sermon at church last week. It’s still a surprise how it can feel so raw in a moments time. I’m getting better at describing my emotions to my husband and he is getting better at letting me. I so appreciate (then & now) your & Jasons’s hearts to use your pain to help others. (I know you weren’t fishing for compliments, but you got ‘em anyway ..lol) Love You!

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:22 pm

      Awe! So great to hear from you Bonnie! And yes – grief is so elusive and mysterious, now isn’t it! Just know – your grief popping up doesn’t mean you didn’t do the work. It simply means there is a little more grief to do. Keep going honey! xo – Shelley

  6. Melanie E.

    June 14, 2019  |  05:15 am

    Thank you, Shelley, for reminding us always of how to focus. I still struggle with how to handle the triggers and how to trust the process. My fiancé was healing through therapy, and then when he took a break from therapy is actually when he did the most healing. I think in some part because he didn’t have to sit and wallow in all the destruction he had caused, and also because he didn’t have to relive the pain of his upbringing which led to so much of the destruction. It was then that he was able to process the pain and to understand just how necessary it was to set boundaries in order to begin to heal. But now we are at this point where he thinks he is “fixed” and because we are not constantly fighting, he thinks WE are “fixed.” I still don’t know how to trust him, and then there are triggers which literally bring me to my knees and remind me that I can’t. Without therapy, we don’t seem to have a process to address the grief I am suffering or to discus the tools that are necessary to find our way through this and back to each other. I desperately want to share a future with him. My love for him is unlike any other I’ve experienced. But I feel like I’m drowning sometimes. I need a map, a checklist, so that I can trust the process and stay the course.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:20 pm

      Hi Melanie – Thanks for being so brave and sharing your heart with me and everyone else here. What I hear is that you need some hand-holds. Maybe it’s therapy, maybe it’s coaching or mentoring, maybe it’s a book study or support group – I don’t know but I DO know there is hope for you and I hear you. Just some direction so that you know you’re continuing to heal. Please feel free to email me and I’d be happy to try to find you some support. xo – Shelley

  7. muchalone

    June 16, 2019  |  02:44 pm

    After a particularly challenging week, with H acting thoughtlessly in ways that felt hateful to me, I really needed this! Every song in church this morning had a line in it that prompted tears…every.song. And then I read this: the cleansing work of deep grief is actually just what I needed to breathe lighter and easier…and I realized how much I needed those tears on a father’s day that feels like there is no hope for our dysfunction…
    Thanks for telling me I’m dear…and brave…and for reminding me to mind my heart.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 17, 2019  |  02:16 pm

      It’s so hard to step into the grief. Glad you were able to get a release and take a breath during church yesterday. You are dear. And brave. And worthy. And loved. xo – Shelley

  8. Kristina Radke

    June 19, 2019  |  11:22 am


    I emailed you last year, to let you know that your book changed my life, and my way of thinking. YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE TO ME in more ways than I could describe. I look up to you and adore you as a woman. Your grace and love and truth are contagious. I want to be more like you. I want to help women the way that you have. I am inspired to my core. God has really constantly taken me back to you, the messages that you share, your story, and my ability to make a difference the way you are. My journey has taken me through the affairs, the betrayal, the anger, heartache and pain, into the overcoming of the grief, the restoration, the joy, the future, feeling of hope, trust in Jesus, and absolutely thankful that God has brought me here!
    My story is not over, in fact it has just begun.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      June 19, 2019  |  11:50 am

      Wow Kristina! Thank you for your generous words! I’m trying to sit back and let it all sink in – and no surprise, there is a part of me that is like – are we talking about the same person?! Because I yelled at my kids yesterday and was frustrated with Jason and… (haha, the list goes on!)… I am grateful to hear that the work we do has made a difference in your life – that is such a gift to me today. Thank you YOU for your encouragement!!! xo – Shelley

  9. Mama of many

    July 5, 2019  |  04:38 pm

    Married 24 years this summer. Husband and I reconciled in 1999 from porn and infidelity. We received amazing, Godly council and did our hard work. Things got better….until last year. I found out he started viewing porn again after 15 years lean into our reconciled marriage. -I found out three months before our 7th child was to be born. Fast forward, it’s almost been one year since the forced disclosure. I’m tired. I’ve aged. I feel ugly and like I’m back at square one. I am in shock. Afraid. Upset. So tired. Please say a prayer for me. 🙁 Thank you for your letter. I’m so afraid of my future but have to trust Jesus completely. I thought our story would continue in sobriety forever. I’m so broken.

  10. caroline

    July 10, 2019  |  03:32 pm

    Mama, does that mean he’s been doing porn again for 5 years?

    I can understand the humiliation of a relapse when you had been thinking you were safe.
    Really we are only safe in the arms of our Lord. I have many kiddos as well, and I know that adds a layer of complexity to our choices as they will touch so many others.
    Please know our God has not forgotten our children and he knows how to” gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).
    If you need more support come join a free community of fellow shocked mamas: https://restoringgodsdaughters.ning.com/
    Praying for you today.

    • Shelley Martinkus

      July 24, 2019  |  11:06 am

      So glad you responded to ‘mama of many’ Caroline! I legit read her response and thought – I need to connect the two of you! Hopefully she will see this and join you at restoring god’s daughters! (now if only I could figure out why I can’t join with my email address!!!) xoxo

  11. devastated newlywed

    August 14, 2019  |  08:25 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It’s helpful and slightly hopeful to see someone else walk this path and make it to the other side with kiddos….

  12. Sue

    September 18, 2019  |  10:23 am

    Hi Laurie,
    On your reply you mention:
    June 12, 2019 | “Through it all, I am starting to see things in me that God needs/wants to change in me which is humbling but awesome at the same time. Would I choose this path for myself, no. But God allowed it for some reason and I am here to learn all that He has to teach me.”

    How do I find the things I need to change? I keep praying and nothing comes? I know I’m far from perfect, and that God wants me to grow and learn from this. But I don’t know what those things are.

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