August 24, 2023

Is Infidelity Unforgivable?

Inside This Episode

According to recent stats, 20% of married men and 13% of married women admitted to having sex with someone other than their spouse. Can a marriage survive secrets and infidelity? Humorist and author Harrison Scott Key recounts the most shocking tale he’s ever told about how his own marriage nearly fell apart following years of infidelity, and in a rare interview, his wife Lauren tells her side of the story.

Read Harrison’s memoir: “How To Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told”

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Eric Huffman: Hello, and welcome to Maybe God. Before we begin, I'd like to thank all of you who've already taken the time to leave a glowing review of Maybe God on Apple Podcasts. I know that you hear me say this all the time, but it really is the easiest and best way to help the most people find Maybe God. If you haven't already done this, we would be so grateful if you would lend us your support by dropping your review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you happen to listen to this show.

Now, I also want to welcome the newest member of our team, Adira Polite. Y'all might remember Adira from her December 2022 interview on Maybe God. She is the talented creator of a very popular Instagram feed called Then God Moved, and she also hosts the podcast by the same name.

After graduating from Candler School of Theology with a Master's of Divinity last May, she joined our team as an associate producer and as our social media lead. We are so excited to have Adira on board. If you enjoyed today's episode, I hope you will send Adira an email at [email protected], since Adira is the one who introduced us to today's guests and their shocking and powerful marriage story. So let's get started.

[theme music starts]

Eric Huffman: On this episode of Maybe God.

Harrison Scott Key: It's absolutely bat-crazy to write a book like this, but it felt like something worth sharing with the world. When you see a miracle, you want to tell people about it. And she and I both went into hell and into the outer darkness separately and found each other in that darkness and are still together.

Eric Huffman: Humorous and author Harrison Scott Key recounts the most shocking tale he's ever told about his own marriage and how it nearly fell apart. And in a rare interview, his wife Lauren tells her side of the story.

Lauren: I started to believe that maybe forgiveness really was an option and that perhaps I didn't have to keep walking through this door, that maybe for just a second I could stop, and that through a lot of grace and mercy and forgiveness from everybody, maybe our marriage really did have our chance.

Eric Huffman: Can marriages survive years of secrets and infidelity? That's today on Maybe God.

[theme music ends]

Eric Huffman: You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. In my 20-plus years as a pastor, I've walked through a lot of fires with a lot of people. From sickness and disappointment to depression and even death. I consider it a sacred privilege to be granted access to the most tender parts of people's lives.

Of all the raw delicate situations that I've witnessed, I can think of nothing more painful and complex than when an extramarital affair comes to light. It's hard to describe the despair in the eyes of someone recently discovered that they've been betrayed by their spouse in the most intimate and hurtful way possible. The days following the initial horrific discovery often bring more seismic aftershocks, as more suspicions begin to surface and more painful truth comes out.

I'm a fairly optimistic person, but these situations have often left me feeling hopeless for the people involved. But as I look back on the dozens of couples I've counseled through crises brought on by infidelity, while not all of them stayed together, I can honestly say that the ones who did manage to stick it out through the storm have some of the strongest marriages I've ever seen.

In the fog of battle, it's hard to imagine how the war will ever end. But over the years, many courageous couples have taught me that if two people choose to fight a good fight, a fair fight, without retreating or breaking the rules of engagement, one day their war may end, and their marriage, which seemed so irreconcilable, may actually be reconciled.

Harrison Scott Key: You know, they say the truth will make you free, but in my experience, it'll also break your heart and strip you naked. It might even make you go bald.

Eric Huffman: Author and humorist Harrison Scott Key is the winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor and the author of three nonfiction novels. His hilarious and brutally honest TEDx talks on marriage and the American dream have gone viral.

Harrison Scott Key: At some point in every marriage, you've got to own up to the truth. You are not easy to live with. Maybe you're cruel, maybe you're indifferent. Only when you see your own monstrosity can you grow up. And I had some growing up to do. I was now a single parent with three young kids in the house, and I was pretty sure their mom was never coming home. Separation was hell.

I cried so hard one night I woke up with abs. I went to some pretty dark places, places I hadn't been to in a long, long time, like the grocery store.

Eric Huffman: As you just heard, Harrison mostly draws inspiration from his own life, and in his recently released memoir, How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told, he shocked his fans when he opened up about years of infidelity and brokenness in his own marriage.

Harrison Scott Key: I wanted to write this book so I would make a billion dollars. I'm just kidding. I did not make that much. I'm a writer, and so naturally, it's just my standard sort of baseline factory settings is I write about what happens to me. I'm so often in situations where I'm like George Costanza from Seinfeld. I don't know what's going on. I don't know how I got there, but it's usually because I screwed up somewhere along the way.

Eric Huffman: Harrison wrote most of How to Stay Married while he and his wife of 20 years, Lauren, were separated, and he was trying to make sense of the situation that he'd found himself in.

Harrison Scott Key: I told my agent, Debbie, about what I was doing. I was like, "You know, this may be a book. I think it may be about not just marriage, but our family, her journey, my journey, faith, my wrestling match with the world heavyweight champion of the universe, God." She was shocked.

She said, "Well, what happens if Lauren comes home? Are you still going to write this book?" I said, "Well, if she comes home, it'll have a happy ending." As readers will find out in the book, in rather dramatic fashion, she did come home. So about a year after she came home, I finished this manuscript and I handed it to her and I said, "If you don't love this, I'll burn it, but I want you to read this and tell me what you think."

Lauren: I mean, I was so mad and just hurt and angry. I think I cried and slammed some doors. I'm like, "Why can't you write about the dog or literally your mom? Literally anything else. Why are you writing this book?" At that point, he did kind of pump the brakes. He didn't really bring it up to me again.

I think because he allowed some space and some time to pass without bringing it up again, I was able to see this book in a different light. It didn't feel so raw and shameful and embarrassing and all the other adjectives you want to throw around a book like this. It definitely felt necessary, I guess, in a way to say, "You know what? This is a good story and there's some crazy stuff in this and there's some humor and there's some darkness and all of the things, so okay, I will revisit the idea of this book happening."

Harrison Scott Key: It's absolutely bat-crazy to write a book like this, but I felt as an artist, the story was so powerful to me on a meta-level. It felt like something worth sharing with the world. Because when you see a miracle, you want to tell people about it. You don't want the world to know. She and I both went into hell and into the outer darkness separately and found each other in that darkness and are still together.

Eric Huffman: Lauren agreed to let Harrison release the book, even though the wounds from their 2021 separation were still fresh. On one condition, she wanted to write a chapter in the book sharing her own perspective on their marriage, beginning with her childhood.

Lauren: I grew up in a Christian home. My father was a pastor when I was very young. He got out of the ministry, so I didn't consider myself a preacher's kid necessarily, but church and God and faith was very much woven into the fabric of our family. I was also homeschooled, which added a whole other layer of, I think, faith and Christianity, but also just weirdness.

Harrison Scott Key: I think we can say aggressively homeschooled.

Eric Huffman: Well, there was no other way back then.

Harrison Scott Key: No, exactly.

Lauren: Yeah. In the 80s, it was aggressive. So I homeschooled the entire time, pre-K all the way through 12th grade. I have a very happy childhood. I have very fond memories of homeschooling. My mom was amazing at it. I'm the middle. I have an older sister and a younger brother.

So fast forward, when I was 16, my dad basically woke us up one Sunday morning. I thought he was surprising us to take us to Six Flags, because sometimes he would randomly do that and we would skip church, which is like, "Oh my gosh, we're skipping church to go to Six Flags." But he actually woke us up to tell us he was leaving Mom and that he was moving out that night and that he had asked her for a divorce.

So I was completely blindsided by that. Again, I was 16. I had no idea that he was unhappy, that she was unhappy. They had been married for 25 years. So I very quickly shifted my mindset from what I thought was true about faith and God and marriage very quickly to kind of survival mode. So that's kind of my journey in a nutshell.

Eric Huffman: Well, I know that there was a lot of, in addition to that—sorry to cut you off there—just a lot of instability it seems like, a lot of poverty even, and just sort of scratching and clawing to get by. That also shaped you.

Lauren: We did have so much instability and financial turmoil my entire life. My dad was always changing jobs, getting fired, switching jobs. We would move houses. We lived in the same city for 16 years but moved 13 times within that city. When I was 12, we were homeless and lived with friends for an entire year. But my parents were super savvy and they definitely wanted to keep the external appearance up that we had it all together. Whether it was financially or spiritually or in their marriage, they wanted everybody around us to think we had it all together.

Eric Huffman: Harrison says he had the complete opposite experience from Lauren growing up.

Harrison Scott Key: I grew up in rural Mississippi. I was educated in the public schools. So, I mean, it was a miracle in these schools in Mississippi, if you could read at all. I was raised in the church. It was the Church of Christ, which is sort of like the Southern Baptist Church, but without the pianos. So it was just very different. Lauren grew up not being able to watch MTV or really dirty movies like The Goonies because they had like one cuss word in The Goonies.

Lauren: We weren't allowed to watch The Smurfs cartoon because of the sorcerer.

Eric Huffman: Oh, yeah.

Harrison Scott Key: Sorcerer.

Eric Huffman: Gargamel.

Lauren: Yeah.

Harrison Scott Key: Whereas I grew up watching Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood Westerns and movies where people got gutted with machetes. That was totally normal. I was fascinated by ideas and I loved to read. I started having a lot of questions of our church leaders when I was in high school and was really trying to figure out like, is evolution real and what is the Big Bang? What's going on with that?

I respect and have always respected science and knowledge and facts and experimentation and discovery. I found that the church I grew up in was full of really good, beautiful people who spent their lives serving the poor and doing so many good works of charity. But they couldn't answer the questions, the deepest questions that I had about sort of ultimate reality, and how do you navigate that?

So I ended up at this small Christian college, the same one that Lauren went to, because I had found that the philosophy professors there really engaged ideas. They were Christians, but they weren't afraid to talk about art and aesthetics and science and evolution. So I'd struggle with doubt a lot. I frequently declared myself an atheist. I was just as bad at atheism as I was at Christianity, because as soon as I would declare myself an atheist, I would immediately find all these holes and contradictions in that worldview. And I'm like, "This isn't consistent either." I bounced around from atheism to deism.

Ultimately, by the time Lauren and I got together, which was in my late 20s, her mid-20s, I'd finally sort of found some peace with my doubt and my skepticism, and I wanted to believe in the idea of God as the foundation of love and mercy and truth and knowledge and beauty and all these things. I realized I didn't have to have all the answers and that I could move forward with curiosity.

I'll end with this. One of my professors in college, he said, "If you start with doubt, you always end up at zero. You always end up at less than. But if you start with wonder, you'll always end up above zero. You'll always end up somewhere beautiful and hopeful." And I've tried to live that out in my life, to embrace wonder and curiosity, even when I don't know the answers, even when stuff in the Bible makes no sense to me, always believing in something rather than nothing.

Eric Huffman: That's awesome. Thank you both for sharing a little bit. I really appreciate how much faith and Christianity are infused and intertwined in the storytelling. There's a quote I wanted to share from early on in the book where you talk about your faith.

You wrote: "For some of you, I know this is weird stuff, and it is. It's very weird to subject yourself to an ancient religion that dares you to live according to the collection of primitive writings featuring more murder and foreskin content than is perhaps advisable for young children. The central theme of its stories being that everyone should imitate the strange behaviors of a divine hayseed born in a Palestinian cow shed to an eighth grader who just woke up one day pregnant." And then hilariously, you wrote, "I've known many teenage mothers who are virgins: they're called Baptists," which was one of my many favorite lines in the book.

Let's sort of get into the marriage chapter of life. Just like with every marriage, most folks that get married, they don't see what's coming. They don't see how their invisible baggage is going to collide like two asteroids in space. Your stuff and their stuff just coming together in unexpected ways. But what led you sort of to that point, to saying I do together? Let's talk about the wedding and then the subsequent marriage, if we could.

Lauren: Some of my baggage was when my dad left, I went from this completely sheltered homeschool environment where I really was kind of daddy's girl. I mean, I loved my mom, and my mom and I had a great relationship, but I loved my dad. So when he left, I was like, "Okay, I'm going to do all the things." I started drinking. I was 17. I was out of the house. I was out from under kind of what felt like confines of our homeschool family and church and all of those things. I'm like, "Well, dad clearly doesn't really believe any of the things he's taught me for the last 17 years, so I should just do my own thing." So when Harrison and I met, I was afraid... Well-

Harrison Scott Key: You thought I was just a total weirdo.

Lauren: Well, you were.

Eric Huffman: There's the love.

Lauren: I dated guys that had nice cars, and he tried to go like a month or something without wearing shoes on campus.

Harrison Scott Key: I was experimenting with life, Eric. That's what I was doing.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Harrison Scott Key: We would have been the oddest couple. People laughed when they found out we were getting married.

Eric Huffman: Harrison and Lauren attended the same college, but never ran in the same circles. When Lauren was 24 and Harrison was 26, they bumped into each other at a mutual friend's wedding and started dating almost immediately. Six months later, they were engaged.

Harrison Scott Key: I think to the why of that, why it happened so fast, which is when you're not shopping for, say, a pair of jeans, you're just with your friend, and they're shopping. But you're bored because they're trying things on, so you try a pair of jeans on, and they fit so well, Eric, that you know you're going to buy these jeans. You look so good in these jeans. You know they're probably really expensive, but you're like, I have to get these. These jeans make me a better person. That's what it felt like when we went on a date. I was absolutely shocked, but we fit so perfectly.

One reason is that I saw her. She was very hardworking. She had two jobs. She ran her own ballet studio. She worked at a restaurant. She also nannied, so I guess she had three jobs. She was really hot, and that's important to me.

Eric Huffman: That really sets you apart as a man. I mean, you're into looks. That's weird.

Harrison Scott Key: My 26-year-old self, I was like, "She's beautiful. She's really funny. Dumb people can't be funny. You have to be smart to be funny." So I knew she was smart. I think for her I represented stability because I had just finished grad school. I had my PhD. I was going to be teaching at a college. I had a pretty good relationship with my parents. I think for her, I represented some stability.

Lauren: I mean, he had kind of lived in the same house his whole life. I had had 28 houses by the time I got to college.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Lauren: So definitely was an attractive figure. Knowing that we had so many mutual friends, there was something comfortable immediately about our relationship that felt very different than the other guys that I had dated. Harrison and Lauren tied the knot just three months after their engagement. Not because they were in a hurry to be married, but because Lauren's mother had developed terminal breast cancer and doctors didn't know how long she had to live.

Lauren: Harrison and I got engaged not long after my sister and her fiancé got engaged. My sister and I both wanted our mom to be at our wedding, whatever that looked like. So we decided to have a double wedding. All four of us would just get married at the same time, hoping that she could be there, that all of our family could be there. Then she ended up dying 10 days before the wedding, but we still went through with it and we still got married. People were recommending that we cancel or postpone. "Your mom just died. You don't want to do this."

But it honestly felt like the most right thing to do was to continue on with our plans and to get married even though it was all kind of a blur. It just blanketed our entire relationship with this dark, sad cloud. I remember crying. Pretty much our entire honeymoon I cried.

Harrison Scott Key: It was so fun. I mean, what am I supposed to do? I think you understand that now, how confusing it was for me. "How do I navigate this, man? I got this 25-year-old wife who is crying on my honeymoon for an absolutely justifiable reason. Of course she should be crying. Her mom just died. Where do I fit in? Let's have sex. I don't know. Maybe that'll help."

Eric Huffman: That'll put her out of her misery.

Harrison Scott Key: That'll just make her cry more. We were faced with questions that most married couples don't face for a decade or more. I will say that our marriage began in absolute chaos and darkness, even though we loved each other and even though we were very gentle and kind to one another. We were poor. You had no mother or father. You were essentially an orphan.

I was beginning a new career that I thought is exactly what I wanted, which is one of the reasons you fell in love with me and realized I wanted to be a writer, but not the kind I had studied to be. I absolutely torpedoed my entire career within a few months of our wedding day, which just threw us into further doubt and darkness. I think really that's when we started growing apart almost immediately, even though we spent so much time and life together and had so many beautiful moments.

After that, with our children being born and lots of comedy and laughter, it almost seemed like because of what happened with our wedding that we were all of a sudden on two paths. I did not know how to sort of reach across that and grab a hold of the person on the other path.

We got farther and farther away from each other, even though we were sharing a bed for 20 years. So much of what happened in our marriage, busting up, really started when it began.

Lauren: I was very good at keeping all of that hidden from him, the angst. I was like, "I just need to kind of move on and put on my big girl panties and just be like a nice, fun, happy wife, and I'll get over it. She died. It sucks. I'll get over it."

Harrison Scott Key: I would propose that at some point in the first five or ten years of our marriage that she became sort of two people. That there was this person inside of you. That was the real person, and she was kind of hiding down there. That was the person who wept and felt and cried. And then there was sort of the outside you that I saw. I was married to that one. But this one do-

Lauren: Strong, independent, don't need anybody, do the work, keep the house clean, you know?

Harrison Scott Key: So the longer we were married, the less I knew her.

Eric Huffman: So let's talk about what the book really gets after, which is this infidelity, right, and the brokenness coming to the surface in your marriage. Just take us through that, how it began.

Lauren: It definitely started with the realization, to Harrison's point, a few minutes ago, he didn't really even know that we were growing apart. I didn't really even know we were growing apart. We had three kids under the age of four and a half. I stayed home because I was brought up that women have babies and they stay home. They don't work. Your job is to care for your children. And I loved that.

I was not a dreamer. I did not imagine myself doing anything else other than having children and raising them. And as much as I loved having children, and I am really good with little kids, it's not easy. I was progressively, I think, more bitter, and maybe even I think now I can say I was jealous. I was jealous that Harrison was a dreamer, but he did kind of think outside the box. He thought outside of our home. His work and his life took him outside of home. And my entire world was inside our four walls with our kids.

Basically had a best friend that lived next door who just happened to be a man. We ended up spending a lot of time together and kind of raising kids together and playing together. I don't think anyone seeks to blow up their family. I don't think anybody has this plan of like, "I'm going to do this and then I'm going to do this. And then I'm going to fall in love with somebody I'm not married to and then I'm going to blow up my family." So it was definitely organic, for lack of a better word, of just I think exploring what it might look like to not follow all the rules and do the safe thing.

Eric Huffman: Harrison, talk to us about how you got brought into this and how she told you initially, and what it did to you when you learned about Chad, the infamous Chad.

Harrison Scott Key: I mean, I still remember it like it was yesterday. This was about six years ago. She emailed me, which was weird. That was already weird that my wife was emailing me and said, after the kids go to bed tonight, "Can we talk?" So I emailed her back, "About what?" Like, "Sure, of course, we can talk."

Three days before, I just finished my second book and was feeling a lot of gratitude. In fact, really, the second book is kind of a love letter to Lauren. The second book is all about sort of how I became a writer and how my creative dreams came true. And I just finished this book and I was so grateful to her for standing by me during this professional journey and helping me become a better person.

So three days after that, she said, "Can we talk?" And I was like, "Sure." And of course, the whole rest of the day, I'm like, "What is going on?" I just didn't know what she was going to say, but I knew it was going to be big. And later that night, after agonizing dinner and agonizingly doing the dishes and agonizingly putting the kids down, she sat me down and she said, "You know, what I'm about to tell you is not your fault. This is my decision. Nothing you've done is causing this decision." I was like, "Okay, what's coming out of all this?" She said, "I want a divorce." And I said, "Why?" And she said, "I'm in love with someone else". And I said, "Who?" And she said, "Chad". Chad's not his real name, as I say in the book.

Eric Huffman: Got it.

Harrison Scott Key: And this was a man who obviously, as Lauren just said, he lived next door to us for many years. I knew him well. And while I wouldn't call us like close friends, I obviously did not know how close Lauren and Chad were. I knew that they talked a lot. He worked from home. They were always out in the yard talking. Our yards literally, you know, were right up against one another.

But he had been my friend. We had, you know, eaten chicken wings and gotten Mexican food. And I'd borrowed his lawn mower and he borrowed my chainsaw. Just typical cul-de-sac buddies. So to hear that she was in love with this man and wanted to marry him, my immediate thought was not about the future, about what's going to happen. My immediate thought was everything I had known about my life for the past, I had to guess, about 15 years at the time, was a lie.

Not an evil, nefarious lie, but it was all wrong. It was like I had woken up to realize that everything I had experienced in my marriage to Lauren for at least as far back as when we moved to Savannah and she met this guy and we moved next door to him, that all of that was wrong, that that was false, that I had been seeing with clouded eyes.

So immediately my sense of self disintegrated like in my hands in an instant. I was like, "Who am I? Who is she? Whose kids are these?" I mean, seriously, I wondered like, "Are these my kids?" She was kind enough, even after dropping the bomb, to answer some questions like, Okay, I wanted to know, when did this start? Like I needed to get some facts straight so I could get my... my own brain was spinning. And I lay it all out in the book, like, you know, fact number one, fact number two. She explained some things and then the rest would be so long that you just have to read the book to find out what happened after.

Eric Huffman: Again, just so brilliantly written and we can't get into every detail now. I did appreciate some of the commentary about Chad. It seemed like Chad is not the guy you would have expected your wife to cheat on you with. She's not a strapping Adonis or like a professional athlete or a yoga instructor. Just kind of a regular guy. Like you said, vanilla ice cream without the vanilla.

Harrison Scott Key: Obviously, I was feeling some pain and working through it.

Eric Huffman: I get it. It came through.

Harrison Scott Key: I think that was also a shock as to realize that she had fallen in love with a man who seemed opposite for me in every way. Aside from having like two arms and two legs and a head, you know, like he seems so opposite of me. That was one of the things that hurt the most is that she had chosen somebody who was nothing like me.

Eric Huffman: Lauren, what was it, from your perspective looking back, about Chad that sort of appealed to who you were then?

Lauren: I mean, I think everything that Harrison just said. He was the complete opposite of Harrison. He did not have, you know, seven degrees and he didn't read hundreds of books a week. He was just blue-collar... I mean, I guess if I were to really, really overanalyze this, he seems like a stable version of my dad.

Harrison Scott Key: You'd also both experienced a lot of loss.

Lauren: I mean, his dad had died, his brother had committed suicide. He was miserable in his marriage. So we did have this camaraderie. Again, it truly just a friendship. And he would come fix something if something broke and I would help him with his son or we'd go to the grocery store and I would grab him something. Like we were just like kind of co-friend, co-parenting, co-whatever.

Harrison Scott Key: And I didn't know this. I didn't realize the depth of their friendship. That was kept hidden from me for sure.

Lauren: Yeah. As it evolved and as my feelings evolved, I did keep it hidden from Harrison because I knew I needed to. I started to rely on him in a lot of ways that I should have relied on Harrison. And quite frankly, I should have held Harrison to that, and I didn't. It was I stopped even trying to do any work with us. I should have a long time ago said, "It would be really helpful if you took out the trash. When all three children are crying and I'm changing diapers all day, it'd be really helpful." I did it. I didn't say that. I'll take off the effing trash. But then this other guy was taking out the trash without me even asking. And that seems like such a dumb thing to say. Like you're going to see yourself-

Eric Huffman: So you're in it.

Lauren: Yeah. You're going to seriously have an affair with some guy and blow up your family because he took out your trash? Like, yeah. Maybe.

Harrison Scott Key: So from my perspective, of course, we've had a lot of conversations about trash and garbage over the last few years. It's a good metaphor for everything because, in my mind, I didn't even see the trash. I didn't even see it. I was so sort of willfully blind to things like that. I had two jobs.

I was waking up at about five o'clock every morning to go to the coffee shop to try and write this book. I wanted to become a novelist, a memoirist. I wanted to do this. And the only way I was going to be able to do that is to do it outside of my daily work.

I was always provided income for our family, pay all the bills, get things done. I was so distracted by this dream to write a book and a dream to be a good employee at the university that I didn't see the trash. I had so many other things that I felt needed to be seen by me so I could pay the bills and get this stuff done that I didn't see it. I didn't know how much it mattered to her.

Lauren: Another way that I justified in my head, continuing down the path of an emotional affair that then turns into a physical affair, that in turns into like a real thing, was I had already felt abandoned by my mother who died, my father who actually abandoned me multiple times. I felt like emotionally Harrison had already abandoned me.

I think some of that's true and some of it is just my own trauma reading into that. But because I felt that, I truly felt that, it was much easier for me to justify the affair. I'm like, well, Harrison's already left. Emotionally he's left. He leaves, I don't see him all day. He comes home. He's checked out. He's tired, goes to bed. That was just sort of our rhythm.

So that, you know, in a lot of ways just was re-triggering all over again for this baggage that I had not dealt with ever in my life, which is fear of abandonment, fear of instability. And you know, quite frankly, I needed help. I needed help and from every aspect. And this guy was willing and able to do that on a lot of levels.

Eric Huffman: In a stroke of sort of painful irony, you're repeating the past, following the footsteps of your own father in some crazy way, but it's very complicated. But you were ready to call it quits and you're ready to move on with a new guy, a new life, leaving your husband and what had been your family behind.

Now, Harrison, man to man here, most guys, they hear this and they're done. I think just whether it's because of masculine pride or ego or whatever, like I don't see a lot of guys sticking around. It happens, but it's pretty rare. At some point in time, you decided you're going to stick and fight for your wife. Tell us about how you came to that decision.

Harrison Scott Key: I think she thought when she told me this that I was going to pack a bag and storm off.

Lauren: I did because again, if you recall, I thought he had already left. I thought he was like, gosh, this like ball and chain of a wife and three kids. So that I absolutely thought I was giving him an out.

Harrison Scott Key: I can say this and I know... because we've talked about it before and this won't be offensive to my wife, but she was living in an absolute fantasy world. I was about ready to storm off and leave. And then I was like, "Wait, this is my house." I mean that literally like physically, this is my physical house. But then in the next breath realized it was the metaphorical home that my family, the present, my presence with my children and my wife, this is my home. She has chosen to leave. I haven't left.

So I told her, I was like, "So I'm not leaving. I guess you can if you want to." And of course she's not going to leave because her three children whom she deeply loves are here. I knew that I had checkmated her at that moment. Like I think she realized it was going to be a harder fight than she knew. And I don't think she or Chad were prepared for that mentally, emotionally prepared for that, that it was going to be hard.

So we got a sort of fragile peace, like the end of World War I. She decided, "Okay, fine, I'll behave, I'll stay." I was like, "Great. We'll do it right. We'll go to therapy." She was really angry about our having to stay married. I felt like a lot of anger from her. I was confused by the anger. "Why didn't you leave?"

And then that really sets the stage for the great climax of the book, which is a few years later, the affair starts back up again. I knew something was going on because, thanks be to God and thanks be to therapy, I now had eyes to see the garbage in the can and everything else. And I was much more emotionally aware of what was going on around me and I knew something was going on with Lauren. She was acting different. This was during the pandemic. Everybody was kind of weird during the pandemic. Everybody sort of lost their GD minds. But it persisted and it seemed deeper and more fundamental something was going on.

After a few strange encounters that confirmed for me something was going on, not necessarily Chad, but something. So I asked her, "Are you with someone now? Maybe him." And she said, "Yes." My decision to stay then was very different. I think it was then I realized how deep her grief and sadness were. She seemed like a woman who would let herself die. Maybe not commit suicide, but she just seemed to have... like, it was something... my love for her and care for her was not the care for a husband, for a wife at that point. It was the care for a brother for a sister.

And I saw such pain in her and I felt such pain. I did not want to see the mother of my children who I'd lived with for 20 years suffer like that. And if there was any hope for us to reconcile, I had to believe that the Lauren that had had the affair was a different person.

Jesus says, "Don't just forgive seven times. You forgive 70 times, seven times, 70 times, 70 times." And it always seemed impossible, but then I realized, well... because people change and that you keep no record of wrongs because that person committed the crime, that person who did the thing that hurt you or hurt themselves is a different person now. You're remembering what happened. You're not fooled. You're not naive.

I was forced to see my wife as a soul and a spirit and a separate creature from me, from our marriage, that a woman who had experienced great pain and who was experiencing... She even told me. Like, it wasn't like, "Yes, I'm having an affair, F you Harrison. Bye." Like she seemed really to be grieving and really sad. I didn't see as much anger. It's hard to hate a woman who has hurt you and who seems deeply grieved about hurting you and doesn't know why she's done it.

Eric Huffman: At some point, it seems like maybe your theological framework as you're describing it now was inspired by a kind of negative or disappointing word of advice you got from a pastor. The book sort of turns into a tale of two churches at a certain point where you talk about the approach one church had versus another church later. Talk to us about what that one pastor told you could or should be done with Lauren and her relationship to the church.

Harrison Scott Key: This was a big historic downtown church, a beautiful church and with really great people, but very conservative in every way. When I told him what happened, which was literally hours after I had found out, he was very, compassionate towards me and he prayed with me. It was a very fatherly presence, which I needed at that time.

But when he spoke about Lauren, he spoke about her with a real severity of judgment. Like, "Harrison, we're so sorry for you and your family and those poor kids." But when he spoke about her, he sounded like he didn't care why, he didn't care why she had done this. He didn't want to know who she was." And not to put too fine a point on it, I said, "Well, what happens if she won't reconcile?" And he goes, "Well, we'll excommunicate her. We'll just exile her and send her out into the outer darkness, at least from our church."

The tale of two churches, as you say, is a few years later when this happened again, our new pastor at a different church, because we left that one for obvious reasons, when he found out what happened, he said, "Do you mind if I talk to Lauren? Because I had confessed to him because this pastor was my best friend and is my best friend or one of them.

So I'd confessed all this to him that Lauren is having this affair again, and it's leaving me again for this guy, and this time it's real and I don't know what to do. And he did not curse her name. He did not say she was a fool. Here's what he said. He said, "Man, man, man, this is awful." He said, "Do you mind if I reach out to her?" Then I said, "Sure." In my head I'm thinking he's just going to do what the last guy did. He's just going to say, "You're stupid. You're evil. You're an idiot. You shouldn't do this." But instead, what did he do?

Lauren: I actually don't remember the very first time we talked or texted. I do remember meeting with him multiple times. We would have coffee. Sometimes multiple times a week, he would reach out to me. He definitely did not put me on the defensive at all. I definitely didn't feel like he was like Harrison's little spy, like just coming to get the dirt from me. That he truly cared about me and wanted to hear from me.

I mean, I do remember one time he just said, he's like, "What's it like to be you right now?" And I remember thinking, like, "Nobody's asked me that." I mean, my sister at the time wasn't talking to me. Harrison and I weren't talking.

Harrison Scott Key: This is really during our dark separation.

Lauren: My infrastructure had completely melted away and gone away. I had no support on any level, really. So even though I knew he was not going to condone what I was doing, just his willingness to just sit and listen was now I know life-saving and life-changing. That he didn't pull out his Bible and start reading all the Bible verses about adultery and how horrible I was. He knew that I knew that I was horrible. It was not going to help anybody. But he found that little tiny piece inside of me, wherever that was, that was still barely holding on to my true self and what I really wanted for my life long term, what I really wanted for my children.

Harrison Scott Key: I'll jump in here. He would text me. Because he was in counselor mode, so even though he's my best friend, he's not going to like come back to me and blab all this stuff. But we did communicate. And I said, "Well, just tell me, like, what did you ask her?" He said, "I asked her what it was like to be married to you." And I remember saying, "Oh, yeah, that's rough. Not great, huh?" And he goes, "Yeah, no, man. Being married to you is awful."

Lauren: And that was so refreshing, too, because Harrison loves to talk about himself. Harrison loves to write about himself. So even coming off of the other two books, there were a few times I would go to book events and no one ever asked about me. Ever. No one ever was like, "Oh, where did you grow up or what like? Or was it...? No one cared one bit about me. They only asked what it was like to be married to an author or what it was like to be married to somebody that was famous or fake famous or however he likes to say it.

So for Soren to say, "What is it like to be you and what is it like to be married to him?" I was like, "Oh, I have lots of things I could say." And it was just life-giving. And in this lowest point of my life, it was it was definitely life-giving.

Harrison Scott Key: The last thing I'll say about it is this. That the previous church example and pastor example was really looking at the thing and not the person. They were looking at the thing-

Lauren: The sin, the adultery, the like everybody knows whether you're a Christian or not, everyone can kind of universally agree cheating is bad. Adultery is bad. And they were only focused on that.

Harrison Scott Key: Well, it's the same reason we have mass incarceration. Like you look at the thing that the person did and not at who they are now. And I think Soren, he respected her as a creature of God, a child of God. And that I think from my perspective where I sat, I saw in her like, "Oh, that's right. That's the right way to look at this." Like, yeah, she did a terrible thing. Like I was the person she had hurt the most, but that she was a child of God. And frankly, so is Chad. And so is her terrible father who abandoned her, a child of God. So that, I think, gave both of us tremendous power or-

Lauren: Hope.

Harrison Scott Key: Hope. That we're not defined by stupid things we've done, whether it's not taking out the trash or having an affair, or everything in between. We're not defined by that.

Lauren: If he had come at me hard with Bible verses and "you need to turn your life around," I would have just bristled and put up more walls and crossed my arms and said, "Whatever, I'm doing this". But because he came at it from a different angle, it was two people. I was this person that I longed to be, which was a whole happy, peaceful wife, and mother who stood behind promises and stood behind faithfulness. But then I was this other person who had gone so far in the other direction. I thought, there is no way I can go back. I can't go back. It's too far gone. He's never going to forgive me. God's going to never forgive me. There is no reconciling any of this, and so therefore, I have to just keep going through this door.

Whereas Soren, there was enough of a hope and a love and a compassion in his voice and the things that he would ask me and the way that he would listen that I started to believe that maybe forgiveness really was an option and that perhaps I didn't have to keep walking through this door. That maybe for just a second I could stop and that, you know, through a lot of grace and mercy and forgiveness from everybody, maybe our marriage really did have our chance.

Eric Huffman: That's the most powerful theme of the book, obviously, is how forgiveness can break through and situations like that can be redeemed. But one of the most real observations, I guess, or eye-opening revelations for me was, Harrison, you realizing that you're not the only one that needs to do the forgiving and she's not the only one that needs to be forgiven, but it really is a two-way street. You're in need of forgiveness. You need to repent. You're the a-hole, as you say in the book. I mean, that was clearly part of the healing. But let's talk about what sort of brought you back together, that moment of Lauren coming back home.

Harrison Scott Key: Well, without ruining too much from the book because it's so beautifully written by me-

Eric Huffman: Humility is really your strong suit.

Lauren: Really, truly.

Harrison Scott Key: We'd been separated for a while, maybe a month and a half. And this is probably five months since I found out they were back together. So really emotionally, we were separated for like six months.

Lauren: Six months, yeah.

Harrison Scott Key: But she had lived elsewhere, about three blocks away. We had a really strong group of very wise people advising us literally day to day about navigating all this without causing further damage. And we agreed that the separation would be good for us. That was sort of our last hope. So we separated. We hadn't talked, which is so weird. I was learning to be a single parent.

I was going through a lot of changes, Eric. I found out where all the trash cans were located and I had [inaudible 00:52:47] and clean the toilets and take the dog out, do the dishes and cook the meals and plan the meals and buy the groceries. I was in a whole new world, man. It was scary. And I know she was lonely living in the carriage house where she was.

But I found out that she was now living with Chad, that Chad had moved in with her. And I was like, Well, I guess that's it. You know, third strikes, you're out. This is it. I knew it was over. I didn't need anybody to slap me in the face and say, "It's over." I knew it. I knew it.

So I called her and I said, "Just confirming, does he live with you?" And she said, "Yes. " We didn't fight. Again, she just sounded really sad. And I said, "Well, this is over. So we need to do some things. So I'll have to get an attorney, you know, you can get an attorney. We'll have to start separating our lives and figuring out what to do next." I didn't want our girls to go over to that house. I didn't want them to be in a house where their mom was living with this other man. It was a lot going on and it was rough. It was a really rough conversation.

Lauren: At the time when I was in the carriage house, I would come home and the girls were home from school because I desperately wanted to see them and I wanted to keep it as normal as possible. So they would come home, he would be at work and then I would clean really like kind of fast and furiously. I was like cleaning the house because he was at work and I didn't want to still be here when he got home. So literally I would run through the house and I would like wipe off the toilet, wipe off another toilet, or wipe off the counter.

Harrison Scott Key: I hadn't asked her to do none of that.

Lauren: At the same time though, our good buddy, Chad, his wife had moved out of their house, so guess whose other house I was also cleaning.

Eric Huffman: No!

Harrison Scott Key: When I found out that she was cleaning Chad's house too, that made me feel so much better because the story that she told me about him is that he was so helpful.

Lauren: Right. Again, it was all falling apart. And ultimately it was a slow progression of coming to grips in my own heart that it didn't matter who I married. It didn't matter who I left. It didn't matter how many houses I cleaned. I had a lot of trash in my heart and that I could marry Chad and nothing would change. Maybe not immediately, but I was perpetuating the sadness in my own heart to continue to think that this other person would fix everything inside of me that was broken. And it clearly was not that.

I think to God's providence, He was revealing some very practical ways that Chad was not that. He did not have a job by the time he came to live with me in the carriage house. That's why he moved in. He had to. He had no house. So all of the things that I was like, Oh, he's so stable and he's such a hard worker and he's all of these things. None of those things were true anymore either." And I was able to kind of take a step back and look at my life from an outside view and say, I'm just going to continue to perpetuate this sadness and darkness in myself and he's not going to fix it, and Harrison's not going to fix it and my kids are not going to fix it. And it doesn't matter how many toilets I clean, it's going to keep going.

I mean, quite frankly, I can't really explain it other than just the Holy Spirit and the Lord's conviction in my heart, not just the conviction, the conviction, and the love all mixed together of like, you can stop this. There is hope. He's redeeming all things. He's not just redeeming the kind of goodish things to make them amazing. He's redeeming all things.

I think Harrison just kind of called my bluff when he called me that day and was like, "You need a lawyer and we're done, and dah dah dah." And I was like, "Wait, maybe this is not the life I want and maybe actually I come home."

Eric Huffman: You both have clearly come to see this whole story you've lived and are continuing to live as one miraculous divine intervention after another one means of grace showing up after another, God has saved your marriage and you're still here. I think it's safe to say most people wouldn't be.

I want to give the last word to Lauren. And Lauren, I just want to ask you maybe two more questions. What's it like to be you today? And what's it like being married to Harrison today?

Harrison Scott Key: Very good. Very smart.

Lauren: I feel more myself. I feel like myself. When we first started therapy—our therapist is amazing and he's awesome—he would ask me to stop for a second and think... he was like, "Just stop for a minute. What are you feeling? Like physically, what do you feel like?"

And I remember the first few times we had counseling, this is after I came home, every time I would talk, he would ask me a question and I would literally feel like my throat was closing up. I physically felt like I was being choked and... I can talk about this for hours now and I don't have that feeling in my throat anymore.

I think honestly, for the first time in 45 years, I feel like Lauren and I feel lighter. It's not like this happy, like everything's happy and amazing and perfect. It's not. I mean, I'm still married to Harrison. I feel like I can be more present with my kids. I feel like I now have gifts that I have uncovered that I didn't know were there. I love working outside the home. I love working for our church. I think I would have died. Maybe not physically, but I would have died if I had not had the space to be honest and open and to really heal completely from the inside out. So I feel great.


Lauren: Being married to Harrison still has its challenges, just like being married to me still has its challenges. But we definitely have a new marriage that was not the same. I mean, we've been married for 20 years, but I feel like technically we've been married for about a year. And it feels kind of fun and fresh again. I can just like be more honest and open and real know that it literally doesn't matter. I have done the worst thing you can possibly do in a marriage and he still loves me. So, therefore, I can be honest and open about just day-to-day struggles in a new way.

Eric Huffman: Wow. Well, as you say multiple times in the book, thanks be to God. It's the only appropriate, I think, words to say in response to your testimony and the story that you all have lived and shared in this book. I know it seems trite, but thank you, again, for opening your lives and yourselves up to the world in this way.

I know Harrison did it for the money, but God can use our twisted motives to change a whole bunch of lives. And that's what's going to happen. That's what is happening. I encourage everybody listening or watching to pick up this book. It's called How to Stay Married. Pick it up anywhere books are sold. It's just a beautiful story. Whether you're married or not, how your marriage is doing or not, it will bless you to read this and to enter into their story in this way.

Harrison Scott Key: Thanks, Eric.

Eric Huffman: Thanks for joining us on Maybe God.

Julie Mirlicourtois: If you have any comments or questions about today's episode, don't forget to engage with us on social media or email us at [email protected]. Today's episode was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our associate producer and social media manager is Adira Polite, our editor is Justin Mayer, and the director of all of our YouTube videos is Mark Calvert. Please don't forget to rate us wherever you just listened to this podcast and thanks for listening.