Early one Monday morning in 2018, Michael Kingsley prepared to travel from San Diego to Texas for an often-typical work week, but this time felt different. His wife, Monique, grabbed his arm and earnestly begged him not to go. To both their dismay, Michael ripped his arm from her grasp and got on a plane anyway.
Ten years earlier, theirs was a whirlwind romance. Michael and Monique met briefly in college but didn’t really connect until a small reunion shortly after graduating. In prime Christian dating fashion, he asked her what church service she’d be attending the next day so they could attend together. Monique knew within a couple weeks of dating that he was the one, and they got married a year and a half later, in 2007, head over heels smitten with one another.
As soon as they got married, life came at them full speed. They were building their careers (Monique was a lawyer and Michael a structural engineer), buying their first home, having kids and raising kids. “These were all good things, but our priorities started going out of line. We had both been Christians our whole lives, and if you asked us if God were first in our lives, we would immediately say, ‘Yes.’ But were we in the Word every day? No. Was He truly first? No,” says Monique. “The cares of this world were taking over.” In a noble effort to provide for his family and allow Monique to stay home with their two boys, Michael began pursuing his career at all costs. He was working more and more, and then began traveling out of town for business for entire weeks at a time. “I’d go to bed with him on Sunday night and wake up alone. Then I’d wake up the next Saturday morning with him there. In between, he was just gone,” says Monique. As a type A person, Monique tried to keep things positive: He is doing this for us! We have a beautiful home, and money is good. I get to stay with my kids all day. I have my parents to help. I shouldn’t be complaining at all. But the weight of her husband’s absence was stacking up.
Monique’s heart filled with anxiety, and she even started feeling physically sick. “I was prepared to get all these tests with my doctor, when he said, ‘Monique, in the last thirty days, how many of those days have been happy and how many have been sad?’” she says. “And I just broke down crying.” Monique approached Michael and told him they couldn’t continue on their current path of living apart, even if it meant a pay cut or her going back to work. “I had this sense of doom, but Mike ignored me,” she says. Michael’s eyes were on the prize of building his career and providing for his family financially. He felt like he was doing right by his family, but his heart had hardened toward their real need: him.
Things got worse. Most of their good friends moved away from San Diego for one reason or another, and Michael started working with a new team, no longer with the family-centered guys Monique had come to trust over the years. It was a perfect storm. Then that one Monday morning came. She begged. He left. And when he came back, everything had changed.
Michael’s plane ride that day was hell on earth. Guilt completely wrecked him. He started drinking to calm the torrent of thoughts in his mind: What has my life become? I just pulled away from my wife and left her there! But I need to go to this meeting. This meeting is important. I did it for the right reasons. I have to go to this meeting. When he landed in Texas and turned on his phone, calls and messages started pouring in. The meeting was canceled.
He spiraled. His team took him out to a bar in the middle of nowhere near Fort Stockton.
Michael woke up in a room he’d never seen, in a house he didn’t know. He remembers enough of the night before to know there was a girl and something happened. She was gone already, but he knew. He had cheated on his wife.
When Michael returned to San Diego that Friday, Monique was shocked at his appearance. “He looked terrible. Like he was sick and had lost weight,” she says. “He wouldn’t kiss me on the mouth, and that was strange. He kept saying, ‘I’m sick. I’m sick.’”
That Sunday was Mother’s Day, and Monique sat in bed while her two boys brought her toast and little presents. The big gift was a necklace with all their initials on it. Monique was thrilled—she had always wanted a necklace like that. “I said thank you to the boys and looked over at Mike, and he was crying,” she says. Monique settled the boys in front of the tv and went back to her room to find Mike on the floor weeping. He started saying that he had been trying to get through the weekend so she could have a nice Mother’s Day, but he couldn’t do it. He wanted to tell her the truth. Monique’s mind flew to what could possibly be wrong, but nothing could have prepared Monique for him to say, “It was another woman.”
“I can tell you what I was wearing, what he was wearing, every aspect of the room,” Monique says. “His face was in my lap, soaking my pajamas in his tears, and my world stopped.” Michael began begging Monique to forgive him. He told her that he loved her and would do anything to fix this. He explained how he didn’t want to kiss her or touch her when he got home because he had gotten STD testing but still hadn’t received the results back. He wept as he begged her to stay. He wanted their marriage and wanted what they had to be real.
Monique sat there thinking, This is not him. He was not a flirtatious guy. In the construction industry, where men are sometimes notorious for being kind of backwards and inappropriate toward women, Michael was the opposite. She and Michael had only ever been with each other intimately, and this did not compute. “But I immediately forgave him in that moment. I don’t know how to explain it other than it was from God, and it was the gospel working itself out through me,” she says. But that choice to forgive didn’t take away from the shock and the hurt and the work ahead.
Monique made it through the rest of Mother’s Day, which included an excruciating brunch with family, and then collapsed into a ball that night. She called her best friend, who had moved to Texas six months earlier and started attending Gateway Church. “I was scream-crying on the phone with her, and she was scream-crying back,” Monique says. “And then she said she had recently heard at church of a ministry called MarriageToday (now XO Marriage) and sent me the website.” Through tears, Monique visited the website late that night and saw a program named Coaches on Call. She read that if your marriage is in crisis, you can request for a trained marriage coach to contact you within 24 hours for $75. Done.
Within a few hours, a woman named Teresa was calling Monique. Teresa spent an hour on the phone with Monique and Michael. “That woman was sent by God. She took our crisis and this big storm, and she made it small. She helped us set up a plan for the next few weeks. She got nitty gritty,” Monique says. Teresa asked specific questions to help them navigate the difficult days ahead: Can Michael call you honey or babe? Can he touch you? Is he sleeping in your bed? Who is picking up the kids from school? Who is cooking dinner? Who is doing the laundry? Teresa also sent them a 21-Day Journey devotional for them to go through each day on their own. “Although our life looked picture perfect before this happened and we thought we were in line with God, our priorities and our hearts had gotten off track,” Monique says. “Healing needed to start with our individual relationships with the Lord.”
Monique and Michael pursued a three-hour in-person mediation meeting and a couple follow-up calls with Teresa and another coach, Susan, who lovingly led them through this season alongside a certified Christian marriage therapist in the area. “The help XO Marriage provided saved our marriage and our family,” Monique says. “They took something that could have been ruin and devastation and scorched earth, and helped us put it back together again.” Teresa and Susan’s help was practical and spiritual. They coached Monique and Michael to re-commit to each other, clearly identify their needs, and create and agree to ground rules for when hot button issues arise. “It’s not a matter of if conflict happens. It’s when it happens,” Monique says. “So we established small, actionable plans on how to handle seemingly huge emotional situations in a healthy way. It was a game-changer.”
Michael put a stop to his work travel and was present, fully repentant, and committed to the process with Monique, which made all the difference, but healing is not quick. “The initial decision to forgive was quick and easy for me, but what came next was reminding myself every day that I chose to make that decision. It was hard, and I sank into depression,” she says. “Most days, I didn’t want to get out of bed or leave the house, and I gained 25 pounds.” The weight gain made her feel uncomfortable in her own skin and even ugly, especially after feeling intimately violated by her husband’s action. She struggled with the idea that he made a choice, but she was walking through the consequences of that choice. “We each came out of this with our own struggles. Mine is working through a path of forgiveness daily—I learned I have to keep my mind right. I have to be in the Word and worshipping,” she says. “To this day, I have to be vigilant to keep my heart from bitterness.”
This year, they both started seeing the sun coming through the clouds of the situation. Michael and Monique were reintroduced to the friendship and attraction that had brought them together many years earlier. Their priorities are now in line, and the XO Marriage team taught them how to shore up their lines when they find themselves slipping back into old habits. For the first time in their marriage, they can truthfully say, “Yes, God is first in our lives.” They are moving forward hand in hand, more in tune with one another than ever before, and as difficult as it is, they are telling their story.
For Monique and Michael, forgiveness isn’t forgetting something happened. It’s a monument you build of what you learned and how God got you through it. “I want to never forget Mother’s Day 2018,” she says. “There are moments when I wish it never happened, but I never want to forget it because that’s where the gospel met us, and we truly decided what and Who we believe.”
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