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Perfect Marriage Becomes Perfect Lie

“I thought it was an extremely happy marriage,” said Cortney Donelson. “We had normal ups and downs and some bumps along the way, especially in the first two years, but nothing that I had any red flags or would’ve known there was any trouble.”

Cortney met her husband Marc in their first year of college. She was quickly enamored by this smart, humorous Christian, who led her to faith in Christ.

“Whenever I had questions about anything, whether it be faith or just life in general, he always seemed to know the right answer,” Cortney remarked about her husband, “I didn’t think he could do anything wrong.”

Meanwhile, Marc’s reputation as a Christian grew, earning the nickname “Mr. Christian.”

“People know me for my Christian walk and for the Christian activities that I’m doing,” said Marc. “My focus turned from, ‘all right, let’s do this to grow closer to Christ,’ to ‘hey, this is a way for you to get noticed, this is a way for you to get attention.’”

But as the couple went through college, Marc got attention another way – through online pornography.

“I knew I had to keep it from anybody. Because again, I was ‘Mr. Christian’ and Christians don’t struggle with that stuff,” Marc told himself. “It would’ve shattered that perfect image that I was trying to keep up.”

After graduation, Marc and Cortney married.  But Marc’s growing porn addiction would open the door to an affair with a woman he met online.

“It fed the need to be chosen or the need to be accepted,” said Marc about his affair and porn-use, “because in my mind ‘hey, they could do this with anyone. But they’re choosing me.’”

Marc would have three affairs over the next thirteen years. Meanwhile he and Cortney went about their lives – working, adopting two children, being active in church - as if nothing were wrong.

“And so it really turned into – really two different lives,” Marc said quietly, “The public Christian and then this other person that was tied up into all this garbage.”

“I felt safe in our marriage,” said Cortney unaware, “I didn’t have any fear of rejection or abandonment. I never wondered what he was doing. I thought it was the perfect marriage.”

It wasn’t until Marc started spending time with a new co-worker – a female – that Cortney questioned her husband.

“I asked him, ‘is there any type of emotional connection you have to this new coworker,’” questioned Cortney.

“And I told her, ‘No, you have no idea what you’re talking about,’” lied Marc. “That was my M.O. (method of operation) just to deny and deflect.”

Marc ended the affair, but couldn’t hide the truth much longer. Then one day while he was on a run, he heard a voice he had long since shut out.

“God said, ‘alright, Marc, it’s time. It’s time to come clean,’” said Marc dumbfounded. “And so that night my goal was, as I’m practicing what I’m going to say, after I realized, ‘this is the dumbest thing ever, because I don’t want to lose my marriage and I don’t want to lose my kids.’ But all right, whatever, let’s go for it. How can I spin this to benefit me?”

Trying to soften the blow, he admitted to the “emotional affair” Cortney had asked him about. But in the coming days she had more questions, until finally….

“All of a sudden he said, ‘we had sex,’” said a shocked Cortney. “Everything changed. Everything. Everything I ever believed, everything I ever trusted, everything I ever thought about him. It was a visceral pain; it was a physical pain. I remember feeling the heartbeat in my chest.”

“To see that my actions and my decisions had brought this much pain to the person that I never, ever wanted to hurt, was the most sobering day that I’ve ever had,” said Marc with regret.

“In my head I thought well, ‘this is it. I can’t take any more. I’m going to go downstairs; I’m going to kick him out,’” planned Cortney. “’He can go find a friend’s house. I’m going to take the kids and I’m done.’”

Marc needed help with his addiction but knew the only way their marriage could be restored was if Cortney could forgive him.

“Yeah, it was a big question, if she could ever take that step and forgive me for this,” said a pensive Marc, “I had no idea what would happen.”

“And in that moment,” remembered Cortney, “God said, ‘don’t leave yet.’ And all I have left, God, is You. And if You say ‘don’t leave yet, and You’re going to make this good,’ I got to trust it. And I’m going to put all of my faith in Your character. I walked downstairs and I said (to Marc), ‘you may have broken your vows, but I don’t have to break mine.’”

Marc enrolled in sex addiction counseling, but over the next several months the couple was forced to face the brokenness in their marriage. In that time, they both realized they needed to trust in God.

“Admitting to myself that, ‘yeah, like that was actually me that did it,’” confessed Marc, “’This second life that you had been living, it was still you.’ For the first time, I realized ‘okay, I have now screwed up enough that I actually do need a Savior.’”

“All of a sudden, he was raw and authentic and broken,” Cortney remembered. “And I knew at that moment, that there was regret. But again it also gave me some hope that, ‘maybe he can change, maybe he can get help.’”

As marc worked through his demons, the couple struggled for reconciliation. Then, on the Fourth of July, after months of carrying the hurt and brokenness, Cortney knew what she had to do.

“I felt like God say, ‘it’s time. It’s time.’ And I knew what He meant,” said Cortney with quiet confidence. “‘Just give it to Me.’ And I did. That afternoon we sat on the couch, and I said, ‘I want you to know that I forgive you. That I’m no longer bitter. I no longer want revenge. I no longer have hatred or anger or any of that. I’m ready to move forward.’ If I was going to go through this, I want to end with the marriage I thought I had.”

“Her strength, her ability to be vulnerable and showing me the type of Christ-like love that I had never experienced from anybody,” paused Marc, “that was – that was a huge turning point.”

Marc overcame addiction as the Lord began to heal their marriage. Now, seven years later, Marc and Cortney are marriage mentors. They no longer focus on the ‘perfect marriage,’ but instead strive for a marriage with Christ at the center.

“As good as our marriage might look on paper, it’s always going to be lacking if He’s not at the center of it,” smiled Cortney. “The longer we walk in obedience, and the longer he walks in his recovery, the closer we’ve become. And it’s a good reminder for us of where we came from. And it’s a good message for others of where God can take you.”

For more information on the Donelsons or to purchase Cortney’s book, check out www.cortneydonelson.com.


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