When people say “relationship goals” to my husband and I, I thank God for the love we share. I also reflect on how we’ve reached this point by appreciating the “for better” and growing from the “for worse.” One of the worst moments of our marriage, for Ben and I, was his infidelity. I’ve shared our story in the past, and each time it gets a bit easier, yet each iteration is also a reminder to edify our marriage.
It’s easy to say what you will do until it actually happens. When we first married 20 years ago, infidelity was a deal breaker for me. But when I was faced with ending our marriage, I didn’t react in the way I thought I would. It temporarily crushed my soul, but it also awakened a mental, emotional, and spiritual transformation. Ben’s remorseful attitude and willingness to work on himself and our relationship (marriage boot camp, prayer, transparency) was a huge factor in rebuilding our foundation. Restoring our marriage hasn’t been quick or smooth; our healing continues, yet we still choose each other.
On the series finale of “Black Love,” available on the Black Love + App David and Julie spoke about those moments when you’re going through trials, and you’re not sure your marriage will make it. If you haven’t been there as a married couple, consider yourself lucky and brace yourself because as time passes, you will likely reach that point at least once. Like my marriage, these couples have survived infidelity and bravely shared their stories for Black Love to show readers that they can make it past infidelity.
There are those who are adamant about ending their marriage once infidelity happens. There are also those, like Larry and Tanita Chester, who came to the brink of dissolution, but God had a different plan. Married for 14 years, The Chesters’ were separated (for the second time) and heading towards divorce when Larry moved out of their home due to his serial infidelity. Tanita felt the “distance and the disconnect” for a while before she decided she’d had enough.
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“I was so done with Larry that I told a friend, if he died, I would cremate him and not call nobody. I’m such a forgiving person, but I could not forgive him. I completely checked out,” she recalls during a Facebook live video from April 2021.
In the midst of the madness, the evangelist sought individual therapy and fervently prayed for her husband to change. Tanita experienced several revelations during the arduous process and soon realized that she had to go through her own transformation.
“One of the things that I learned in therapy was, I was codependent as a result of my childhood,” she reveals via email. “My mother and father were divorced, so it was my sister, myself and my mom. I had a lot of responsibilities around the home as my father wasn’t there. As a result, I subconsciously felt validated providing for my family, which led me into giving love and not receiving it. I found worth in what I could provide to someone else.”
Larry also dealt with issues from his childhood that affected how he showed up in their marriage. He had to unlearn a dysfunctional mindset. “I did not have a good role model growing up. As child and a teenager, I witnessed married men involved with other women. I thought that’s what men did,” he says.
During their last separation, Larry eventually grew tired of the streets. “Reality set in and I realized I no longer wanted the lifestyle of being a player because it had caused me too much pain and ruined my marriage,” he recalls. “One night, I did something I never did before: I dropped to my knees and surrendered to God. I had been making bad choices and I finally chose to make the right choice; not just for my family, but for my soul.”
“I thought I was broken … but she was totaled, and it was my fault. I did not consider the pain and hurt I was causing my wife and my family,” he adds.
Tanita was skeptical about her husband’s ability to change, yet Larry’s sincerity and persistence led to their reconciliation. Praying together daily and changing their circle of friends has been integral to their healing.
“I cannot say that you ever heal, you just learn to do better every day,” Tanita says. “When couples get married, they do not truly comprehend what the better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health really means. I have asked myself why I chose him a second time, but Larry has come a long way. We still have issues, but we are still in it for the long haul.”
“To all the guys out there: The devil attacked my marriage through me. As the husband, you gotta step up and take the lead if you want your marriage to work,” Larry concludes.
Jermaine & Tenita Johnson
Men are believed to be the most prone to cheating, yet new research suggests that women are dispelling that misconception. Dr. Talal Alsaleem, a licensed marriage counselor, specializing in the treatment of couples and individuals who are healing from infidelity, refutes the belief that one sex cheats more than the other.
“There is no consistent empirical evidence that proves one gender cheats more than the other,” he says. This inconsistency highlights the need for shifting the focus from having one’s sex as the determining factor for engaging in infidelity to looking at the relationship between the gender we identify with and the socialization process associated with it on amplifying or downplaying the individual, relational, and environmental causes of affairs.”
Jermaine & Tenita’s children: Jermaine II, Nyla and Xavier Johnson (Courtesy of Tenita Johnson)
Jermaine and Tenita Johnson’s experience with infidelity defies the common belief that men are the main ones who cheat. After two weeks of not speaking to each due to a disagreement, Tenita visited Chicago for a weekend trip. Instead of the usual prayer for safe travels, Jermaine gave her an ultimatum. He asked her to decide over that weekend if she wanted to be married. While in Chicago, Tenita connected with a childhood friend and found herself in a one-night stand. “Mentally, spiritually, emotionally, I felt like I had nothing to lose,” she recalls via email. “At that point in time, in my opinion, the marriage was over long before I got to Chicago.”
Infidelity doesn’t suddenly happen; like most marital issues, the root cause begins long before the actual fallout. When you’re the injured spouse, it’s hard to face where you may have faltered in your marriage.
“I got married because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a woman who made me feel like a king,” Jermaine shares via email. “It never occurred to me that I needed to build her into the woman of virtue who God called her to be in Proverbs 31, to make her feel like a queen. I hadn’t prayed with my wife. I didn’t pray over my wife to ensure that she was covered. I didn’t even pray for my wife. Sure, I prayed about her, but I never truly prayed for her. How could I blame my wife for something, when I didn’t do my God-given duty as a husband to make her blameless? I’m not saying she was right or justified in what she did. She is accountable to God, just as I am. But I realized I played a major part in this.”
Married for almost 19 years, the Johnsons have endured several tragedies, including the loss of four children, two by miscarriage and twins (Faith and Jeremiah), the day after they married. The couple was fortunate to later have two children together. Tenita’s infidelity was yet another mountain for them to climb together, and their journey revealed eye-opening lessons.
“I learned that adultery starts long before someone gets in the bed with someone else. It starts in the mind and even the heart,” she shares. “By the time you get to another person’s bedroom, you are so far gone in your heart and mind that your body is just confirming it. I also learned to set boundaries in male relationships—whether it be friendships or business relationships. The lines can become blurred too easily.”
Forgiveness and grace are a must if you want to move forward in your marriage. Although Jermaine was crushed by Tenita’s indiscretion, he chose to forgive and fight for his family. Yet, ‘happily ever after’ didn’t magically happen, it took intentional commitment and work for them to move beyond their comfort zones. Sometimes you take a few steps back before there’s significant progress (as six months after she cheated, Jermaine had a one-weekend affair, as well.)
“Before being intimate with each other after the affairs, we both agreed to get tested for STDs. We agreed to block the persons we had the affair with on social media and in our cell phones. We knew we had to cut all ties and close every open door if we were going to move forward. I stayed in the marriage because he was willing to stay and work on it; he was willing to love me through my brokenness.”
“Today, we serve in marriage ministry and coach couples as often as possible,” he says. “We work diligently to restore broken marriages and families. It wasn’t an easy road, but we decided to stay together and deal with our issues head-on. There is no offense that we cannot recover from or forgive.”
Michaelle & Jevonne Branch (Courtesy of Michaelle Branch)
It’s devastating when your spouse is unfaithful, but it hurts worse when their infidelity results in a child being conceived. This became a reality for Jevonne and Michaelle (pronounced Michael) Branch when he stepped outside of their marriage. One of the questions asked when a spouse cheats is, why? Were they unhappy? Selfish? Greedy? A reason that is often ignored is mental health, which was the case for Jevonne.
“My wife & my marriage were fine. It was all me trying to deal with my depression and the negative thoughts that came with it,” Jevonne shared. “Instead of going to my wife with all the negative thoughts I was feeling, I went to others outside of my marriage. There was part of me that didn’t want my wife to look at me as ‘less than’ or see me in that state. So for me to not ‘feel,’ I made the worst choice ever and entered into infidelity.”
Although Michaelle knew her husband had not been himself for several years due to his diagnosis of clinical depression, she struggled with accepting the collateral damage of his infidelity.
“We talked about giving the child up for adoption as I didn’t see any way that I would be able to handle mothering a child from his affair,” she recalls. “He came to me one day and gently asked, since we were doing well with counseling and repairing our marriage, if I would please consider us raising his daughter together and support him in getting full custody and not go with the original plans of adoption. I was extremely hurt by his question, as I myself battled infertility after having my first and only child from my first marriage.”
She continues, “I demanded that he put his daughter up for adoption thinking that was the only ‘right’ thing to do seeing as though the child would be a constant reminder and slap in the face of the affair. Then I heard God whisper to me that it wasn’t the only ‘right thing to do’ and that I was selfishly looking at the situation from a place of extreme hurt. … I needed to think about it from a spiritually elevated place with Christ-like love.”
Jevonne, Michaelle and Jevonne’s daughter (Courtesy of Michaelle Branch)
“We immediately sought counseling from a therapist. We went individually and as a couple,” he recalls. “From there, I went to my Bishop to start the repentance process and I made sure to re-establish my relationship with God in order to put Him in the very center of our marriage. I knew that getting myself right with God would get me right with my wife and our marriage.”
Now 3 years old, Jevonne’s daughter has lived with the Branches since five days after her birth because of the hostile/toxic environment in which her biological mother lived. As a product of the foster care system, Jevonne was physically, emotionally, mentally and sexually abused, and he didn’t want his daughter to experience the same trauma.
After what Michaelle describes as a “horrendous roller coaster ride,” she and Jevonne are, “healed and whole only because of putting God first, learning to surrender to His will and allowing Him to guide us in our healing journey as we are still together and stronger than we were 15 years ago when we first got married.” In addition to her book, the Branches mentor other couples and share insight on their podcast, The Show Up & Show Out Podcast w/ Michaelle & Jevonne (Apple & Spotify).
“I know that staying after infidelity is not what most people would choose, but for us, I’m glad I stayed, that he chose to change, and we both have done the hard work individually and as a couple because what we have now is a healed, restored, rebuilt and renewed marriage!”