Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Should I Leave or Stay?

On discovery day of my wife's affair, I contacted my priest before confronting my wife. His first question was, "Do you want a divorce?"

I'd honestly not thought about it. I knew, for the first time in our marriage, it was a possible outcome, but I had no intentions of jumping to that conclusion until I knew what my wife would do.

Yet this is often one of the first questions a hurt spouse will ask themselves. It can resurface again if rebuilding takes some hard hits. Do I rebuild the marriage or "cut my losses" and move on? Many hurt spouses will bounce back and forth between these options, unsure which way to go. Surprisingly, what I've frequently heard is a hurt spouse will say, before discovering the affair, that if he found that his spouse was cheating, the marriage would be over. But after finding out, his tune changes.

There are actually a lot of variables as to whether one might decide to leave or not, and many of them are subjective. So it is difficult for me to tell you what is best in your situation. What I can do is give you some concepts to think about so you can arrive at your own decision.

First, keep in mind you don't need to be in a hurry to divorce.

Shirley Glass in Not Just Friends recommends waiting at least three months after discovering an affair before making any "life-changing" decisions. Others have suggested waiting six months.

Point being, the weeks right after discovering an affair are so emotionally charged, it will be difficult to evaluate what directions to head. It is usually smart to allow the emotional roller coaster to slow down before trying to hop out of the cart.

The truth is you are free to consider divorce if things don't work out, but you may never know if they will work out or not until you try. Once you start the divorce proceedings, your mind will tend to go into give-up mode, not committed-to-rebuild mode.

An exception to that advice is if you are in an emotionally and/or physically abusive relationship. I would highly recommend separating immediately, and potentially considering divorce unless they submit themselves to intensive therapy and treatment. Contact your local social services office to help you, but do whatever it takes to leave that situation, especially if you have children involved.

Second, I would encourage giving rebuilding a chance.

This may be difficult. At first, your heart may not be in it. It may take you a while to get out of intensive care to move forward in healing. The unfaithful partner may not be cooperative, or either of you may start out sweeping issues under the rug to fester.

Within that first six month period, you'll get a feel whether your spouse and you can invest enough commitment to give rebuilding a chance. Some haven't seen any real growth or movement in the first year, and then things change. It can vary a lot depending on the circumstances and persons. In most cases, an attempt at rebuilding is warranted.

Third, if rebuilding isn't a viable option, start with separation.

Some people won't change until it is evident you are headed out the door. Many unfaithful spouses think you won't leave, that there are not any serious consequences to fooling around other than your displeasure when they are caught. After three to six months of separation without any real change, perhaps you'll have your answer on whether they are ready to invest in honest rebuilding or it is time to divorce.

Fourth, if the unfaithful partner still isn't responsive to real rebuilding, it is healthier to let them loose than to keep them in the marriage.

Sometimes the last resort we have for their awakening and return is to let them go.

Some Christians don't believe in divorce. I was one of them. I still don't think it is the ideal. But Jesus did say that due to the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be given. He was acknowledging the fact that we live in a fallen world. If one's spouse is hard of heart and won't do the things to heal the marriage, it would be for his best interest to cut him off. Like the father released the prodigal son not because he wanted his son to waste his inheritance on wonton living, but in hopes of his ultimate redemption when he came to his senses, so one might divorce their spouse out of love for them, not hate.

Fifth, some hurt spouses stay because of financial reasons or the children.

On the financial front, there are groups that can help. Check with your local social services office. You can also plan and prepare during your six month wait, in case. Get your financial ducks in a row, lay out your plan, meet with a lawyer to find out what to expect, etc. Then after six months or a year, if you have determined it just isn't going to work and you want out, you'll be ready.

With children, there will rarely be a good time. I would consider the home atmosphere. Are the children picking up that something is wrong? They can be more perceptive than you think. Such stress can be as much, if not more, of a problem for them than separating. If the marriage is miserable, the children will feel that and be insecure in the family. Some may even feel they must be doing something wrong that is causing the difficulty between you and him.

Staying for the children is often not what is best for the children. Especially when you consider what your example is teaching them about marital relationships.

Six, you know your own marriage better than anyone.

If your marriage was hanging on by a thread before learning of the affair, you may feel it is over on discovery day and want nothing more to do with him. Or you may not be ready to give up on your spouse even though everyone is telling you to. Everyone's "I've had enough" line is drawn in different places.

One member of our support group, known affectionately as "L", puts it this way: you'll know when you're done. Until then, keep working on rebuilding. If you have to ask yourself, "Should I leave?" Then you're not there yet.

One caveat to this advice. Some people are in co-dependent relationships and never hear the "I'm done" message. Co-dependency is when you feel responsible for fixing someone, especially if it is perceived they cannot function without your help.

This method of maintaining control, attempting to fix the unfaithful spouse yourself, leaves him free of responsibility. A mother-son relationship is primary, instead of a husband-wife. Such a person will tend to stick with the unfaithful spouse no matter how many times he has affairs and crosses boundaries.

If you find yourself unable to leave a spouse who often shows no progress in healing themselves for months or years, you are in essence enabling their destructive relationship dynamic. For your sake and the sake of the spouse you are hoping to fix, seek counseling to help you let go and move toward a more productive mode of relationships.

Hopefully the above guides will give you some principles to apply to your situation in making this decision. Remember, however, this is your life. Take responsibility for it and do your best not to jump into divorce before you are ready, nor stay in a marriage that will not allow a healthy relationship. Each situation is unique, and no one—not I nor an Internet advice forum/blog—can tell you when you should pull the divorce trigger.

For those who have pulled that trigger, how did you make that decision? For those contemplating it, what is keeping you from pulling that trigger?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Defining Evil

Am I evil?

This question tends to be asked by some unfaithful spouses, either outright or in more subtle ways. This often stems from an attempt to deal with guilt, and perhaps the seeming lack of control the unfaithful spouse experienced.

Punishing one's self can also be an outgrowth of this view. It can be compounded in frequent affairs, creating a vicious cycle of feeling shame for cheating, which lowers one's self-esteem, which causes them to find someone who makes them feel better about themselves, which leads to more cheating.

Then you have, in many cases, hurt spouses fresh from the trauma of discovering the unfaithful spouse's affair confirming that assessment. If a hurt spouse gets into punishing mode, the unfaithful spouse in some cases gets the clear message: "you are the devil."

But is the unfaithful spouse evil? Is even a serial cheater doomed to be labeled such all their life?

There is no getting around it. Betraying your spouse is a damaging action. One could rightly label the act evil. But one could label gossip as evil as well. True, infidelity has more serious consequences than most gossip, but that doesn't negate the fact that both activities can be called evil. As could many other damaging decisions and actions, even when such is due to human error, like a doctor making a mistake on the operating table, or even no human input, like a hurricane.

But you'll notice a key difference. We can freely label activities as evil, and most of us have committed evil acts, but are humans inherently evil for doing evil? Or is there a sickness of humanity that makes some of us evil and destined to evil works continually?

At this point, we could delve into the theological aspects of anthropology as it relates to creation. Humans were not created as evil but became corrupted and thus prone to evil. The question still to be asked, however, is the unfaithful spouse evil for having betrayed the trust and love of their spouse?

It depends upon whether you allow evil to define who you are, or allow who you are to conquer evil. 

This is more than a nifty turn of phrase. When self-esteem is based upon your value as a person instead of what you've done, as we discussed in the two previous articles on the topic, you do not allow the evil actions to define you as evil. Instead, you seek ways to conform your actions to who you know you are as a person, thus overcoming evil instead of giving into it.

But you will be tempted to give into it. Why? Because giving in is easier than fighting. Because giving in justifies that you cannot change, that you have no control, and are a victim of the uncontrolled evil person you are. Because giving in means you'll settle for the familiar patterns of interactions instead of exploring new ways of living. Because if you are just an evil person, you don't have to change. Fighting for improving yourself is viewed as a lost cause.

We've all made bad decisions. I've not paid back some money I've owed on more than one occasion. Does that make me a serial money stealer who is destined to not pay back bills, or someone who has made bad financial decisions but can do better if I address the issues that lead me into that situation?

To accept the former is to say I can't change. To accept the later allows me to take responsibility and do something about it.

Are you evil for betraying your spouse? No. Did you allow yourself to be put into the position to be tempted to commit an evil act and give into it? Yes. That, however, can be overcome and changed.

Are you using the "I'm evil" card as an excuse to continue? Something to think about.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Narrative Reconstruction

In most major wars, a country will go through a period of post-war reconstruction, especially if your country was on the receiving end of the bombs and attacks. Buildings and infrastructure is destroyed. Schools blown up and churches desecrated. To gain a sense of security requires rebuilding what was lost and healing from emotional damage.

A recent article in the New York Times, "Great Betrayals" by Anna Fels, illustrates a very key part of the rebuilding efforts in infidelity: rebuilding the story or narrative upon which the relationship is founded. If you've not read the article, take the time to do so. It is an enlightening point of view.

What is the relationship narrative? It is the combined expectations of the relationship formed through beliefs and experience. That narrative is constantly in flux, but usually changes in either slight variations or in short bursts. A romantic dinner adjusts the continuing story. A new baby creates a major shift. Usually these shifts are organic to the relationship. They meet expectations even if at times they stretch them. We find them fairly easy to integrate into the ongoing story of the marriage and its relationships.

Sometimes, however, the change is so radical and huge that it puts into question what you've always believed and expected from another person. It is akin to reading a novel, and suddenly the hero you've been rooting for turns into the bad guy you hate, and you no longer trust the author and refuse to read anymore of his books because he deceived you.

When infidelity strikes, it is that jarring, but even more so because it is your spouse and not a character in a book you can close and never revisit. Unlike that character in a book, when a person in your relationship narrative changes so drastically from the friend, lover, or partner to an enemy, deceiver, or betrayer, the hurt spouse is faced with the grueling task of reconciling these two opposite character arcs that directly bear on the relationship narrative. Those hurt spouses who are able to integrate those two people into a narrative that provides them security and trust are the ones with the potential to rebuild into a healthy relationship. Those who cannot either end up divorced or living in a marriage they regret and have given up on long ago.

This dynamic of reconstructing the relationship after the traumatic revelation of infidelity leads us to ask the question: how does a couple rebuild that narrative?

Talk about the affair.

One of the ways a hurt spouse will attempt to reconcile these two opposite messages from their unfaithful spouse is to hash through their feelings and the major events of the affair(s) in an effort to make sense of it. They soon learn that they can never make full sense of it because it didn't happen for logical reasons but for emotional ones. Yet, it is still important for the hurt spouse to gain the best understanding of that section of the story in order to integrate them into a new and continuing narrative.

Unfortunately, either through perception or maybe because there is some truth to it, unfaithful spouses often interpret this need to talk about the affair for months on end as the hurt spouse's attempt to punish them or refusal to forgive and let go of the hurt and move on with life. So they tend to run from it. Avoid it. Dodge it. Anything but talk about it non-stop.

The problem is until this happens, the continuing narrative comes to a screeching halt. No continuing narrative, no continuing relationship. Why?

The unfaithful spouse needs to keep some realities in mind. For the unfaithful spouse, while they've no doubt been on a wild ride and have all sorts of difficult emotions to deal with, they've know the full narrative as it happened. They've been in the driver's seat, even if some times it hasn't felt like it. Consequently, the unfaithful spouse has been able to integrate their narrative into their life while they've experienced it

The hurt spouse, however, has been in the dark for weeks, months, or years. In one moment of time, they discover that all they'd thought was true about their narrative for the past period of time is false. They've been deceived about who the unfaithful spouse is based on actions that violate their expectations.

The hurt spouse has to gain the unknown story before they can even attempt to reconcile them into a continuing narrative.

Getting that story takes time. Integrating it takes even longer. In my own example, for instance, my wife lived through seven months of experiences without me. She was able to adjust her narrative as she went through it. But on the day I discovered her affair, in about five seconds of time, I realized my wife was not who she pretended to be for seven months. If it took her seven months to live it, it would at least that that long for me to not only understand what happened, but even longer to rebuild enough trust and security to base a continuing narrative on. Without understanding what happened, I would have been prevented from integrating our lives into a new relationship narrative.

This is why unfaithful spouses need to be open and transparent.

Not merely about email, social network sites, cell phone passwords and the like, but also transparent about your life, your heart, and the affair(s). When the unfaithful spouse says, "I don't want to talk about it," or "You need to get past this," they are saying to the hurt spouse, "I still have something to hide. There are more secrets I don't want you to find out." Whether it is true or not, that is the message conveyed when you refuse or avoid talking about it.

That message prevents the hurt spouse from understanding the secret story, integrating it, and rebuilding a new narrative into the future. The best thing an unfaithful spouse can do is to lay it all out there and be open to discussing it as often as the hurt spouse needs to, even if they ask a question twelve or eighteen months after discovering it. Yes, at first it can feel like 24/7 all affair radio. The fastest way to get through that, however, is to openly talk about it, knowing it isn't to force you to wallow in it, but to get them up to speed where you are already at in the story, so you can both construct the rest of it together.

Some warnings about this process.

Hurt spouses, get the major outline and events, avoid getting into details. You can't un-know or un-see something once you learn it. Such things can be triggers. Knowing positions, seeing pictures, reading text of them acting in love to one another, can all stick with you. You'll never know if the affair partner was really better in bed by asking. You may not want to know the truth either. Keep it general. Get the broad outlines of the story. If you feel a need to get more detailed, be aware of the risk you are taking.

Unfaithful spouses, don't hold anything back. You aren't going to lessen the blow by confessing to only one affair when there are really three, or say it was one month when it was really ten. Any secrets at this point are ticking time bombs, waiting to destroy any progress you make in rebuilding. The hurt spouse will despair if after months of thinking he's getting the full story suddenly learns you've been hiding a significant part of it, requiring trashing the narrative he'd been building and starting over. To be transparent means no more secrets. Deal with it all, once. New revelations will only prolong the need to talk about the affairs non-stop.

To help the hurt spouse be able to continue the relationship narrative, give him time and information to learn the part of the narrative they missed out on, integrate it, and continue it into the future. Failure to do so is deadly to continuing the relationship.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Path to Self-Esteem

As we detailed in my last article, "Self-Esteem: Infidelity's Biggest Trigger," a low self-esteem often plays into the underlying reason that a person falls into infidelity (there is something missing in me that the Affair Partner completes) as well as getting in the way of successfully rebuilding once the affair is in the open (He's rejected me for someone else; I'm a horrible person for doing what I did; motivates blame-shifting and  rug sweeping mindsets). I pointed out how bad self-esteem does not equal low self-esteem, but that good or proper self-esteem removes a focus on self from the esteem equation. If you've not read that article, I encourage you to click the above link and do so.

The route most people suggest to build one's self-esteem revolve around the band-aid treatment of making one's self feel more important, more respected. Often the list includes things like treating yourself to something special, doing something for yourself, demanding more respect from others, adopt some beliefs that make you feel better about yourself, etc. These are band-aid treatments because they treat the symptoms, not the root cause. Doing those things are a temporary fix until the next message you receive from a source that you're a failure, and it all takes a nosedive again.

I suggested last time that the "cure" for an improper self-esteem is humility. Before we dig in to what this is and how to get it, first we need to clarify what it is not. Because when someone brings up humility, they tend to associate it with the following self-esteem destroyers:


True humility is not to become a doormat for people to walk over. The real source of this unhealthy relational model is pride, not humility. It is based on believing if I do the right things to make him happy, he'll like me. Hold onto your questions; I'll explain why in a moment.

Codependent Relationship

True humility does not result in a relationship where fixing the other spouse provides the spouse's esteem. It does quite the opposite, freeing the other person to be responsible for themselves, even while you are cheering them on.

Passive Aggressive Behaviors

True humility will not result in underlying resistance while appearing cooperative and agreeable in order to maintain control and get what you want. Instead, it seeks to truly serve others for the betterment of all, including one's self.

Some will look at a truly humble person and believe they are exhibiting one of the above traits. But the key difference is in the above traits, one is seeking to feel better about their self through some attempt to control the situation or manipulate people. That is always a form of pride, not humility.

Humility, on the other hand, results in not focusing on self. On not seeking to control or manipulate others to feel good about yourself. The goal of humility is to place one's self on an equal plane of worth with everyone else.

The base definition of humility in the ancient Greek is "to lower oneself in relation to another." Likewise, the base definition of pride is "to raise oneself in relation to another." In order to put yourself on equal footing with everyone else, you must view their lives and needs just as important as your own. Any attempt to focus on your own self while using others to make yourself feel good is pride. It is putting your self as of more worth because you are using others to satisfy your desires and wants.

Keep in mind what humility is lowering one's self to. It is not inherent worth. All men and women are equal. It is not respect. It is in a focus of meeting needs and desires. If we are truly equal in worth, then my needs and wants are no more important than anyone else's. So the focus of our efforts cannot be on meeting our needs and wants above others. The moment we do, we put self in a position of worth based on what we do.

How Do We Foster True Humility?

You don't become humble by trying to be humble. The moment you seek it, you end up in pride, because you are doing it to lift self to a higher level than others. "Ah, look how humble I've become!" Then we're back to putting self in the esteem equation.

The key to answering this is control. At the heart of pride is making self important by controlling others or a situation. This is true of the doormat, the passive aggressive victim, or the narcissist. Pride says, "I want to control this for my maximum self interests."

To gain humility, we do the opposite. We give the control to others. I know, I know. This goes against our ideas of proper self-esteem. Seems to open up the door to being treated as a doormat, or abused by an abuser. But not really. Here's the difference.

For a doormat person, they meet any and every need because they hope to be liked and appreciated. Or they do it to control the other person in codependent manner or subvert them through passive aggressive behaviors. For a humble person, they do it purely to meet that person's true need, with no expectation of benefiting from it. Self is out of the picture, so there is no doormat to walk on. If they are unappreciative or don't reciprocate, that is no skin off their back since they didn't do it for that reason.

What loosing control means in practical terms is obedience. We become obedient to one another in love. When you are merely being obedient, you don't have the satisfaction of being prideful.

For example, when I was a teen, I decided on my own to clean out the garage because I wanted to surprise my mother. My motivation was to see her shock and praise me for being so considerate and helpful. It became a source of pride for me to say, "See what I did!"

Now back up. Let's say before my mom left that day she told me, "Rick, would you please clean out the garage for me?" Would I have been nearly motivated to do it? No, because self wasn't going to get kudos for deciding to do it. She might say it was a good job, but she would have expected that. Because I was only doing what was expected of me, I wouldn't have been able to take pride in what I'd done inappropriately, at least easily.

What am I saying? Don't surprise your loved ones with gifts? No. Rather, if you want to remove self from the esteem equation through humility, it is done through obedience to one another.

But we need to make one more point on this to avoid confusion. It is not an obedience to their demands and wants, but to what is in their best interest. To put it in obvious terms, if they say, "Give me a gun, I want to go shoot some kids at a school," you'd be obedient to everyone's best interest by not giving him that gun. A doormat would give him the gun. A humble person with proper self-esteem would not.

So, let's put this in marital terms, which is what our focus is here. What if your spouse is abusive, manipulative, etc.? Do you just obey him?

That will depend, but as pointed out, you are obedient to his best interest. Such types of relationships are not healthy for any involved, including the abuser. Obedience in that instance would be to leave in hopes he'll get a clue and seek help to change his destructive relational patterns. It would be obedient to the best interest of the kids, if any, who might suffer emotionally under such an atmosphere, to leave.

It would also be obedient to your own protection. "But I thought you said self doesn't enter the picture?" As a motivation to control others for your own ego boosting needs, yes. But if you do not protect yourself, there are needs other than your own that will go unmet. If mom is an emotional mess because of an abusive husband, she won't be able to fully meet the needs of her kids as their mother. Taking care of basic needs for yourself is being obedient to the needs of others. If you can't function in a healthy way, you can't help others.

"But what about a spouse who is simply not humble to me? Am I to continue to obey him when he doesn't respect me?" Yes and no. Yes, in the sense his lack of desire to meet your needs doesn't affect your reason to meet his needs. You aren't meeting his needs, if it is from true humility, because you want him to return the favor. So when he doesn't, you don't stop. To do so would indicate it arose from pride and a damaged self-esteem you are trying to shore up.

But, to continue in that type of relationship for long is not good for either of you. It needs to be addressed. It needs to be dealt with an healed. You might need to force the issue at some point by making it clear the situation cannot go on without forcing you to take some extreme measures, like separation. However, letting it go on and on would be an indication of pride rather than humble obedience.

In the end, you are simply being obedient to him/her by doing what is in the best interest of all involved. By so doing, your own needs are not front and center, though your basic needs are getting met that keep you going and healthy. But you are focused on other's needs not to use them for meeting your own, but because their needs are just as important as yours.

The end result is self is removed from the esteem question. You know your esteem is equal to everyone else's. Because of that, what others think of you or your performance matters little as it has no bearing on your self-worth. With self out of the picture, you are free to respond to others and be obedient to what is in their best interest out of genuine love for them as a person of worth.

Fostering humility becomes the path to proper and healthy self-esteem that will not only allow a hurt spouse or unfaithful spouse to heal quicker, but will prevent any self-focused decisions to have an affair to happen in the first place.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Self-Esteem: Infidelity's Biggest Trigger

Self-esteem and infidelity are like wind and fire. They both feed off each other.

Low self-esteem is often cited as a core issue within the unfaithful spouse in deciding/allowing an affair to take place. Makes sense, since a lot of the draw for affairs is that the affair partner makes the unfaithful spouse feel good about himself in ways either their spouse isn't or can't do.

Likewise the discovery of a spouse's affair leads to self-esteem issues of competency on both sides of the fence. The sinking of self-esteem by an affair often leads a hurt spouse to be embarrassed, as if its presence was a statement on his ability as a marriage partner to keep his spouse "happy." It leads the unfaithful spouse to avoid dealing with the fallout of the affair in a productive manner because being reminded of it is evidence of their failure and being a "bad" person.

Therefore, it is an important topic to explore in relation to healing infidelity, not only for the above reasons, but because so many people don't know the correct way to think about this issue, and so head down paths to deal with it that never fix it, only put a band-aid on it.

First, let's establish what we are talking about when we use the term self-esteem. It refers to the perception of worth an individual believes they have. There are two primary sources we tend to derive this perception: how we believe others perceive us and how competently we believe we have accomplished a given task. The two sources often overlap, as we may believe a person thinks we have done a good job or a bad job.

Often, the diagnosis is we have low self-esteem, and if we developed some high self-esteem, it would fix the problem. However, it doesn't tend to work that way. As long as our perception of our worth is based upon our belief of what others think and our accomplishments or lack thereof, our self-esteem will shoot up only to fall back down. We can always find someone who doesn't like us or thinks we don't know what we are doing. Most of us cover that up by acting like we don't care and/or putting on a "macho" attitude. But inside we are wilting.

The real solution to this problem isn't to work to make yourself feel better, but to base your self-esteem, your self-worth in reality, not on what others think or how well you can do something. It goes back to forming a foundation of your own belief in your worth as a person divorced from our perceptions.

The reality is most fameously enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...

The fact is no one person is inherently worth more or less than another. It is the belief that some are worth more than others that accounts for many of the ills in our society, past and present. It used to be a popular belief that the color of one's skin made a person worth less. Used to be women didn't have the right to vote; their voice was not worth as much as a man's. Still is if a woman doesn't have a particular set of dimensions to her body, she is not worth as much. Still if a man is not perceived to be manly enough, he is looked down on in some circles. Still is that certain sins are seen as making one less of a person.

Therefore, the goal of healthy self-esteem is not merely avoiding a low one, nor to raise one's self-esteem, but to get the self out of esteem.

That is realize and believe that our esteem is based on being a member of the human race and not on what we believe others think of us or what we succeed or fail at. It is not founded on the good or bad choices we make in life. In short, the route to healthy self-esteem is to take your focus off of "me" and put it on "us." When you are no longer the center of your worth as a person, your worth will be based upon the whole group of which no one is worth more or less than another.

You'll notice I said your self-esteem is based in this reality. It isn't that the other things won't affect one's self-esteem, but they won't serve as the foundation for it. Your worth as a person won't change with each failure or when the boss chews you out. No one likes those things and they make us feel bad, but it is a mistake to treat them as forming our worth as a person.

It is when those things form the foundation of our self-esteem that we can feel good about ourselves one day and bad the next. It creates the vulnerabilities to be swayed by someone treating you special, or want to run when not everything is sunshine and roses. It allows your self-esteem to go into the pits when your spouse has an affair because your first thought is, "What did I do wrong?" Especially if blame shifting goes into high gear. 

For those in Christianity, there is an added reality. Not only did God create us all as inherently worth the same, but the message that He came and died to redeem us says a lot about what we are worth to God. The core of the gospel message is that God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son to redeem us from death. For the Christian, that is the basis for our esteem.

I honestly think this mindset is the reason my self-esteem, while it did take a hit due to my wife's affair, wasn't severely wounded. Rather, I focused on the fact that my wife was in danger and how could I help her. Not on myself. Not on how this would look to others. I evaluated my failures as a husband without feeling less of a man or person, or accepting the blame for my wife's bad choice to cheat on me. Those things don't define my worth, as bad as they are.

The road to a healthy self-esteem is to take the self out of the esteem equation. How to do that? Next time we will look at an approach that at first may sound counter-intuitive: humility. "The Path to Self-Esteem." Trust me, it isn't what you think.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Forgiving Yourself

In our book, Healing Infidelity, I have a chapter in the hurt spouse section on forgiveness in the healing process. You can also read the article on the web. It is a tough subject. More than once I've heard a hurt spouse say, "I'll never forgive him." Granted, that may come from the anger of the moment and their attitude can change, but sad because forgiveness is part of one's personal healing in this pain. A necessary part for full healing.

But I wanted to focus on something I touched on toward the end of that article that was more directed to the unfaithful spouses: self-forgiveness.

For about three months after discovery day (the day I found out about the affair), my wife lived in an emotionally stoic state. I even commented once that she hadn't exhibited any sorrow, remorse, or sadness. In words, yes. But not with her emotions. She resided in an emotional state of shock. Probably because neither of us knew if we'd make it or not, even though we were both committed to rebuilding, and she took a few weeks before she fully came out of the affair fog.

However, about three months out, it hit her big time. The walls of compartmentalization came crashing down and guilt ran roughshod over her. She cried everyday while cleaning houses. This went on for the next six months. I became worried she might drown in it. I tried to reassure her that I'd forgiven her, and God had forgiven her, but she said she had trouble forgiving herself. So she kept punishing herself. She felt like she couldn't just "let herself off the hook" for the horrible thing she'd done to me.

Yes, what she had done to me was horrible. She owed me a debt, so to speak. I forgave that debt both for my own sanity and because I didn't want to hinder her from healing and rebuilding our marriage. What happened was done and could not be changed. As long as we were building toward a secure future, I didn't want to add my own "punishment" onto the difficult consequences she would be facing.

But once the magnitude of the damage she'd done to me, herself, our marriage, and our family hit home, she struggled with self-forgiveness. What is self-forgiveness and how does one accomplish that?

First, let's remind ourselves what forgiveness is. Webster defines it: "To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty." Note, assumed here are two parties: the offended and the offender. Also assumed is that the offender has committed a real wrong to the offended. Both elements are needed for forgiveness to be needed and effective. As noted in my article, forgiveness is the treating of the offender as not guilty by the offended.

However, it doesn't negate the real consequences of the wrong. Those must still be addressed and healed. Forgiveness doesn't mean the hurt spouse won't be forced to deal with triggers, go through depression, grieve his losses. That is part of the hurt spouse's healing process and isn't necessarily his attempt to throw what you did in your face. He's been through a trauma, expect healing to take years, not weeks or days.

How does this apply to self-forgiveness? For starters, in most cases, what someone means by those words is not what they think it means. Literally, it takes two people for forgiveness to be a real remedy. To speak of self-forgiveness, literally, is like owing yourself money, and not able to pay yourself off. Does that make sense? If you owe yourself a debt, where's the need to pay yourself back? There is none. It is when you owe someone else a debt that you have need to pay it back.

What the unfaithful spouse is really experiencing is not being able to receive offered forgiveness, and incorporate that as a reality into his life. Instead, having pronounced himself as guilty, he punishes himself in behalf of the hurt spouse because he feels he deserves it. Because he hasn't accepted his spouse's forgiveness.

There are three basic reasons an unfaithful spouse may do this.

1) Like the hurt spouse, the unfaithful spouse must go through the stages of grief. They have experienced a loss as well. Maybe of their own making, but a real loss once guilt hits. They recognize they have destroyed something precious that they can't get back. So they will experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. It may not be until the unfaithful spouse reaches acceptance that he is emotionally in a position to accept forgiveness for his guilt and stop punishing himself.

2) The hurt spouse has not offered forgiveness. Often because the hurt spouse is not finished healing and still going through the stages of grief. If a hurt spouse has not forgiven the unfaithful spouse, there is no forgiveness to receive. It is necessary for that to happen at some point for a successful rebuilding, but some hurt spouses get stuck in the grieving process and never reach acceptance and the ability to forgive.

3) The hurt spouse doesn't know there is anything to forgive. If he has not discovered the affair(s) on his own, or you have not told him, he cannot offer forgiveness when he is not aware of the wrongs committed against him. On top of that, an unfaithful spouse in that situation adds to the guilt by keeping such a critical secret and potential long-term deception. Until he knows, there is no opportunity for him to offer forgiveness that only he, as the offended, can offer.

Is there any sense where true self-forgiveness happens? Can't a person offend themselves? Yes, they can. My wife, in the midst of her affairs, referred to her "good girl" and "bad girl" personalities. In part, she experienced anger at herself (bad girl), for hurting me, herself (good girl), her marriage, and family. One could say that she was punishing herself for what she did.

However, the basis of her self-punishment and anger still resided in the fact she had hurt others. If her actions had only hurt herself, it is doubtful she'd experience much guilt over that or feel a need to punish herself. It is only because her actions hurt others that she experienced any guilt and "unforgiveness" toward herself. So the healing of that guilt and self-punishing still resides in getting and receiving the forgiveness of the ones she hurt.

To recap, one finds "self-forgiveness" by owning up to the wrong, confessing the wrong, receiving and accepting forgiveness for the wrong, and thereby discontinue any self-punishment which is a sign one hasn't accepted any offered forgiveness.

So what does one do if the hurt spouse refuses to forgive or cannot be told? The unfaithful spouse must work through the stages of grief to acceptance. That won't totally deal with the guilt, but can bring you to a point of learning to live with it.

One other avenue in dealing with the guilt is a spiritual consideration. Those of faith usually have an avenue of seeking forgiveness from God. While that won't be forgiveness from the offended one, it can help relieve and deal with the burden.

The last remedy can also greatly aid in accepting forgiveness. My wife finally felt release from guilt and acceptance of my forgiveness when our priest gave her absolution. The concreteness of hearing those words made real to her the forgiveness already offered by me and God.

Do you have other ways to deal with the guilt caused by having an affair? May you find forgiveness in dealing with your guilt, whatever that might be.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Should I Tell, Reloaded

In our book, Healing Infidelity, I included a chapter directed to the unfaithful spouses who have cheated but haven't told their spouse about it. Usually don't plan to. Usually these are spouses who have ended their affair or in the process of doing so, though sometimes a guilt-ridden unfaithful spouse in it up to their necks can struggle with this question as well. Naturally, to read that chapter, I'd suggest buying the book. But if that isn't practical, you can read the article on the web.

In that chapter, I looked at whether to tell or not from the perspective of healing. In short, as long as this secret remains hidden, it will act as an untreated cancer. It is only when it comes into the open that it can be effectively dealt with and the relationship fully healed by applying the needed medicines.

To that end, I gave a couple examples of when an unfaithful spouse might have valid reasons not to tell. One, with an abuser. Telling would give the abuser more emotional control over you, and the more pressing problem is getting out of that relationship, not healing this one breech, as wrong as it may be. IOW, there are bigger fish to fry.

The second generated a little more disagreement among my fellow hurt spouses. I suggested another time one might not tell is if the marriage is essentially over, divorce has happened, in process, or is a foregone conclusion. From a "I want to heal our marriage" perspective, telling at that point would be pointless. Telling is certainly not going to heal the marriage, only accelerate the breakup.

But my hurt spouse friends disagreed, saying that even in that situation, they would want to know the truth and telling would confirm to them they weren't crazy in suspecting something was off. It would bring a sense of closure to the separation as well. I can see that aspect. That, however, is not going to be a compelling argument to an unfaithful spouse to out himself. Is it the right thing to do? Yes. The other spouse has a right to know what was done to them, just as an employer has the right to know a former employee embezzled money from the company.

That said, for some hurt spouses, they wouldn't care to know. You get some of those when they are married and regretted finding out. These are certainly in the minority among hurt spouses. Most hurt spouses, overwhelmingly, are glad they discovered the truth, despite the hurt and the trauma. But I'm sure that number would go up significantly if it was about a former spouse. A relationship that is over and done with. Why waste emotional energy on discovering a former spouse was cheating? Personally, I don't think I would care to know at that point because I can see no practical benefit to me knowing. So I feel there would be a lot more hurt spouses who would rather not know if there was no chance to fix the marriage.

For me, at least, the decision on whether to tell or not centered around healing of the relationship. If telling only added another nail into the coffin, then why drag the hurt spouse through more pain and potential trauma? But if not addressed, the hidden secret can eat away at a marriage that is otherwise not teetering on the rocks of divorce. Better to get it out in the open and work together to renew the relationship as a team.

But I'm adjusting this a little. There is a reason an unfaithful spouse would want to tell in that instance. It still centers around healing. Not the relationship, if that is gone, but one's self.

One unfaithful spouse posted one time that she was having a problem dealing with her guilt. She had ended her affair, but hadn't told her husband. She was asking for ways to deal with her guilty feelings short of telling him, which she had vowed she would never do. I spent an hour writing a response to her, only to have the Internet chew it up and spit it in the garbage, never to be seen again. But here was the gist of my message, which would apply equally to a divorced or headed that way marriage, or simply troubled but no one thinking they wanted out.

After suggesting some things she could do, I boiled it down to a simple fact. To deal with the guilt effectively required forgiveness from the one you offended. Until you received his forgiveness, guilt would tend to hang around, and healing of yourself from what you've done would not only be near impossible, but would be dragged into any future relationships. Not telling prevents any of that from happening. It is hard enough for unfaithful spouses to "forgive themselves" when their spouse knows and has forgiven them. It is near impossible when your spouse hasn't a clue about the damage inflicted upon them.

So I'll amend that to say from the unfaithful spouses' perspective, there is reason to tell even if the relationship is in the throes of dissolving. You may not heal that relationship, but it may be the only route to healing yourself and not infecting future relationships with this destructive dynamic.

Telling is a hard and brave thing to do. What are other situations where you think telling would be unproductive?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Blame Game

One of the main reasons I don't recommend the book, After the Affair by Janis A. and Michael Spring is because if fails to accurately and consistently convey the understanding of blameshifting. There are a couple other reasons, but this is one of the main ones. This is not to say the book doesn't have value or isn't worth reading. It presented a couple of concepts I found helpful. A couple of times it accurately makes the distinction, but too often it sounds as if they are casting blame on the hurt spouse for the affair.

First, for those unfamiliar, let's define the term blameshifting. The word can be applied to any situation, but concerning infidelity, it means when the unfaithful spouse attempts to shift the blame for having an affair from himself to the hurt spouse. Usually by pointing out some marital deficiency that "drove" him into the arms of another woman.

This is often encouraged by friends and family when they convey the thought, "Oh! He had an affair? She must not have been keeping him happy." In other words, if she'd done her job as a wife, he wouldn't have felt it necessary to jump into the arms of another woman. Likewise, as the book After the Affair shows, some therapist either believe the same thing, or even if they don't, convey the concept that the fault for the affair falls at least in part on the hurt spouse.

Rather in my book, Healing Infidelity, I show how marital issues might increase a spouse's temptation to have an affair, while not being the cause or justification for having an affair. In the recommended book, Getting Past the Affair by Douglas K. Snyder, they make the same distinction except instead of using temptation, they refer to it as increasing the vulnerability toward having an affair.

This distinction allows investigating what conditions may have led an unfaithful spouse to make the decision to have or allow an affair to happen without suggesting that the hurt spouse is to blame for their spouse's decision. Or to put it another way, the hurt spouse is in part to blame for the condition of the marriage, but not for the unfaithful spouse's decision to have an affair. The latter is the unfaithful spouse's inappropriate response to perceived marital issues. An affair doesn't solve any marital problem. It only complicates it.

The reason a couple will need to investigate these issues is while they are not to blame for the affair, it could be the affair was an inappropriate response to them. In that case, investigating where each partner contributed to marital problems is important in learning how to address them appropriately. Doing so provides another layer for the hurt spouse's security in the relationship that the hurt spouse is less likely to respond inappropriately again, and foster the stronger relationship needed to go through the painful process of rebuilding.

Let me illustrate this dynamic with a different but common scenario. I know a lady, well shaped, who had a practice during the summer of mowing her lawn in her bikini bathing suit. One summer a man started stalking her after seeing her mowing. For a period of time, she was scared that the man would try to rape her. Someone commented to my mom that perhaps she shouldn't have been wearing a bikini while mowing. Her response was along the lines that what she wears isn't to blame for the guy's behavior, and the suggestion that she shouldn't have worn the bikini was tantamount to blaming the lady for the guy's behavior.

This is also what hurt spouses immediately feels when a therapist suggest that addressing marital issues is needed in addressing the affair. But that attitude happens when they fail to distinguish between increasing temptation and the primary cause. Let's return to our illustration to show what I mean.

Most men driving by the lady mowing her lawn in a bikini would glance, maybe stare, as they drive by. It is the kind of thing that will catch a guy's eye. Some may think some lewd thoughts, but rare would be the person who would consider stopping and doing much more. Most men would keep their thought to themselves and not act inappropriately, if they think much about it at all. Only a small percentage of men would make the decision to take action on that temptation to stop and watch, or stalk, or rape. Most men respond to it appropriately, but a small number don't.

So it is the stalker/rapist who is to blame for their own actions. True enough. Seeing a woman in a bikini and being tempted by it is no excuse for a man's inappropriate actions in response to that temptation.

Still, the suggestion that the lady not wear a bikini while mowing is valid. It is not blaming her for the man's actions, but the fact of the matter is she increased the man's temptation. She caught his eye whereas a different outfit wouldn't have. The fact is wearing something less revealing would have reduced the risk of him noticing her and responding inappropriately. She is perfectly within her rights to wear whatever she wants without breaking public nudity laws. But she has to be aware that wearing revealing clothing puts her at a higher risk of being selected by one of these small percentage of men who don't know how to behave. Consequently, suggesting she not mow the lawn in her bikini is a risk-reducing measure she could take if she is worried about it. It doesn't mean she is to blame.

In the same way, the hurt spouse tends to assume he is being blamed when his part in marital problems come under the light of dealing with the affair. Yet, it should not be about who's to blame, but what measures can we reasonably take to reduce the risk of another affair in the future. Reducing the risk provides more security for both hurt and unfaithful spouses.

With that said, there needs to be a balanced perspective. The fact is that even a good marriage where marital problems are at a minimum, where the couple love each other and are committed to each other, can end up succumbing to an affair.

The first reason for this lies in the fact that no one is free of temptation, no matter how well their spouse treats them. Having a happy marriage will reduce the risks, but it won't eliminate them.

Second reason is all marriages, from the best to the worst, have their ups and downs. Likewise the worst of marriages have their bright spots. The risk of temptation is a constantly moving target, no matter how good you think your marriage is. Anyone can find themselves tempted, no matter how bullet-proof they think they are. It is when temptation meets opportunity that trouble begins.

Third, because the primary cause of affairs is not marital issues, but a person's inability to respond constructively to their temptations. Whatever is a temptation for you, it makes you personally vulnerable when opportunity presents itself to participate in that temptation.

At the risk of appearing to make myself a saint, I'll illustrate this with myself. Early in our marriage, my wife had trouble making time for sex with me. At one point, it became so bad I felt as if I repulsed her, and she didn't want to have anything to do with me. As I sat one night lamenting my situation, one of the options I considered was to cheat on her. I even had a girl at work who had confided to me the problems she was having with her boyfriend. I saw in her eyes how she looked at me that it probably wouldn't take much to end up in an affair with her. I had opportunity. I had motivation. I suppose many men in my situation would have gone for it. If my wife sexually rejects me, don't I have the "right" to get it elsewhere?

However, I wasn't highly tempted. Why? Because I was more concerned with how it would effect my wife and kids and my own life to commit that sin. I'm not saying I'm a saint, only that I wasn't wired to be tempted by that. I have my temptations in other areas of my life. The point of attack for any unfaithful spouse is identifying their weaknesses and temptations and developing strategies to deal with them so they can successfully battle them, no matter how bad the marriage gets. Who wants to worry about their spouse cheating every time the relationship isn't on top of the mountain?

It is one of the reasons I'm seriously thinking of a sequel to Healing Infidelity which I would title, Healing Infidelity Through Faith. Because it isn't about the blame game. It is about identifying weaknesses on all fronts and working to reduce the risks of a repeat performance.

How do you process your healing steps without blameshifting?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Could He Have Done This to Me?

Most every hurt spouse has asked this question upon discovering their spouse's affair. It is often one of the first questions one asks themselves and next, asks the unfaithful spouse. It is also one question that is the hardest to answer, and often never gets answered in some cases. Or the answers given don't satisfy.

Does this mean it is a pointless question? It can seem that way. To the unfaithful spouse, they often don't know why they did it. It just seemed to happen, and they can't put a finger on why they did it. Other times, the unfaithful spouse, looking to shift the blame, puts the why on their spouse's actions or lack of actions. For the hurt spouse, it seems as if no reason could ever make sense or justify what happened.

Yet, it is still a question worth asking. However, for the right reasons. Not to establish blame. Not to avoid blame. Not to boast or tear down your self-esteem. Rather, to make the necessary changes to learn from the experience. Both to avoid a repeat performance, and for each spouse to grow personally and together.

For that reason, it is worth delving into the why. But first we must add, don't expect a "rational" explanation. The reasons for affairs are many and varied. Most involve complex emotional interactions rather than rational thought processes. We like to isolate one cause and point to it and say, "There! That's why he had an affair." However, it is often more complicated than one single facet and they frequently overlap. Following are four non-exhaustive list of reasons to consider by both spouses as to what brought about the affair.

1) Loose morals.

Society's message to young teens is too often to "sow your wild oats" before settling down in a marriage. Many teens get the following messages:

  • Sex is a recreational activity to enjoy with someone, hopefully someone you like.
  • There is nothing wrong with premarital sex. Everyone does it.
  • You're not expected to be exclusive with anyone until you commit yourself, so have fun.
  • You're not part of the "in" group if you are a virgin until married.

So is it any wonder, after however many years of freely having sex with whoever one wants to, that men and women have trouble turning off that mindset when they say, "I do?" First marital spat or denial of a need can have them resorting to old habits. Throw in a common expectation among some groups that it is okay to cheat, as long as you don't get caught, and some people simply don't think there is anything wrong with some outside relief from the daily grind of their marriage.

For those who have affairs for this reason, they will have a hard time adjusting to a more productive marital outlook. Not only do they need to mentally realize the damage they do to themselves, those they have sex with, their spouses, and their family, but they will need to make significant behavioral modifications that shifts them away from risky behaviors and attitudes.

Even for someone dedicated to accomplishing that, they will have an uphill battle. But many will not even admit they are wrong. They've convinced themselves they are right, and the loss they would feel at giving that up is too great to admit they've lived their life by a wrong moral code.

2) Narcissistic personalities.

Narcissist have a lot of trouble considering the feelings and needs of others. All they tend to think about is what they want and need. Everyone else is a tool for them to use to meet their needs. This isn't simply someone who exhibits selfish tendencies, but who doesn't feel others matter except as a means to their own ends.

While they certainly overlaps with the first reason, they don't believe they deserve to have an affair merely because they see nothing wrong with it, but rather simply because they want it. Whether it is wrong or right has little to do with it. If their ego needs the affirmation, then they should have it.

This is probably the hardest person to change. To do so requires the person to completely change their worldview, their personality, and their life. By design, a narcissist is adverse to even considering that as an option. Even if they did, that would be a massive, but not impossible, undertaking.

3) Relational need-based affairs.

This one is a bit more tricky. We all have needs, and often in relationships, those needs are met in the early dating and marriage days by devoting so much time and attention to each other. But as the relationship moves forward, those needs tend to go unfulfilled for a variety of reasons. When that happens for a prolonged period of time, it opens the door to a spouse fulfilling those outside the marriage.

While some spouses identify these needs and intentionally seek out an affair to meet them when they've given up hope their spouse ever will, it is more common that the unfaithful spouse isn't consciously aware of the needs driving him, or if he is vaguely aware, doesn't think it is anything that would lead to an affair. No marriage is perfect? Right? So little effort is made to address the empty hole by either spouse, and when opportunity comes knocking, the hungry spouse latches onto it out of desire rather than a rational accounting of the consequences.

This basis can lead someone into the quicksand of an affair who is morally opposed to them. Often they never imagined that they would ever do such a thing and will feel guilt over it. The good news for these affairs is it is easier, with a little digging, to uncover what the needs not being met are, and how to meet them, either by the spouse or adjustment of expectations by the unfaithful spouse. More of these will tend to be one-time affairs than serial cheaters.

This is in large part where my wife's affair landed. We found going through the book, His Needs, Her Needs, by Willard F. Harley, to help us in identifying each other's romantic needs and how we can best meet them. The basic message each other wants to hear from the other is, "You're the most important person in the world to me." Failing to meet each other's needs sets up a vulnerability in the relationship when someone else comes along and meets that need.

Note: this isn't suggesting that the affair is justified or the hurt spouse is to blame for the affair if she failed to meet these needs. However, it is a reason that a spouse becomes vulnerable to an affair when opportunity meets demand. Still, the decision to have the affair rests with the unfaithful spouse, not the hurt one.

4) Personal needs-based affairs.

Some affairs happen not from failing to meet relationship needs, but failing to meet personal needs, either by the relationship or otherwise. These can overlap with relationship needs, because so often they are intertwined with them. But unlike the marital "You're the most important person in the world to me," a personal need simply says, "I'm liked and desired to be with."

My wife is a key example of how these interplay. Growing up in a blended family, youngest of three from her mother and father, but in the lower-middle of nine with step-siblings and half-siblings, she didn't get a lot of attention. She found out her mother didn't want her when she became pregnant, and rode roller coasters while pregnant in an attempt to abort her. By the time I met her as a teen, she wanted people to like her. She craved attention and often tried too hard to get it. This became a personal need of hers, to feel she was liked, wanted, and appreciated.

When we started dating, I filled that need for her, and to the degree I did, it became part of our marital romantic needs, that I pay attention to her. As we had kids, however, she shifted the source of meeting that personal need to them, and I didn't feel as needed for that purpose. Over time we spent less and less time together. For her, I no longer met that needs. That sufficed for many years. Until the kids started growing up and moving away. By then, she realized I either wouldn't or couldn't meet that need, and with the kids leaving, she saw loneliness ahead. So when a man started pursuing her, it was too tempting for her to resist.

Often these needs are created through the growing up years, and become personal issues. They almost always center around self-esteem issues in one way or another. People want validation, and will tend to seek it in others rather than within themselves. This opens the door to the temptation of an affair to meet those needs rather than to seek valid means of fulfilling them or adjusting them if excessive.

This basis for an affair may be more difficult to overcome than relationship-based needs for the simple reason that often it isn't merely a matter of learning what needs to met, but through counseling, learn why the person has these needs, whether they are unrealistic, and behavior modifications to learn how to meet valid needs constructively rather than destructively.

Keep in mind that many good marriages fall prey to affairs. Likewise, spouses in bad marriages frequently avoid affairs in addressing their needs. Sometimes people assume that if a spouse had an affair, it was because the other spouse wasn't doing what they should. This is wrong thinking. They may have contributed to the vulnerability and temptation to cheat, but one spouse cannot stop or cause the other spouse to decide to seek or allow an affair to happen.

But if we approach these with the mindset of how did it happen so we can know how to reduce the risk of a future occurrence and make the relationship better, then the task is worth the effort. As I state in our book, Healing Infidelity, while looking at the condition of the marriage is not justifying the affair, it is part of the solution to fixing the affair. None of these reasons ever justify the infidelity, but they can give us clues on what actions we need to take to rebuild to a stronger and more secure relationship.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing Broken Marriages

The primary reason I've done this series of post on marriages is to discuss this point. Until one understands the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage, one won't understand why alternate forms of marriage violate the marital bond. Without understanding that, one won't grasp what it means for a marriage to break down. Without knowing that, one will not be able to heal a marriage effectively.

There is no way in one blog post that I can hope to address this issue in any comprehensive fashion. Many books have been written on the topic from various perspectives. But I have been through a difficult time in my own marriage and written a book on it, which has enriched my perspective on this topic. More on that further down, but I did want to give a broad overview on the subject leading up to my own personal story.

To some degree or another, every marriage is broken. Because none of us are perfect. There is always room for improvement in any relationship, no matter how in love a couple may feel, no matter how great the relationship, no matter how many years they've been married. However, it is not the dysfunctional parts of a marriage that are the main problem. Rather, it is the inability of either or both spouses to address those issues that results in truly broken marriages.

Couples ignore the problems, considering them not important, thinking nothing can be done, it is "just the way it is" mentality, all marriages have rough times so just accept it. Over time, what starts as small deviations are magnified into major marriage-busting violations because no course corrections are ever made. Like any straight line, a slight deviation from it at the start will be hardly noticeable, but the further down the line you go, the more it shows up until the path can be miles away from the line.

These neglected issues aren't frequently marital, but personal, and therefore affect the marriage. Someone struggling with violent tendencies, if not addressed, can lead to spouse abuse. A spouse dealing with attention needs and/or codependency can lead to inappropriate relationships outside the marriage. Someone addicted to porn can allow it to grow into an addiction to adultery. The examples are endless.

Our lives and relationships, especially marital ones, require constant course corrections and improvements if we are to reach our destination. The big lie we've been led to believe is that love naturally happens and becomes a static reality. No, infatuation, one small element of love, happens seemingly "naturally" with no effort.

Love is like a fire. Infatuation is like lighter fluid. You throw a match on it, it flares up into a roaring fire. If there is no wood, however, it dies off quickly. If there is wood, eventually it burns up. To keep the fire going requires more wood. But if left to itself, the fire grows smaller and smaller, until what remains are glowing embers, occasionally brightened by a little attention here and there. Even that may eventually wither to nothing.

Then two paths are left for such a couple if they fail to actively make course corrections on a regular basis. One, remain in a sub-standard marriage, bereft of a strong sense of love, intimacy, and trust that characterize a vibrant relationship. Two, a new person arrives, covered in lighter fluid, and ignites infatuation. Enthralled by that addictive new fire that looks bright and exciting next to the dying embers of their marriage, thinking it is the fullness of love, they'll conclude they don't love their spouse, and they give their loving attention to the new flame only to repeat the cycle.

It is our refusal and laziness that allows our personality flaws to sabotage our relationships. We don't like change, especially significant change. We like to assume after 20, 30, or more years of marriage, we've got this relationship thing down pat, can ignore it, and focus on the projects that excite us, whatever that may be. It is only when temptation hits that these shortcomings, magnified over years of unfettered growth, can severely damage our existing relationships, and ensure future ones suffer the same fate.

In short, the solution to healing a broken marriage is for each spouse to heal themselves. When I say, "each spouse," I mean both have to participate, no matter whose "fault" it may appear to be. You cannot change the other person. You can only change yourself, and pray that God will help the other person to make the changes they need to make. By continually focusing on improving ourselves as persons, through God's grace, our relationships will be restored as well.

This is why God says to repent, humble yourself, turn from your wicked ways, then He can forgive and heal your relationship with Him. This is why Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we don't love ourselves enough to keep improving in all ways, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally, then our love for one another will suffer as well. Focusing on identifying our weaknesses and regularly working to fix them will keep our relationships of love alive: God, spouse, family, friends, everyone.

The route most people tend to take to fix a broken marriage is to identify what is wrong with the other spouse and demand he change. This isn't to suggest that the other person doesn't have areas he needs to address. However, fixing him is not your responsibility! Enabling him through your support to fix himself is your responsibility. The primary way you enable him is by ensuring you are cleaning up your own act. Because if he fixes his issues but you don't, the relationship will still suffer.

How do I know this? I've lived it. Just over two years ago, on May 11, 2011, I made a discovery which shattered my world. I discovered that my wife of 29 years was having an affair. If statistics are true, almost half of my readers have an idea of what that is like. For the other half, I pray you never find out.

I can't minimize the pain and utter shock of such a discovery, but something amazing happened through those horrible events. God used it to shake both me and my wife up enough that we stopped coasting in our relationship and made significant changes to ourselves. Through that process, we healed the broken marriage. Just over two years later, I can report our marriage is better than its ever been. We know we can't stop working on ourselves and our marriage if we expect the fires of love to keep burning. So the journey continues.

Unfortunately, our experience in a support group verifies that our outcome isn't in the majority. To many either end up in divorce court or exist in a loveless, dysfunctional marriage for years. Often, those that do heal take years because the above principle isn't followed by one or both spouses until months or years have passed. Or a couple thinks it has been fixed, healed, so they return to coasting and the cycle repeats a few years later.

To that end, my wife and I jointly decided to risk telling our story and what we've learned by writing a book. It is our attempt to help others in our situation see what a healthy rebuilding looks like that results in a vibrant marriage. Click on the cover to see the book info and links to where it can be purchased. If you are dealing with infidelity, consider our book to help you find your footing. If you know someone who is going through this experience, this book would make a good gift. If you deal with counseling couples in such situations, you may want to check out our book to use or recommend to your clients.

There are a lot of good books on infidelity. We give our suggested reading list of books that helped us the most in our book. Our motto is never stop reading and improving. Unlike most books on the subject, however, we are not counselors or PhDs. Our credential lie in that we've gone through the devastation of infidelity and successfully rebuilt to a vibrant relationship. Sometimes examining this issue, not through the lens of case studies, but from someone who has "been there, done that, got the scars" can give you the perspective and hope to successfully find your own way as well.

I want to offer a huge thank you to my wife, Lenita Copple. First, for being committed enough to change. You proved your love for me by facing your demons and fighting them rather than hiding from them like most do. Second, for bravely risking your reputation by willingly going public with this story. I'm sure you'll find in the end, it will be stronger. For our reputation with God matters more than with people. You know you have my respect and love.

Our scar is a big one. But there are plenty of traumas we all go through in this life. Your marriage doesn't have to be one of them, if you focus on healing your wounds through God's grace for the rest of your life. May God use our story and journey to heal the devastation of infidelity in other marriages, so that they too can discover a vibrant future together.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What is Marriage? – Myths of Divorce, Adultery, and Infidelity

Having examined the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage, we've applied that understanding to various alternate forms of "marriage." Read those articles first if you haven't, or this one may not make as much sense. Now, we want to turn our attention to how it applies to the breakdown of a marriage.

What I've often encountered in reading various articles on marriage, divorce, adultery, and infidelity are a lot of misconceptions, especially among Christians, about what Jesus said about it. What are the common myths about Jesus' words, and infidelity in general? The following is my list.

Divorce is a Sin

This is one of the most common ones. In actuality, most of the time, it is true, but most people don't know what divorce means. No, I'm not merely referring to the "adultery clause" divorce. I mean getting a legal divorce, in and of itself, is not sinful. Before you start throwing things at your computer, hear me out.

First, keep in mind what we've established as the basis for marriage in the first three articles. The defining basis is the biological sexual act of procreation (no matter whether the act ever does procreate). Without that union, there is no marriage, per biology, history, and Biblically.

That as a given, what act can rend that union asunder? A legal piece of paper saying you are no longer married, even though we've shown that the government cannot establish a marriage? See if you can pick up Jesus' answer to that question:

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery. (Mar 10:7-12 ASV)
The disciples asked Jesus to clarify what He was talking about concerning divorce and the conditions when a marriage is "put asunder". Note Jesus list two conditions: putting away and marrying another. By so doing, a person commits the sin of adultery save when adultery has already been committed, that is, the marriage has already been torn apart.

More to the point, the matter of divorcing legally does not tear a marriage apart by itself anymore than a legal marriage certificate marries a person. Rather, the real destruction of the marital bonds occurs when a new marital relationship is established with someone else. That is, when a person has sex with someone other than their spouse, they are marrying that person and divorcing their spouse.

Merely getting a legal divorce does not commit sin. If a person never marries another through sex, they never in reality divorce their spouse. Rather, it is a mere separation and not sinful unless you have sex with another before your spouse does.

One Commits Adultery Only When They are Legally Married

Not true. The first person you have sex with in your life becomes your spouse. The next person you have sex with, you divorce your first spouse and marry your second, and so on down the list, however long it may be. As we've seen, it is having sex that is the basis for marriage, even if not the fullness.

"Premarital" sex is an oxymoron since it is sex that marries two people together. It is impossible to "sow your wild oats" before marriage, for planting them is the same as marrying someone. There are only two situations when having sex is not adultery, according to Jesus. The first time you have sex and having sex with a new person after your spouse has committed adultery on you. Other than that, if you are not having sex with your spouse, you are committing adultery. Premarital sex is nothing more than getting married, divorced, and committing adultery over and over again for most people.

When Your Spouse Commits Adultery, You're Biblically Required to Divorce Him

Jesus never said that. What He said is the only time divorcing and remarrying is not committing the sin of adultery is when your spouse has already committed adultery. In truth, Jesus' ideal is that a couple doesn't get torn asunder in the first place. When it does happen, a lot of circumstances go into a decision to rebuild or divorce. However, there is no Biblical requirement to do so upon discovering your spouse has committed adultery.

Jesus Said You Can't Divorce Except for Adultery

This is another very common one. Strictly speaking, divorce alone isn't the issue, but divorce in order to marry another. But what did Jesus really say?

And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. (Mar 10:4-5 ASV)
Note: Though due to our "hardness of heart" it was permitted, but that is not the design specifications as God created marriage. Rather, "and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mar 10:8-9 ASV)

The design specs is that a man and a woman will join together and that union will never be nullified for a lifetime. Strictly speaking, one would never remarry, even if divorced, even if doing so would not commit adultery. Because God's design specs is one spouse, period. But due to the fall, He allows us to divorce and remarry.

Jesus never said you can't get a divorce. Only that getting a divorce and remarrying is a result of the fall, not how God designed it to work. What He did say is that you cannot divorce and remarry without committing the sin of adultery unless your spouse beats you to the sin first. Whether or not you are committing the sin of adultery by divorcing and remarrying is the point Jesus was making. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of hardness of heart to go around. Jesus stops short of taking the option off the table.

Cheating and Adultery Are the Same Thing

Though they frequently go together, they are not the same thing. Cheating, infidelity, or having an affair involve two main components: emotional and/or physical sharing of martial intimacy outside the marriage, and deception with one's spouse. Adultery is when a person commits or strongly wants to commit the act of sexual intercourse with a person other than one's spouse.

A person who divorces and remarries may commit adultery as Jesus explained, but he is not deceptively cheating on his spouse. No affair is involved. Likewise, a person may be involved in an emotional affair without their spouse's knowledge, but successfully avoid sexual intercourse or the desire to do so and therefore not commit adultery.

Therefore, discovering your spouse is cheating on you, if he's not had sexual intercourse with her or desired to do so, he's not committed adultery and hasn't torn asunder the marital bond. There's some other heavy sins and breaches of trust involved, but there would be no "get out of marriage free" card to avoid committing adultery yourself if you were to divorce and remarry him.


Adultery is the act of rending asunder your marriage to your spouse by uniting sexually with another, in effect marrying them instead. This is also the definition of divorce in order to marry another. Only when your marriage has already been rent asunder by your spouse do you avoid the sin of adultery to do the same thing—before you reunite to them, in effect remarrying them.

This process happens no matter the legal marital status, presence of a ceremony, or promises made or not made, since sexual union is the foundation of what it means to be married. Not recognizing this and failing to treat it as a real marriage is the basis upon which what we've erroneously termed "premarital sex" or "sowing one's wild oats" is sinful. There is no such thing as sex before marriage, because sex establishes the marital bond. It is the lack of commitments of a marriage with it that make it sinful. Ironically, many people in our society when they first "officially get married" commit adultery in doing so.

It is this reality which leads to so much infidelity and divorce. What can we expect when our society conveys to teens, "have sex as much as you want now, because eventually you'll be 'tied down' to one woman when you get married." Teens ask why premarital sex is wrong when it seems like a purely recreational activity you do with someone you love, not much different than going to a movie together, or sharing ice cream?

Then, suddenly when they get a marriage certificate and say, "I do," sex now means something more? That all those years of playing the field will come to a screeching halt and they'll be faithful to one person? That what before was a recreational activity will no longer be seen as such or treated that way? How dumb are we to expect anything different than the high rates of divorce and infidelity in our society when we've failed to learn ourselves and teach to our children the biological and Biblical basis for marriage: sex consummates and seals that union. It is not merely a recreational activity that two people who might love one another do. Especially in God's eyes.

The reality is that a huge majority who read this blog fall into this category. I recall a woman's surprise when she learned, while I was at college, that I'd never had sex with anyone. For her, at least, I was the first male virgin she'd ever met. Sure made me feel like I was in a small minority.

Often, due to the hardness of a spouse's heart either in sin, abuse, or a combination thereof, divorce is either unavoidable or the least of all sins. While not God's ideal, remarriage avoids some worse sins. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes we're left with fallen solutions.

So what if you're in one of these groups? The good news is that while there is sin, while you've harmed yourself and perhaps others, while you've not lived up to God's ideal, there is healing for both yourself and your relationships. My final article will take a look at healing a marital relationship broken by these disruptive activities to what God has joined together.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What is Marriage? - Alternate Arrangements

We've examined the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage in the past three articles to establish what marriage is and its foundations. Now we are ready to analyze alternate marriage arrangements in the light of this understanding. If you've not read the previous articles, do so now, otherwise the following explanations may not make sense without that context, or you'll read the wrong interpretation into it.

With that disclaimer, let's look into other marriage arrangements that have been promulgated now and in times past.

Living Together

We mentioned this in the last article, so I won't dwell on this one long, other than to say the following. While most people don't view this as a marriage, if sexual intercourse has taken place, it is. If not, then it is merely living together.

The problem with this arrangement, when sexual intercourse is involved, is that there is often not a marital commitment made by the couple. It is understood more as a dating/going-steady type relationship that could end at any time. The expectation is either couple could decide to switch partners, in effect divorcing their spouse and marrying another. So there is no understanding of this being a marriage, even though in reality it is. Children that may have been conceived will bear witness to that reality.

In essence, the only missing marital bond in most of these cases is legal. Because a lot of people living together don't have that, they don't think of themselves as married, not tied down, and will tend to easily tear asunder what God and nature have joined.

Bottom line, if you've had sex, you are not merely living together, you are married. One should treat it as such and fully commit to that person as a spouse, not as a "partner."


Polygamy is a marital arrangement where one spouse has multiple spouses. Traditionally, one man marries multiple wives, but could be reversed. Such marital arrangements are seen throughout the Old Testament. For instance, Abraham had two wives. Some of the kings like David and Solomon had several, often for political reasons more than personal desire.

However, these multiple spouses were not as common back then as some might think. Often the ability to have more than one wife was linked to one's wealth and status. The poorer folk didn't have the means to support more than one wife. Additionally, these arrangements often involved a lot of jealousy among the wives, and fed low self-esteem if they felt neglected. Our built in emotional need for monogamy tends to eat away at such family relationships. As can be seen even today, the descendants of Abraham's two wives are still at each other's throats four thousand years later.

Per our discussion on marriage, this arrangement has two big problems. One, it violates God's ideal for marriage. As Jesus related, God's design was for a man and a woman to be united into one flesh, period. Uniting to another involves divorcing and remarrying again, committing adultery each time. In effect, a man with multiple wives isn't married to them all in reality, but to one at a time, whoever he's had sex with last. He is also committing adultery constantly, rending asunder over and over again each marital union created.

Polygamy involves the constant uniting and rending asunder of that marital union, no matter what is legally allowed. So why was it allowed in the Old Testament?

One, there are no Bible passages that allow it. Merely none prohibiting it. Big difference.

Two, it was a culturally accepted practice at the time. While it didn't meet God's ideal, a lot of things didn't due to our fallen nature. God had to pick his "fights," so to speak. It isn't until Jesus comes along that this original intention of God is more fully explained. It is then in the New Testament qualifications for bishops, deacons, and the office of widow, that they be the spouse of one other person, not multiple. Because God's representatives were to reflect God's ideal in marriage.

So how could Abraham and others be called righteous if they were wrong to have multiple wives? Because as St. Paul says, where there is no law, there is no sin. If God had come down and told them, "You can't do that, because I consider it a form of adultery," then they would have been held accountable for not obeying. But knowing their culture and fallen nature, God chose not to make it an issue at the time. Therefore, they were not held accountable for this violation, because they "did not know what they did."

The one area that polygamy does have an advantage over all other alternate forms of marriage is that it treats the sexual union as a real marriage, with the accompanying commitments and support such a union deserves, at least in theory. As we'll see, this is not the case with most alternate arrangements.

Open Marriage

An open marriage usually involves the freedom of either spouse to have sexual relations with someone other than their "spouse," most often within a set of rules or boundaries. Though it is possible to be totally open with whoever without accountability, most boundaries involve keeping each other informed of one's sex partners and measures preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

This is a similar arrangement to polygamy, except though one is not "married" to they're partners, but are more like mistresses than wives. This arrangement has a lot of the same problems that a polygamist marriage does. But it has the additional problem that living together has, but in greater measure. It treats sex as not uniting two people into one, but as a mere recreational activity. Most extra partners have no social/cultural union with either spouse, and often no emotional union much less a legal union. Consequently, the commitment to life-long union and establishing a family basis with a spouse is lost, violating the uniting aspect of sex.

Homosexual Marriage

Much of late has been made of homosexual marriage on the legal front. The last election cycle saw several states legalize "same-sex" marriages. Homosexuals see marriage as a right the state grants which has been denied them, while many against it see it as legitimizing sin and making it the moral equivalent of marriage, even understanding the effort to be "redefining" marriage.

However, as we have detailed, the government can't define marriage, it can only recognize it and provide support for it. Because the state calls something a marriage doesn't mean it is. Nor does it have the power to change reality any more than it can turn an apple into an orange by passing a law that it is so.

Rather, biologically, two people can only be considered married who have a sexual union potentially capable of producing children. Since homosexual sex can never do that, real marriage is impossible, biologically. Without the possibility of biological parenthood attached to homosexual sex, there is no marital union taking place. It cannot replicate what sex between a man and a woman does.

Likewise, Biblically, homosexual marriage is impossible. There can be no "two becoming one flesh" without the potential of children from that union. This is why Jesus said, "a man and a woman" can unite into one flesh, specifically. Quite apart from the moral issues surrounding homosexual sex, such acts cannot produce a biological family unit, which starts with the parents uniting in an act that can create a family.

"But we love one another!" "But we've said vows to one another!" "I'm as committed to him as much as any husband and wife!" That all may be true. But none of that makes it a marriage. Even if a man and woman live together, are emotionally united to one another, become legally married, call each other husband and wife, and live that way until thy die in total commitment to one another, yet if they have sex of every type save intercourse, they would not in reality be married—they would not be one flesh. They would be no different than two very close friends who care intimately for each other.

So is the case for homosexual "unions." Apart from the questions of sin and whether one can be homosexual, such "unions" are nothing more than two very good friends living together, having committed themselves to one another in various ways, and participating in sexual play for purely recreational/love value. But love does not make a marriage real. There are many friends who love another friend more deeply than many spouses. The lack of love does not invalidate a marriage, nor does its presence create one. It supports a marital bond created by sexual union, as we documented in the three previous articles.

We should note, that this does not invalidate any legal discrimination at the heart of the homosexual drive to legalize same-sex marriages. I personally think it is a bad idea to label them "marriages," because they aren't and it isn't accurate, but a case could be made for a "civil union" to address the legal issues involved. Because that is all the state can do—legally unite two people into a committed relationship. It cannot create a marriage where none exists or can exist.


All of these alternate forms of marriage violate God's ideal as Jesus laid it out: one man and one woman uniting into one flesh via sexual union for their entire lives, with no one else involved. All involve repeated or planned adultery (not necessarily cheating) by a spouse uniting to someone else, thus divorcing their spouse and remarrying another, except in the case of a couple living together who never break up or have sex with another. The only people, Biblically, who don't commit adultery in that situation are when the other spouse has already committed adultery, or they have died.

This is all true, except for homosexuals. Since they cannot be married, it is impossible for them to commit adultery. They can cheat and be unfaithful to their commitments to one another, but there is no marital union to tear asunder nor can their type of sexual activities create a marriage that would divorce a real spouse.

Next time, we will look at the myths behind divorce, adultery, and marriage.