oday’s crop of letters is in response to a letter from “Three is NOT Company,” who wrote in to ask what to do about her husband’s emotional “affair” with another woman. Read her letter here.
Although Meridian readers are quick observe out that pointing fingers in cases of emotional infidelity is futile, they suggest that a spouse who has been wronged examine the marriage to determine what the straying spouse felt was missing in the marriage that “drove” him or her to look for happiness elsewhere. Here’s what they had to say:
My husband had an emotional and physical affair. Both were devastating, but there is hope and there are answers. After many tears, church discipline and wise counsel, we are still married and we are both active in the Church. I found two different books that helped me at the beginning and at the end of this process.
One of the best resources I found was a book written by Willard F. Harley, called Surviving an Affair. This information helped me understand what was going on with my spouse, and it gave me a specific plan on how to go about saving my marriage. I learned about how affairs start and end, and the book presented two different plans to help you “wake up” your spouse.
I also learned that when someone is having an affair, he or she is literally “addicted” to the other person. They have to have constant contact to feed that addiction. In order to break the addiction there has to be no contact, and you have to sometimes take radical measures to make sure that doesn’t happen. This author also has a website called www.marriagebuilders.com. There are many resources there to read and learn from, along with a forum for people who are trying to save their marriages from an affair.
I had to do both “plans” in order to get my husband to “wake up” from his fantasy world addiction to the other woman. It was a painful process, but I received phone counseling from “marriagebuilders” that kept me going when I was ready to give up.
After the affair ended, I couldn’t seem to be able to forgive my husband. I would say I forgave him and then go for a few weeks until something would trigger a memory and I would revert to being a hurt victim again. My husband felt there was no hope of his ever being able to obtain true forgiveness from me. There was a time when I felt I couldn’t go on. I was ready for a divorce.
I went to the temple and prayed about it. My answer was, “Honor your covenants!” I knew divorce was not the answer. I came to realize that I couldn’t forgive on my own. I had to learn forgiveness and how to rely on the atonement and not deny its effects for my husband to be able to repent.
What helped me do this was when Meridian magazine serialized the book He Did Deliver Me from Bondage by Colleen Harrison. Even though I’ve been a lifelong member of the Church, I wasn’t converted and didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This book saved me and converted me to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through realizing my dependence upon the Savior, I was able to release my burden of pain, hurt and betrayal into His hands and he healed me.
My husband had to learn to forgive himself and accept the Savior’s atonement. When my husband was struggling I received further counsel to go to the temple weekly, to fast on the day I went, put our names on the temple prayer role and to pray while I was there. Within a few months my husband was ready to be baptized.
My husband was excommunicated and it was a long process for my husband to go from inactivity to coming back to church. Through repentance and counseling with our bishop he was re-baptized and then a year later he was approved for a restoration of blessings. We have come a long way. We have gone from anger and resentment to love. God can restore beauty for ashes (Isa. 61: 3.) He can heal the breach that occurs.
This experience has been one of the worst and best things of my life. Remember D&C 98:1-3 “.
..and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.
Healed through the Grace of God
What a great letter, Healed! I like that you gave specific resources to help, and I most especially appreciated that you were able to acknowledge (after the fact, of course), that this experience had been a blessing as well as a course. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Nephi 2:2 — “He shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” I was reminded just this week how true that scripture is. God is truly the great maker of lemonade.
When I first read the letter from Three, my thoughts were that the answer to this is not found in the context of a “moral approach”, but the context of a “creation approach.” The moral approach calls forth shame, a desire to place blame and the misconception that if enough time and effort is spent figuring out how this happened, it can be stopped from happening again.
All of those efforts are in vain. It’s a massive expenditure of time and effort comparable to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” It is a Satanic distraction deliberately designed to engage those involved from actually approaching the situation effectively.
If the situation is evaluated from the “creation approach,” it becomes an entirely different conversation. There is the opportunity to explore why the married couple got married in the first place, what their creations have looked like during the life of the marriage (children, home, businesses) and what the intention of their marriage was before and is for the future.
Then, there is the opportunity to objectively look at the illusions about what this new Facebook relationship is creating. It becomes clear that the investment of a 15-hour drive when evaluated from a cost, risk, benefit context begins to lose its luster. The contents of 5000 texts becomes informational in determining what each participant thinks is being created compared to the reality of what is produced in the long run. It opens the door to learn about the nature of addiction and lust, and Satan’s hand in fostering those appetites. Then there is opportunity to turn one’s back on the wasted time and resources spent investing in a counterfeit creation that will only bear bitter fruit — and for generations, set the teeth of the children on edge.
I am a hospice chaplain. I joke that officiating at weddings is my reward for the challenge of taking the journey with the dying. I am clear that both are a profound privilege. It is the partnership of creating as the dying are born to eternal life and the partnership of creating as separation dies away and marriage brings forth the birth of “oneness” for two people.
I just finished writing vows with a young couple. I will officiate at their wedding this weekend as they begin their life together filled with anticipation and optimism. There is nothing on their radar or the horizon of their dreams that even looks like the scenario Three described in her letter. And, yet, it is all too often a problem that is brought to me by married couples who are disappointed and disillusioned, and seek my help with their journey.
There is no particular time frame for this dilemma; no such thing as the “seven-year itch.” There is no gender more predisposed than another; there is no singular characteristic except one. In every situation and at every level, what started out as promising and filled with potential as the marriage I will conduct this Saturday, becomes lifeless and vulnerable when the marriage is no longer inspiring.
At its most elementary level, inspiration comes from the Greek, spiritos and means to be “filled with Spirit.” There are three characteristics that indicate Spirit is present:
1. Love, not fear, is the dominating emotion. It manifests itself in acts of kindness, generosity and service. Contention is almost never present. That doesn’t mean that problems are absent. It’s just that the motto here is: “Are we going to gang up on the person who caused the problem? Or team up and solve the problem?” Respect is reflected in this love environment. Contempt is not tolerated and has no ground to take root.
2. Daily lives are infused with Spirit-filled practices. Just as a zenmaster or a yoga teacher has a daily practice of constructive ritual and disciplined connection to the soul, the Spirit-filled life has daily practices of prayer, scripture study and service.
These actions come from the deep, soul-filled space where action is pulled powerfully from a source of joy and a passion for life, not a rote list of A, B, C’s mistakenly expected to grant a guarantee that nothing “bad” will ever happen. Think of the morality tale of the man pushing the stone up the hill. The purpose was to strengthen the pusher — not get the boulder to the top. God can do that with a breath of wind, it’s the building up of His kingdom and His children within that kingdom that is a play; not the mundane movement of dirt. Spirit-practice is developmental and organic, results are a by-product, not the ultimate goal. And that brings us to number 3.
3. This is the most ephemeral and spectacular aspect of the entire equation. It is evident that Spirit is at play because creation is present. Real, co-creating with Spirit, partnership with God, world-making creation. Authentic creation — not just mindless, random Frankenstein-like creation — where all the parts are present, but Spirit is not. Dr. Frankenstein had all the necessary parts — arms, legs, torso and a head. But without the one sublime aspect, Spirit, the thing on the Doctor’s table was a monstrosity. And, so it is with relationships. Creation becomes the context of and for the relationship, and context is decisive. The question to ask is always: “What is being created? And is it being created in partnership with the Holy Spirit?”
It’s easy to see this demonstrated in the model of a wedding. A marriage is the miraculous manifestation of “in the beginning was the Word.” When Michael and Heather stand up in front of me this Saturday, it will be a “let there be light moment” of unparalleled beauty. As Michael walks up the aisle, he is known within the context of a single man. That means he is known in a particular way by friends and family — as a single man, and all that means about flirting, lack of responsibility and fidelity. The same is true for Heather: she is a single woman, her family and friends know her with this label. That’s just the way it is. It is a “knowingness” — a truthiness about them as individuals — that’s the context.
Then with promises and words and rings and the agreement of friends and family (and the authority given me by the State of Utah), I speak words that change their world and the way everyone in their world relates to what is “true” about them forever — even in a civil marriage. The only way to shift that relationship to what is true is to exercise “legal measures” and that is another ritual of creation altogether.
Context is a created phenomenon, and it is created powerfully in the world by words. And, forevermore, the rules change — flirting, fidelity and the ways and with whom we create are changed. If the cultural context expressed is consistent with the LDS culture, there is a powerful shift at the time of marriage. The shift from celibacy to sexual creation is the most dramatic, and it is driven by a commitment to express that creative initiative only with the person to whom you are married.
And, here’s the critical part, at the heart of our discussion, our cultural context, the LDS cultural context, has another unique purpose. It’s purpose is that this agreement of marriage is designed with the end result that this agreement is about joining our lives in a particularly powerful creative agreement with Holy Spirit, such that the end result is that the journey prepares us, in the end, to become Gods who co-create worlds in partnership with that same Holy Spirit.
There are small milestones along the way: the ability to create partnership with missionary companions, partnerships with visiting teaching companions, even partnerships between teachers and students in a classroom — all of which are enhanced and made “inspirational” when infused with the life of the Holy Spirit.
There is a saying in the Young Women program, “One virtuous young woman, led by the Spirit, can change the world.” This is also true about the inspirational nature of a committed, Spirit-led couple, who know that their purpose is to constantly practice co-creation in partnership with God, in every single aspect within that relationship, every single moment of that relationship and in every expression of that relationship.
And when Spirit goes missing in that relationship, all the parts can be present (just like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster), but it will be an ugly, counterfeit, monstrosity of a marriage without a breath of inspiration.
As I work with couples in this sad state in their relationship, I hear phrases like: “I have a God-shaped hole in my soul”; “I kept trying to use “outside things” to fix the hurt on my insides” — these arel ways of describing that monstrous, devouring hunger that is never assuaged by the counterfeit of the physical.
A “fake relationship” will leave us as unfulfilled as empty calories leave us stuffed with pastries but dissatisfied and discontented. Certainly, there may be temporary relief from the hunger the soul has to partner with and co-create with the dynamic, sustainable nature of the Holy Spirit, but that relief is short-lived and followed by deeper discontent and dissatisfaction. Resentment and blame shower down on the other person who was supposed to be responsible for filling-up the empty person with much sought-for happiness.
This is the ultimate expression of “graven images.” That newly-enchanting individual is placed in the “God-shaped hole” and may obscure the emptiness for a short time, but the very nature of that emptiness — that it is “God-shaped” means that no one but God can meet that need and provide the desperately desired succor.
This is the grace and the magnificence of the gift of the Atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He truly is the way and the access to the ultimate expression of our soul’s yearning to “be at one” with our heavenly home. The prayer in the upper room, in which our Savior, beseeched the Father to make us one with Him, is fraught with all the power and fulfillment that inspires us to joyfully embrace those spiritual practices that bring us to Christ and become co-creators all along the journey, right here on earth, every day; not just at the end, in some galaxy far, far away.
It should come as no surprise that the great liar, Satan, would distort and defile the true nature of Spirit-partnership. The world endorses the artificial; making heroes of the Lady Gagas, creating empty promises hinged on consumption not creation and making fools of all of us who actually fall for the media messages that happiness resides in the choice of toothpaste, the elevation of social status or the acquisition of material things.
The lament of the empty relationship sounds like my client who cries, “I feel so used. I feel like dying. I can’t believe he treated me so badly. He was so beautiful. I loved being seen with him.” This, from a talented, intelligent woman who was sad to be breaking up with a man addicted to alcohol, marijuana and pornography. Seduced by the distortions of the world, she was content to be dating his looks, never able to see the emptiness of his heart.
The same is true of the man who divorces his alcoholic wife, only to fall in love with the woman addicted to food and spending. His discouraged phone call begins with the statement, “I guess it was too much to think things could be different. Nothing really changes. The more they change, the more they stay the same.” This is true and not true, all at once.
The bad news is that making another person or other things responsible for your own happiness is an exercise in futility. The good news is that a return to Spirit does change everything — even if circumstances and other people never change. In the world of addiction recovery, there is an axiom: “No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.”
Addiction is clearly what’s being demonstrated here. The players are looking for “something/someone to make them feel good,” which points to their emptiness. The problem is misdiagnosed; therefore the solution is never correct, and the problem escalates. Scientists connect it to the label “Reward Deficiency Syndrome” and throw out labels like anhedonic deafness and process addiction.
In the end, the man who responds to an old girlfriend reaching out to him from the electronic environment of Facebook simply proves the adage, “The rocks in his head match the holes in hers.
” It’s as though she sent out a personal ad: “Wanted: Person to become my drug of choice — One idiot who wants to play house with me. You get to become a pretend Savior and I will worship you, which will make you feel very powerful. I will co-sign that lie for you, if you will co-sign mine. I’ll promise that worshiping you can make you happy, and in return, your job is to promise to make me happy. Call 1-800-dum-bell and leave a message.”
The very nature of lust and addiction is counterfeit creation. No Spirit is present. It may look good on the outside, but it’s all smoke and mirrors — “whited sepulchers containing dead men’s bones.”
Understanding the nature of addiction, the patterns behind these self-defeating behaviors and the characteristics that manifest in the destruction of families is only useful if it returns us to Spirit. Those three powerful elements of Love, Spirit-led lives and Creation, when sought and practiced with diligence, bring us to the tree of life whose fruit is sweet beyond belief. It is in the environment of that tree of life that we reconnect with our most divine desire to partner with each other in the synergy of Spirit.
In that moment, the principles of repentance become a creative conversation, not a shame-based sham of sanctification by suffering. When couples humbly revisit the magic of their early intentions for coming together to create a family, re-commitment and healing are available. As two people, once in love and inspired by the promise of the relationship, the promise of the atonement re-presents itself as access to the true resurrection of that old relationship which was dead.
Life is breathed into the cold, dead corpse of a monstrosity of a marriage and, no less miraculous than Lazarus rising, is the inspiring example of a couple who re-invite Spirit into the partnership and step together over the threshold of hurt and generate the birth of a new Spirit-led family into the world. If you think new babies are God’s greatest creation, you should see the impact of the miracle of one Spirit-led couple — they too, can change the world.
And, that change may not look exactly like the fairytale ending one might write. Often, the pain of examining family patterns with rigorous honesty is too much for one or both members of the couple. It’s easy for Three to deny any responsibility for the mess. Or, to go to the other extreme, and become the neurotic victim of the idea that it was all her fault for whatever reason. None of those approaches produces a return to Spirit and access to creation. The useful question to ask is, How have we all participated? What was the way Three participated? How did her husband participate in this creation? And, to include the Facebook girlfriend, too, how did she participate in creating this situation?
It’s almost like deconstructing a crime scene. I often state that I am forensic spiritual coach. My work is to examine the crime scene for evidence of what took place, by whom and how it can be used for good. It’s challenging work to explore with those brave enough to walk through the debris, how this wreckage can be reconstructed through the power of divine transformation from a monstrosity to a testimony of the victory of the soul. And, the good news, is that even if only one person, of all who were participants in the disaster, wants to join with Spirit, it’s enough.
To Three is NOT Company, my request is that you examine whether this is the worst thing that ever happened to you and your family or the most spectacular invitation from a loving Heavenly Father to embrace the prayer of the upper room and really embrace “oneness” — oneness with each other and oneness with our Savior in the apprenticeship of a lifetime — an eternal lifetime as co-creators with God.