Last week’s column responded to the dilemma of “Three is NOT Company,” who wondered what to do about a husband with roving eyes and heart. The letters were right on in that they advised Three to try to see what her husband thought was missing in the marriage — not her actual shortcomings, but the shortcomings in the marriage that he perceived.
Although this was good advice, it didn’t cover the other side of the story. Sometimes a husband or wife will stray not because of any wrongdoing (perceived or actual!) on the spouse’s part, but because the person who strays is in the mood to do some straying.
Today’s letters cover that aspect of Three’s dilemma. As usual, Meridian readers have some insightful comments to share:
After reading through the letters, I felt that something important was missing. Emotional affairs do not only happen when something is missing at home. It can happen when someone is not giving enough. When he takes his relationship with his spouse for granted. When he thinks that their relationship is so strong, that nothing can hurt it; as long as he loves his spouse, a close friendship with the opposite sex would not pose a problem. Because how could he possibly be in love with two people at the same time? It can happen.
When one spouse stops putting the other first in all things — all the time — and is not humble enough to know that an affair can happen to the best of us, it can happen. When one spouse fails to guard his love, his relationship against everything and let in another relationship because it seems so innocent at first, it can happen.
You need to build a strong wall around your relationship. We take our temple marriage for granted, thinking that we will be together forever. What we fail to realize is that we have to guard that covenant not only against pornography, alcohol and drugs, but something as simple as a friend.
Things are out of control right now for Three, and the only thing she can do is wait, pray and encourage her husband to do what is right. She should not make the mistake of letting the other woman into their life/his life at all, even after emotions have calmed down. Those same emotions can resurface. He needs to cut all ties with her for good. They can not be friends ever. Trust will not come easily; it will have to become a conscious decision to trust him again. Every day. But there is always hope. Through Christ, our weaknesses can become our strengths. Through Christ we can forgive and move on. It will take work, but in the end it will be worth it.
Thanks for a perceptive letter, Slowly. And you’re right. No decent person thinks something like this could ever happen to him (or her), but when the guards are let down the unthinkable can happen. Your letter was a potent reminder of how we must be vigilant, always, in protecting the things that are most important to us.
I was almost afraid to read the responses to this letter because I predicted that the wife would be viewed as partially responsible for the situation. Sadly, some of the letters put some of the blame on the wife.
While I agree that a husband and wife can work together to mend a marriage that has been damaged by the actions of the husband, the wife is not responsible for the individual choices that her husband chooses to make. He made the ultimate choice to divert his attention from his wife.
It is not her job to atone for the mistakes of her husband. The Savior is the only person who ever walked the earth that can be expected to do that. Regardless of whether a painful situation involves the decisions of the husband or the wife, the other spouse should not be blamed for “pushing” the other spouse towards sin. We are all individually responsible for our decisions. Blaming someone else for our choices accomplishes nothing. Perhaps he would have made this choice regardless of anything that his wife has done.
I am currently helping a family member through the trial of divorce, and I have been shocked by the blame that has been heaped on her for her decision not to tolerate her husband’s behavior.
Their situation is not the same as the one addressed in the letter, but he has been nursed along by family and church members for being the spouse that has been rejected, but there hasn’t been enough recognition that he is the one that has made the mistakes and not treating his wife in a Christian fashion that matches the covenants that he has made.
It takes two to make a marriage work, but when one spouse intentionally checks out, the other spouse should not be expected to bear the burden of guilt for both parties.
Standing Up For the Wife
You are so right, Standing. “When one spouse intentionally checks out,” there is absolutely no guilt that should lie on the shoulders of the other spouse. I believe that last week’s responses to Three were written with the assumption that there is still a foundation in the marriage for Three to build upon.
Relationships can always be improved, if (and it’s a big if!) both parties are open to improvement. Even if one party is reluctant, the other party can often change his mind by doing as the readers suggested last week — examining the marriage to see what the spouse perceives to be missing in the relationship and acting on it. But if the spouse has checked out of the relationship, there may be nothing that can be done. One spouse can’t make a hundred percent of the effort.
It took a week of thought before I decided to answer this question, and my decision to go ahead was based on my feelings of empathy with “Three.” I too recently discovered my husband was having a more serious than “just friends” relationship with a single woman he met on Facebook. It started out innocently enough, chatting in the evenings when he couldn’t sleep, but soon he became sympathetic to the trials of her single life (due to infidelity and a subsequent divorce) and his feelings just sort of spiraled from there.
Luckily for me, she was shocked and distressed when she found out his feelings for her and pulled back, creating space, despite his continued desire to communicate with her.
The key to working through this, at least in our situation, was my understanding of his thought process and his understanding of what was real versus what he thought was real. When I discovered the relationship (via a letter he had written to her detailing his feelings about her) and confronted him, he was quick to explain that he knew he had made mistake in letting his feelings go too far and he was sorry that I was hurt in the process, that he was in control of his feelings now, but that he still wanted the freedom to chat, text, and IM with her. He thought she was a really great person and keeping her friendship was important to him.
I was surprised to discover that during this time I was able to find counsel from church leaders everywhere I looked, and I began to realize that ours was not an uncommon problem. Many times as we discussed issues that he thought I was overreacting to, I was able to find a thought from another source — a General Authority or expert in technology — that backed up what I was expressing. It was easy for him to dismiss my thoughts as an overreaction, but not the words of experts and church leaders.
Over the course of several months and through trial and error, I believe we have come up with a plan that works for us. He still maintains contact with his friend, but only in a public forum. That is, he can comment on her status updates and that sort of thing, but no private chatting, texting or IMing. I have explained that, although he feels he is in control and able to pull his feelings back to a friendship level, it will take some time for him to earn back my trust in him. This is one way he is doing that.
I’m sure in “Three’s” situation, her husband has convinced himself that he is in control of the situation, that he will let it go “this far and no further.” She needs to confront him, find out what his feelings are about the former girlfriend, and if he insists those feelings are innocent, help him understand that, based on his actions, his thinking is not real; it is a perception of what he thinks is real.
The reality is that no one is so strong that, if he or she is left unchecked, he can avoid infidelity.
He may try to convince her that she is overreacting to an innocent friendship, but she is not. If he insists on maintaining a relationship with his old girlfriend, they need to sit down together and come up with boundaries, and then she needs to be firm about those boundaries. Six months after my discovery, I still periodically check my husband’s Facebook page and blackberry, and he now understands that it is not because I am trying to be his mother or his prison guard, but because I love him and I want to keep him safe.
I know the feelings of betrayal “Three” is experiencing, but it may help her to know she is not alone, and that through prayer, communication, commitment, and patience, and if her husband is willing, they can work through this and their marriage can be stronger because of it.
Now A Little Wiser
Thanks for sharing your story, Now. It was especially helpful to see how you are monitoring your own family situation — not, as you pointed out, to be his mother, but to protect the family you have together.
I am also a fan of Dr. Hartley’s website www.marriagebuilders.com. In one section, he describes working with women who had been cheated on by their husbands, and explains that a sub-set of those women had also been sexually assaulted (not by the spouse.)
Dr. Hartley discovered that, almost to a one, these women felt the pain and trauma associated with the infidelity was worse than the trauma of the sexual assault. It is truly an amazing fact to consider for those of us who have not been cheated on, or for the cheaters who often become impatient when the healing and restoration process moves too slowly for their liking.
The trauma of marital betrayal can be such an emotional tsunami that one therapist coined the term “Post Infidelity Stress Disorder” (PISD) to more accurately describe the devastating emotional and physical impact that resembles Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Spouses talk about the “flashbacks” and the feelings of disorientation, the nightmares, and the debilitating fear that the infidelity will reoccur. Their world has been turned upside down and shaken.
Dr. Dennis Orthman, the therapist, and author of the book Transcending Post Infidelity Stress Disorder: The Six Stages of Healing, relates that he has clients who twenty years after the revelation of the infidelity, even though married to new spouses, are still plagued with nightmares,”…like people whose lives have been threatened in war, natural disasters, violent crimes, domestic violence, or auto accidents. They are traumatized by the loss of partnership and security.”
Is it then any wonder that infidelity is considered by God to be the sin next to murder?
I especially appreciate Dr. Hartley’s concept that marriage can exist in three emotional states: in a state of withdrawal, a state of conflict, or a state of intimacy (into-me-see). “Three” describes a state of withdrawal as her husband leaves her to be with the “friend,” and conflict regarding her wishes for him to not be involved with the other woman — but she is missing and desirous of a state of intimacy.
The withdrawal and conflict are more or less proof, that the situation is unhealthy for the marriage — even though he’s claiming the relationship is benign — the effect on the marriage is that it makes the opportunity for intimacy nearly impossible.
These same emotional states can come into play when a spouse is addicted to porn, or has a sport-habit, or is a workaholic. Genuine intimacy vanishes, or maybe it had never been there to begin with.
Tabernacle, New Jersey
Thanks for pointing out, Susan, just how traumatic emotional infidelity can be to the spouses who are left behind. I hope Three can show her husband your letter to point out the feelings of abandonment she is experiencing. The website also sounds like a powerful tool to help Three and others cope with a devastating situation.
Okay, friends and neighbors, we’re off to a new topic. See you then!
Until next time — Kathy
“You cannot lift another soul until you are standing on higher ground than he is.
You cannot light a fire in another soul unless it is burning in your own soul.”
President Harold B. Lee