Question

My husband and I just got married seven months ago. He recently told me that he believes he is still in love with his ex-girlfriend that he dated for two years. He says that he thinks we need to get a divorce and that it would be better for me in the long run because he doesn’t think that he is the guy for me.

I love my husband very much and I know he is the one for me. I want my marriage to conquer this and for us to become stronger than before. I just need help knowing if my decision to keep trying for my marriage is right and how to start this path.

Answer

This is a painful turn of events for your brand-new marriage. I’m guessing you didn’t see this coming, so please recognize that it’s difficult to make clear decisions when you’re in a state of shock. You’re hearing something that betrays the covenants you made to each other and God, which makes it hard to reconcile your new reality with the life you were living.

When something traumatic like this happens, it’s completely normal to immediately deny the reality that is placed directly in front of you. It’s a survival instinct that protects us from a complete breakdown. Granted, some traumas are so big that we can’t avoid breaking down in the moment, but the denial still shows up eventually. It’s difficult to absorb all of this, so we need time to take in these major changes in reality. Don’t dismiss it and pretend it didn’t happen. Give it time to sink in so you can base your reactions on reality instead of denial.

The shock you’ve experienced is physically punishing to your body. Part of getting clarity in your mind and heart will involve taking care of your exhausted body. You’ve probably noticed that your eating habits, sleep patterns, and body tension are all over the place. When you experience an emotional threat, your physical body responds to protect you. Unless you find ways to calm your physical responses, you’ll lack the insight you need to protect yourself. My colleague, Dr. Jill Manning, has developed a helpful list of self-care ideas available on her website to help you get out of the fight/flight/freeze/feign response that is common in the wake of betrayal.[i]

You didn’t change your commitment to your husband, so, of course, you still love him and want him to be the one for you. I want that for you as well. It’s definitely worth doing everything you can to see if he really wants to go this direction. Invite him to open up about how he arrived at this decision. Make sure you do more listening than talking so you can really understand why he’s making this declaration. The burden is on him to explain himself since he’s the one who wants to exit the marriage. Don’t make the mistake of pressuring him to stay, making threats, or becoming emotionally unstable as a way to keep him in the marriage. You both made a commitment, but as Elder James E. Faust taught, your husband “must bear the responsibility for the train of consequences which inevitably follow if these covenants are not honored.”[ii]

I don’t want to minimize your pain, but it’s worth noting that even though he’s choosing to break your marriage covenants, he is sparing you from years of gaslighting and manipulation. His honesty about his intentions this early in your marriage is a devastating blow, but it’s much less devastating than building a family with him when he has no commitment to you. You both have a responsibility to be honest about your commitment level to the marriage. If he’s telling you his commitment level is zero, you have an agonizing decision to make.

Ultimately, you need to decide if you want to accept what he’s telling you or continue fighting for what you thought you had with him. I’m the last person to give up on a marriage, but if he’s not sticking around to work on it, you have to honor his agency. Be wise about how much you fight to force a connection with him, as the person with the least amount of interest will ultimately determine how connected you are as a couple.

Regardless of where this takes you, make sure you continue to take care of yourself and seek the support you need. If he leaves or if he stays, you’ll need support to deal with the grief and emotional upheaval this has created in your life. Give yourself time and permission to heal from this relationship betrayal. And, as you seek healing, remember that “there is no…pain or sorrow…which is outside of the healing power of [the] Atonement.”[iii]

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
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[i] https://drjillmanning.com/product/disclosure-readiness-checklist-betrayed-partners/

[ii] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1993/04/father-come-home?lang=eng

[iii] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2011/04/the-miracle-of-the-atonement?lang=eng