How merciful you are, Lord, that you forgive us our sins, all our sins. Teach us the merciful art of public and private confession, not for our shame but for the cleansing of our sins and the fallowing of our rough hearts. Amen.
Staying together after infidelity has occurred is an irrational act. It really doesn't make logical sense. It sure didn't to me until I went through it. Every now and then, even today, I ask myself, what the heck was I thinking? Can I really ask others to go through this kind of pain without any promises and guarantees that it will all work out in the end? The answer is yes but it certainly isn't reasonable.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) made a fascinating observation during the days of Cervantes (1547-1616): Philosophy is based on reason and is, therefore, rational. Faith is based on revelation and is, therefore, irrational. Consequently, the greater the impossibility of the thing you believe, the greater the honor to God.
Faith is an irrational commitment of the heart, the pattern-recognizing right brain, not the deductive-reasoning left.
He had my attention but I hadn't really connected it to marriage...yet. He went on to say this about the irrational nature of marriage in general. If this is true in general imagine how much more irrational it is to rebuild a marriage after infidelity. He said,
But here, I believe, is the best irrational commitment of them all:
"…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."
In case I haven't made it clear. I am in favor of irrational commitment. "It is not good… to be alone."
On June 7, 1947, Paul Compton made an irrational commitment to Jean Johnson and in later years he would be called to deliver on his promise: Alzheimer's disease stole Jean from Paul, but left her frail body in his care. Strengthened only by the memory of their years together, Paul faced the never-ending job of caring for her empty shell 24 hours a day. And he did it without complaint for 20 long years.
I've never known a better man.
Paul and Jean had 4 daughters, all of whom work shoulder-to-shoulder with their husbands and have done so for more than 30 years. Miraculously, each of the girls is still married to her first husband, though none of those husbands is a prize. Trust me, I know them all. I'm the 18 year-old boy with no money and no future who married the youngest daughter.
If you would taste truth and beauty and grace, you must reach for the fruit of a tree planted deep in the soil of irrational commitment.
Are you struggling through the aftermath of an affair and wavering on whether to stay in it through all the pain? I've ventured deep into the soil of irrational commitment and have tasted the truth, and beauty and grace of which he speaks. It is a sweet, sweet fruit. You just have to sink your hands and feet into a lot of dirt and manure before the fruit sprouts.
As you rebuild trust, it is important to try to remember what drew you to your spouse. In the pain and chaos of an affair it is easy to recolor your history - to say we never really had much in common or never really did have much real fun together. In one of our first counseling appointments the counselor asked us what was good about our relationship in the beginning. I (Ben) couldn’t think of anything. With the coffee colored glasses I was seeing through at the moment our whole relationship seemed fake and dark.
Fortunately I recovered some clearer lenses to see through. These rationalizations of not having any good in our relationship aided in minimizing pain instead of facing reality head on. The truth for most couples is in the beginning they really just enjoyed spending lots of time together. Though it can be painful at first, try to remember what specifically brought joy early in your relationship.
The movie The Story of Us has a great scene to illustrate this. In the movie, Bruce Willis (Ben) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Katy) are married with two kids. Their marriage is in trouble, and divorce seems inevitable. The kids are coming home from summer camp, and the couple decides they will tell them about the divorce the next day after picking them up from the bus. They discuss going to Chow Funs restaurant for dinner but decide they can't talk there so they choose another place.
The night before, Katy takes a long look at all the pictures of the family on the wall. Memories of their shared life together pour through her mind in the space of her solitude. The following day, she and Ben are on the way to meet the kids. Memories again speed through her brain from their dating years, engagement, wedding, kids being born, kids having crises like pets dying, Ben's dad dying, fights, hot sex, tender times, angry times, door slamming, phone slamming, I love yous and I hate yous.
They arrive to gather the kids from the bus. After the kids are in the SUV, Katy stands away a bit and tells Ben, "I think we should go to Chow Funs."
Ben: "Chow Funs? I thought we both agreed we couldn't really talk at Chow Funs."
Katy: "I know."
Ben: "What are you saying?"
Katy: "I'm saying Chow Funs."
Ben: "Are you saying Chow Funs because you can't face telling the kids? 'Cause if that's why you are saying Chow Funs don't say Chow Funs."
Katy: "That's not why I'm saying Chow Funs. I'm saying Chow Funs because we're an us. There's a history here, and histories don't happen over night. You know in Mesopotamia or ancient Troy or somewhere back there, there are cities built on top of other cities, but I don't want to build another city. I like this city. I know where we keep the Bactine and what kind of mood you're in when you wake up by which eyebrow is higher; and you always know that I'm quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly. That's a dance you perfect over time. And it's hard. It's much harder than I thought it would be, but there's more good than bad, and you don't just give up. And it's not for the sake of the children, but God they're great kids. Aren't they? And we made them! There were no people there, and then there were people! And they grew. I won't be able to say to some stranger that Josh has your hands or that Erin threw up at the Lincoln Memorial. Then, I'll try to relax.
Let's face it. Anybody is going to have traits that get on your nerves. I mean why shouldn't it be your annoying traits? I'm no day at the beach, but I do have a good sense of direction so at least I can find the beach. Which is not a criticism of yours it's just a strength of mine. And God you're a good friend, and good friends are hard to find. Charlotte said that in Charlotte's Web and I love the way you read that to Erin, and you take on the voice of Wilbur the Pig with such commitment even when you're bone tired. That speaks volumes about character, and ultimately isn't that what it comes down to - what a person is made of? Because that girl in the pith helmet is still in here. “Beeboo, beeboo.” I didn't even know she existed until I met you. And I'm afraid if you leave I may never see her again. Even though I said at times you beat her out of me. Isn't that the paradox? Haven't we hit the essential paradox? Give and take, push and pull, yin and yang, the best of times, the worst of times. I think Dickens said it best, the Jack Spratt of it - he could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean. But that doesn't really apply here does it? I guess what I'm trying to say here is I'm saying Chow Funs because I love you."
Ben: "I love you, too."
In the movie, Ben and Katy developed a renewed commitment to their relationship when hope waned by Katy revisiting their highlights and lowlights. Their history. Spend some time really pondering your shared story. Tell stories to one another about your dating years and pre-affair years of marriage. Don't let the present pain color it all. Fight to remember the good as well as the difficult.
What are your thoughts and suggestions on this post?
T. S. Elliot said in the Four Quartets, "[Human]kind cannot bear very much reality." What humans often prefer are highly contrived ways of avoiding the real, the concrete, the physical. We fabricate artificial realities instead, one of which, I'm sad to say, is religion itself. So Jesus brought all of our fancy thinking down to earth, to one concrete place of incarnation--this bread and this cup of wine! "Eat it here, and then see it everywhere," he seems to be saying. If it's too idealized and pretty, if it's somewhere floating around up in the air, it's probably not the Gospel. We come back, again and again, to this marvelous touchstone of orthodoxy, the Eucharist. The first physical incarnation in the body of Jesus is now continued in space and time in ordinary food.
Eucharist is presence encountering presence--mutuality, vulnerability. There is nothing to prove, to protect, or to sell. It feels so empty, naked, and harmless, that all you can do is be present. The Eucharist is telling us that God is the food and all we have to do is provide the hunger. Somehow we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there's room inside of us for another presence. If you are filled with your own opinions, ideas, righteousness, superiority, or sufficiency, you are a world unto yourself and there is no room for "another." Despite all our attempts to define who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive communion, our only ticket or prerequisite for coming to Eucharist is hunger. And most often sinners are hungrier than "saints."
When I hand out the bread I love to say to the assembly, "You become what you eat. Come and eat who you are!"
Ann and I coordinated a training with Scott Stanley a few moons ago. He entertained and informed us about marriage, doing conflict, building intimacy and commitment. Recently, I saw this illustration of his on commitment and it cracked me up.
The posts from yesterday and today are from several years ago. At Marriages Restored we don't abide by the no jumping on the couch traditional wisdom.
Jennifer's (East Coast) update below is chock full of powerful words of wisdom for anyone tempted by or in the midst of an emotional or physical affair.
I took Ben's advice and jumped on the couch (see previous post BW) and I showed my husband the email I sent to Ben and I was very candid about my feelings both for him and for the other person. I was sick over hurting him and potentially ruining our marriage by telling him how close I was to being with someone else. My husband did get the message, but he said that he already loved me completely and totally. He said that he didn't know if he could love me passionately - the way I really need to be loved. I believe that my husband does love me completely. Unfortunately, that doesn't meet my need to be loved passionately.
All of that said, I also know that I chose to marry a stable, calm and patient man and that it is unfair of me to expect him to be someone he is not (unpredictable, spontaneous and passionate).
After many long and painful conversations, we have come to the understanding that we have to seek and find a middle ground. I have to be specific about what I need from him and he has to do everything he can to provide it. I also have to be patient when it doesn't come naturally to him.
I finished school last night. My friend and I completely removed the physical connection from our relationship weeks ago and have committed to end the emotional connection as well. It was hard to do that when we saw each other weekly at school. Now that school has ended, it will be easier to honor our commitment. I will miss him and I still care for him, but I do not want to continue a relationship with him because it will distract me from my marriage.
Through this experience I have learned that I am not selfish to want more than my marriage provides. However, I also know that I was playing with fire and I came close to burning up everything that I hold dear. My husband, our children, our home, our lives - I could have taken a few more steps and lost it all. I have to work within my marriage to get what I need from my husband. Finding it in someone else will only lead to disaster.
My husband has booked a four night vacation to Mexico at the end of April to celebrate my graduation. He surprised me with this trip and told me that, now that I am finished with school, we will get back to the basics of our relationship. We will work on rediscovering each other.
I thank God for this web site and for the kindness of strangers. I am better now than I was when I wrote that email. I am not healed, but I am healing. My husband has not recovered, but he is recovering. We will be okay.
May God bless your marriages and each of you always - Jennifer
Jennifer, Thank you so much. May this Easter find you fully connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Affairs of the Heart: Emotional Affairs Are A Dangerous Game in a Marriage I thought you'd want to know what an impact it (your article) is having. We know the great ministry value an article like this can have and are very thankful to you for sharing it with us. We pray it reaches many more people who need help and healing in their marriages and relationships.
~Valerie Hancock, Lifeway.com
"Your ministry is crucial. So much infidelity, so little restoration. I bless you both for what you are doing. On behalf of the church, thanks. You've paid the price to be able to share what you do."
Larry Crabb, author of over 20 books including Inside Out, Soul Talk and Marriage Builder