I love your blog. It’s been like an anchor for me in this tempestuous, disorderly world.
I have a question for you about marriage. The subject is of a very serious nature.
I was married for almost seven years, and the relationship was difficult from the beginning. My ex-husband was a serial adulterer. I loved him with all my heart and did everything I could to overcome this problem. But after a certain point it became too crushing a weight to bear. There were other problems as well. He lied a lot and was extremely dismissive of me. He maintained other relationships with other women for years. I spiraled into a deep depression, and became angry and fearful, which only made things worse.
Finally, with the encouragement of a pastor, my family, and all of my friends….I did the unthinkable and filed for divorce. It was freeing and traumatic all at once.
I had prepared myself to be a helpmate, a wife, a homemaker, a mother. Now, I find myself in a vulnerable position of working, going back to college and putting my two year old in a day care. Everyone cheered me on when I was going through the divorce telling me to be an empowered woman, but now that I am an “empowered woman” no one is here to help me. This is what empowered women look like: single mothers struggling to make ends meet, working, going to school, struggling to be a good parent. It’s my worst nightmare, but sadly even this is better than living with the constant adultery and lying.
That is the background, and here is my question. My ex-husband has been going to counseling. It’s only been five months since our divorce was finalized. He has been going to counseling and to church. We are on good terms. You could even call it friendly. I never stopped caring about him. I just could not bear to live with a broken covenant of marriage. I couldn’t bear the other women, pornography, lying. I just couldn’t!
He has been writing me letters and calling me frequently, expressing sorrow for his behavior. He says that he still loves me and regrets his past behavior. He says he is not a liar or adulterer anymore. He wishes there was a way to rebuild our relationship and our family.
Now, I wonder if I made a mistake. I sometimes think I should have filed for legal separation instead of divorce. I should have given it a year. I don’t know.
My family is totally against me giving my ex-husband the time of day. They are totally 100 percent against me even entertaining the idea of getting back together with him. Part of me wants to restore my family. Part of me is terrified that he hasn’t changed.
Do you think I owe anything to my ex husband? Do you think it’s crazy to entertain the notion of allowing him back into my life and my heart? Or, do you think that it’s prudent to just walk away and let the end be the end?
Every time I see a family at the park I want to cry. I hate and despise the thought of being a single mother. However, I cannot return to a relationship founded on betrayal, distrust, and pain. He went on drinking benders after the divorce which was his way of dealing with the loss of his wife and children.
Believe me when I say that divorce was not something I did on a whim, and I didn’t take it lightly. It was a last resort. But now I wonder if the situation has changed….now that he has had to pay the consequences of his actions…I do feel like I failed as a wife, but I also know that even the Bible stated that adultery is grounds for divorce. I should also clarify that our intimate life was very good. I was totally receptive to him in an intimate way as a wife, and I gloried in being a woman, his woman.
In all other ways, he is a fine man. He works very hard and doesn’t complain. During the divorce process and even now, he has been very kind toward me, making sure we have enough money, ensuring we are safe, helping me when I need it. He is not violent in any way. He is intelligent and creative. He has served bravely in the military, and has a college degree. We are still friends in a way. There are things I love about him, and I still care about him. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I love him. Love is a choice and it can grow if the garden is tended but I can’t force it to grow. One of the things I love the most about him is his strength. He is not a weak man. I’ve never heard him complain.
I would be interested in your thoughts about all this.
I’m sorry to read about your troubles. I fully understand your anguish and your overwhelming feelings.
Leaving aside your individual situation for a moment, it’s worth noting that it used to be that a man might risk his career and public reputation if he had an adulterous affair. It was much more scandalous than it is today. Things have changed dramatically in America and Britain even though most people still don’t approve of infidelity. In The New Rules, Catherine Hakim, a British sociologist and author, even argues that adultery can be good for a marriage. “Sex is no more a moral issue than eating a good meal,” she writes. “The fact that we eat most meals at home with spouses and partners does not preclude eating out in restaurants to sample different cuisines and ambiences, with friends or colleagues.” That an author could find a major publisher to entertain such ideas shows how far we have come. The vast majority of people would not agree with Hakim but, on the other hand, not many people are accustomed to ostracizing those who have betrayed their spouses. This became very clear to me recently when someone I know who has been married for more than 20 years posted smiling pictures of herself and her boyfriend on Facebook.
This general laissez faire approach leaves the adult who has been betrayed alone and without support, no matter how compassionate friends and relatives may be. Generally, divorce is viewed as the appropriate response by the betrayed spouse. So in addition to losing a spouse’s fidelity, the betrayed spouse loses everything.
Divorce is not a solution to adultery. This is true for many reasons.
For one, divorce puts the spouse who has been betrayed in the ironic position of breaking his or her vow in retaliation. When we make a marriage vow, we promise not just to love a person, we vow to love the institution of marriage itself. A marriage is like a house that two people enter. The vow keeps the house from falling no matter what the people inside do.
Divorce ruins the promise of unconditional love and the possibility of meaningful change on the part of the adulterous spouse. Most importantly, it hurts the children and prevents the possibility of more children.
Adultery is not sufficient grounds for divorce in a Christian marriage. That was the Church’s long-held view based on Jesus’ own words.
But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
And they twain shall be one flesh; so then they are no more twain but one flesh.
What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. (Mark. 10, 6-9)
From the Gospel of Matthew:
Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives:
but from the beginning it was not so.
And I say unto, Whatsoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marry her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Mat.19, 8-9)
Sometimes “fornication,” or porneia, is translated as “unchastity,” but it could not have referred to adultery in the original. That would mean that whoever wanted to divorce his spouse would only have to go out and have relations with someone else. The idea that adultery is sufficient grounds for divorce makes Jesus’s words on this subject unreasonable. Marriage is central to our relationship with Christ.
While divorce is not grounds for dissolving a Christian marriage, a spouse who has been betrayed should not simply accept being deceived. Not at all. Separation is one possible solution. There is physical separation with the spouses living apart and there is the better alternative of a state of separation while living together. A person does not owe sexual intimacy to a spouse who has lied and been unfaithful.
The blogger A. Guy Maligned at What Women Never Hear has many thoughts and practical advice on how wives can go about restoring their marriages in cases of infidelity. He has quite a few posts on the subject. While all of his advice would not apply to you since your husband has a long pattern of lying and cheating, some of it does.
A wife in your position needs a strategy — yes, strategy is the right word because you must not act purely on your feelings. This game plan must be founded first and foremost on the profound differences between your husband and you as male and female. From what you have said, I believe it is still possible to restore your marriage, especially since you were only married for seven years. That is not a very long time for either of you to work on your ingrained tendencies. Remember that you have something no other woman can offer your husband. You are his wife and one reason why he has appeared more repentant since you left him is surely that he values your fidelity highly and does not want to see it go to another man.
You may be able to motivate him to please you and to be faithful within the context of marriage. That is the goal. But even if you cannot, and even if you fail in this endeavor, you can still have the most important fruits of marriage. You have your children and your fidelity and love for them. You have your own virtue and wisdom. No one, not even a cheating spouse, can take these away from you. Only you can turn these benefits of marriage down. Your marriage is a gift to God, especially when it brings you none of the things you most hoped for.
You will unquestionably need God’s help in overcoming your hurt and anger, which destroy you from within and do you no good. You cannot overcome your hurt and anger on your own. It is impossible.
I believe you can live in peace and fully realize that your marriage is an immense good no matter what your husband has done. You have not been deprived of any of the things most worth having in this sad world. All of your suffering, every minute of it, can be turned to gold.
—– Comments —-
Terry Morris writes:
I just wanted to compliment you regarding your advice to Leila. I read it with extreme pleasure, agreeing with virtually every syllable.
I literally think I could write a book about Godly marriage vs. the unthinkable alternative. It has been my personal experience, as well as what I’ve witnessed otherwise, that extended family (relatives) generally are more destructive to marriage and family than they are helpful in most situations that married couples will inevitably find themselves in during the course of their marriage. And the woman tends to be more vulnerable to bad advice coming from relatives than is the man. Exceptions granted, of course.
Mr. Morris’s comments remind me of something I also meant to say to Leila. She would be wise to stop talking about this at any length with her relatives and friends. They have already given her bad advice. Also, in talking about it, she is likely to incite her own negative feelings and dissipate the energy that might go toward dealing with this on an inner level. She has a much better confidante anyway. God does not mind if we complain and point to the injustice of it all. It is not our duty to be Pollyannas with him, as Job so brilliantly demonstrated. He will listen.
Bruce B. writes:
In this entry, you wrote:
“Sometimes “fornication,” or porneia, is translated as “unchastity,” but it could not have referred to adultery in the original. That would mean that whoever wanted to divorce his spouse would only have to go out and have relations with someone else. The idea that adultery is sufficient grounds for divorce makes Jesus’s words on this subject unreasonable.”
I realize I have no special authority to interpret the Bible but here’s how I have understood Jesus’ words.
In Christianity, it is legitimate for a man to divorce/put away his wife only if SHE has committed adultery (which would be fornication by definition since it is outside of marriage). So the Bible indicates that a man cannot initiate a divorce by commiting adultery regardless of whether porneia is translated as “fornication” or “adultery.” It would also seem that a woman has no right to divorce her husband, presumably even for infidelity.
That’s what Jesus’ words seem to indicate to me. Am I missing something?
I do not have the authority to interpret the Bible definitively either, but I take the Catholic Church’s wisdom on this issue (often violated in this time of rampant annulments) to be perfect and reasonable. Christ was emphatic about marriage making a man and woman “one flesh.” Adultery is a grave offense in the case of a woman because it creates the possibility of a man raising another man’s child, but porneia is interpreted by the Church to mean “sexual unlawfulness,” as in a couple living together without marriage or cases of incest.
This is where society at large comes in. It is impossible for justice on this matter unless society takes a vital interest in it and shames those who are unfaithful. Every woman who commits adultery involves a man in her wrongdoing and he, as well as she, can be penalized or ostracized. In the military, adultery is still an offense that qualifies for a court martial. I don’t know how often or even if this rule is still applied, and I realize there are reasons why the military would take infidelity more seriously than other institutions, but it is one vestige of a tradition of taking adultery seriously.
Lydia Sherman writes:
I agree with your analysis of the divorce situation. One thing that divorce does is cut loose the offending partner to go and start another family and repeat his bad behavior. This could happen over and over if he does not learn his lesson. Then, the already offended first wife has to contend with the fact there will be half-brothers and sisters of her own children, and visitation of her children to the newly formed family of her ex-husband. This can get extremely complicated. I have seen awkward weddings, funerals and family reunions of children who had several sets of divorced and remarried parents and many step-siblings. People do not think that far ahead when they are contemplating divorce, but if the original mates were to stay married, it is possible that they might mature beyond adolescent behavior — and yes, for the sake of the children, straighten up and fly right. One of the purposes of marriage is to protect the couple as they work through problems. They are still within the walls and structure of the marriage. While I do not condemn those who have divorced, I have seen over the years that it does not make life better for the woman or the man.
Additionally, just because a person is within his rights to divorce does not mean he should do it or that it is the wisest thing to do.
You have a remarkable capacity for expressing your deep and abiding faith in the sacrament of marriage. I’ve never actually understood it, and I’ve never heard it expressed with such strength and conviction.
Bruce B. writes:
“but porneia is interpreted by the Church to mean “sexual unlawfulness,” as in a couple living together without marriage or cases of incest.”
I’m not sure I follow this part of your response. Does that mean that Christ was saying that it is valid for a husband to divorce his wife only in cases of “sexual unlawfulness” e.g. living together without marriage or in cases of incest?
I’m sorry. I was not clear. As I understand how it has been interpreted, it means the marriage may be null if the couple was never truly married in the first place or in cases of incest.
Mark L. writes:
That was excellent advice you gave to Leila on the subject of divorce following adultery. I appreciate your thoughtful reading of Matthew 5, having wrestled with this concept for years. The synoptic gospel accounts all deal with the question of divorce, and in two of those (Mark & Luke), there is no “exception clause,” so-called. We only see this in Matthew, who, as many have noted, was writing mainly for a Jewish audience that would have had a clearer understanding of what was meant by “fornication.” While in our culture we tend to interpret “fornication” in a broad sense to include any and all sexual immorality (including adultery), there is good reason to understand the term as used by Christ in a narrower sense.
“Unchastity” (to use your term) during or prior to the betrothal period, would have been grounds in the contemporary Jewish mind for dissolving the marriage bond. Essentially, a betrothed Jewish couple were considered married even prior to consummation. If a man had caught wind during the engagement period that his “wife” was not a virgin, or found this out on the wedding night, he had license to divorce (according to Jesus, as quoted in Matthew).
However, the Greco-Roman audience for whom Mark and Luke were writing (I realize I’m generalizing) would not have had the same ideas concerning a marriage extending into the betrothal period. If we understand Jesus’ reference to “fornication” in the narrower, Jewish sense, we have no scriptural grounds for divorce – even for the cause of adultery, which is NOT implicit in the term “fornication.” I recognize that is a big “IF,” but many Christians do still hold to this.
Under this view, the person who divorces his or her spouse (for whatever reason, apart from a very limited definition of fornication) causes that person to “commit adultery.” Jesus is saying that in the normal course of life, a divorced person will more than likely seek another partner, and thus remarry. And once that happens, the person effectively becomes an adulterer, assuming the former (i.e., actual) spouse is still alive. It’s a tangled web: all parties are implicated; none are innocent.
Thank you for this excellent clarification and contextual reading of those passages.
Hurricane Betsy writes:
This adulterer has been calling and begging, claiming he’s a changed man. Anyone can say that. I would love to know what happened to him during and after the divorce proceedings to cause him to pretend to change his spots. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he is worried about his public image. Not long after he is back in the family fold and in Leila’s bed, he’ll be able to relax and be what he always was: a liar and a cheat. I can’t believe the naivete of some of the commentary on this woman’s situation. Yes, the husband has many good qualities, but faithfulness, trustworthiness and truthfulness should be at the top of the list, and they were not.
Where does the Christian Bible say that we have to forgive no matter what? Because Christ did? I don’t, I’m not Christ. Let us suppose that darling hubby was diddling the child. Would she still go back to him because he so strongly proclaims himself a changed man? Why make a distinction between serious, continuous adultery (not a one-time drunken tryst at an out of town convention) and just a bit of child molestation, ie, no physical damage done, just a bit of fondling?
As the Jews say, “There are limits”.
For her part, Leila needs to make a firm resolve to keep herself clean for a long period of time. Five years, maybe. No men, no dates. Just raise her children, get her education, enjoy life, and see what she becomes. I suspect that she will become a new person, horrified that she ever considered going back to a disturbed individual. It’s important to keep in mind that it has been only five months since the divorce. Everybody is still raw. Time changes perspectives and it will here, too.
Best of luck to you, Leila.
I’m not going to comment on Betsy’s points except to note that I never said Leila’s husband was likely to change. However, it is possible he will change. Obviously I entirely reject Betsy’s line of reasoning. Christ had a response to it: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” [John 8:7]
I said I wasn’t going to comment on Betsy’s points but, okay, I have one more thing to say. The type of women Leila’s husband is sleeping with are not worth getting so riled up about. They’re losers. Total losers. Even if they are goddesses, they are losers. The sort of anger Betsy expresses is based upon a wife’s misplaced sense of inferiority, not upon her strengths.
Bruce B. writes:
Mark’s point is confusing to me. He seems to say that Jews extended the marriage into the betrothal period and that a violation of the marriage in the betrothal period would be grounds for divorce. But then why wouldn’t violation of the marriage after the betrothal period be grounds for divorce? Either way it’s a violation of the marriage.
But then why wouldn’t violation of the marriage after the betrothal period be grounds for divorce?
In the case of betrayal before marriage, it’s a question of having made a vow under false pretenses. Therefore the vow itself is invalid and that is the important thing. Provided the vow is made without any such impediments, the spouse is held to an unconditional bond.
Mark L. writes:
Your clarification of my comment is exactly right.
I disagree with Betsy. I think Leila should consider taking him back, but five months is way too soon. If he is truly reformed and wants to be the devoted husband he wasn’t before he’ll wait until she’s ready and sure. During that time if he’s serious he can prove himself and be a good father to his kids and help her in any way he can. Off the top of my head, I’d say two years.
Betsy called him a liar and a cheat, but never before in history has it been so easy for a man to be just that. Fifty years ago married men had to go out of their way to have an affair or view pornography, to be “a liar and a cheat”. Now all the natural barriers to infidelity etc. have been lifted and the challenges are very great. There are women and men mixed in virtually every workplace, working one-on-one, even travelling for business together. Women have become more aggressive and many will have the man they are attracted to whether he’s married or not. There is a huge problem with immodesty, which is especially challenging in the workplace. Porn is available at the touch of a button, in the home and at work. Both women and men go after old loves on Facebook all the time. Nowadays most everyone knows someone close to them who commited or was the victim of adultery, or who lived with a pornography user.
But does all this mean marriage can’t work anymore? Marriage more than ever needs protecting, needs to be cherished, at a time when it is so disrespected and challenged. I realize this guy has some serious issues but it can’t get worse than divorce. I say, remove the TV from the home, and maybe even the computer; go to church together; spend time together; let it heal; it might just work. I know of two long, happy marriages that survived serial infidelity back in the 70′s when things were just starting to get bad. It can be done.
There are women and men mixed in virtually every workplace, working one-on-one, even travelling for business together. Women have become more aggressive and many will have the man they are attracted to whether he’s married or not. There is a huge problem with immodesty, which is especially challenging in the workplace.
Good points. The feminist workplace makes adultery easier than ever.
Thank you for your insight, and I appreciate all the other comments as well. I can’t even describe the relief I felt when I read your words concerning marriage, divorce, and virtue. The ugliness of divorce is always gilded over with modern words like “empowerment” or “happiness.” When I was married, I felt as though I was in an honored, protected position. I felt proud to be a wife, and I felt that it drew me closer to God…as though it was my vocational calling from God. I miss it. The children are well cared for and happy, but they miss their father as well. And how does it work if I did remarry another man in the distant future? This would not be the father of my children. They would not be his heirs, his blood, his descendants. It bothers me so much.
As it stands now, he is trying to get a job in the town where I have moved to in order to be closer to us. He has also begun a quest to earn my trust and rebuild our family, though I have promised him nothing yet. Your words have given me the courage to give him the opportunity to show me through his actions that he has embraced personal reform. I especially enjoyed reading Mary’s comment. A lot of his strange behavior came from his upbringing as well as from PTSD, and he has been going to counselling regularly. He is a loving father, and he is still adamant that I always was the love of his life. It was almost like he just couldn’t help himself when he was having the affairs, more like a mental illness or addiction than willful evil. And these women, they were not good women, and I was never threatened by them. In fact, my ex-husband never would have divorced me, and even now he told me that he felt like lost his best friend. I think perhaps he has learned a lot about his behavior as he’s gone to counseling and developed relationships at church. I am hopeful. However, I agree with one of the comments that I should give it a good two years. I miss being a wife! I feel as though my dignity has been stripped from me. Where a wedding ring used to decorate my hand there is only emptiness, and I feel shame when I meet new people. I feel uncovered and broken. Though, this is only an outward sign of how I felt internally during the worst of the marriage. I have hope, and I feel more open. You were right that my ex-husband is very upset about the prospect of me dating another man. It enrages him! Though he is not violent toward me in any way, but I can tell it fills him with strong feelings. Despite all that, I have made a personal commitment to remain completely single for at least a year as I focus on my children and building a life.
Anyway, I truly appreciate all of your help. I’ll read and reread it many times as I think about my life and my children.
You are welcome. I think you are wise to stay apart from him for at least a year.
And how does it work if I did remarry another man in the distant future? This would not be the father of my children. They would not be his heirs, his blood, his descendants. It bothers me so much.
Yes. Christ did not speak of husband and wife as being one mind or one soul or one heart. They are one flesh.
Jeremy Morris writes:
I have been following the discussion on your blog about adultery and marriage, and while I have no real comments of my own, since you and your readers have covered it most thoroughly, I would simply like to give you a link to a sermon by a man named Matthew Trewhella entitled, “God’s first intent of marriage.” Mr Trewhella is a man of about 52 years of age father of 11 children and has been married for 28 years. As you might guess, he is quite passionate on this subject.
This single sermon covers most of the discussion on your blog, but also it is part of a series of sermons given on the same subject, all of which are worthy of attention. I send this so that maybe it will give Leila the strength and encouragement she needs in her time of trouble. Thank you for your blog and your time.
Terry Morris writes:
Thanks to Betsy for remaining true to her moniker and providing a prime example of the kind of passion-driven bad advice I spoke of in my initial comments to this thread. I could not have done a better job if I would.
Leila, according to Betsy, is to get on with life following these simple procedures: (1) Raise her children – as a single Mom in a broken home, while devoting much of her time and energy to (2) furthering her education, presumably to secure her place in the workforce, thus providing her children with a decent living. Not to mention to rebuild her all-important self-esteem. She ought to treat herself to a boob-job while she’s at it. Meanwhile her children will be raised in some government approved daycare (and/or, public school – same thing) as Leila is to (3) “enjoy life,” knowing full-well that “career, single Motherhood” is a contradiction in terms. I’m sure glad Betsy added the ”best of luck” comment, since if Leila is foolish enough to follow such advice yet again, she’s going to need a bunch of it. Pure luck, that is.
In the interest of brevity I will conclude by adding that I would strongly urge extreme caution to Leila’s apparent acceptance of thePTSD excuse for her husband’s sexual infidelity. Like ADHD, once the diagnosed recognize it for its potential of excusing all manner of personal misbehavior, they’ll begin to utilize it for precisely that purpose, sometimes without even knowing it themselves. In that regard her husband is likely receiving extremely poor counseling from those providing him the service. And speaking of ADHD, it’s likely she’ll have to face the issue with at least one of her children as a directresult of her divorce, barring reconciliation of course. …
Betsy’s “You Go, Girl!” advice seems pro-woman, but it’s not. It’s just the kind of thinking that weakens the institutions of marriage and motherhood for all women by turning both into vehicles of government-sponsored and government-controlled female self-affirmation. As Mr. Morris points out, the solutions Betsy proposes are not palpably better for Leila or her children than enduring an unhappy marriage with a man who has lied and cheated but supports her, shows repentance and does not physically threaten her in any way. Mr. Morris forgot to add that while Leila is doing all of the above she will presumably at some point be searching for a new husband, who will blend his children from a former marriage with hers.
Hurricane Betsy writes:
Is divorce, especially by Christians, always wrong? Yes. No. Check one.
At what point do you ignore all your beautiful arguments, as posted on your article, and just say, “No way. Get rid of the bum”?
How about a truly good man, 100% perfect Christian husband, who you discover a few years down the line is doing a bit of physically harmless fondling of one or more of his babies or young children? No penetration, utterly painless, nothing to leave marks or physical scars.
Then he is found out, and repents like crazy, same as Leila’s husband. He does it all, as enumerated. Swears on the Bible and his children’s lives that he will never, ever again touch those kids improperly. Should he be given another chance? Yes. No. If not, why not.
It’s all about where you draw the line. Some will draw it at serial philandering. Others will draw it at molestation, even the most physically benign sort. Others will draw that line elsewhere. I say, draw the line at serious infidelity. It does not mean I am displaying a You go, girl! outlook or that I don’t look askance at single motherhood/career/daycare, etc. I was talking about making the best of a sad, unfortunate situation, namely, that some women, including Christians, do marry an unsuitable man. And that if you have the guts to dump him, and do your level best with the row you’ve been given to hoe, you will emerge better than ever in ways that have nothing to do with feminism.
Further, where is it written that when a Christian woman dumps a grossly unsuitable husband, she has to someday remarry? The assumption has been made by commenters on your article that she HAS to ultimately remarry. I know a few women who after leaving, or being predeceased by, truly awful men at a relatively young, premenopausal stage, stayed single. They are doing all right. Also, so what if the dumped husband remarries and produces more children. The old family doesn’t have to relate at all to the new one, why do you all think that. If a man treats me like crap and I get rid of him, why would I encourage my kids to think that their father’s new family are somehow worthy of their attention?
You have ignored my suggestion of separation in truly irreparable situations.
Regarding your point about child abuse, stepfathers are much more abusive to children than biological fathers, which is yet another argument against divorce.
Randy B. writes:
It’s interesting to read these types of articles from a remove. I have not been through such a traumatic and trying ordeal, nor do I understand the mindset that allows one to cheat on the other’s spouse, so I am not a good audience for advice if asked. But, I do enjoy being able to dissect the story as told, and measure that against story’s I have heard from friends on both sides of such relationships. Several points:
1. No matter who cheats, when you hear people talk about break-ups it’s always the other person’ fault, and the stories become much more grandiose as time goes by. At some point they go over the knee of the curve; anger is replaced by another love, people invest themselves in their work, children or hobbies to move on, and the anger seems to be less of a crutch in need of exaggerated placement.
2. While separation suggests a window for healing (in some cases I think that time away draws the heart closer), it has an air of permanence. In many examples I can point to, it seems people that separate make a less emotional disconnect from the problems then people who are confronted with the absolutes of divorce.
3. It seems that women, who are supposed to be much more loving and attached, almost never come back when they are the ones that leave. While men on the other hand return or attempt to return more than half the time (my out of fanny stats based on my years and associations). Women have and enforce bonds to their children much more strongly than they do with their own spouses in many cases.
4. Men who are addicted or compulsive cheaters/adulators follow this pattern.
a. They deny when caught.
b. They get angry that you are in their business.
c. They extend this anger in the form of blame to the wife and kids.
d. They accept the situation.
e. They detach.
f. Then they realize the costs (financial, emotional, professional).
g. Then they apologize, and seek forgiveness.
h. They profess their love and desire to restore the family.
i. If accepted back they act fine for a while, and more times than not, once comfortable, they return to the behavior that caused the problems in the first place (adultery, drinking, gambling, etc.)
Continuing, I will not offer advice, but have an opinion. I suspect not all aspects of this story are up for public scrutiny. I agree with most of Laura’s response from a Biblical perspective, but differ on the finer points of judicial relevance (the courts are no longer interested in upholding the bonds and obligations of marriage, rather they seem to encourage divorce).
I am able to speculate on what I might do if in the same position, with roles reversed. Once, I would work to overlook, forgive, and move on. Twice, we are done and it’s final. But then my kids are now all grown and away from home. If they were younger and still at home, would I rather raise my kids with a Mom and Dad, hell yes. I would also attempt to measure the distractions and mental gymnastics I would put them through by splitting them between to (now) dysfunctional homes. They would both be dysfunctional, as I would be damaged by either a divorce/separation, and she would be damaged by the same, as well as fighting the damages she caused, in addition to the constant attempt to fight for dominance when it came to overcoming her digressions in the kids’ eyes.
My heart goes out to Leila and her kids, while I hold no such emotion for her husband (taking the story at face value).
Randy and Betsy do not believe in the transcendent nature of a vow.
I realize Randy is not enthusiastic about divorce but still he would give a spouse one chance to fail and then out the door.
It’s interesting to me how many people think that it is impossible to live a decent life and have an unsatisfactory marriage, even a very unsatisfactory marriage. Many people have done just that throughout history, just as many people with homosexual desires somehow managed to get through life without living in a modern-day San Francisco, and yet today an unhappy marriage is considered a fate worse than death, a form of torture that surpasses all other suffering.
My husband grew up in a working class city neighborhood. When he was a boy, he could often hear couples fighting at night through the open windows. Husbands hit their wives and wives hit their husbands. Bessie Haughey called the cops one night and said her husband, who weighed about 100 pounds less than her, was beating her. “Arrest him!” she said, as Mr. Haughey sat in his chair, pale and immobile from a serious illness, incapable of hurting a fly. No one got divorced in that neighborhood. No one. And they had plenty of reasons to kick each other out the door. Occasionally, a husband ran away and was never heard from again, but in general loyalty and permanence — not happiness — were taken for granted. This sense of loyalty permeated their little society.
The conditional marital vow, as opposed to the unconditional vow of that time, changes everything. It encourages uncertainty and distrust in all human relationships. It makes a mockery of the serious sacrifices of those who remain together without personal fulfillment. There’s a reason why people speak of marriage as the foundation of social order. It’s the place where people most often decide whether self comes first. And the answer is definitive.
The happy fairy tale that the modern age has made of marriage didn’t exist before 1960. The idea that everyone has one and only one perfect soulmate somewhere out there has delayed marriage for years for many a lonely single. Before the modern age marriage was often out of necessity, as men needed women’s strengths and women needed men’s; marriage could be pre-arranged by your parents; was most often with someone from your area with your values and religious faith; it was simple and the most natural thing in the world and people knew it would be hard, not easy. They saw the sufferings and challenges of marriage all around them. Individual happiness was not the priority, the marriage was the priority as instinct told them it was something essential: the taking part in the perpetuation of humanity, a contribution available to every man and woman who would be joined together for life by a vow. Something worthy of great suffering if necessary.
Some marriages are better than others – none are perfect. But the institute of (natural) marriage itself is perfect: it is an ideal that should be protected and upheld simply because children, our progeny, thrive within the family formed by the marital union. And that leads me to my main point: most of the divorces I’ve witnessed have harmed the children greatly. I believe many would not divorce again if they could have seen the damage it would do to the children ahead of time, not to mention the financial ruin. I say this as a child of divorce.
Catholics believe marriage to be a vocation and as such believe it receives supernatural help in the form of grace. The husband and wife make sacrifices drawing upon this grace, sometimes very difficult but beautiful sacrifices, for the sake of their children. This means you stay in the marriage as long as humanly possible and endure all kinds of things you never thought you could.
It is one of the ironies of our day of total sexual licentiousness that infidelity nullifies marriage vows so immediately and completely in the minds of so many.
Hurricane Betsy writes:
Laura said: “You [Betsy] have ignored my suggestion of separation in truly irreparable situations.”
I meant to say in my post that I agree with you completely, but I forgot to include that. So I apologize. Indeed, I have known from Day 1 that if I should have to leave my husband, or if he dumps me, I will not get a divorce. I have not changed my mind. Some will say that if you leave permanently without a divorce, you are just splitting hairs, that a separation (and no other men) til death is basically the same as a legal divorce, but it’s not.
Your last para: “The conditional marital vow, as opposed to the unconditional vow of that time, changes everything. It encourages uncertainty and distrust in all human relationships. It makes a mockery of the serious sacrifices of those who remain together without personal fulfillment. There’s a reason why people speak of marriage as the foundation of social order. It’s the place where people most often decide whether self comes first. And the answer is definitive.”
This is very good. I personally understand what you mean.
Okay, good we’re on the same darn page. : – )
Marriage is like the army. It requires heroism. Some die in the trenches and others never see combat. But all defend something vital and necessary.