If you’ve ever made the statement in your mind “if my spouse ever does/doesn’t do this, I’ll divorce him/her” then you may have placed that parachute on your back.
Being married means being unified; being one. We set a relationship up for failure when we get married with the idea that “If I get tired of them, bored with them, or they don't meet my expectations for the "ideal" I could always divorce them.”
This may sound like a terrible way to think, but many consciously and subconsciously do.
When Latter-Day Saints get married it is intended to be for time and ALL eternity. This means that when we get married, our spouse’s problems, former abuse issues, parental issues, habits, addictions, communication weaknesses, etc…are now our problem too.
“Then we’ll just wait to get married until I know everything about my future spouse…”
There is a good chance this will not be possible. We cannot know all the issues before you marry. You can date someone for decades, and you won’t see everything you’re getting into before marriage. Some issues don’t even present themselves until after marriage begins. But why try? It’s a grab bag. We get what we get and it’s what we do with what we’ve got that counts. From what I've learned, we have a responsibility to work together as a couple (or at least be willing to) to resolve these issues.
This includes problems as large as adultery. Many members of the church may not be aware of this, but a first- time adultery offense may not necessarily be an excommunicatable offense. Doctrine and Covenants 42: 24-26 teaches us this.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth
has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh
it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; But if he doeth it
again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.“
Too many of us are in the one-strike-you’re-out frame of mind – i.e. “If my spouse has an emotional affair or a sexual one I will divorce them instantly.” If we continue to adopt this culturally-conditioned mindset, we may all find ourselves divorced eventually. In this paradox, if we then remarry, it will likely be to someone who has had an affair or been tempted to have one.
A temptation to have an affair (emotionally or physically) or first-time sexual affair is a symptom of a deeper problem in the marital relationship. Poor communication, trust, childhood abuse issues or trauma, incorrect education about appropriate sexual behavior in marriage, lack of intimacy, sexless marriage, addiction are some of many factors that have and could contribute to a spouse having an affair.
I suppose we always have the option to pull our parachute and escape, or we could do what the scriptures say - forgive, talk to your spouse about it, get counseling, and work through the problem together. It’s hard and it’s awkward, but this is part of being married.
“But my spouse isn’t willing to make the effort to make it work. What do I do?”
I’m not saying there are no good reasons for ending a marriage, because I believe there certainly are. I’m also not saying that everything will be perfect right away if you start communicating and working together. The hard truth is, if one or the other or both refuse to be united and refuse to do whatever it takes to make the marriage work, then they don’t have a marriage. If we allow ourselves to separate in our hearts and thoughts, we run a great risk of eventually become physically, permanently separate as well.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln
“I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” – D&C 38:27
“But what if we go through counseling and do all we can to solve the problems and my spouse has an affair again?”
As the Doctrine and Covenants says, they must be cast out if they do it again. However, once an affair or addiction or whatever the problem has been treated, it could happen again. It’s not like getting a shot and it’s all fixed. The temptation will likely be with you for the rest of both of your lives, and relapses are to be expected in the learning process. Thus the temptation will need to be managed for the rest of your lives.
I’m not saying that serial cheaters should be trusted over and over again. I have learned that there are no single steps to problems such as adultery. No one wakes up one morning and says to themselves, “I’m going to go and have sex with the neighbor today.” There are a series of steps from fidelity to committing adultery. Each of those steps should be consciously managed.
If a person relapses into a single step or steps (such as spouses not talking to each other or keeping secrets, flirting, lusting after someone other than the spouse, etc.), then both need to become aware that they’ve violated that step, try to identify the triggers, and develop defenses together against those trigger thoughts and behaviors.
Psychologists today are learning that they have to take a different approach if they are to helping people completely overcome incorrect behavior by helping the patients understand that relapse is part of the recovery process:
“Falling off the wagon…doesn’t mean total defeat. In fact, relapse is the best teacher on the road to recovery…The slide back into addiction can be reversed, but it has multiple stations of a journey.”[i]
The good news is that you can grow closer by working on your problems together; no matter how difficult they may seem. The chances of adultery happening again when you’re both working on the problems together are much lower than struggling alone.
Consider using this dialogue or one similar to it when you need to address a temptation together:
Wife: Honey there’s this man at work who I feel really attracted to.
Husband: Oh yeah? Tell me about it.
Wife: (Describe the situation) I don’t know why I feel so attracted to him. I only want to be attracted to you.
Husband: (ask questions) Are you not attracted to me anymore?
Wife: I’m still attracted to you. I just have these really strong feelings for him and I don’t know why.
Husband: Have you told him how you feel?
Husband: Have you told him how you feel?
Husband: Good. I’ve felt attraction for other women. Just because we are married doesn’t mean our attraction mechanisms stop working.
Wife: I know that.
Husband: What do you need? What can I do to help you? (Go on to work out some strategies for dealing with the attraction)
As husbands and wives, our goal should be to become comfortable enough with each other to discuss anything. Open, honest communication engenders trust and strengthens our bonds. It makes us truly one and an eternal unit.
“A husband must have no private, hidden agenda that is kept secret from his wife. Sharing everything about each other’s personal life is powerful spiritual insurance.”[ii]