Monday, May 2, 2016

Step Zero

Everybody wants a quick fix. 

Look around. From your Facebook feed to your pastor's sermons, we're living in a bullet-point world. The unfortunate truth is that some life obstacles cannot be boiled down to a tidy set of formulaic instructions that you can simply follow on your path to progress. In moments of crisis, we must ask ourselves whether we will reach for the cheap relief or instead, will we choose to dig down and unearth the deeper truths our soul longs for.

The internet is littered with lists that promise a healthier marriage. After an affair, however, there is one requirement that often goes unnoticed. For the transgressor, it's a prerequisite that can either empower your recovery efforts or defeat them single-handedly. It's step zero.  It precedes all other endeavors in your journey to healing.

Step zero is the act of maintaining a heart prepared for repentance.

Speaking as the one who faltered in our marriage, I know it can be far too alluring to search for the silver bullet. "Surely, there's one magic cure-all for our wounds", you may think to yourself. Therapy, or a job change, or a re-commitment to intimacy.... these are all logistics. We can often lose sight of our spouse's deepest need in the search for logistical gains. Our spouse doesn't need a five step action plan -- they need to see our thorough repentance.

The dilemma of your heart condition can be tragically compounded by the affair itself. A spouse strays with a callous in their heart towards their partner, and the infidelity itself only serves to numb them further. Once they turn back to try and mend the marital wounds, they find themselves utterly estranged to the whole concept of feeling guilty. This, in my opinion, is the number one reason why many cheaters choose to surrender, clinging to their wicked actions, instead of turning to right their wrongs. Their deepest sense of repentance has atrophied. Transgression begets further transgression.

This phenomenon  is why I believe it's so important for every spouse to take a self-inventory and ask, "is my heart prepared for repentance?"  Think about it. If you massively failed tomorrow, would you be capable of profound contrition? Is your heart in a place where you can even fathom true and definitive repentance? We must remain vigilant over the wellness of our own hearts in marriage, because a calloused perspective can lead to actions that only serve to perpetuate this hardened state.

Wherever you are in your marriage's journey, acknowledge your true heart's posture towards your spouse. For the sake of our covenant and for the sake of our future, we must embrace the step that precedes all others -- we must be able to acknowledge our errors and pursue reconciliation from a place of true repentance. If we cannot complete step zero, nothing else matters.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We encourage you to subscribe via e-mail for regular updates.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Cheater's Perspective on the Ashley Madison Leaks

In case you've been living under a rock for the past three weeks, hackers have recently dumped around 30 gigabytes of user data from the infidelity-promoting website Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is essentially a dating site that is designed to help married people find partners for having affairs. It's a totally appalling premise, but one we shouldn't find surprising considering that we live in a cultural climate that discounts marriage and laughs at the notion of monogamy.

As a person who's actually had an affair, I want to lend my voice to the public fray as the web tries to sort out what happened and what's coming next. Every few days, a new celebrity's name appears on the data dump, implicating them into a life of moral decay and shrouding their public persona in darkness. We need to take a moment and gain a wider perspective on this highly controversial incident.

The most foundational conclusion we can reach about this issue is that the users of Ashley Madison are people mired in wickedness and dishonesty, and that the entire premise of the website is purely disgusting. That's just a gut reaction. If you click on any article about the hack, you'll find that the majority of comments surround this idea. People continue to recycle the same sentiments: the cheaters deserve to be revealed, what goes around comes around, they got what they were asking for. I agree wholeheartedly -- there are practical and social consequences for infidelity, and one of those is a loss of reputation and the shame that comes along with it. Just look at what the media's doing to Josh Duggar and the Christian vlogger Sam Rader.

Beyond the pearl-clutching, I feel like there's some deeper truth to be found beneath this fiasco. Every affair is a tragedy, a disaster in the lives of those it touches. There were nearly 30 million people on Ashley Madison -- that's a nation full of broken marriages, even if the faults and cracks were concealed by a digital veil. 30 million tragedies... that weighs heavy on my heart. Something is deeply wrong with our perspective on marriage if that many people are seeking affairs. So let's put aside the memes and the wise cracks and dig for deeper truth.

Perhaps one of the most profound thoughts to take away from this data breach is that statistics are reporting that between 85-95% of Ashley Madison users were male. Aside from the fact that this means AM was essentially a scam, a cesspool of men seeking women where there were none to be found, it also says something very disturbing about the male condition, or about the male perspective on marriage in our society. Do men really seek affairs that much more than women? Are men really that awful at fidelity?

Yes, and no. Other studies have shown that, although men do struggle more in this area, it's not to the magnitude shown by AM's database. Some estimates have asserted that around 70% of men and 50-60% of women will struggle in the area of fidelity. So, although men aren't that much more likely to seek affairs, they apparently are more likely to do it in a fundamentally different way. What social mechanisms can explain away the fact that AM was almost entirely filled by men? Statistically speaking, where were the women? And why are men even slightly more prone to infidelity than women, even by conservative figures?

Those are questions I can't yet answer, as disturbing as they might be.  One thing's for sure, though. Men and women alike need to revisit the statistics I mentioned above -- through all the moralizing, wisecracks, and judgmental commentary, the public must begin to realize that infidelity is tragic but it is not rare. I have to say that again... let me rephrase it. Unfaithfulness is horrible, but it's not uncommon. It's very common, actually. Every newlywed who gasps in disgust at the AM scandal needs to realize that they are susceptible to this. They. Are. We must go beyond our pearl-clutching and find a place where we face reality, so we can build a better future for our marriage and for society as a whole.

What are you doing in your marriage to defend it from the very real temptation that infidelity brings? What are you doing to protect your spouse and guard your own heart? What do you really believe about the foundations of marriage and the incidence of unfaithfulness? These are the questions we all must look in the mirror, before we eventually come face-to-face with the same crisis that the AM users are facing now. Let's turn our idle thoughts into intentional action.

Take a moment today to really reflect on the sad reality that affairs are everywhere. Evaluate the needs of your marriage and make a plan to fight for your spouse. It's worth it, and it's so crucially necessary.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We encourage you to subscribe via e-mail for regular updates.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Your Worst Year

Life is very long. The poet T.S. Eliot echoed this sentiment in his scatter-brained and impressionistic poem The Hollow Men, and I think about this simple phrase quite often. Every married couple meets at the altar with a heart that desires to commit for the long-haul. But the long haul is very long. The notion of forever feels very different to our imaginations than it does to our travel-worn feet after years of pressing forward.

Sometimes I think about all the married people I know, especially the young ones who have only been married for a year or two, and I wonder what the future holds for them. Life is very long. A myriad of events are before all of us, shrouded by the future, and we only discover them day-by-day and piece-by-piece. Blessings and tragedies; victories and setbacks. Obstacles are not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Our only choice is to stand vigilant or close our eyes in proud ignorance as they get closer.

Every relationship is marked by special occasions -- your union will have a first day, and it will have a last day. At the end of your life, there will be watershed moments that shine bright in your memory. Your marriage will have especially good times, and especially bad times.  That's not morbid; it's just a fact.

I ponder all of this because it makes me realize the truth that every marriage will have a worst year. Maybe you're in the middle of it right now, or maybe it's already behind you. Or maybe, just maybe, it's right around the corner. In the history of your marriage, it will have a high point and a low point. Where will you stand when you face your worst year ever? Will you remain strong or buckle beneath the weight of it all?

If I had a chance to speak into the life of a newlywed couple regarding our own experience with infidelity and the road to recovery, I'd ask them this:

On the worst day of the worst month, right in the middle of the worst year of your life, and of your marriage, will you cling to your commitment? Will you treasure your vows? Will you pray against the temptation before you and rebuke it with fury? Or will you falter? What is your marriage made of?

We all enjoy the high points, but the low points tell us so much about the fabric of our bond with our spouse. Trials and tests often show a person's true colors. Victory is not a matter of how many pleasant days you have, but how you withstand the difficulties and challenges. Join me in reflecting on these truths so we can all stand strong against the headwinds of the future, and all that it holds for our marriages.

Today, all I ask is that you'd review the vows you made before God at that altar. Reflect upon the trials of your marriage's past and ponder the potential trials that lie before you in the darkness. Don't be naive; be strong... and cling tightly to your spouse, because life is very long.