Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Surveying the Horizon

    It has been Hannah and I's distinct privilege to share our story with the world through this blog. Lately, it's been on our hearts to expand what we're doing here, in hopes of reaching and helping more people than ever.  Because of this deep desire to help others using our experiences, we are going to be making some changes to this blog in the coming weeks.

   It is our vision for this blog to become a central hub of resources for couples. From media(books, music) to support services, and everything in between, we desire to cultivate this digital space into a comprehensive and fully-functioning area where relationships can find healing and wisdom.  The blog portion is merely phase one. As always, we are personally passionate about helping others with their difficulties, so we encourage readers to contact us via email or discuss these issues through the comment section located at the bottom of each entry.

   We also want to improve the user experience of this page, which means altering it aesthetically and functionally.   One of the simple fixes we have already done is registering our own domain at www.themeaningofrepentance.com .  In terms of user experience, we welcome your suggestions and thoughts on how we can make the website more user friendly and palatable for visitors.  You also may see a few ads appearing on this blog now, and I hope that this is not too intrusive to your experience.

    Lastly, we hope to expand the influence of this page both in depth and scope. We want to reach more people and we want to impact people more deeply than ever before. This is not about numbers -- it's about the lasting value of helping couples find healing and peace.  We ask you all to join us in this endeavor, by sharing this blog on social media platforms (Facebook, Pinterest, etc), engaging in the blog through comments & emails, and by praying for us as we continue to explore the many possibilities that stand before us both online and offline. As we roll out specific portions of this plan, we will update the blog accordingly, so keep checking back!

   So that's our plan for the future of The Meaning of Repentance. What would you like to see on this blog? What topics should we cover? How can we serve you? Let us know in the comments below -- we value your input!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

{Beware the frozen heart.}

   First and foremost, let me clarify that, yes, the title of this entry is a reference to the Disney movie Frozen. I'm the father of two little girls, so I think I can get away with that.  Besides, Frozen is a great movie full of some very valuable truths. Being a dad can really teach you to appreciate princess stories in a whole new light.  In my last post, I explored the idea of vulnerability and how being broken is a key to healing your relationship.  In this entry, we will examine the dreadful alternative to vulnerability, and we might observe some parallels in the Disney film as we proceed. Maybe.

   In the opening of Frozen, an ominous song warns us to beware the frozen heart. This is a foreshadow of things to come, as we face this concept in multiple ways throughout the plot. We are introduced to two sisters, Elsa and Anna, and we soon discover that Elsa possesses the curious and fearsome power to manipulate and create ice using magic. After an accident where Elsa injures her sister using her abilities, a group of trolls are consulted to heal the icy wound. They insist that the family could have faced tragedy if her heart had been affected.  It seems that a frozen heart can be a mortal wound.

   Following this accident, Elsa chooses to isolate herself from the world, in essence embracing a frozen heart herself, emotionally speaking.  She becomes a shut-in, and seems to loathe the outside world and her own alienation.  This frigid spirit ruins her relationship with her sister and the community, and eventually sets the stage for the conflict which would endanger her sister's life and the entire kingdom.  I'll let you watch the film to find out the conclusion, but I can tell you that there's a lot of interesting truth in this children's movie if you're searching for it. Now, let's see how these themes parallel with the marriage experience during times of hardship.

   Indeed, a frozen heart can become a formidable obstacle in a wounded marriage's recovery.  Allowing yourself to become bitter, calloused and cold can poison your marriage quickly.  However, we see that bitterness can often spring up from the aftermath of an affair or any other kind of wrongdoing, so why does this happen? Understanding this natural inclination is the first step to change.

    If you've ever been deeply wronged by a loved one, you know that becoming distant and calloused can be a defense mechanism to protect from further harm.  Keeping the transgressor at arm's length will prohibit them from betraying you again. The unfortunate side-effect is that distance will also prevent substantial healing. Vulnerability allows forgiveness to take place, and callousness only breeds contempt and enmity.

  Overcoming the voice in your head that demands for your spouse to pay the price is also a difficult task.  After all, you want them to understand your pain and the depth of the sorrows they've given you through their actions.  As a person who has monumentally hurt my own marriage, I cannot tell you the timing or the steps to take on your road to forgiveness and vulnerability. I can only assure you that, in order for your marriage to survive, you must embrace the broken nature of your own heart.

   Harboring a frozen heart can be the kiss of death for a marriage, especially when forgiveness is so desperately needed.  When two hearts, the sinner and the wronged, accept the nature of their own brokenness, they can pick up the shattered fragments and form back into one cohesive piece over time.  Perhaps, as you read this, you realize that you've been infected with a frostbitten heart. I have one extremely simple suggestion for how to begin resolving this.

  If you are a person of faith, pray.  There is one short phrase that I pray over my marriage almost every day, and it goes like this:     God, please soften our hearts towards one another.  When you pray this simple sentence, mean it sincerely and desperately.  It is not a mantra or some kind of magical incantation that will fix your relationship. It is a petition for God to prepare you both for the painful process of repentance and forgiveness.  

   Lastly, I want to encourage everyone who reads this to be constantly vigilant over their own hearts.  Reflect on your attitude and outlook towards your spouse, and question whether or not you've allowed your heart to harden.  By tending to this hidden issue, you may spare yourself a great deal of turbulence during tough times. 

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about The Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from infidelity. We urge you to subscribe via e-mail for regular updates... no spam, I promise!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

When Breaking Hearts Collide

    In the past two years, a handful of people have asked me for advice on how to recover from the dreadful impact of an affair.  I am always hesitant to provide practical advice, because what brings victory to one couple may spell disaster for the next.  Each situation is different and every relationship contains its own nuances and variables.  There is no formula for success, but there are certainly some over-arching concepts that I believe benefit every person who faces this type of crisis.

   If I had to impart one piece of advice to a person who's been wronged in such a lasting manner, it would be this:       be vulnerable.  This is a tall order, to be sure, but it is the clearest path of reconciliation. Let me explain.

   We understand that repentance blooms best from a truly broken heart. I submit to you, in the confidence of my own experience, that forgiveness is best transmitted between two broken hearts, that of the wronged party and that of the transgressor.  It is the one in error who bears the burden of being humbled by their guilt; it is the unfortunate task of the victim to expose themselves to future betrayal if they wish to mend the relationship.

   This is not meant to downplay the wronged spouse's pain and torment. In fact, I believe that this single step is probably the most difficult of them all in the recovery process. Being vulnerable means opening yourself up to further sorrow, but it also allows two wounded hearts to align as redemption takes place.  The only other response to profound transgression is to become calloused and detached, and this is a grave outcome.

  Hannah has performed an unspeakable feat of bravery by allowing me to remain in her life, because this means she is affording me the chance to transform our future or ruin our lives.  Her vulnerability is an enormous risk, and it is absolutely crucial to our healing process. It is the catalyst to our relationship's renewal.  If she did not allow her heart to break in humble vulnerability, I would be nothing more than a deeply sorry man, clamoring on about my own shame in vain.  Her vulnerability gives my guilt meaning.

   If you believe the Bible, we see this same notion reflected in God's love for us.  God, compelled by His desire for reconciliation, sacrifices His own son to make a path for us.  He wanted us before we wanted Him.  He exposed Himself to rejection through the gospel story. When we think of salvation, we often consider the broken nature of the sinner, but we frequently miss the broken nature of the savior.

   Transformative repentance requires the alignment of two breaking hearts. This is much more grand than the simple notion of being really sorry. When repentance leads to profound change, it requires the deep and lasting efforts of both people involved. As I mentioned before, the alternative response to vulnerability is callousness, coldness, and defensive distance. This heart posture is dangerous for the individual and the relationship as a whole, and I believe it is a sign of potential ruin.

   In my next post, I will discuss the dangers of harboring a heart that has become too hardened to allow forgiveness.  If you want to keep up with my updates, you can subscribe to my blog on the right side using your email(just updates... no spam, I swear!).  Let me know your thoughts on this matter of vulnerability and brokenness, and check back for the next part of this discussion.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their road to recovery after unfaithfulness. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook, and we urge you to contact us if you need help with the recovery process. We offer support services in-person and via Skype/Facetime. Above all, know that you are not alone.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Father's Love.

   Being a dad is a profound blessing.  It fulfills me in such a unique way, and it challenges me to grow and change constantly.  Without a doubt, parenting two little girls can be exhausting, but overall I find it to be easy. In a sense, it comes naturally.  By comparison, I feel that my role as a husband is one that I handle much less gracefully, and in the aftermath of my affair, I've come to realize that the love I have for my spouse is deeply flawed, and must be revised thoroughly.

     Lately, I've been examining the love I have for my daughters.  After a great deal of musing, praying, and observation, I have concluded a rather unusual idea. I believe that our marriages would benefit if we loved our spouses more like we love our children. This sounds bizarre, but hear me out.

    Before we proceed, let me diffuse a few potential misunderstandings. I believe that the difference between parental love and spousal love is not a matter of quantity but rather of the qualities that each relationship has. The problem doesn't lie in how much we love our spouse, but rather how we love our spouse. Also, I am not encouraging men to treat their spouses like children, or to view them as somehow inferior or immature.  Regardless, even in a parent-child relationship, the dynamic between the parent and child changes as the child matures and grows.

    To begin the dissection of this idea, let me pose a question:   why do we love our children? If you have a child, you can relate to the feeling of parental love, but even if you are not a parent, you can still observe this in the world around you.  We adore small infants without any real prompting, and we consider it highly unusual whenever a parent seems cold or distant with their children. There's a few reasons for this, and I believe we can gain insight into our marriage relationships by exploring this further.

   I distinctly recall looking down to my two daughters when they were helpless infants in my arms, and coming to the conclusion that I absolutely love them although they do literally nothing for me. They don't help me, serve me, or understand me. I love them for the sheer beauty of their existence. The only thing they've done to warrant my love is exist.

    Secondly, I look at the natural world and I have to attribute my fatherly love towards instincts.  It is natural to care for my children. My biology demands that I protect them, provide for them and cherish them.  In many ways, taking care of my child is just as intuitive as taking care of myself. I feed myself because self-preservation is one of the most basic elements of life, hard-wired into my brain. In the same manner, I love my children because something primal within my mind compels me.

   I suppose that one could argue that we love our children because they are an extensions of ourselves, and we love ourselves in a simple and survival-centric way.  The Bible notes in Ephesians 5:28-29 that no one really hates their body, but instead loves it and cares for it.  If you remove the term "body" and insert the word "children", the text seems equally true. Again, this can be attributed to the very nature of being human.

    Now, let's contrast these observations with what we often see in marriages. Sadly, marital love can often become transactional -- we love our spouses for what they do, what they have done, and what they will do.  I want to love my spouse like I love my daughters -- for the sheer beauty of her existence.  To me, this kind of appreciation is far superior to the norm that says "I love my spouse because she _____(completes/encourages/serves/etc) me."  If you tether your marriage to a list of actions, your affections will falter when behaviors and circumstances change.

   Furthermore, I want to love my spouse in a deep, instinctual, hard-wired way.  This is a tall order, because no amount of determination can change a person's biology or genetics.  It is a lofty goal, but I want to be so dedicated and rooted in my marriage that it becomes a native and engrained part of me as a person.  In the Bible, we can look again to Ephesians 5:28-29 as it instructs husbands to care for wives as their own body.  Sometimes I think we take for granted how serious and enormous this task can truly be.

   I believe that our marriages would benefit if we try to love our partners more like we love our children and less like we used to "love" our boyfriends/girlfriends during our dating experience. If you are a Christian, I think the evidence for this concept is even more concrete. After all, we are commanded to love others like God loves us(John 13:34), and God loves us with a fatherly love(Luke 15:20-24,1 Cor. 13:4-8), so this means that we ought to love others in a fatherly way as well. Think about this. How can we love others in a Godly way if we don't understand what Godly love is like? I will explore this idea more deeply in a future post, but I believe the overall portrait we see in the Bible is a Heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally, provides for us, and rejoices over the simple wonder of our existence. That's fatherly love for sure.

   In conclusion, I hope we can embrace this idea of loving our spouses in a new way, and I pray that we can discover a deeper affection for our marriage as we see the beauty and simplicity of a parent's love. Let me know what you think in the comments or via e-mail, and thanks for reading.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their road to recovery after unfaithfulness. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook, and we urge you to contact us if you need help with the recovery process. We offer support services in-person and via Skype(video).

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Triangle of Risk

   My heart breaks at the thought of any couple wrestling with the ghosts of infidelity.  No matter the theater, marriage is a battleground, but the war against unfaithfulness is particularly vicious.  In private conversations, Hannah and I have discussed the types of people who would be more susceptible to this  failure.  In my mind, I can identify certain traits that indicate a risk, so I have labored mentally to really organize my thoughts on this. Otherwise, discussions of risk and vulnerability seem totally arbitrary and subjective.

   I have identified three characteristics that often converge in an individual and make them more prone to infidelity. This is by no means exhaustive or definitive, but it certainly seems true in my observations. I pray that this does not come across as abrasive or offensive, but instead that it becomes useful as a tool to protect ourselves from the dangers of straying.  This is not meant to be judgmental in any way, because the foremost person that I am critiquing with this article is myself.

    The first attribute in the triangle of risk is being a social extrovert. This is not to say that introverts never cheat, but an extrovert is more likely to engage in interactions with others that may lead them down a dangerous path.  Extroverts may also be more likely to garner the attention of another.  Being a social butterfly is not wicked in itself, but it can lead to wickedness, just as any personality attribute can become perverted into something else.

   Studies have also found that extroverts are more likely to stray.  This troubles me, because I consider myself a very sociable person, and I can't help but feel sometimes that this characteristic is like a curse. Nonetheless, I use this concept as a reminder to guard myself against the common snares that social interaction may bring.  If you are going to be known publicly (as musicians and public figures are), you must recognize the obstacles that lay hidden in your path.

   The second risk factor is attractiveness. This sounds crazy, I know, because the parameters for attraction can vary greatly.  In this observation, I am referring to what I consider to be "conventional attractiveness".  Yes, I'm sure that some women find Jim Gaffigan irresistible, but Chris Hemsworth is more likely to captivate the attention of those around him for obvious reasons.  Some people are conventionally attractive, and some are not.  This does not mean they cannot be attractive to anyone, it simply means they are not appealing to the masses, to the average Joe(or.. Jane?).  Attractive people have more opportunities to cheat, and tragically, these opportunities can turn to temptations. Temptation, in full bloom, leads to disaster.

    Both of the elements outlined above -- extroversion and attractiveness -- do not, in themselves, indicate a vulnerability to cheating. That's where the third and most pivotal risk factor comes in:  moral compromise.  Infidelity is almost universally condemned by society, regardless of religious background or worldview. A morally compromised person disregards the perils and potential losses associated with having an affair, because they are not anchored by any concept of ethics.  A person can become morally compromised by many situations. For example, a person can find themselves morally weakened by the loss of a loved one, a recent breakup, or other circumstantial issues, but none of these excuse the behavior that can spring up from immoral thinking.  When a person finds that their own conscience has become silenced or overrun by other competing voices, tragedy is surely near.

   So that's my theory on the triangle of risk.  I encourage you to measure yourselves and others by this ruler.  If you ever wonder whether a friend or associate is a potentially hazardous influence, consider these three factors. Perhaps our marriages will be strengthened as we navigate through our lives with greater consideration.  In sober introspection, evaluate yourself as well so you can avoid the tragedy of unfaithfulness in your own life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Marital Distress: A Dichotomy

   Over the past several months, I have been blessed, encouraged and reassured by the responses to this blog. Whether by email, comments or in-person discussion, it has been surreal to see my words resonate with others.  At times, it's been honestly overwhelming.  I've heard tales of grace and stories of tragedy, and I feel in no way qualified to give advice or counsel on these very serious issues.  I am simply a broken man, bearing his fractures for the world to see

   This blog has been quiet for a little while.  When it was established, I spilled my initial thoughts, reflexes and revelations in the fallout of my affair.  Now, it's time for a change of seasons... I will be writing on the hereafter, so to speak.  I will be pressing forward into the second phase of this long healing journey.  I will also be exploring multiple mediums for this blog -- I will be posting video entries, songs, and anything else that comes to mind.  So let's begin.

   I have observed a common thread interwoven throughout all of the tales of frustration and struggle that I've heard over the past few months.  Not all marital issues are equal in scope or severity.  I believe that the first step to resolving any conflict, whether big or small, is identifying it for what it truly is. I'm no psychologist, but it seems to me that most marital problems fall into one of the following three categories:

   1)  Daily Frustrations.  Living with another human being is difficult.  This is true if your cohabitant is your college buddy or the love of your life.  The difference is that how we serve our spouses in the grind of daily living can reflect upon our marriage as a whole.  Frustrations will come, and it is the offender who must discern whether or not each issue warrants confronting. Daily frustrations can also become a battleground for the next category of marital strife...

   2)  Critical Conflicts.  There are some issues where spouses can agree to disagree.  This is not that kind of issue.  Critical conflicts are problems that, if unaddressed, will turn toxic inside your relationship, guaranteed.  This can be baggage from previous relationships, infidelity, substance issues or a variety of other difficulties.  Critical conflicts also manifest themselves through small problems.  If you've had an argument about a chore or daily life issue that seemed much bigger than the situation called for, these critical issues may be rearing their head.  One way or another, critical conflicts will escape as pressure builds within.

   3)  Systemic Illness.  These are not issues, per se, but presuppositions we carry about our spouses that can spoil our lives with them.  When we begin to see our partner as an enemy, a combatant or alien, the illness has taken hold of our heart's perceptions.  These issues, left unattended, will only bring destruction.  Systemic illnesses are bigger than individual conflicts.  They are a collection of misshapen and warped thoughts, growing out of control as time passes by.  The tendrils of systemic illness will impact so many aspects of daily life, from small interactions with your spouse to major life decisions.  Dealing with these runaway assumptions should not be delayed.

   As I stated before, I have learned through my own folly that identifying the issue is critical to resolving it.  Perhaps you are dealing with daily frustrations, and grace can soothe the abrasion of shared life.  If you find yourself wrestling with the other two types of marital distress, I implore you to seek God in prayer, search His word, and consider reaching out for help to a pastor, friend or family member.  Your marriage is worth the effort.