Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pre-Existing Conditions

Recently, a reader commented and asked for us to delve into the causes of infidelity. They wanted to know how the stage was set for this tragedy in our lives. We are so thankful for this suggestion and we encourage you to chime in with other topics you'd like to see us explore. Feel free to contact us via email or through the comments section with suggestions.

Although the topic of infidelity is complex and there are many variables that fluctuate from one couple to another, there is undeniably a few key elements that exposed us to this tragically common situation.  The setup may vary, but there's no doubt that affairs do not occur in a vacuum -- they are often symptoms of a greater underlying issue. An affair can be the most alarming manifestation of a systemic and possibly fatal sickness in your marriage.

In order to battle and overcome the sorrows of my affair, Hannah and I have worked tirelessly to uproot the foundational problems that placed our marriage in harm's way. Here are four pre-existing conditions that exposed us to the fallout of unfaithfulness.

Pre-Existing Conditions


1.) Neglect of Responsibility. First and foremost, I must face my role in this process as the chief person responsible for our marriage's well-being. I am the husband and the leader of our home. For years, we lived in turmoil as I haphazardly and inconsistently guided my family. Our life was like a fun-house mirror, where everything God had expected of me was distorted beyond recognition. I was passive; I was a coward. I bottled up frustrations, acted immaturely, and I failed to tend to the daily needs of our young marriage. I set the stage for this to happen, plain and simple.

2.) Spiritual Stagnation.  In the weeks and months leading up to my affair, our marriage was stranded in a spiritual wasteland. We had settled into a church that we didn't like out of complacency, choosing to be a part of a very superficial community instead of investing in deep friendships. We were an island, with no deep and meaningful connections and no one to help steer us back on course. Again, this reflects poorly on my performance as a husband. It was my duty to shepherd my family spiritually, and I failed.

3.) Unresolved Baggage.  Every person walks into marriage with some degree of baggage, no matter the source. Perhaps there are conflicts with your past, upbringing, or past boyfriends/girlfriends. The question is not whether you have baggage, but what you do with it. It can become the cinder block tied to your feet as you try to establish your new marriage. I had a myriad of unresolved problems regarding my past, and I thought I could simply forget them in time. I was wrong.

4.) Sheer Naivete.  Like most couples, we began our relationship with a great deal of ignorance regarding the road that was before us.  When it came to infidelity, we sometimes thought "that could never happen to us" or "my spouse loves me too much". Those concepts are based in fantasy, not reality. Your spouse is subject to temptation just like every other person that walks the Earth, and you must fight to stay faithful to your vows. Success is not a guarantee, and neither is fidelity. Once again, I neglected to prepare our marriage for the trials that lay ahead of us, and it cost us dearly. I walked into our marriage ill-prepared and aloof to what we would be facing.  I will be discussing this idea of marital naivete more in a future post, so keep checking back.

As you see, the common thread that is woven through each of these elements is my failures and lack of willingness to rise up as the husband I should be. I was the reason it happened, and my wife did not deserve the torment that my immaturity has caused. I want to encourage everyone who reads this to earnestly examine the foundation in which their marriage is set on, because it can influence so much about your future.

You are reading a post on The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from unfaithfulness. Click here for a brief introduction and make sure to subscribe by email(on the right side) for regular updates.



22 comments:

  1. Wow. What a beautiful testimony you have. I am truly inspired by your love and patience as a couple and your exemplary relationship as it pertains to the church and Christ.

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  2. 'Chief person responsible for your marriage's well-being'? 'Leader of your home'? Blimey, and there was me thinking marriage was between two people who are EQUAL. Maybe if you stopped patronising your wife and let her be a full person alongside you your marriage might be stronger.

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    1. As Christians, my wife and I believe that husband and wife are equal in value, but different in function. As the husband, we believe that I am called to be the head of our household and the primary person responsible for it. This doesn't mean that I treat Hannah like a child-- she is fully capable of making sound decisions and influencing our family with her perspectives. We both have value but we play distinct roles.

      I'm not sure what's so villainous about blaming myself for my affair. Are you suggesting I should stop patronizing her and blame her instead? How cruel. I take complete responsibility for the health and well-being of my marriage, and I accept the guilt that comes along with letting our relationship falter. That's my fault, and if taking the blame makes me a politically incorrect neanderthal, then I'll have to deal with that. I don't think it's sexist to take ownership of my actions.

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    2. Different anonymous commenter here. Just had to point out that not all Christians are complementarians. So it doesn't really make sense to say, "As Christians, my wife and I believe husband and wife are equal in value, but different in function." That belief is not a defining characteristic that makes Christians, Christians.

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    3. You are right in pointing out that Christians diverge on basically every issue you can imagine. I suppose I could have clarified my response by saying "as a complementarian Christian...", but in my experience, that kind of jargon usually confuses outsiders to the faith. The point was that my faith enlightens my beliefs on the value and role of women, and I think he got that.

      Whether or not a stance on this is a "defining characteristic" is highly dependent on your personal parameters. But then again, I guess that's just another way that believers diverge. :) Thanks for the comment!

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    4. My personal parameter would be the Nicene Creed. :)

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    5. I agree with Anonymous. How dare you even think that you are responsible for your wife. You are accountible to God for YOUR sin, not your wife's. She is accountible for her own. And that includes being accountable for the use of gifts. Your wife be may MORE gifted than you in leading, teacher, and ministry. Why do you think YOU are responsible for her gifts??? No one, not even GOD ever said you were a LEADER with any authority at all. Authority is based on gifts, and gifts are from the Lord without discrimanation on Greek, Jew, free, slave, man or woman. We are all children of God with only ONE mission. And that mission is to teach other of Jesus Christ. One mission. Two rules. Love God first, then your neighbor as yourself. YOU, my brother, are NOT responsible for anyone other than yourself in God's eyes. If you chose to make yourself solely responsible for the financial well being of your family, that decision is solely on you, it is NOT from God.

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    6. Honestly, I'm not really sure how all of this talk about her "gifts" and "sins" have come into play during this discussion. I never claimed ownership of her sins -- she is spiritually and morally responsible for her own mistakes, for sure. I never claimed otherwise. I am a little confused on the talk about gifts.

      Nonetheless, the Bible is abundantly clear that men are supposed to be the "head" of their households. Ephesians 5 illustrates this with total clarity. In light of this scripture, we know that authority in the home is NOT based on gifts, but instead on the pre-ordained roles that God planned as He created humankind. To argue otherwise is a total insult to scripture. If you believe the Bible, then you believe in the husband's role as a leader. End of story.

      Lastly, I did not mention finances anywhere in the body of this blog entry. In fact, I don't believe we've ever discussed finances at length ANYWHERE in our blog. Not sure where you're coming from, but I would be glad to clarify our position if you are interested. Thanks for the feedback.

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    7. Using the Bible as an authoritative basis for your views? What a concept! I thought scripture was more a 'buffet line' where we can pick and choose things here and there that align with our personal agendas...

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    8. As a non (well, former) Christian, I was also taken aback by the declaration of you being the obvious "leader" of your family simply because you are a man. I am not totally sure what that implies, though it projects the idea that you are the definitive decision maker (undermining your wife's capacity and right to autonomy and equal influence of her life and family), and that you alone bear all or the majority of responsibility for your family's circumstances. I agree with the other posters who pointed out that you are only responsible for your own choices, though commend your maturity to be proactive in creating a positive and stable environment for your marriage. On one hand I think it's admirable you see your role as leader as an incentive to make good decisions, but on the other hand, it seems unnecessary. One - you should be able to determine right from wrong without feeling like you are doing so for reward (Heaven) or approval (from God). In that case there is nothing virtuous about your choices; they are simply done out of self-interest or fear and guilt. Two - Your wife isn't considered the "leader," yet still feels a responsibility to your marriage. You shouldn't feel like you are honoring your commitment out of spiritual obligation but out of mutual love and respect for each other.

      I don't want to dwell on the fact that we have distinctively different ideas about both families and gender roles. I recognize gender as a product of culture and not inherent to one's sex. I also believe that families come in all different sizes, shapes and forms with different goals, customs and values. I appreciate and commend you for saying that your beliefs are simply what is important to you and your wife, and not what is automatically "right." Tolerance is a beautiful thing.

      Anyway, to the point of your post - I think you are placing too much emphasis on certain factors and not enough on others. This is my personal opinion; obviously we are all biased and influenced by our own values, experiences and circumstances. However avoiding temptation is probably the most significant part of infidelity. While I'm sure lack of fulfillment due to lame churches or "unresolved baggage" must have impacted your overall happiness and well being, sometimes even the most happy and fulfilled people cheat. Sometimes it's just as simple as reiterating a few simple ideas, including but not limited to: If my spouse finds out, is the outcome worth it? -- And/Or -- Would I be okay with them behaving in this way? -- And/Or -- In my heart of hearts, is this the right thing to do?

      You should be able to make the smart and moral choice to avoid infidelity by considering those questions, while leaving off putting concepts like "leadership" and control freak status out of it.

      Respectfully,
      Danielle

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    9. Lots to respond to here.... but I will just touch on the main points. Without a doubt, I know that the Christian perspective I've outlined in this post is one of the more controversial ones. In our society which heralds equality as a hot-button issue, the notion that submission/authority is God's desire for marriage seems... primitive. I assure you that it is not, but nonetheless, people walk into this discussion with preconceptions about what being "the leader of the house" means. After centuries of women being oppressed, the idea of "the submissive wife" brings up feelings of victimization all over again.

      I never said that I treat my wife as a child, or that she does not make any major decisions. In fact, quite the opposite. She plays a pivotal role in many aspects of our family, and I don't believe my "leadership" status disparages her in any way. and she doesn't either. If nothing else, I am the leader in the sense that ultimate liability for our family falls on me. I've been in bands, I've run ministries, I've worked jobs, and I've started a family..and I can tell you that, yes, EVERY project that involves people requires an expressed leader. That may seem primitive, but it's true.

      For the most part, we try to make this blog a place that is welcoming to people of all faiths, though we cannot scrub our story of any mention of our more controversial beliefs. Hopefully our non-Christian readers can see past this.

      You are certainly welcome to evaluate my post, but bear in mind that my post was based on the foundations of *my* marriage. For a muslim couple, the answers would vary. For a mormon couple, the answers would vary. My marriage is built upon certain notions and beliefs, and those beliefs reach to every aspect of our experience.

      Lastly, I do believe that temptation (and how we handle it) is so important. One of my first posts was about this -- entitled "Journey past the isle of the sirens". I encourage you to check it out. Thanks for reading.

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  3. Excellent response. God bless and increase in your lives and every life you touch!

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  4. Thank you for sharing so candidly about your story and what has helped in the healing process. There are so many things that can destroy a marriage, but infidelity doesn't have to be one of them. Bless you both for your courage and willingness to continue walking forward with each other, and to live transparently in front of others via blogging.

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  5. I believe the OP is stating that he is responsible for the well-being of the marriage, but never said that his wife isn't. In a relationship you are 100 percent responsible for the well-being of it. That doesn't exclude your partner from their responsibilities. The OP's wife must've done a lot of soul-searching and forgiveness, or maybe she was just weakened into it. I could never forgive such an act. She is either much better a person than myself or lacking a backbone. You admit your wrongdoings to your wife, but it's pretty humiliating to blog about what you did to her. That is something I'd never want another soul knowing. I do hope someone can take something from this, though. Glad you all have made it through. Just don't be surprised if the feelings resurface at times and you all have to battle again for your marriage.

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    1. Hey there, thanks for commenting! I wanted to respond to a few of your statements...

      After Ray confessed, there was lots of soul-searching and forgiving that took place. Now, two and a half years after the affair, soul-searching and forgiving are still a part of my daily life. If I let it, the past can creep back in and overwhelm me. As a Christian, I rely on God to help me through the hard days and praise Him daily for making this journey with me.

      As far as this blog being humiliating, quite the opposite! I made this blog and encouraged my husband to write about our story. I've always been somewhat of an open book. Hiding the pain of an affair is what most couples do.. and most couples' marriage don't survive this big issue. I truly believe that being so open about our journey and leaning on the support of friends/family is *why* we've been able to be victorious over this.

      Unfortunately, adultery is extremely common. We receive countless e-mails and comments from people thanking us for sharing our story because of how much it has helped them. I think we all have a responsibility as human beings to share our experiences with one another as a means of helping each other through life. That's what community is. I have nothing to be embarrassed/humiliated about. I didn't do anything wrong. And even though my husband made a terrible mistake, it doesn't make him a monster incapable of redemption.

      For some reason, adultery is labeled as the biggest offense anyone could ever commit. Don't get me wrong.. having an affair IS a bigger deal than telling a white lie. However, we are all humans and we all make mistakes. I've made some really huge mistakes in my life that I have been forgiven for. My husband knows my biggest/darkest sins and he doesn't hold a single one against me. How could I hold this over his head knowing that he has loved me and forgiven me for things in my past?

      And lastly.. you're right. This issue actually resurfaces on a regular basis. And it probably will for the rest of our lives. We have a tough road ahead of us but I believe in our marriage and the future that we have together. Throwing in the towel because it's difficult is not really my style ;)

      Thanks again for commenting. Hopefully my comments provide a little bit of insight to our life and what we are doing through this blog!

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  6. I admire and respect both of you for your openness and willingness to help others. I know from my own personal experience that everything said in this article is true. My husband (of almost 19 years now) cheated 2 1/2 years ago with my "friend" and he has since been saved and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. He is learning all the same things and takes responsibility in the same ways that you wrote about. He is transforming into an amazing person that desires to be a strong leader, not just in our home, but also with other men, teaching them the principals of what being a true leader looks like in our messed up and confused society. I can honestly say I respect him now more than I ever did before the affair. He is really working hard to become the leader God made him to be and I am so glad to be by his side, making decisions together and learning what it really means to become "one flesh". It is not an easy thing to learn but it does have it's rewards.
    I am grateful for the changes that have taken place in our home, both from his side of things and mine. I too have had to change, since for years he was a coward and passive and distant from our family. I was forced to take charge of things all the time, even when I wanted him to lead. It has been a difficult journey to say the least, learning to trust he will do what he says he will do and trust his judgement in decision making. It's starting over with a brand new person for sure, after an affair, because you can no longer count on what you thought you had. Without having Jesus walk with me in my pain and in learning forgiveness, I'm not sure we could have made it this far.
    The best part, other than the amazing changes I've seen him make in himself, is knowing that our three daughters get to see what true redemption looks like. To see firsthand that people can change, but they have to really work for it. I don't want them to ever think life is easy; they are going to become adults that have seen pain redeemed, as well as the realities of how to work at marriage, rather than just walk away.
    I pray for strength for both of you, as you face opposition in your openness. Being a Christian and living as a Christian is not the easiest path, but it sure does come with many wonderful gifts that others miss out on :)

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    1. I can't thank you enough for this comment! Your story blessed my heart today in big way. To hear of your husband's transformation is truly incredible. Jesus makes all things new. Redemption is such a beautiful thing and I am so grateful that you shared some of your journey with us! Thank you for reading and especially for commenting! God bless!

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  7. I just stumbled on to your blog and I appreciate it very much. I had an affair 18yrs ago. I was serving as a pastor in a church. The pain and destruction was epic. I lost my position and did extreme damage to the church as well as my family. This year we are celebrating 39 years of marriage. My wife has offered grace and forgiveness to me and I have since been restored to the church as we underwent counseling and discipline. We have never been closer and our time together is precious. The journey is long and difficult but it is worth every step. Blessings on you both and your family, thank you for sharing your story with such compassion and humility.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! It blesses us immensely to hear of other couples that have recovered from affairs. There is so much hope for struggling marriages and we are fortunate to be able to share our story with others. Thank you for reading! God bless!!

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  8. Where was God / Jesus / Christianity when the husband was cheating? Why would God want someone to go through this? What a bunch of crap that people use for a false sense of security and comfort.

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    1. I'm not sure how to respond to your comment but I'll give it a shot...

      God/Jesus/Christianity is not a magic potion that magically makes life perfect once consumed. God gave us all the ability to make our own choices in life. Unfortunately, my husband made some bad choices by choosing to engage in an affair. That's not God's fault.

      To answer your next question - God never "wants" anyone to go through any painful situation. But again, He is not a genie in a bottle or a magical guardian angel that protects us from bad things happening.

      I could explain why that is in further detail but if I had to take a guess, you aren't actually looking for answers or information. You just wanted to post an angry, cynical comment. If you ever want to engage in a meaningful conversation about your questions/comment.. email us at contact@themarriagemission.org

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  9. Thank you for sharing! God is amazing! So happy for you both!

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