Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Choosing to Refrain

There is a battle waging in the hearts of so many married people. It is a conflict of what they know against what they feel. So often, affairs begin when a husband or wife unduly places their emotions on a pedestal, making an idol of their own heart. I know, because I've been there. Temptation finds root in our feelings, and I write today as a person who's looked this dreadful beast in the face. Temptation itself is not the source of a marriage's downfall, however, and here's why.

Temptation is a matter of feeling. Temptation's dark allure appeals to our primal and selfish desires, regardless of our conscience's objections. By contrast, faithfulness is a matter of choice. In the past, I've written on the topic of temptation from my own personal perspective, but I feel it's necessary to present a better alternative. If married couples wish to resist temptation, they need something else to embrace in its place.

Our society has elevated feeling to a place where it does not belong. Our emotional center should not be the compass of our lives.  Though feelings have their own value, we must submit them under a greater and more enlightened authority. We often hear of a person's emotions being centered in their heart, and I believe that each person is at odds constantly. There is a battle raging between our heart (what we feel), our mind (what we know), and our hands (what we do). We see it every day in the world around us. It's time for each of us to question where our allegiances lie.

You've heard it on TV before -- couples claim that their marriage was dissolved because they merely "fell out of love", as if their vows depended on feeling warm and fuzzy about each other. We've received emails like this before, and I can tell you with certainty that your marriage isn't won or lost on the basis of feelings. Instead, it is your choices that make the difference. The desires of your heart are always in flux, like the cascading waves in a vast ocean. Temptation cannot uproot your relationship by itself. Your response to temptation will either make or break you.

Desire is a feeling; restraint is a choice. The desires that influence a marriage cannot overcome it without the surrender of a spouse who's willing to give in to temptation. By indulging our flesh's base desires, we are giving up to the lower and more primal part of who we are. This is where affairs begin, when we allow the ever-changing current of our emotions to overcome our intellect and volition. As I look upon my own journey, I feel like my bow to temptation demoted me to the level of a mindless animal. I forfeited a part of myself in that moment.

Today, know where you stand. Your marriage cannot stand strong on the basis of how you feel. Knowing is superior to feeling, so embrace what you know is right for your home regardless of your emotions.  Faithfulness is a matter of what you choose, not what you want in the moment. If you find yourself drawn to the siren's song of temptation, choose to refrain. It is your choice that will either preserve your marriage or destroy it.

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.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I have a memory that stands out so vividly in my mind. One day, as I was riding through a small town with a group of friends, I saw a house on fire. This dwelling was not simply burning, though, in the traditional sense. Usually, when we think of house fires, we imagine windows pouring smoke and the glow of a flame concealed somewhere within. Not this time. The building I saw was reduced to a mere skeleton, torched to the frame by the swirling fireball that overwhelmed it.
It wasn't burning; it was incinerated.

That's what I want to do with the memory of my affair.

I don't want to merely move past my wicked actions -- I want to utterly destroy them. If there was any price I could pay to right my wrongs, I'd pay it, but this is a debt I can't afford. How can anyone who has stumbled so profoundly overcome their past? Maybe we can't erase our mistakes, but we can certainly respond with urgency to the wounds we've caused. No one can truly take back their own deeds, but we can work endlessly to undo their unjust repercussions.

Over the past few years, Hannah and I have talked to a lot of couples who have struggled with the cumbersome weight of infidelity, and each marriage handles it differently.  One thing's for sure -- many couples don't survive this. I don't mean this as a condemnation, it's simply a statement of statistical fact. I believe that couples can overcome this tragedy, but it's a matter of how. Those who survive the initial trauma of an affair often lose traction in the following months and years. There must be a better way to move forward.

There's more to recovery than staying together. Once you withstand the initial fallout that comes with an affair, there is a great deal of work to be done, especially for the one who strayed. For the transgressor, this means toiling tirelessly to help heal the wounds you've created. Every person who cheats has a choice to either act with urgency or fall into stagnation. How a person responds to their affair can make all the difference in the journey to recovery.

Step back for a moment and take an earnest look at your past. What have you done to radically combat your mistakes? There's more that can be done. Do not settle for a life of silent, married misery. If your former lover is in your life, sever them from it completely. If your spouse feels disgusting and ugly because of your wayward affections, tell them that you adore them every. single. day. until they believe it. Examine the issue and torch it. Do not settle for hanging by a thread.

If your spouse has agreed to stay, do not stop in your efforts to make things right. Your spouse's grace is not the end -- you can do so much more. Honor the mercy of your partner by tearing down the idols and monuments that your affair has constructed.

For me, part of incinerating my affair is this blog. Through this website, Hannah and I get to make an effigy of my affair. Unfaithfulness was supposed to conquer us, but instead, we are using it to heal and encourage countless people. We are taking our trauma and turning it into a weapon instead. It's beautiful and ironic.  If you are the victim of infidelity, evaluate the state of your marriage and honestly tell your spouse what you need. More quality time? Alright. Do you need them to change jobs because the affair started there? That's a reasonable price to pay. Tell them what you need, as difficult and painful as it may be.

Finally, if you are the transgressor, examine your actions, your inner self, and your marriage.  Discover the places where your affair still stands tall, and find a way to burn it to the ground. As long as your spouse is still around, you have the beautiful opportunity to counteract this dreadful error. More than ever, we want to encourage you all to contact us if you need help -- we're here for you and we pray for you. There is hope.

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The Meaning of Repentance
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Tuesday, July 1, 2014


In the wake of an affair, your mind can feel truly haunted. Dates, locations, images and words swirl around your brain, taunting you constantly. The morbid details of infidelity become seared into your heart, and to overcome this torment, I believe you must establish new memories and benchmarks for your relationship. You must celebrate your love and create measurable points for your progress. For our recovery process, we used tattoos as a visual reminder in our personal campaign to re-claim lost territory.

Try to guess what mine is.
For those of you who didn't know, Hannah and I like tattoos. A lot.  In fact, we don't wear any kind of wedding bands or rings normally, instead opting for tattoos on our ring fingers instead.  Although I think this may receive mixed reactions -- some people think it's nifty, and others think that it makes us look like ex-cons -- I believe in this decision and I love this way of commemorating our vows to one another. We used to wear rings, but in the light of everything we've been through, we established this new way of reflecting our love and commitment.

Lately, I have been re-evaluating all of the familiar tropes and traditions that accompany weddings and marriages. I believe that wedding culture has become more about vanity and spectacle, and less about the beauty of marriage itself. In a previous post, I wrote about how I walked into our marriage with some pre-existing conditions that played a role in the turbulence we've faced. I have to wonder if these traditions that we embrace are helping us or hurting us, and I will probably write more about this in the future.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I don't think there's anything wrong with the traditional wedding ring. I actually enjoy wedding bands for decorative purposes, but when it comes to signifying the commitment we have to one another, only a permanent mark on our hand will truly suffice. Sure, rings are pretty, but they don't really represent my relationship with Hannah. Here's why I love marriage tattoos.

They're actually permanent.

I find it perplexing that we allow wedding rings to symbolize our marriage relationship, when they can easily be taken off and thrown in a drawer. Our tattoos, by comparison, cannot be hidden in any practical way. I cannot simply remove this symbol of our love because it is literally a part of me. Likewise, getting a wedding tattoo after surviving infidelity is so fitting because you have shown your marriage to be tougher than steel. If you have overcome the sorrows of unfaithfulness, your marriage is virtually indestructible. Even unlike other tattoos, which can easily be concealed by clothing, a mark on your hand is very visible at all times...just like your marriage should be. I couldn't think of a better way to represent our commitment, as an always-present part of our bodies.

They hurt immensely.

The pain of my ring finger tattoos rivals any other discomfort I've experienced. Honestly, it felt like my finger was being severed, and  I think that's a fitting experience for something that represents my marriage. Whereas a diamond ring comes with a hefty price tag, a tattoo's primary cost is measured in pain. It requires a sacrifice, just like marriage itself. A large diamond brings the wearer glory, but what does it cost them? Too often, we want the glory and privilege of marriage without the cost that comes with it.  Although my tattoo was very painful, I would get it again if I had the chance. In fact, I have to, because...

They require upkeep. Just like my marriage.

Many tattoo artists advise against having work done on your hand, and other areas of your body that may be especially prone to fading. Your hands come into contact with everything you do, which means that your ring tattoo will fade faster than something on your bicep, neck, or ankle. Because of this, ring tattoos need to be touched up and redone on a regular basis. The tattoo requires upkeep, just like marriage relationships do.  Diamonds are forever, but tragically, many marriages are not. Perhaps we should view our marriages like some view their ink -- as something that requires tending to in order to maintain it's initial state. Your marriage is not made of diamond.

Now, I'm not telling you to go out and have some pierced-up guy mark on your hands. Depending on your line of work, that may be a terrible idea. Regardless of how you choose to signify your love, I urge you to re-evaluate it and re-establish it. Spend time pondering the depths of your commitment and how you choose to express it. Be intentional, and no matter the avenue of your expression, your marriage will benefit from it.Your marriage is a beautiful thing, and it deserves to be commemorated and honored somehow. How you do that is up to you.

What are some special ways that you have honored your marriage? If you've gone through a similar recovery process, how did you commemorate your healing? Gifts, holidays, getaways, lifestyle changes... Tell us in the comments below! You can even comment anonymously!

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance. Connect with us on our facebook page and check out our new nonprofit initiative -- The Marriage Mission.