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.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Momentum & Inertia

I didn't pay a lot of attention in school. Despite my affinity for all things nerdy, I found classes to be pretty dull and uninspiring. Nevertheless, certain things stuck with me, especially ideas that I gleaned from my Physics and Biology classes. Every now and then, they arise in my memory to re-apply themselves to my daily life. Marriage is a proving ground for many of these concepts.

In our last post, I talked about The Law of Entropy and how it seems that relationships lend themselves to failure unless we act intentionally to preserve them. It's kind of like a garden -- weeds will inevitable sprout up to choke away everything else, unless some outside force intervenes. That's nature's way. Today as I sit praying over my marriage, my mind returns to the ideas of momentum and inertia, and how they manifest themselves in my relationship.


Have you ever noticed that it's easier to maintain a good habit than to establish a new one? That's, in part, because of momentum.  Momentum is summarized in the following rule: an object in motion stays in motion unless a significant force applies to it. Sound familiar?  I look to my marriage and I see this everywhere -- from date nights, to intimate conversations, and everything between. It's easier to continue a pattern of quality time than to start a whole new plan from nothing. It's simpler to continue with clear communication than to dig yourself out of a rut. Motion begets motion. Progress is a snowball effect. Reflect on your own relationship for just a moment and consider your patterns, whether good or bad. What keeps them going? What perpetuates these behaviors? More than anything, it's a sense of momentum.

However, let's take a second look at that rule -- "an object in motion stays in motion unless...." It's far too easy to remember the first part of this and forget the second. Think of driving a car -- how come, if you take your foot off the accelerator, the car gradually slows to a near crawl? Because there's a force acting upon it -- the friction of the road. Daily life is the road that your marriage is traveling down, and it'll gradually hinder your good behaviors and habits unless you keep your foot on the accelerator. Tedious jobs, paying bills, sickness, sleepless nights with the kids -- these things apply friction to your marriage, and we must be intentional to counteract them, otherwise we will soon find ourselves at a standstill.


That brings us to the next facet of this conversation. Inertia is kind of like the mirror opposite of momentum. The golden rule here is this -- an object at rest will remain at rest unless a significant force is applied. We all know this to be the case. It's like a diet or an exercise plan that we always plan to start tomorrow. Well, guess what! Yesterday you said tomorrow. It's time to acknowledge the very real aspects of your marriage that are sitting at a complete stop. Maybe it's having fun together on a vacation, or maybe it's intimacy. Perhaps it's dealing with that baggage from years ago that got sort of swept beneath the rug of time. The reality is this -- a marriage at rest, sitting frozen in time, will remain at rest unless somebody propels it into forward motion. Will you be that person? Will you be the force that propels it forward?

When your marriage is wrestling with the aftermath of a tragedy like infidelity, it's so vitally important to be intentional. Healing and redemption will not come by sheer happenstance. A real plan must be put into place. That's why I urge you to consider how these ideas apply to the daily workings of your marriage. Only be careful examination and thoughtful planning will we find a more whole and healthy type of marriage relationship.

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, June 17, 2015

The Law of Entropy

Your marriage has a default setting. Do you know what it is?

Well, before I tell you all about your marriage's inner framework, I want to describe how messy my house gets. No matter how hard Hannah and I work to keep our home clutter-free, it seems bent on becoming disheveled again. Maybe our home is possessed. If you have kids in your home, you'll especially know what I mean. Many days I feel like we're fighting against the undercurrent of dirty laundry and the riptide of dishes in the sink. It's a swim upstream. We are fighting an uphill battle.

I've begun to accept that the inside of my home mimics the natural, carnal world. Our doormat should read, "Welcome to the jungle, baby." You see, science acknowledges this thing called The Law of Entropy, wherein disorder only grows over time in a closed system. To simplify the idea, you could summarize it by saying that disorder is the way of nature. Nature never organizes itself; it only becomes more chaotic as time passes. That's my house. If left to its own patterns, disorder only grows over time. I can't just wait it out. I can't just sleep my days away until the laundry is magically washed and folded by itself. Intervention must take place.

The picture I've painted for you is the same thing that's going on in your marriage. Many couples foolishly walk into marriage assuming that disaster is an exception and that success is the default. Wrong. I would argue that, just as our mortal bodies are prone to decay, our marriages default to disorder. Disorder only grows over time. Intervention must take place. You will not just wait out the storm of your marital issues -- you must take action.

I'm passionate about the underlying thoughts that drive married people and their perception of how relationships work, because I firmly believe these misconceptions can lead to tragedy. It's time for us to inspect the foundation of our marriages and the very frame their built upon, because we've often let pop psychology and romantic comedies form our theology of love. Naivete is the enemy of your marriage. If we are going to fight for our spouses and for the purity of our union, it must begin with soberly facing the truth.

Failure is the default for your marriage. I say this not to discourage or alarm you, but to compel you to action. Intervention must take place. We must intentionally sew the seeds of love, respect, and accountability into our marriages.  Please take a moment today to reflect upon your inner beliefs about relationships. What you believe will be manifested in what you do, for better or for worse.

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.

Monday, June 8, 2015

No Man's Land

You weren't meant to die here.

Everyone knows the story of Moses and how he led his people out of Egyptian captivity. Disney even made an animated film about it. In so many ways, I see the experiences of many marriages in that story, especially when I look at how the Jewish people respond to the suffering that comes after their slavery ends. Unfortunately, the end of their servitude was not their final obstacle.

Affairs work the same way.  Even if you find victory over this daunting issue in your marriage, it surely won't be the last problem, and the shadow of infidelity can have a chilling effect on any struggles you face in your future. Suddenly, minor hurdles become major battlegrounds. Annoyances become burdens. Frustrations become toxic. Everything can appear magnified by the pain of the past.

That's where I come back to the story that unfolds after the famous tale of Exodus.  Everything wasn't perfect for the Jews once they evaded Pharaoh's pursuit. In fact, things were pretty awful at times. In Numbers 21, the miserable crowd begins to rise up against God, angry that they feel abandoned in the no man's land beyond Egypt. Take a look:

They began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

Indeed, when any major problems arise after an affair, our heart can resonate with this same refrain. Did God lead us through the pain of betrayal to let us wither in the desert instead? Of course, the answer is no, but the inside perspective is not quite that clear. When the sun's beating down on you and there's nothing to sustain you, it's not easy to see the victories of the past.

Don't misunderstand my heart here. This is not meant to minimize anything you may be facing in your relationship right now; it's quite the opposite. Imagine how serious the plight of the Jewish people must have been, that they would find themselves feeling betrayed by the one who liberated them!  At least, in their captivity, there was food and shelter. At least there was security in their misery. Now, they were in a new and dangerous place they've never been before. And the only solution to their situation was to keep walking.

I write all of this to say one thing: you weren't meant to die here.  God did not lead you to this place only to be devastated again. He is not in the business of watching your marriage suffer. He will sustain you as you travel through the no man's land, between the dangers of your former captivity and the abundance of your future promised land. Keep walking.

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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Vow Renewal

We mentioned in the past that Ray and I had a Vow Renewal Ceremony a few years ago. I've been cleaning out our computer files for the past few days (which has been an exhausting task!) and stumbled upon our Vow Renewal file. I thought I'd share some of our photos from the event as a reminder of the hope there is even in the darkest of situations. Our marriage is such a testament of what God is capable of doing and we are beyond grateful for the opportunity to continually share our story with each of you. Thank you all so much for the continued comments, emails, prayers, and support. Our marriage is not "fixed".. but it has come such a long way! Enjoy these photos from our ceremony.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Perspectives from the Rear-View Mirror

In both blogging and marriage, days quickly dissolve into weeks. Weeks, in turn, cascade into months. It all flies by and becomes this hectic blur of colors as you ask yourself "where did all of my time go?"  It's been awhile since we've actively updated this page, and I recently began soul-searching as to why this has been the case.  In the process, I've discovered some insights about our healing journey that I feel compelled to share with everyone who has faced the sting of infidelity as we have. Let me summarize it by saying this: I have some good news for you.

I've said it before and I will repeat it again -- marriages are measured in seasons. Every new phase of your life comes with its own themes, motifs, and obstacles. Where are you right now? How would you describe the season that your marriage is traveling through? For many couples who have dealt with the burden of an affair, much of this depends on how long it's been and how your initial recovery process went. The logistics of piecing your relationship back together, one shard at a time, are complicated. I fear that many people stagnate in this introductory path to recovery, stuck in bad habits and poor communication. Couples don't struggle with a lack of intention to stay together -- they struggle in figuring out how.

That brings me to the issue of why we haven't been as active here lately. We are in a new season. This February marks three years since my affair took place. Although it is still on our horizon, we are blessed with the distance that time provides. The era of our relationship now is utterly different -- the defining issue of our life is not my affair anymore.

Instead, we are increasingly facing the issues of our extremely busy schedule. Both Hannah and I are full-time college students. We are part-time youth pastors at a church. I teach music in the evenings and I have a day job too. Hannah is a stay-at-home mom and that, in itself, is enough to exhaust anyone but she is also a part-time nanny to a sweet little boy. Our battle is a grey one, where there is no bad guy or enemy at which we can redirect our efforts. We are facing the entropy of adult life and the moonshot of changing careers. It's a different kind of struggle entirely, and we are blessed to be facing it.

Now, please don't misunderstand me. The scars are still there. We aren't just "over it" now... There is no "over it" as far as I'm concerned, there is only the daily walk towards a better future. The pain still throbs and my infidelity still has a murky, ambient influence on our life altogether... but it doesn't define us. It may have defined one of our seasons, but it doesn't define our whole lives.

That's my good news to you. Whether you are on day 1 of the aftermath, or day 101, know this: the affair does not define you. It may define this season, but it will not define you. You are more than the sum total of your grievances. Trust me when I say that the image from the rear-view mirror looks very different.

It's our sincere desire to begin writing here again -- but the tone may change a bit. The outlook of our marriage is one where the infidelity looks different, because time and experience has molded our vantage point. So, we encourage you -- talk to us, share your stories, and help us share the one we've chronicled on our page. Ask us questions and give us suggestions. In marriage and in testifying about experiences, we are not done. We are just moving forward.

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 or follow us on Facebook!