This is Day 6 of a 10 day series. You can find the other days here.
In all areas of my life: in ministry, in my job, with God, and in my marriage, I didn’t feel like I was “enough.” It felt like I was falling short in every relationship I had. The only answer I could figure out to stop that feeling was to start over…find a new life…leave all of this behind.
After Jill discovered the affair had turned physical, I broke it off. But within a matter of weeks, my resolve waivered and I reconnected with the affair relationship. After going back and forth between right and wrong multiple times, I finally began to make the decision to separate. I secretly began to look for an apartment so I could move out.
It was a Thursday night. Mark and I had played a board game. After we finished he asked if he could talk to me in the living room. He sat down and said matter-of-factly, “I’m leaving you. I’m moving out tonight. I’m pursuing the other relationship.” He walked into the other room and told our 15 and 17-year-old sons that he loved them, but was moving out. After he left, he called our three older children and told them.
For the kids and me, our world turned upside down that night. I had discovered the affair four months earlier, but none of our kids knew about it. They knew their daddy was struggling with life, and depression, and disillusionment, but that was all they knew. That night I decided they had to know about the affair. They needed to know and they were all old enough to know. The three older kids were all married and living out of town but the two youngest were teens that I feared might see their father with another woman somewhere in town so they needed to know the whole picture. They each broke down in tears when I told them….some of them crying so hard they could hardly speak.
My perspective was that the only piece that was holding me to my current existence was my marriage. If I could leave my marriage, I could start a new life. I told myself my kids would be okay. They would be resilient. They would survive. I still remember my youngest son’s face when I told him. The look of shock, horror, devastation, and betrayal still haunts me when I think about it today.
I had already set up an apartment and had been doing so for weeks. I walked out the door feeling free, but I would later come to realize it was a false sense of freedom. You see I was leaving, but I was still taking me with me.
I called my three friends who had been praying for us. Each one of them was on my doorstep within the hour. One friend, who was an empty-nester, came with a suitcase packed. Her husband had encouraged her to stay with me as long as needed. She stayed three days. After she left my dad and sister came. My dad stayed for the next week. I spent my days in a fog and my nights crying my eyes out. It was during that dark season that I wrote the raw, honest post, “Sleeping Single In a King Size Bed.” It was the darkest season of my life. Since then I’ve dealt with breast cancer and the pain of cancer doesn’t even compare to the pain of betrayal, rejection, and heartbreak that I experienced when Mark left.
Naïveté is to knowingly place ourselves in a position of relational danger downplaying the possibility that it could lead to compromise. Years ago, that primarily meant being careful about not being alone with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse. Today, social media has opened up a whole new arena of relationship circles where seemingly innocent connections lead to not-so-innocent relationships.
To be naïve when you have so much turmoil going on inside of yourself is even more dangerous and volatile. I had so many slow fades going on inside of me that my Facebook friendship with someone of the opposite sex set me up to push right through boundary fences that Jill and I had put in place to protect our relationship.
Then there was my pride that led me to believe that I could do whatever I wanted without any potential compromise. I rationalized that I was strong enough. I was mature enough. I won’t be affected. I don’t need boundaries.
Social media and social settings aren’t the only place that many of us are naïve. Many of us are naïve about the books that we read and the movies that we watch and how they affect us. We rationalize that they are innocent stories that we can enjoy without them affecting us or our relationship. The Fifty Shades of Grey book and upcoming movie are good examples of that. We innocently pick up a book or pick out a movie for entertainment purposes, not realizing that these stories can easily cause or fuel discontent in our marriage. Sex scenes in movies or books can cause us to think, “It’s not that way in my marriage.” Suddenly our normal, real marriage is compared to a fictionalized account of another relationship and it doesn’t measure up. (I wrote about that several years ago in two posts titled Fifty Shades of No and Fifty Shades of Experience. )
Porn is the same way. We can rationalize all we want that it doesn’t hurt anyone else, but that’s not the truth. When we pursue porn, it causes our expectations of our very real wife with her very real body to be off the charts. When I have struggled with porn in different seasons of my marriage, it has fueled my discontent and put unrealistic expectations on my wife. Sex was not good enough, frequent enough, or anything enough when porn was setting the standard. The fade started with “this won’t hurt anyone” (naïve) to “I deserve this. I need to let off some steam,” (rationalize) to “another relationship just might be the answer” (compromise).
Too many parents are naïve about investing in their marriage when the kids are little. Admittedly, it’s a hassle to arrange childcare and often there’s not a lot of extra in the budget for “dates” or paying a sitter. However, tending to your marriage is just as important as tending to your children.
Taking care of your marriage is one of the best parenting strategies available to you. Don’t be naïve in thinking that you will take time for the two of you after the kids leave. There likely won’t be any relationship for you to invest in if you wait that long.
These days I’m as committed as ever to accountability. If I need to go to a business meeting or a business lunch with a man, I ask someone else to come along. As the emails have come in during this blog series from both men and women whose relationships are hurting, only Mark is responding to the ones from men. (If we haven’t responded to yours yet, please know we have prayed…we pray as they come in. We’ve had so many that it is taking quite a while to respond to them all!)
These days I’ve turned around the fade of naivete with wisdom. I’m a contractor who is often in people’s homes during the day. I make sure I have one of my employees with me when I’m working in the home, especially when there’s an at-home mom who is there while I’m working. This weekend I’m traveling so I have asked a friend to travel with me. I’m also no longer on Facebook. I’ll admit that I miss it, but my family is too important to me to risk the temptation.
We can be naïve about every one of the fades we’ve been talking about. We start with one emotion that we feel is harmless, we then rationalize that emotion, and before we realize it we can slide into compromise. We can’t let our guard down when it comes to protecting our marriage. The antidote for naiveté is wisdom. I Corinthians 13:7 says the “love protects.” It is our job to protect our marriage.
Protect your heart from wandering by not putting yourself in situations of opportunity. Protect your mind from temptation by choosing what you watch and read. Protect your family from heartbreak by keeping focused on your marriage and your family.
Whatever you give your energy to is what will grow, heal, and flourish. Give your marriage your best investment…not your leftovers.
What about you? Is there anywhere you are being naïve in your marriage? Are you rationalizing? A little too close to compromising? Where do you need to apply wisdom today?
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