Part Three On Healing From An Affair: True Moral Guilt and Its Counterfeits

Part Three On Healing From An Affair: True Moral Guilt and Its Counterfeits

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.

Revelation 20: 12-13 (NIV)

Let’s hypothetically say you had an affair. Let’s say you are sorry you had an affair, you are doing whatever you can to not have another affair, you are connecting with your spouse, you are learning what real love is, that it is NOT a feeling, that it is a responsibility, a calling, a duty and a privilege all wrapped up into one, and that you finally get it. Let’s say you are reaching out to your spouse, learning to be the spouse you should be. You are giving even when your spouse can’t give to you. You are being forthright about your life. You are telling your spouse what’s going on with you. There are no secrets any more. Let’s say you do all these things after your affair and you still feel guilty about what you had done. What then?

I would say, good for you.I’m not one to explain away guilt or to talk people out of it.If you were abused or a victim of a crime or some tragic occurrence, like a tornado, and you felt guilty, we’d have a little chat about that.Real genuine guilt is related to doing things we shouldn’t have done, not doing things we should have done, saying things we shouldn’t have said and not saying things we should have said.

Guilt, when you haven’t sinned is counterfeit.It’s not the real deal.The book of Job dealt with that false theology and psychology and rejected it 3500 years ago:That if bad things happen to you it’s because you deserved it.No.Bad things happen to everyone whether we deserve it or not.The rain falls on the rich and the poor.I’m sure there were fine people and evil people in Haiti that got nailed with that earthquake.Sadly, too many of them are going to feel guilty after that occurred.If any of them are fortunate enough to go to counseling, their counselor, if he or she is worth anything, will not let their client get away with taking blame for an earthquake, or being raped or being sexually abused as a child, or being the spouse of someone who had an affair.

If someone murdered your mother or your mom and dad divorced, if you had guilt about that, it would be false guilt.It’s understandable for people to feel guilt, because your feelings are all over the place when tragedy strikes.You are weak and frail emotionally and Satan comes knocking on your door and he tells you God is capricious and fickle and He was out to get you, because you are a dirty so and so.It’s amazing how many people dump God when they go through heartache.For me I want it to be just the opposite:When I’m going through heartache, that’s the very time I need Him.

But instead of false guilt, let’s say you have guilt after having an affair, and you are working hard to make amends with your spouse and taking care of yourself and learning about appropriate boundaries and honoring your marital vows going forward. Let’s say you really ARE guilty, you really did chose to dishonor your vows, but now you are done with that, it’s over, you’ve learned your lesson the hard way (bummer!) and you aren’t going back. If you have guilt now, I’d say good for you.

Good for you because guilt is a great motivator.True, moral-breaking guilt tells me your conscience is alive.You need a conscience if you are going to keep your life on the straight and narrow and never go back.You need a little empathy for the pain that you have brought upon your spouse and your family.Down the road you are going to want your conscience to be alive to help fight temptation.There’s nothing like a little guilt to keep your passions at bay.

If you had broken your marriage vows and pursued your own lusts at someone else’s door (please don’t tell me it “just happened”) and you didn’t feel guilt, I’d be a tad concerned. I would see it as part of my duty as marriage therapist dude to help you see that maybe a little guilt here wouldn’t be such a bad deal. If you have guilt, it’s just one less thing we have to cover.

Early in my therapy career I worked at an agency where one of my responsibilities was to work with sex offenders.This certainly wasn’t my favorite thing to do.It was a little too creepy for my blood, but you have to learn to be a counselor somewhere.One of the major things we did with this population was what as called “empathy training.”This was the idea that you are not going to offend a little girl or boy if you have any empathy for that child.If any of the rest of us ever had a sexual desire to ravish a little child, we suppress that desire and kick it out of heads as so much drivel, because our consciences tells us that it would be a horrid thing to have Uncle Bob or Grandpa do those sorts of awful things to us.

It’s not just the fear of getting caught that keeps people from committing crimes.It’s empathizing with one’s possible victim that keeps these criminal thoughts away.The theory was that the only way someone could use a little boy or girl for their own pleasure was if the offender is basically dead to any sort of feeling that their victim might be going through at the hand of their abuser.We wanted these offenders to come to the point where they understood what it really felt like to have this stuff done to you.

Now I deal with affairs all the time, but the principle is still the same.With an affair it is a lot easier to teach empathy because the victim, the spouse that didn’t have the affair, is right there in the office.I let that person talk about what it is like to have a spouse have an affair and how that plays havoc on his or her brain, because I want the offender, the affairee, to kick his or her conscience into gear.

So if you have some guilt after the things that you did, I would say, good for you.We’re on the right track.

And I’m NOT going to talk you out of it…Unless that guilt tells you that you a such a low piece of crap that you may as well go ahead and continue to screw up your life and everyone in it. Then we’d have a chat. Then I might wrap your knuckles.

Wouldn’t that be the pits?You do all this work in therapy, you make amends with your spouse, you reorient your life and your priorities, you start spending time with your spouse, you start actually MAKING love WITH your spouse instead of going through the motions, you recommit your heart, you respect boundaries and honor your vows and you STILL FEEL LIKE CRAP and you start to tell yourself that all this therapy and coming clean and repenting and making amends is for the birds and the worms can have it, too, and you’ve done all this work and nothing’s change for you, you’re just a loser, a frickin’ loser, and there’s nothing you or any therapist, or any minister either, can do to make you feel any better and since you don’t feel any better and you are doing all the right stuff you may as well act like your feel, so you go back to the ways that led to your emotional, relational and spiritual demise out of habit and comfort with being a total wasteland when it comes to morals and principles and the fundamentals and you go back to screwing up your life because your feelings keep pounding in your head that since you are such a loser you may as well act the part.Wouldn’t that be a crapper?

Now if you have that kind of guilt, then we’d have a chat and I’d be telling you that that type of guilt isn’t true guilt at all, that those types of thoughts and feelings may come upon someone who’s really done things to damage he or her relationships and integrity, but it doesn’t mean a person has to camp there.These feelings need to just be passing through.You take a look at them, evaluate them, see them for what they are worth (nothing!), realize that you are having them because you really did screw up a bunch of stuff and this is collateral damage that you are going to have to pass through and pretty soon you’ll be fine, and you’ll be on the other side.

And most of you will go, “Whew!” and wipe your brow and buckle down and continue to honor boundaries and reach out to your spouse and live a life of balance and never go back to whoring around and spreading your seed in the sewer.

But some of you won’t and that’ll be sad, but it’ll be said of you that there wasn’t a connection with your therapist, no alliance there, or you had the wrong therapist, or you were a difficult client or you just didn’t get it or you’ll say your therapist was off the wall, no pun intended, and he just didn’t get it, didn’t understand me, nobody understands me and you’ll continue your life-style of choice and all the things I warned you about will come true.

But the bottom line, it doesn’t matter if I get it or your next therapist gets it.It’s all neither here nor there.What matters is what YOU do with your life, how YOU spend your time, what YOU think about and what YOU do with the thoughts you think about and the feelings you feel.

Because, look.I’m not going to be standing next to you on Judgment Day.You’ll have to stand there in front of the King and Judge of the Universe all by yourself and answer for what YOU thought felt and said and did.It won’t matter if I got it or not.It’s your life that will be on the overhead.You WILL be responsible then.

My point is let’s be responsible NOW, let’s make the right choices NOW, let’s rise above the crazy feelings NOW, let your true moral guilt be a great motivator NOW, while the sun still rises every morning.

Part Three On Healing From An Affair: True Moral Guilt and Its Counterfeits

Part Two On Healing From An Affair: A Meditation on Marriage and Affairs and Love on Palm Sunday

Many of the people speed theire garmentes in the waie. other cut doune braunches from the trees, and strawed them in the waye. Moreover the people that went before, and they also that cam after cried saying: hosianna to the sonne of David. Blessed be he that commeth in the name of the lorde, hosianna in the hyest.

The Gospel of Matthew, The .xxj. Chapter, The New Testament 1526: Translated by William Tyndale: Original Spelling Edition, 2009, The British Library, London, England.

(For the purposes of simplicity, A is the person who had an affair, B is the spouse who didn’t have an affair and C is the person with whom A had the affair.)

A blog or two ago I suggested that asking WHY someone had an affair isn’t always very helpful because we end up hearing the excuses A said to A’s self and that whatever excuses A was saying to A’s self are a bunch of baloney.Just like it would only be an excuse if a murderer said he killed his mother so he could get her life insurance money or his inheritance from her.It doesn’t explain anything.There are millions of people who are standing in line to receive inheritances from their mothers and they aren’t even contemplating murdering their mothers.It wouldn’t even occur to them it is OKAY or even that it is an option!

So if you trouble yourself to ask why A had A’s affair you won’t get any answers you are going to like.Unless A answers that A was selfish and only thinking of A’s self, all the answers are going to seem pretty shallow and will just make you mad.

Then in our last blog I looked at how to heal from an affair once one has been committed.In that blog I suggested the quickest way to heal from an affair for both A and B is for A to never have another one.You might think this is rather shallow for me to say that, but if you were B you would be worried sick on two thoughts:That A had an affair at all and that how will I ever know that A won’t have another one!It is one thing to heal from the first affair; it is another thing altogether to have to deal with this crap all over again.

And if you were A and you were really honest with yourself, you would be worried sick how vulnerable you are to temptation and what do I need to do to assure my own self and B’s heart that I’m all in and that (eventually) B can trust me after all and will I ever even be able to trust myself?

For A to never have another affair I want A AND B to discover, sometimes for the first time, what true love really means. The Bible says in the last days that love will grow cold. It doesn’t say HOW love will grow cold. It only says that it will grow cold. Well, we must be in the last days, because with divorce hovering around 50% for the last forty years for the first time in the history of humankind, something must be really amiss. These kind of divorce rates are absolutely horrid and unheard of and unprecedented in all of human history and now they are so common that if you casually mention to any acquaintance of any sort, or, sadly, your own mom or dad, that you are having a marital problem, he or she will immediately tell you to divorce your spouse’s sorry butt, that you don’t have to take no crap and you are just settling and you deserve better and no one deserves to be treated that way. Divorce is the treatment of choice. Perseverance or hanging in there or working toward a goal never even comes up. Your happiness is your goal. No one considers the road to happiness might not always be the easy route.

The same philosophy that has led people to divorce and change spouses about as frequently as they do cars, is the same philosophy that has led people to have affairs. This is the same inner workings of the brain that has led to the rise in crime and the denigration of society and the poisoning of your own brain. This is the same philosophy that has ruined your life and is ruining everyone else’s life, too, and until we purge our brains of it, and our souls, too, we will well be on the way to being a scourge to everyone in our path, most of all ourselves.

To call it a philosophy is really a stretch because it is much more insidious than that.It is basically the idea, the thought, the tendency and proclivity for you and I to think that everyone else in our lives exists to make us happy, including God, and if God doesn’t get his act together, well, then, forget Him, cause I’m just not going to settle for a God that won’t treat me with the dignity that I deserve and if He won’t do what I want, well, then, screw Him, what’s He ever done for me?We treat our spouses the same way.We only love unless our spouse loves us.We only give unless our spouse gives to us.We’re only in a good mood if our spouse is in a good mood.Our love is only attraction deep, and attraction lasts about as long as a breath and then gout or gravity takes over and then whatdoyouhave?If your spouse would only stay married to you because you deserved it, well then, you better start saving for a lawyer, because there’s nothing you’ve done to deserve someone being faithful to you, let alone never having an affair on you and their heart only pining for you.This is the great pain of an affair:You deserve this and worse, because you couldn’t get low enough to crawl out of here if your sins were listed one by one and written in a book.Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?Either one:You getting low enough to crawl out of here or the list of all your sins?Either one would be enough for you to be humiliated forever, which, I think, is the whole point of Hell.

Everyone’s heart has gone astray.A, B and C.And all the D’s through Z’s, too.We all live for ourselves and our prayers only reach the ceiling.

So when I’m talking to A about what real love is I’m also talking to B and to me, too.And the love I’m talking to A and B about is a love that never grows old and stands the test of time.It goes beyond the here and now and touches eternity.It is a love that is so difficult that NO ONE can do it, not even me.So when I’m telling my clients about it, I’m really, in a way, inviting them to say in their hearts, there’s no way on God’s green earth or on white glaciers or the blue ocean, too, or even in the brown desert, least of all our carpeted den or our private bedroom, that I can love like that.I’d need a little help.

Because the love I’m talking about, that does NOT grow cold in the latter days, is a love that covers a multitude of sins. It is a love that does not seek it’s own. It is a love that protects. It is a love that bears all things, endures all things. It is patient. It is kind. It is long suffering. Anything else is just a counterfeit, an obnoxious gong and a clanging symbol: It makes a lot of noise, but it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t warm any one’s hearth, let alone your spouse’s, or even your own heart. You can’t get this love at the supermarket, or on iTunes and your iPod will never have enough memory to contain this type of love. This love is NOT about me, or you, either. It is a love that reaches out, even when you don’t feel like it.

Did you catch that?Love that grows cold is love that only feels.That is the great lie of our day, the reason we’re dumping marriages on garbage day.The shallow love that grows cold is love that has no fuel, no wood to kept the fire burning.If your spouse doesn’t make you feel good any more, dump his or her butt!Or have an affair with someone who finally taught you the true meaning of narcissistic, selfish love.I just love how you make me feel!!!!This type of love empties the stomach.No wonder this love is so shallow.You just spewed it all over the floor and we’ve got a mess on our hands.If there’s one thing an affair will teach you, it is that the only person more selfish in the world than you is your affairee.If someone were to say, you deserve each other, we’d all roll our eyes and go, you got that right.Don’t tell me you love each other.No.You selfish each other.

Because the love that does not grow cold ALSO keeps it’s promise!!Did you hear that?You made a promise when you got married.You said: Having THEE only!Just your spouse.That’s it.No matter what.I’ll give to you.Even in sickness and in health.Even if you can’t give to me, I will give to you.Even if you don’t make me feel good.That’s what you said.

But your love was shallower than that, wasn’t it? Shallower?Ha!It’s so shallow, you can’t even wade in your love.Nothing there but dust.Dry as dust or cold as ice.Pick your own metaphor. It won’t be far off.

No.If your marriage is going to last more than 7.2 years, your love better be more than feelings.Anyone can give your feelings a buzz if you will let them.It’s there for the taking.

Careful. If your love is that worthless it will scream out to you on judgment day. You say you can’t love like that? Me either. I had to search a little higher. Oprah’s god-within-you didn’t cut for me. I looked inside and didn’t find much that was worth worshipping. The Serpent was right: I know good AND evil. I think I need to concentrate on knowing God instead.

Stop making your spouse god.He or she cannot and should not make you feel love.That is NOT their job.Your job is NOT to worry about if your spouse is doing what your spouse is supposed to be doing.Your job is to worry about what you are supposed to be doing and you are suppose to be a loving spouse regardless if your spouse is a loving spouse to you or not.This is a love that won’t grow cold.You say you can’t love like that?Good for you.If you can say that, maybe you could get this…finally.

I’m writing this on Palm Sunday in Cambridge, England.I’m writing this on an historic day near an historic university.Cambridge University was 800 years old last year.  The Queen even came to help celebrate.Eight hundred years?That’s pretty impressive.But this day, nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth road a donkey into Jerusalem to the praise of the masses.He made them all feel really good.They were so happy!They were throwing palm branches before him and shouting Hosannas to the Son of David!

That’s all well and good…on Sunday.But the pomp and circumstance didn’t last long. By Thursday, Jesus is lamenting that even his closest followers wouldn’t stay with him one hour.One hour?How about a week?What about a lifetime?How about eternity?

We all know what happened that Friday:The greatest thing and the lowest thing, all wrapped up into one.He bore our transgressions, so that our love wouldn’t have to grow cold anymore.He demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, he died for us.He demonstrated love for us.It was real.You could see it.If you were there, you’d smell it.The taste of death was in the air.

Love that is only a feeling, lasts but an hour.And then they come see me.They can see Friday coming and they sense that their marriage will be dying on a cross and there’s no resurrection in sight.No.Your marriage doesn’t have to die.Your spouse doesn’t have to die, either.Or turn over a new leaf.Or finally reach out to you.

No.If love isn’t going to grow cold, YOU have to die.To yourself.Finally.You are not a big enough god to save your soul.One little heart attack, one little bit of cholesterol that decides to take a tour of your circulation system, one little bus, one little mishap by that driver across the lane and you are history, baby.Your god better be bigger than your feelings.It better be bigger than your spouse or your affairee.If your spouse is your god I feel sorry for you, your spouse and your kids.And if your affair is your god, Oh Baby!But if your feelings are you god, you won’t just be running with scissors.You and your cousins will be taking down society with you and we’ll all be in breadlines with no one left to make the bread, let alone harvest the wheat or serve the bread.

We’d all better have a god bigger than our bellies or our feelings or our spouses or our marriages or our kids or our jobs or our bank accounts or our country.Your god better be big enough for the celebration of Palm Sunday, the death of Good Friday and the victory of Resurrection Sunday.

Anything short of that and we’re all just spinning our wheels.