O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?…
He (who) swears to his own hurt and does not change. (NASB)
He who keeps his oath even when it hurts. (NIV)
In yesterday’s blog (“Cavalier About Marriage”) I looked at some of the legal nightmares that cohabiting outside marriage creates. Today I want to focus on how cohabiting inadvertently hurts marriage. Curiously, the people who cohabit tell me that the reason they are doing so is because they don’t want to get a divorce. Most cohabiters I see in therapy grew up in divorced families or highly conflictual families and dread the thought of having a marriage that ends up a catastrophe like that themselves. The theory goes that if we cohabit we’ll have a chance to try on each other for size to see if we fit. These young people fully believe that if they cohabit they increase their odds of success. They also believe that if they don’t marry and only live together, that if the relationship sours, they can break up with each other and not suffer the legal quagmire and emotional trauma of divorce. Yesterday’s blog said that that is absolutely not the case. Property rights in cohabiting cases are a nightmare as are child custody chaos. And the emotional trauma of breakups after cohabiting are at least as painful as a divorce and in some cases even more painful.
Here’s an example to illustrate that point: A young man and woman move in with each other without marriage. She’s got a little boy, say a 2-year old.The young man dearly loves this little boy. The boy’s real father is out of the picture and the little boy takes to his mom’s live-in lover as his father. The two bond over the years that they are living together. When the boy is 7 the couple breaks up. This young step-father has NO rights to see this child.In most cases like this the mother will insist the step-father NEVER see this boy again.Do you know what that does to this little boy? Do you know what happens to that young man?
Maybe he could go to court to fight this under common-law legalities but the fight would be brutal and expensive and more than likely both of these two young people are broke. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the pain of breaking up with someone you lived as though a married person, but not really, for five years. These folk come see me for therapy after the breakup and they are every bit as devastated and emotionally damaged as any divorced person I’ve talked to. They use the same language, they have the same mannerisms, they convey the same hopelessness, fears, worries, self-doubt and sense of failure as divorced people do. Only it’s worse because nobody else understands what the big deal is: You weren’t married!!! So they don’t get the social support they need to recover. Most won’t have the courage to go to a Divorce Care group. They didn’t divorce, right? Who are we trying to kid?
Let’s go beyond breakups and look at how cohabiting fights marital success. Cohabiting without marriage hurts later marital sexuality, marital trust, encourages fighting and arguing, promotes money problems and promotes general selfishness. Let’s look at marital sexuality and trust today:
Marital Sexuality: The whole idea of sexuality in marriage is that marriage is a boundary around our love to protect it and this boundary is good (on this topic of marital boundaries being good see my blog articles “Far, Far Away,”“Guard Your Heart,”“The Advantages of Wisdom,”“Boring Integrity,” and “Wandering Eyes.”). The whole message of cohabiting is we can do what we want without any consequences and sex outside of marriage is not wrong. Cohabiting couples believe that marriage limits sexual freedom. The boundary of marriage is bad. We want to fully express our sexual love NOW. Boundaries be damned. Well, ahh, in case you are not aware, this is the same message of pornography! Boundaries are bad. Do whatever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want. A cohabiting couple might say that they are solely committed to each other and may not be sexual with anybody else. This is the same as saying I’m only going to shoplift from Target. I’m not one those reprobates that shoplifts from Target, Wal-Mart and Penny’s. No siree. Just Target for me. If you are willing to shoplift from Target, what’s going to keep you from shoplifting from anywhere else? What principle will guide your decision?
The problem is that sexuality NEEDS protecting! The temptations in the world are so strong that we NEED the solid commitment of our promise to our spouse before all of these witnesses to seal our commitment and to keep the wolves at bay, both literally and figuratively. The wedding band literally keeps sexual tempters away. Your wedding promise keeps your heart in the right place. Do some fail here? Sure. But for most of us, when we married and we stood in front of all those people and said “Til death us do part” we meant it, so that when temptations come we have some fortitude to fight off the wolves.
Marital Trust: I hope you can see how these issues bleed together. If you are willing to be sexual with me when we are just living together and haven’t committed to each other before God and the State, the Church, our families, our friends, and each other, and we’re just committed to each other based upon our word which doesn’t mean anything because our actions are saying we don’t need the boundary of marriage and can do whatever we want, well, yeah, trust is going to be an issue. Marriage isn’t going to help us much here, because we already have a history of saying we can do whatever we want way before we got married. Who are the most insecure people in the world? Cohabiting couples! Why? They aren’t fooling anybody. They are both sexual with each other without marriage. What will stop the other from “cheating?” Just your word? But your actions of cohabiting are saying that a promise before God and a company of witnesses means nothing. So now that we are married why would that all of a sudden matter? Oh, boy, what a mess. Of course, after you marry your spouse is a control freak and he or she wants to know wherever you go and with whom and they are freaking out all the time and this is a bunch of crap and I’m not gonna put up with that….
Hey, if you are cohabiting and struggling in your relationship and wanting to work things out, you can come see me and I’m not going to sit there in judgment over you. If you are doing these things I’m not mad at you. I’m sad for you because I know you are borrowing unnecessary trouble from your future. But I’m not going to pressure you to get married. I’m going to try to help you work out things between you so that you can come to the place where you are secure enough to REALLY give your hearts and lives to each other. That’ll be your choice. I’m about helping couples have a solid foundation. If we have a solid foundation we will have something to build our future upon.
Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Let’s get one thing straight. If you come to see me and you aren’t married, I’m going to treat you as if you are. My reasoning comes from my belief that when the Bible says Isaac took Rebekah into his tent, that that was their wedding ceremony. So I view it that when you invite this person of the opposite sex into your apartment, you are as good as married. No one else views you as such. You don’t view your live-in as your spouse. Your parents don’t. Your co-workers and friends don’t. Your live-in partner doesn’t either. That’s the problem. The advantage of an “official” wedding is that is serves notice to everyone, most importantly each other, that you are in it for the long haul, rich or poor, sickness and health. I see my job as to help the two of you to get along well enough and to have enough confidence in each other and the relationship to commit to each other officially. Why? Because I know that the longer you cohabit without marriage, the more likely you’ll have relationship problems and the more likely you will break up.
Hey, I’m not making this stuff up. This is what happens. I’m sort of like an odds maker. You come see me. I’ll tell you your odds.
Without the ceremony and the “blessing” and the emotional support from friends and family, the commitment of cohabiting wears pretty thin. If things get a little dicey your support system may encourage you to break up. It’s hard enough to stay committed without having your loved ones fighting you on your “significant other.” These couples almost always keep their money separate, setting the foundation for money problems later. Trust is an issue. If you were willing to sleep with me without being married, how do I know you wouldn’t sleep with someone else outside of marriage, even if you are married to me? Sex is a problem. As I’ve commented elsewhere (“Honey, I’m Sorry. I Can’t Tonight. I Have An Excuse”) married couples (sorry…you know, with a man-husband and a woman-wife) who go to church report the most sexual satisfaction. Cohabiting couples are down the list. Why? I guess I’m entitled to an interpretation of the data as well as anyone else: Because husband and wife married couples who go to church together view sex as created by God and special and needing to be protected by the sanctity of marriage. People who cohabit? It’s no big deal. So if it is so worthless that it doesn’t need to be protected by marriage it’s not worth anything. There you go.
Do we need to go on and on and mention that cohabiting couples have higher incidences of child sexual abuse and domestic violence than married couples? Let’s just put it this way: If you cohabit without marriage you are begging for trouble and chaos in your life isn’t far behind.
One of the most common reasons couples tell me why they haven’t married is because they don’t want a divorce. Have you ever talked to anyone who lived with their live-in lover (of the opposite sex) for awhile and then they broke up? They are broken people. Just like people who divorce. Probably worse. Why? Like I said, I view them as married. Even though they didn’t marry, they quickly find out that NOT marrying didn’t take away the pain of breaking up. By NOT marrying they told each other that their commitment to each other is rather cavalier. Too bad the break-up didn’t feel that way. Pity the kids that have parents that choose to live like that. Talk about a mess. Of course, who can afford to have kids and support them on one income? Very few of us can do that anymore. So now the parent rushes headlong into another relationship to help pay for the rent and now the problems are even worse. AAAAAAAH!
Now here’s a curious thing: Cohabiting conveys to the state government that you are, indeed, married! So much for avoiding the pitfalls of divorce. Common-law marriage in Iowa doesn’t say how many years a couple has to be together before they are considered “married.” Consider the section below from a recent article in the Des Moines Register about how after the recent supreme court rulings on same-sex marriage (see my recent posts on this here and here) same-sex cohabiting couples can now expect lawsuits when they break up over property rights, let alone charges of bigamy when they break up and move in with some other same-sex person. Welcome to the world where sin no longer exists and chaos is the order of the day.
Attorney Jonathan Wilson of Des Moines:
Iowa law recognizes so-called “common-law marriage.” In fact, the law already reads broadly, “A man or woman who was or is held out as the person’s spouse by a person by virtue of a common-law marriage is deemed the legitimate spouse of such person.” A couple deemed married by the common law is legally married for all purposes just as surely as the couple that goes to the courthouse and gets a marriage license. A split-up requires a court-approved dissolution of the marriage before either partner can “re-marry” or un-do those marital “defaults.” Skip that step before a new marriage (by common law or otherwise), and there’s a criminal violation of Iowa Code §726.1 that reads. “Any person, having a living husband or wife, who marries another, commits bigamy;” and “any person who marries another who the person knows has another living husband or wife commits bigamy.” So both parties to that second marriage would be criminals who can, hopefully, serve their time in the same jail cell….
Just three elements must exist to create a common-law marriage: (1) intent and agreement to be married; (2) continuous cohabitation; and (3) a public declaration that the parties are spouses. But get this: The intent and agreement can be implied, there is no particular time that cohabitation must exist, and a substantial representation of marriage to some third party is enough – even though other public declarations may be to the contrary…
Talk about a practice that needs to stop. Talk about getting married without ever having to ask – just live together and introduce your “spouse” to others and, if they don’t object on the spot, you’re married, baby. Talk about mucking up asset ownership without even trying. Talk about unlimited liability to support your ex, of all things. Talk about complicated estate litigation. Talk about inadvertent crimes. Talk about unexpected and unintended consequences. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and ignorance in this context will not be bliss.
(See August 23, 2009, Des Moines Reigster):
People cohabit to avoid the consequences of divorce only to expose themselves to other unintended consequences. If you have a cavalier attitude toward sex and you have a cavalier attitude toward marriage, it shouldn’t surprise you when you get married and have sex later that it doesn’t mean much. It didn’t mean much before. Why should it mean much now?
Here’s another example of unintended consequences: He’s out with his buddies drinking and comes home in the wee hours of the night. He doesn’t call his live-in female lover. Why should he? He’s not married! She’s madder than a pistol when he gets home. Why? Because she’s been sexual with him. She’s living with him. If she got married she has nothing more to give to him. Emotionally, she’s married! Spiritually she’s married! So is he. Who are we trying to kid? She feels justified in saying, “Hey, let me know what you are doing. I’m worried here.” He takes that to mean that she’s a nag and says to himself, “Why would I want to marry her? She’s a crazy woman.” And so, one nail is pounded into the coffin of this couple succeeding. She doesn’t trust him because he’s being secretive; he withdraws because her anger is chasing him away.
The theme of the article above I just quoted was to expose some of the unintended consequences of making marriage possible for same-sex couples. The writer listed some of those consequences around the common law statutes that are already on the books in Iowa. If you start knocking off historic sins one by one and say they aren’t wrong, you are inviting chaos into your life (see my blog: “Morality and Chaos”) that the avoidance of those sins was meant to promote. Did you get that sentence? Read it again. Let me say it this way:
Sin = Chaos in your life and in society
For example: your son steals from Wal-Mart and is caught. The store manager calls the police and they haul him away. The police call you at work and tell you your son is in jail. Your workmates see your horror. You’re with a major client. You lose the sale. You don’t care. You call your spouse. Both of you get off work and lose pay. You go to the jail. You are beyond yourself with grief. Your son is released to you with warnings. You ground your son. You’re lucky. He obeys. He’s put on probation. He has to do 50 hours of community service. You take off work to make sure he goes. You have to go with him to the probation officer. He gives your son a tour of the jail. All of this just because he stole one Nintendo game.
This little episode occurred because stealing has historically been called a “sin.” It is wrong.Okay.Now let’s say the courts decide that stealing isn’t wrong.You can steal all you want because to say that stealing is wrong is discriminating against thieves and they have rights, too, you know.So everyone steals from everyone because there’s no such thing as private property anymore and pretty soon we have NO Wal-Marts and everybody has guns to protect themselves from people without restraint and society as we know it ceases to exist.
All this because we just got rid of ONE historic sin.
Hey, there’s a reason that for thousands of years homosexuality was underground and illegal and wrong and shameful. There’s a reason why shacking up and living together without marriage was considered “WRONG!” And the reason is because if you do it you introduce chaos into your life and into society. And if you say it is fine and do it anyway, you still have the consequences. Chaos is introduced. You can’t avoid it. You can call it what you want; you still get the consequences.
We are going to see a degeneration of morality society-wide if the courts, which are supposed to be the beacon of righteousness and fairness and justice in society, are going to be cavalier about marriage. Their recent ruling on same-sex marriage says that marriage doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Marriage has become worthless. We’ve watered it down. Morality has become worthless, too. Homosexuality not only USED to be considered wrong, but one of the worst sexual sins a person could commit. Now it’s fine. It’s not only legal, it’s blessed. We’re going to have teachers teaching this in our schools and kids aren’t going to know what morality is anymore and there won’t be any boundaries around sex, so why limit yourself. Go for all the gusto. Marriage used to protect sex and make it holy. Now it’s used to justify and give a stamp of approval on behavior that leads to societal breakdown. Great. What’s next? That’s the scary part. Once we say there’s no wrong in this area, what’s to stop it in that? I’m afraid to imagine it.
But look. I hope, just because marriage has no value in society at large, that that doesn’t mean it needs to mean nothing to you. It still means something to me. Cohabiting is just begging for trouble. If you are a heterosexual couple cohabiting and aren’t married, give us a call today. Let us help you work through your relationship problems so you can make each other honest. Life is tough enough. Let’s not borrow trouble at the same time.
You see these reports of marital surveys in USA Today about how frequent the husband and wife are sexual with each other and the results are there are 15% who say they aren’t sexual with each other at all and that supposedly they are fine with it: Fine with NOT being sexual. I don’t know who does these surveys or who those couples are, but I’ve never met a couple yet who wasn’t sexual and they were fine with it. You’d think by now, with the hundreds of couples I’ve talked to that I would have met one couple that wasn’t sexual and they were both high-fiving each other. Nada. Zero.
Every couple I’ve met who wasn’t sexual with each other were hurting pretty bad. Both of them. In couples like that, we’re talking’ resentment, anger, distancing, short fuses, sarcasm, mocking, indifference, coldness, rejection, lack of loving feelings and behavior, and out and out animosity. I’m sure it’s one of the kickers-in-the-butt that contributes to divorce. And, in spite of the cultural stereotype, no, it’s not always the wife that wants it less. It depends upon their age: If the couple is younger than 35, usually the wife wants it less; if the couple is between 35 and 50 it’s a toss-up who wants it less; if the couple is over 50 it’s the husband. Whadayaknow. But it could easily go the other way. These cultural stereotypes (he’s a sex animal and wants to rip her clothes off all the time; she doesn’t want sex at all) aren’t very helpful. When it comes to sex between you and your spouse, it’s best to take the long view. If we’re going to be sexual with each other for 50 or 60 years we’re going to need a good dose of give and take and a little patience wouldn’t hurt either.
I personally don’t care who wants it less.They both need it the same.Did you hear me?THEY BOTH NEED IT THE SAME.Without sex they are in TROUBLE!Forget the stupid surveys.Take Dr. Bing’s word for it.
And for heaven’s sake, sex doesn’t have to equal intercourse all the time.Look, if you are a 60 year old male and you can’t raise the flag because of diabetes or hardening of the arteries or medication or prostate surgery, that doesn’t mean we’re just going to sit in separate La-Z-Boys the rest of our lives and the only thing we handle is the remote.What’s the deal with that?
Speaking of La-Z-Boys, I’ve read reports of these studies that say that couples with TVs in their bedrooms have sex a whole bunch less than couples who don’t. I believe it. But somebody should do a study of couples where both the husband and wife have La-Z-Boys. There’s a couple that never lifts the shades. The divorce rate rose like crazy in the 1960’s and it’s been attributed to the birth control pill, to liberalization of divorce laws, to both mom and dad working and free love. I don’t know. The Reclina-Rocker was introduced by La-Z-Boy in 1961 and sales went from $1.1 million in 1961 to $52.7 million in 1971. Seems like a fishy contributor to me. You put him in one La-Z-Boy and her in another and see what happens in your marriage. At least when you divorce, you can both take your La-Z-Boy with you. I’m just trying to be positive.
Yeah, there are always excuses to NOT be sexual: Too busy, fatigue, different work schedules, fighting, not talking, kids or dogs in bed between mom and dad, king-size mattresses (HA! Maybe the divorce rate rose after the introduction of the king-size mattress?! What year were they invented? Maybe the La-Z-Boy Reclina-Rocker is off the hook?), not feeling well, depression meds, debilitating illness, body-part dysfunction, not interested, resentment, obesity, poor body image, computers, Nintendo (Hmmm. Another theory is brewing.), email, bringing work home, working on cars in the garage, arguing, alcohol, distancing, separate lives, animosity, her mother, and that frickin’ La-Z-Boy.
But I’ve never, Never, NEVER, had a couple tell me that once in awhile they take a break from sex to pray.You’d athought by now I’d have seen one.Was Paul joking when he said that (see the verse at the start of this blog)?A little sarcastic comment?And who prays for a week straight?Or a month.Or a year?“Dear, just thought I’d let you know that 2010 is the year of prayer and we won’t be having sex.”Or does he mean that during their normal sex time, they pray instead, sort of like fasting?I can’t say I’ve ever applied that verse, so I have no idea what he means.I’m confessing my shallowness here.I think he means that, ah, ahem, well, ah, there should be NO excuse for a husband and wife to put their mutual sex between them in a closet and that, if, in fact, you have found a way to NOT be sexual on a regular basis, you can expect trouble.
Here’s an interesting tidbit you won’t see quoted in Cosmo or Playboy: Couples who report the most satisfied sex lives are those that are husband and wife (you know, male and female, the old-fashioned type couple), married and all and go to church together on a regular basis. The surveys report they enjoy sex more than single people, more than cohabiting, unmarried couples, more than married couples who don’t go to church. HA. God has the last revenge. It’s pretty funny if you think of it.
(An open letter of a marriage therapist to a husband and father thinking of leaving his family to pursue his homosexual urges):
When your wife told me at our last session that she wanted me to tell the two of you my unbridled opinion on your situation, I went into that with fear and trembling. I had 15 minutes to advocate for your marriage when you had been struggling for years against voices trying to convince you to lay your family at the altar. I also suspected it would the last time I would talk to you. For that I was sad. People come to see me after fighting their own demons sometimes for years. I haven’t been able to help resurrect a marriage in two sessions very often. Maybe in eight or ten. In your case I don’t know how long. Usually it takes me several sessions just to get to the point where I can share some different ways of thinking about things. If I go too quickly, my clients react by not coming back. It takes me awhile to bond with them and earn the right to be heard. Afterwards, I felt I failed you, that my arguments in favor of you taking a stance to fight for your family had fallen far short. Now, since our chat, I’ve extended this conversation in my head over and over of what I could have said instead. Even now, as I try to articulate them more coherently, I doubt my own ability to do so.
If a person is a husband and a father, it is my belief that they should continue to be a husband and father. There should be no force on earth, however attractive or alluring, to convince them that they should no longer be husband or a father. Of course, in our society today, there is a pervasive lie that if you are not happy being a husband you can cash that in and still be a father. But this is not really true. Maybe he is a father in name or by birth. If he is divorced he is only a father part of the time. A father is a full time job. It is a terribly gut wrenching thing to only see one’s children once in awhile. It is so gut wrenching that many fathers give up on it altogether.
If we’re going to do this right, a father is also a husband and demonstrates to his sons and daughters what it is that fathers do. Fathers love their children’s’ mothers. Fathers are selfless and set examples to their children how to fight the temptations that come their way. Children idolize their fathers. A son’s glory is his dad. He wants to be like him; to have the strength to not give up like dad; to have the wisdom to outwit the enemy like dad; to love his future wife just like dad did. But if dad has given up and left his family for whatever reason, that father has lost his voice.
A son then says, no, I don’t want to be like my father. He quit. This hurts me very much. Why would he leave me? What force could there possibly be that could convince my father to leave my mother and me? I would never want to hurt my children. I will never leave my family. So now the father has become, instead, a bad example to be avoided at all costs. He loses his right to be heard. Why listen to a father who doesn’t believe in us as a family unit? Why listen to a father who put his own needs in front of the family? Why listen to a father who is never here when I need him? Who’s going to teach me to shave? I won’t see my dad til Friday and I have a problem today. I had this run in with my teacher or what should I do with my life and I need to talk with my dad, but he seems like a stranger to me. It takes so long to warm up to him, because I rarely see him, and by the time I have the courage to talk to him I have to leave to be with my mother. We’re basically strangers. He’s my dad. But he’s not really my dad. But really, I don’t even know if I want his advice. Why would I ask advice from a guy who dumped my mother? I love my mother. Sure she has bad points, but I love her, faults and all. Why can’t he love both sides of her? Am I more of a man than my father? What kind of a man just leaves the wife of his youth? I would never do that. How can I respect a “dad” who does that? Why would I want his influence in my life?
Now let’s imagine that instead of “just” divorcing his wife, this “father” has had an affair during his marriage and divorces his wife to be with his affairee. I’ve seen some of these “fathers.” They come see me afterwards, when the romance of their lover has dissipated, as it always does. They hold their heads in their hands and weep at the loss of their own integrity at the hand of pleasure and how the mirage has turned into a desert. They sit in their apartments alone, for rarely do marriages or even relationships with affairees last beyond a year let alone long term. They wonder why their children won’t have anything to do with them…for years. Sometimes they never reconcile.
Even if they don’t divorce, but Dad had an affair and it’s now over, if the children find out that dad was bedding someone other than their mother, they go into shock and rage. Most of the children withdraw entirely from their fathers. Some withdraw from the family altogether. Many will lose their moral bearings and go adrift in a sea of lust themselves. Like father, like son. If dad has no reason to live other than for himself I guess I don’t have any reason either. No one is there to set an example to the son how to face the temptations of the day. Children, who’s father had an affair, have a much higher rate of having affairs in their future marriages, than children who grew up with faithful moms and dads.
Now lets imagine that dad leaves his wife and children to pursue a life of pleasure with other men. What? This is somehow OK? Well, I have to be true to myself. True to yourself? Whatever happened to your calling of being a father and husband? Oh, I was self-deceived. I should have never made those promises. My bad. Sorry. I meant them at the time, but you know, times change. I’m gonna do this now. Really. Well, you know, I’ve struggled with this for years. Yeah, it’s a bummer, I know, but I can’t be a hypocrite. If you object, you are persecuting me. You’re homophobic. But dad, you’re supposed to love my mother! You’re supposed to set an example for me. Sure, but you don’t know how I’ve struggled with this…this internal battle. I just finally had to be who I am. Turns out I’m not meant to be a husband…in the traditional sense.
I personally don’t buy this idea that if a person has gay tendencies that that lets them off the hook and they don’t have to fulfill any obligations or promises and they can do whatever they want. I personally don’t believe that there should be any force on earth or under the earth or heaven above that should talk them into NOT being a husband or a father. If my religion said, leave your family and pursue this religion I’d say dump that religion. If a job said, your family has to go, I’d say get a different job. If a temptation said, dump your wife and marry this hottie, I’d say, dump the temptation, dump the hottie. Well, I love her. No you don’t. Love doesn’t tell you to leave your wife a disheveled mess to pursue some fantasy that will never fulfill your dreams. It doesn’t tell you that the hottie is more important than setting an example for your son on how to live in our crazy, fallen world. If a proclivity says dump your wife and pursue me, I’d say dump the proclivity. What?! Gay temptation has to be succumbed to? Am I a dog? I can’t say no? I have to say yes to every idea that comes into my head? That cute college coed that keeps flirting with me…I’m not supposed to resist that? You mean I can do what ever I want? Aren’t I a hypocrite if I don’t submit to the temptation? You think your wife or your son would buy the argument: This is my calling. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve wanted to have an affair and sleep with a young college coed and dump my wife and leave my son in moral quandary. I have to be who I am. This is who I am. I’m just a sleep-with-pretty-college-coeds kind of guy. And if you are upset about that you just aren’t enlightened and you are persecuting me and being totally unfair, because there is no morality. You can do whatever you want. Really. Follow me to nirvana. You’ll see that the key to life is to submit to whatever temptation that comes into your mind. Be true to yourself. If your feelings tell you to steal, steal. If your feelings tell you to breed another man go ahead. And why stop with one man. Think of all the studs you can stick your penis in to. Raise your penis high. This is the new symbol of freedom. Unrequited self-absorbtion. You can put your penis wherever you want. There is no morality. There are only naysayers, self-righteous pricks who are the fuddyduds of the universe. They are just trying to take your fun away. Live for yourselves. Do whatever you want. Promises mean nothing. Having all the gusto is what you are to do. Father, forgive me forever thinking that there are right and wrongs or promises that are worth keeping. Amen.
Let’s put aside the proclivities and the tendencies and the temptations and the fantasies and ask instead: what’s so bad about this marriage that I would be willing to flush it down the toilet to do whatever? That is the point I was trying to make in the 15 minutes I had in our session. We can work on the marriage. We can work on trying to reconnect. We can heal and forgive and figure out a way to reconnect. But first a person has to decide if they WANT to fight the temptation, slay the dragon. If they want to embrace the dragon, so be it. They don’t need my help. If they want to slay the dragon, I’ve got a few pointers that might help.
If I have a couple in therapy and they tell me that one of them is having an affair and the person having the affair thinks the affair is fine and the other spouse needs to get a life and realize that this is who her shusband is and to accept his limitation, I would meet with the spouse having the affair alone until they decide to advocate for their marriage and drop the affairee. Sometimes this effort fails and the spouse having the affair is convinced his or her affair is the right thing to do. There is not much help I can offer for the marriage at that point.
But if the person having the affair ends up deciding to advocate for his or her marriage the affair has to be TOTALLY OVER: No future contact, no cell phones, no texts, no momentos, no clandestine meetings, no chatting or emails. That’s it. Done. Yeah, he will fight temptation. Yes, he will long sometimes for his affairee. Part of dealing with the temptation is dealing with the remorse of what might have been, saying goodbye to the romance. There is some sadness there. But over time that will dissipate as the person recommits to his marriage and his marriage improves. There will be trust issues with his spouse. There will be hurts that will have to be forgiven…on both sides. This isn’t easy. Sometimes there’s a relapse and the affair lovers unite for a time. The second go around of reconciliation is much more difficult. Now the offended spouse may say, enough of the indecision already. I get it. You don’t love me. And then the offended spouse divorces. Those that choose to reconcile have a long road of healing ahead of them. But hopefully it will be worth the sacrifice on both parts and they will look back on this crazy period as an aberration. The spouse who had the affair will have learned to keep his passions focused on his spouse and be able to fend off temptation, so as to not put the relationship at risk anymore.
Is fighting homosexual urges any different? In my estimation, if a married person fulfilled his homosexual temptations, it’s still an affair. The results are the same: hurt, anger, selfishness, self-absorption, and indifference. We’ve only just changed genders. We haven’t changed the nature of marriage, which is based upon faithfulness, fidelity, love, tenderness, loyalty, perseverance and protection. Your marriage vows said “having thee only till death us do part.” Those vows didn’t say you wouldn’t have urges you don’t understand or you would never be tempted to do such and such. It said only that your spouse would be enough for you. She’s not the prettiest, the best, the richest, the most glamorous, only that she is enough.
Now you are saying she’s not enough. You need more. Too bad for her. I guess I didn’t mean it. I changed my mind. I was self-deluded. I shouldn’t have ever gotten married (Don’t tell that to your son. He might be a tad offended that you’d wished you’d never conceived his existence.). These urges are who I am. I can’t fight them. They are not temptation. They are good. Homosexual feelings are good feelings. They are so good that it is worth sacrificing everything that used to mean something to me: family, integrity, caring, giving, faithfulness, trustworthiness, sticktuitiveness. None of these things mean anything to me now. I cast them aside and follow my passion. Morality be damned. There is no such thing as right action. There is only right feeling. And I have a right to feel. I’ve been surpressing these feelings for years. I’ve been living the life of a hypocrite. If you are hurt by it you are just being selfish and not glorying in my differentiation of self. Rejoice with me as I tear off the shackles of bondage and slavery to tradition and paternalistic and smothering marriage where the boundaries are really only a prison hindering the exploration of my authentic self. If you have hurt feelings, that just shows how unenlightened you are. If you were one of the illuminated ones, you would see that sexual desire for one’s same gender is a right and must be pursued at all costs. No cost is too great. No sacrifice too small. Faithfulness to my wife! Are you kidding? Anyone can do that. No. My feelings are more important. What? She’ll be hurt by this? Who cares! I’m liberated! I’m free to explore any whim. My happiness is of utmost importance. That’s it!!! Seek my own happiness. Responsibility and commitment a scourge. Out damned spot! Can’t you see I’m trying to rid my life of you? No guilt! No remorse! Only glory in self! My son be offended? Maybe he’ll see the light as I have. Maybe he’ll come to his senses and explore all that his gender has to offer. Oh, the grandeur. Oh, the wonder. If only his eyes could be opened as mine have. Oh, spread the glad tidings of great joy to the world: World! You don’t have to abide by your promises anymore! They are only a facade hindering your fun! Come, join me in releasing the captives. Let the prisoners go. Feel, be, do. Do whatever your heart says. Pursue your passions. Right be gone. Responsibility be gone. Kindness and love be gone. It was all a ruse anyway. Look where it got Jesus. This is the new gospel. This is the new truth. There is no truth!!! Oh, the liberation.
Or you can fight the dragon. It may be a battle. But if there is not a battle worth fighting, there is not a victory worth winning. If you are interested in slaying the dragon, let me know.
If you’ve read a few of my blogs, by now you’ve noted I’ve written about boundaries several times. I’m using the term slightly different here than you’ll read about if you pick up the books on boundaries. In those books you will read that it’s important to keep an emotional boundary around your individual self and not let other people tread on you or manipulate you or guilt trip you into doing something that you wouldn’t normally do. So, for example, if your mother-in-law tells you that you never come to see her and that she’s all alone and don’t you love her, and then you feel like crap and secretly hate her for criticizing you, but you go to her house anyway, not because you want to, but because she’s guilted you into going, these books would say your mother-in-law has crossed a boundary. You are a big girl and you can decide with your husband if and when you want to go to your mother-in-laws and you don’t need to feel guilty about not going. That would be called a boundary issue. The mother-in-law is seeking to cross an emotional barrier and you gently don’t let her. You aren’t mean about it. If you were mean about it, you’d be crossing her boundaries!
Or your 22 year old son tries to convince you that you need to co-sign a loan on a new car because he needs one bad. He’s never paid a bill on time in his life and you know if you do it it will be the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. But he whines and moans and says you are a terrible dad and so finally out of desperation, to shut him up, you cosign the loan. You know as soon as you do it that you are a complete idiot, but you do it anyway out of guilt or sheer frustration. That would be a boundary issue. It’s OK to say no to your children!
But when I’m writing about boundaries in marriage, I’m referring to the boundary of integrity around a husband and wife. It’s just the two of you. There is an invisible circle around you to protect each other and the marriage from evil and temptation. There is a battle for the heart as you face this world and temptation is lurking at the door to your soul looking for an opportunity to devour you and laugh at the meal he’s eating, but you keep that entrance closed. You’ve got one person in your heart and that’s your wife or husband. That’s what it meant when you said, “Having Thee Only” in your wedding vows. The “having” in your vow doesn’t mean “possession”. You don’t own your spouse! But with the 6.7 plus billion people in the world and the 7.2 trillion temptations out there, the only person you “have” in your heart is her or him. That’s it. That’s what I mean by boundary.
And I’ve said in previous blogs that this type of a boundary is GOOD. You’ll note our verse above. It says that integrity preserves us. Your integrity is the key to keeping appropriate boundaries between you and the other tempting specimens of the human race, whether in everyday life or in digital form on the internet or the unbelievable hunks in the romance novels that make you swoon or the dude you met on that chat sight (“He’s just my friend”) out of your heart.
Integrity preserves. The common definition of integrity is that you are the same person in public as you are in private. That’s fine, unless you are a jerk in public! If you make inappropriate choices when you are alone and inappropriate choices when you are with others, I suppose there’s integrity in the sense that in both instances you are inappropriate! But maybe we need a better definition.
The word integrity comes from the Latin word for integer, which, for all you non-math buffs, including me, is the word for whole numbers like 1, 2, 3, etc. If you apply that concept to the moral arena in means “wholeness” or “completeness” or “soundness,” or, to say it another way, you hold to a complete set of principles that do not vary. You’re not going to let temptation of any stripe cause you to divide the integer of your heart. It’s solely committed to your beloved. End of story.
In our day of wanton pleasure at every turn, integrity sounds boring. But if integrity preserves us, the opposite of integrity leads to chaos. You want a life of unrelenting grief and heartache? Here’s the sure formula guaranteed to turn your life into a complete mess:
Have an affair and see how your spouse responds. Note her sleepless nights, her panicky feelings, her doubting eyes, her temperamental spirit. But keep having your affair anyway, because you are just friends and you aren’t going to let your wife or anyone tread on you. No. No. Note your kids hate your affairee’s guts and they won’t look you in the eye anymore nor do they ask you for any advice and whenever they see you they look depressed. Note your mom and dad’s reaction. They aren’t jumping for joy either. Note your boss firing you for fraternizing on the job and putting the company in a legal quagmire. Note how your bill collectors don’t have a lot of compassion when you don’t pay your bills. Note how no one seems to understand you and you seem all alone. Note how your affairee’s spouse called you and said if he ever found you with her again that would be how you would be found, if you know what I mean. Note how scared you are. Note how you are sleeping in the spare bedroom and the bed squeaks every time you move. Note how your wife filed because you really “love” your affairee and you just want to be happy. Note how your lawyer said you have to pay $5000 up front before he’ll take your case and so you give him your credit card. Note how after the divorce you never hardly ever see your children and you are all alone and your affairee turned out to be a crazy woman and when you shared with her all your problems she told you were a crazy man and she dumped you like a hot potato and how could she do that ‘cuz the sex was unbelievable and it felt so right and you loved her and now you are living in an upstairs apartment with the stairs that are made of wood on the outside of the house and they creak every time you take a step and the wind blew your grocery bag out of your hands the other day when you tried to take them in and you have to park your old beater in the street underneath that stupid walnut tree and there’s crap all over it every morning, not to mention the birds are leaving you God’s opinion on the hood, too, and, dang, if you don’t spend a lot of time in that dingy apartment alone.
So, ahh, I’ll take boring integrity any day. You’d be surprised. If you let integrity rule your life, you probably won’t have to come see me. Not that I’m not a nice guy or anything.