I asked my husband last night if he thought it was possible that men who cheat on their wives also love their wives. He quickly said “Yes.” Inside I recoiled at such a statement. I already wrote about how love and attachment are two different things, but I wanted to explore this idea further. How is it he and I have two completely definitions of love?
If a man can love his wife and simultaneously cheat on her, then I need to define love because the kind of love I believe in doesn’t allow real true human intimacy and betrayal at the same time. Impossible.
Scripturally speaking, love is long-suffering. It is gentleness. It is meekness. It is kindness, it is pure knowledge, it is without guile.
I think we would all agree love is gentle, meek and kind, but what about this “pure knowledge” business? What’s that all about? If I love someone what exactly do I have a pure knowledge about?
Pure knowledge of someone is knowing her intimately. You know her deepest joys and her deepest fears. Actually it is even more than just knowing. It is allowing those deepest joys and fears to change you.
Pure knowledge is knowing her and also acting on that knowledge.
Pure knowledge is being known as an individual. It is to be known by ourselves and by others. That is my definition true love. And i feel pretty good about it seeing as it is rooted in scripture. 🙂
In this article about the difference between affection and love, the author says, “I get very jazzed about the fact that we are the final arbiters of the love we receive. If you say you love me and I don’t feel you know me, are interested in me, hold me in mind or engage with me, I get to decide the issue, get to say whether or not your love is valid. There is no other judge or jury. And if you really love me and I’m just not perceiving it for some reason, then you need to communicate your love to me again. If it’s genuine, then I’ll likely feel it.”
Did you catch all those actions words? Know, engage, hold.
When I bristled at my husband’s belief that cheaters can love their wives it is for this reason–the cheater did not have a pure knowledge of his wife. He was not engaged with nor did he act on any knowledge he did have. Quite the opposite. He was engaged with his own selfish interests and her psychological well being was about as far from his mind as the moon.
Love is a discipline that requires learning, development, commitment and sacrifice. When someone has a pure knowledge of me I do not feel alone nor unknown.
When I found out my husband was a cheater I have never felt more alone in my whole life. I felt unloved and unknown and invisible. I realized there was much about him I didn’t know. I tried in vain for years to get this man to open up to me, to let me really know him, but to no avail. He couldn’t. His addiction prevented him from curating real true intimacy.
So can a cheater love? I don’t believe he can. He can financially support, admire, and desire. But no, I don’t believe he can love.
Last week my high-school age kiddos went to a seminary morning side at 6am. My son came home and decided to tell me how great it was. He said that the presenter talked about a young man who overcame his pornography addiction by reading scriptures. I was impressed that my son listened so well that he could recount so many of the stories to me, but also curious as to what else the young man did to overcome his addiction. In an effort to listen more and talk less, I left the conversation at that.
But when he came home from school you better believe we had another conversation:
Me: So I am curious about the story of the young man who overcame an addiction. What else did the guest speaker say he did to overcome his addiction. A 12-step group? Seeing a counselor?
Son: No, he didn’t say anything about that.
Me: Hmm, well reading the scriptures is an important tool in healing, but it will not stop him from returning to the addiction later on when things get tough again.
Son: Yea, but if he has the Spirit with him he will be able to withstand temptation.
Me: That will help him, but he needs more than one tool to know how to fight this. He needs to see a counselor to help him understand why he chose to go to porn in the first place. If he doesn’t understand why he did it he will return to it again. The statistics say most young men look at porn again after their missions. Why? Why would they return if they knew it was wrong? Because this is about the brain, son. About the pathways we create in our brain to deal with sadness, pain, and emptiness.
Son: We learned something about this in my psychology class.
Me: Oh I am sure you have learned all about the brain in your psych class. Think of your Dad. Reading scriptures was not enough for him, he tried that. For 30 years he tried to overcome with addiction with just scriptures and prayer! Finally with therapy and 12-step he is overcoming it. So if a good man like your dad can’t overcome it with just the one tool of scripture study, I doubt most can.
If you date a young woman some day who had a problem bulimia, anorexia, porn, or even gambling, and she says she overcame it with just scripture study I want you to run because she doesn’t have the tools yet. She needs therapy to give her the tools to understand why she turned to those things in the first place. And if she has all the tools, that’s great!
Let’s hope this mom is helping the one and only young man she has influence over learn that collecting many different tools is the key to real lasting change.
My husband is a good man who is trying to change. Yes, that change is happening slower than I would like (patience has never been my virtue) but day by day he learns and applies a few more recovery tools to his life.
Recently we read a blog post from a young man who thought he understood addiction and who thought he should write about it. The problem is that this young man didn’t know the first thing about addiction. It would be like me writing blog posts about repairing car engines, which I know nothing about, but I have listened to my Dad and brother talk about cars, so there, now I am qualified to tell you how to fix your broken down car.
My husband decided to send this young blogger a letter, trying to help him understand what pornography addiction really is like. I post my husband’s words here:
Before I knew my husband was an addict, I thought he was simply a man of silence. He is a doer, not a talker. He never opened up his heart to me, instead, he would give me a foot rub or do the dishes to say he loved me. Every woman loves a foot rub, no complaints there. But most women want a companion as well–someone she can share her heart with.
After nearly two years of sobriety, my husband is still a man of silence. Oh, he says he is trying to open up more, and once-in-a-blue-moon he does, but he stopped checking in with me long ago. He said because every day to him is the same–he just goes to work, is still doing well managing his addiction, so what else is there to say? He still is the man who can spend hours in a room with me and never speak to me. It’s terribly lonely.
I have told my husband that our marriage of silence sort-of-worked in the past, but now I need more. I need a true companion to repair my broken heart. I need someone who is willing to try and earn my trust back, one heartfelt conversation at a time.
We have this conversation about silence over and over, just the two of us, and also with our therapist. I feel like we walk into the therapist’s office, and recently our ecclesiastical leader’s office too, and need to press play on the tape recorder because the message is always the same. My tape-recorded message:
“I am lonely, I don’t trust him, he won’t talk to me.”
And my husband has his tape-recorded message as well–
“I am trying”, “Old habits die hard”, and “Most days are just days, there is nothing to talk about.”
He’s good, he’s really good. He is kind, quiet, and says this so convincingly, with a soft voice that it really seems genuine. You feel sorry for him. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with those explanations, not really. But I can read between the lines. And the real message is–
“I don’t want to talk, please leave me alone” or
“I am tired of talking about this addiction that is way in the past” or
“This is my personality, she needs to get over this.”
If he does try to talk to me it is always after we turn the lights out and go to bed. I guarantee I would fall off my chair with shock if he ever said “Hey Lorena, can we talk for a few minutes alone in the bedroom?” Our broken marriage is simply an afterthought at the end of the day, a way to break the awkward silence between a man and woman who have shared the same bed for 21 years before they fall to sleep.
I really don’t know what to do about this marriage of silence. It’s the definition of loneliness. I feel like I am walking at dusk on this semi-dark road. Heading down the road only leads towards something harder to walk–these cold and snowy mountains. Either way I am cold–either on the road (staying married) or divorced (cold mountains). Do women really walk away from marriages where he is kind, quiet, and does the dishes?
I think loneliness can make a woman do crazy things.
I actually told someone just 2 months after D-day “I am beginning to feel happiness again.” And I had it planned out one Friday night to tell my husband that I had forgiven him! (Thankfully I didn’t.) That was shock, not happiness and forgiveness.
I believe now shock was a gift from God. Spencer W. Kimball taught that God “will not ask us to bear more than we can bear nor thrust upon us that for which we are not yet ready“. Once I was ready to absorb the enormity of my husband’s choices the shock went away. In some ways this trial has gotten worse, the gravity and enormity of it has sunk in slowly as I have been given more tools to handle the problem. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I was not ready those first few months, but slowly with added tools and knowledge I became ready.
Had shock not been present I would have kicked out my husband, hands down. In some ways I wish I had, at least for a few weeks but I didn’t want to scare the kiddos so I let him stay.
Had shock not been present I would have called my husband worse things than ‘you lying bastard’.
Had shock not been present I would have taken a baseball bat to his car or to him. (Shock was a gift to my husband as well, ha ha!)
Had shock not been present I think I would have run away.
Had shock not been present I think I would have followed through with the revengeful thoughts I had–betraying him because he betrayed me.
But luckily, or rather blessedly, God shut my body and brain down. I laid on the couch all day watching TV, reading novels, eating bad food, and no exercise for months. I was able to function in my busy calling and even show kindness towards my husband. When the shock ebbed and anger and confusion took over, that’s when I was ready to ask for help, get counseling and begin my education on addiction and what I would personally need to heal. God is indeed merciful.
It’s been a whole year now. A year since my amazing life was shattered like a vase dropped on concrete. The shards of glass went everywhere; some pieces may be gone forever and I am not sure yet if the vase will ever be like new again.
My husband knows better to approach me with a celebratory smile and say “I have a year of sobriety!” He did that at month 10 and it ruined my day and led to a fight. I told him that would be like me coming home and saying “I haven’t robbed a bank in year!” He would rightfully look at me and say, “You shouldn’t have been robbing them in the first place. This is no celebration, it’s a time for quiet reflection.”
So on the eve of my husband’s year of sobriety, here’s what I am “celebrating”.
1. It’s been a whole year of tears. Tears on my bathroom floor, tears in the shower where I can wail and my children won’t hear me, tears on my pillow, tears on my knees, tears of anger towards my husband’s lies. Tears at church, tears at the temple, tears as I told my parents, tears as I yelled at my Bishop for letting my husband off Scot-free.
2. It’s been a whole year of waking up and remembering, “Oh yea, this is my life now.”
3. It’s been a whole year of education and learning a whole new vocabulary to words like boundaries, triggers, betrayal trauma, etc.
4. It’s been a whole year of going to church and trying not to cry at all the lessons on sin, priesthood, and forever families.
5. It’s been a year on my knees pleading and begging God to please heal my heart now and wondering why healing is so very slow from one who is perfect and omniscient and omnipresent.
6. It’s been a year of making up excuses for the kids as to why dad is gone so much every Tuesday and Wednesday night now.
7. It’s been a year of mourning the loss of my marriage. The marriage I thought I had for 19 years has been replaced by a broken one.
8. It’s been a year of mistrusting my best friend.
9. It’s been a year of praying for the gift of discernment, telling God that obviously my liar meter is broken so I need discernment, I need a spiritual gift, if I am going to stay in this marriage.
10. It’s been a year of avoiding most friends and acquaintances and slowly deciding to confide in a few.
11. Its’ been a year of crying with my new friends, my fellow sisters whose hearts have been broken as well. The “sobbings of their hearts ascending up to God against (their husbands.)….hearts dead, pierced with deep wounds.” (Jacob 2:35)
12. It’s been a year of looking in the mirror and saying “I’m still standing, I am strong.”
13. It’s been a year of realizing that true peace comes from trust in God and in his timing and knowing that my future is bright, no matter my husband’s choices.
14. It’s been a year of counting my big and little blessings. From realizing I have amazing supportive parents and siblings to thanking God for a jacaranda tree in all its glorious purple blooms.
14. It’s been a year of realizing that as humans we can sure mess up our lives and the lives of innocent and knowing that Jesus Christ is our only hope. Only he can fix the messes we make.
I have tried to get to the root of why my hubby’s addiction has been so traumatic. I mean, I know why, it’s kind of obvious, but what is it about the betrayal that hurts me, personally? I have been praying and asking God to help me sort out my feelings. My therapist has helped me see that when we can name the pain, we have power over it. It took me a while to believe that, but I think I’m on board with that philosophy. I’ve been able to name a piece of this heartbreak.
In a quiet moment of pondering I finally had this thought come to me to help me understand my pain: Exercising love for me shouldn’t be such an exercise. I want his love for me to come easily; I don’t want it to be a homework assignment. That’s why this has crushed my heart. I don’t want it to be such hard work to only have eyes for me. I want it to be easy to avoid lust because at home he has love. After all, that has been my experience and it crushed me to learn that was not his experience.
When I shared these ground-breaking thoughts with my husband he quickly said, “It’s always been easy to love you.” To which I said “Actions speak louder than words.” Acting out on his addiction, coupled with lies, for twenty years showed hatred towards me. Hatred and disrespect.
Years ago I heard Paul Newman explain why he never cheated on his wife. “Why go out for hamburger when I have steak at home?” Despite the metaphor using meat, it’s beautiful. Mr. Newman got it and I want my husband to get it. I want it to be easy to turn away from lust because he has love at home. Maybe someday it will come easy for him.
When my husband told his therapist that I didn’t want to celebrate our anniversary this year, the therapist was surprised. After all, that’s why I stopped going to therapy, I was doing so much better and didn’t need his weekly help. But doing somewhat well as an individual and wanting to celebrate our anniversary as a joyous occasion are two different things. I am pleased at the progress my husband is making, but I don’t feel a party-like atmosphere is in order. I am pleased at how well I am healing, but I don’t feel the need to exchange gifts. I told my husband that what I want can’t be purchased.
So my 20th wedding anniversary came and went quietly last week without a trip to Europe like I always thought we would take. We were out of town, at my parents’ home in sunny southern California. I had told my husband all month long that I didn’t want to celebrate our anniversary. I didn’t want a gift, didn’t want to go anywhere, didn’t want it mentioned really. (I was afraid my parents would wonder why we chose not to celebrate it so I did bake a cake in our honor, or at least that’s what I told them.)
Since our anniversary is at the very end of the year it’s always been kind of a ‘reckoning’ moment for me. Usually on my anniversary I look back on the last calendar year and think about all the great things that my husband and I were able to accomplish. I like to think about all the blessings we have and how we have grown as a couple. We always talk about our wedding day in Los Angeles. How hot it was for December; how there were 29 other couples on school break getting married that day; how we were the last couple to get married at high noon; how they closed the temple and I had to change out of my wedding dress in the visitor’s center tiny bathroom; how fun it was to go out to lunch, all alone, as husband and wife in Puente Hills while our families got the church ready for our reception.
But not this year’s anniversary. This was the year where I was robbed of all those good memories. This was the year where I stopped saying, and will never say again, “we really do have the best marriage, we are the best of friends.” I really was looking forward to turning 40 in the year 2014; it seemed like a hallmark of all the good in my life. But then in June it all shattered and I learned my husband had been a porn addict our entire marriage. All of it.
And as 2014 came to an end and all my friends who also married in December wrote lovely tributes on Facebook to their spouses I thought of my own imaginary post. “Happy 20th anniversary to my sweetheart; marriage is indeed hard but we love each other and we aren’t divorced yet.” But who wants to read that.
Here’s to my 21st year of marriage. May it be just a smidge better.