“I’m completely baffled about how I am supposed to respond to my husband.” The look on Mary’s face matched the disgusted tone in her voice. About three months prior, Ted’s affair with a co-worker fifteen years his junior was exposed and the controversy was so ugly that the woman quit her job and he was forced to come completely clean with his wife. In counseling, he admitted that the whole situation was wrong and that he would never return to such a choice. He rightly disclosed all his secrets…use of money, unaccounted for time, cell phone bills, and so forth. It even seemed that his counseling sessions were prompting genuine soul searching.
And yet, Mary was reeling with bewilderment because she sensed that Ted’s heart still was not in the right place. Were it not for their two grade school kids, she would have filed for divorce and been done with him, but she was desperate to hold the family together. She just wanted Ted to pull his emotions and attitudes together so they could begin rekindling what she once thought was a decent marriage.
Ted’s problem extended farther than putting the affair behind him and rebuilding trust with his wife. The affair had represented a dream, one that was heavily laced with unsustainable fantasy. He and Mary had not had a miserable marriage, but neither had it been idyllic. When he first became attracted to the other woman he began nursing feelings that he’d never known before. He had allowed himself to believe that he had found his soul mate, a beautiful someone who could understand him like no one else. He honestly felt she was a kindred spirit who could connect with him almost magically.
Once the affair had come out into the open, he was thrust into a very unwanted reality. He was forced to admit that the other woman couldn’t have been as ideal as he had thought because she had been so willing to cheat, lie, and deceive right alongside him. What did that say about her real character? And he was also having to admit that the warm, fuzzy feelings they experienced had not been felt in a realistic context. They had lived inside a bubble of non-reality where normal life stresses and strains were non-existent.
Recognizing his self induced delusions, Ted had been yanked back into reality, forced to grapple with the truth that fairy tales don’t exist. Real life consists of marital arguments, kids who take time from marital bliss, bills that pile up every month, in-laws who disappoint, and schedules that run amok.
Ted’s blues were driven by the requirement to go back into a life that included the blues.
Among the many reasons for having an affair, adulterers like to think that there is a way to escape the hum-drum elements of life. At the beginning of a potential liaison, common sense tells virtually any married person that it is folly to think that a tryst with the third party would be an excellent idea. Yet the decision is made to push forward with the relationship anyway. That push is typically fueled by thoughts like: “But she’s so wonderful,” or “Our communication is so deep,” or “She makes me feel so alive,” or “I’ve never met someone until now who really gets me.”
Included in the recovery process is the need to address all sorts of issues within the marriage. But before those efforts can produce true change, the offending spouse needs to accept that there is no one person who can sustain heavenly bliss. There is no perfect ideal. Struggle happens. Marriages can disappoint.
Admitting that the grass will not be greener on the other side of the fence does not require the individual to sink into despair as Ted seemed to be doing. It simply means that deeper thought needs to go into developing attitudes that will soften the happily-ever-after myth.
Making room for marital blues is not the same as giving in to defeat and despair. Instead it represents a willingness to love in the midst of imperfection. It means that tolerance will be given priority when strains occur. It illustrates the importance of ingredients like grace, self-restraint, and humility.
Anyone can feel ecstatic love when living inside a bubble devoid of the strains and tensions that naturally visit a long term relationship. True depth of love is displayed when patience and loyalty are sustained even when the going is not ideal…or perhaps we should say especially when the going is not ideal.