This is the second part to this post. The first is available here
This is all the more true, of course, if you happen to find a man who is happy to play along in the role of the gallant gentleman, saying all the right things in all the right ways. That is, if a would-be spouse is compelling before marriage, it is because they appear to be able to satisfy our dreams. And then of course human nature causes us to largely pretend to be as excellent as possible before marriage, showing our brightest and most attractive aspects, actively hiding our foibles and weaknesses, for the sake of luring the other party into a lifelong relationship with us – except that they are of course doing exactly the same thing.
And yet, when you enter marriage, for many people the dream turns sour. I believe that this is because the expectation of perfect communication and perfect character is a very invisible but real assumption in our thoughts of marriage. (So for women, you could say that the “glass ceiling” of marriage is propped up by the “glass pillar” of perfect communication and character we assume from our spouses and one another beforehand. I say “for women” because I believe women are the ones who experience the glass ceiling in marriage.) Where these turn out to not be the case after all, it can only detract from your experience of marriage, leaving you feeling deeply disappointed.
I believe that this is how these things relate to adultery. Let’s assume that we are dealing with one of those disappointed parties from the unsatisfying marriage. Now the danger is that they are still cultivating those same deep-felt thoughts and yearnings of the impossible perfect marriage! As I said before, for me as a single person these thoughts are so deep, they strike with such force that whenever they strike I can’t help thinking that it is good and right and necessary thing to pursue them. Once again, I believe that this is because they were created by God as good and right and realistic before sin entered the world. So your marriage has left you feeling disappointed, you are feeling your spouse is inadequate, relative to your dreams, and yet those yearnings are still striking with their previous force, and because they feel so good and right and real you are still cultivating those dreams. And then your eyes lock with those of someone in your workplace, and just like with your spouse before your marriage, everything about them whispers – or even shouts – that they can fulfil your needs. And then this is where our own sinful nature twists this impulse that was after all created by God – like King David we reach out and take what does not belong to us (However, in David’s case there was no suggestion that he was dissatisfied with his existing marriages – but he was deeply captivated by Bathsheba’s beauty).
We disregard the pain that our actions will cause for the sake of satisfying our own deep-felt needs. Who, after all, can claim to be unaware of the devastation that adultery leaves in its wake? Oh but look, just as our initial spouses ultimately failed to satisfy us, so these relationships will also fail to satisfy us, even if we sacrificed everything for them, because the new people we pin our hopes on will be just as imperfect as our original spouses, and the new relationships will be just as hampered by imperfect communication. Furthermore, if we would break our marriage vows because of these new relationships, then that in itself would demonstrate huge character failings on our own part, (faithlessness, self-centredness) which would not bode well for the new relationships. In a very real way these new relationships would be doomed before they even began.
This might be part of the reason why adultery can so often represent such a crushing betrayal – because your spouse might have been doing all they could to endure your own glaring faults – and you are willing to discard all their efforts, their determination in an instant. “After all I’ve done for you!” You might never have had cause to know just how much your spouse does for you, how they stand up for you and fill in for your shortcomings, because they might have been hiding any mention of your weaknesses and their own efforts for the sake of diplomacy and consideration. They might also be expending lots of effort to convince you of how happy they are in the marriage and how delighted they are with you as a spouse (for the sake of creating a positive atmosphere in the marriage). Because of this, as you mentally recount their flaws, you might easily fall into the trap of thinking that the greater part of sacrifice and effort in the marriage falls to you. It might only be when you go ahead and “follow your heart” and elope with a new partner into a new relationship and then find someone who is all too ready to spell out each of your failings in very precise detail that you finally realise what a gem you had in your first spouse. Only by then of course, it will be too late. If you are letting yourself think through these kinds of thoughts please sit up quickly and start paying attention to your spouse. Lack of complaints from your spouse does not mean lack of cause to complain. It might be an expression of love and maturity in your spouse.
And if you are currently looking wistfully at someone who is already married, just remember that someone who leaves their spouse for you will most likely do exactly the same thing when they start feeling that you no longer meet those needs, and if they meet someone who they feel will be better able to meet their needs. And then of course their definition of “better” does not need to correspond to yours or to any reasonable judgement whatsoever – that of course, might be exactly what their current spouse might think if they were to seriously consider your own merits as a rival for their spouse…
So then, this is why I believe that it is the impulse itself that is dangerous – even though it is so deep-seated and real, even though it was originally created by God, even though it is intrinsically good. It is the same impulse that might cause you to marry someone hastily in the first place. It is also the same impulse that might cause you to look beyond your marriage in the hope of seeking satisfaction elsewhere. What I personally purpose to do now is to aggressively cut out those yearnings and thoughts whenever they occur, so that they cannot build up to create pressure within me. If I allowed them to build up to create pressure within me, this might cause me to look at/smile at someone who would be wholly inappropriate as a spouse, just for the sake of hopefully satisfying those yearnings and thereby relieving the pressure. I think we have to recognise that even if those feelings were indeed from God, created by Him to be good and wholesome, in our present world they will never be perfectly met.
For people who are still single like me, I think we have to embrace our future marriages as deeply flawed. I think we have to know that and accept that about our marriages before they actually begin. Being careful to aggressively cut out those feelings will also help me to be patient to find a husband who will genuinely be excellent, rather than fob myself off with a cheap counterfeit merely disguised with a thin golden veneer. However, even with a truly excellent spouse then I have to accept that marriage will be challenging. I have to commit to the imperfection of my marriage, and make up my mind that I will never look elsewhere. I also have to commit to ongoing aggression regarding these deep-seated yearnings. Whenever they crop up, and whenever I am because of them tempted to regard my marriage and my spouse as inadequate, I have to violently pull them out.
If you are already married, possibly struggling with these thoughts, then similarly I encourage you to get rid of the thoughts, rather than your spouse! Know this and realise this, that there is absolutely no-one on earth, no-one who has ever lived, no-one who will ever live, no-one at whom you could possibly be smiling who could satisfy your yearnings, because no-one in history past or coming time has ever been or will ever be perfect. (Well apart from Jesus, of course!)
Yes, those feelings are deep-seated and real, yes they were actually created by God, and yes again your spouse is impossibly inadequate – “Tosin, can you believe that he …(does something very silly?)….!” or “Can you imagine that she…(has the maturity of a child?)….!” Yes, but that is what marriage is! If you had married someone else, you would simply have encountered a different permutation of problems. Unfortunately, many of us don’t realise this before we get married. As soon as we realise it let us quickly accept it, because it simply is not going to change, and then let us refuse to look elsewhere, but rather pour our efforts and endeavours into this spouse and this marriage, to the glory of God, and to the peace of our lives, our families and our futures.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice with the wife of your youth.
Photo of wilted thistle by Glompie on Pixabay