Keeping the Marriage Covenant
August 1981

“Keeping the Marriage Covenant,” Ensign, Aug. 1981, 22

Keeping the Marriage Covenant

They thought their marriage was too strong to be threatened

An active LDS couple recently lived through a situation they thought they’d never experience: infidelity—or, in their case, a dangerous brush with it. The impact on their lives was severe, but the gospel of Jesus Christ has enabled them to experience the fruits of repentance and forgiveness and to strengthen their characters.

They are indeed wiser now—and from their painful lesson, they have realized the truth of certain principles. The principles aren’t new; they have heard them many times before. But now they have a personal testimony of them—and a strong desire to help others avoid the tragedy.

1. Don’t ever think you’re immune. A year ago, both Jim and Susan (their names have been changed) would have ridiculed the idea that either of them could ever become involved with anyone else. Theirs was a good marriage—they were living happily in a relationship that had begun with a temple wedding. But because they had grown secure with each other, they felt safe from worldly temptations; they didn’t fully comprehend the power Satan has to prey on personal weaknesses, or the human tendency to rationalize when powerful emotions are involved. They were simply too naive to recognize a potentially dangerous situation.

2. Constantly keep up your spiritual reserves. Jim and Susan now feel that if they had made a more conscious effort to pray and study the scriptures daily, individually and as a family, they would have felt more clearly the influence of the Spirit of the Lord in their lives. The Spirit can more than alert us to possible dangers; it can also keep husbands and wives working together, united as one.

3. Use idle time wisely. Last winter, for the first time in their marriage, Jim’s work schedule was such that he was home alone in the afternoons. All of the children were finally in school, and Susan had gotten a job. Unused to being home by himself, Jim became lonely and restless. It certainly would have been healthier and much safer if he had decided to use his free time on some demanding project or activity—but he chose instead to visit frequently with friends, simply killing time.

4. Recognize potential dangers in one-to-one visiting. The Church has long cautioned its members to go home teaching or visiting teaching in pairs, and to avoid one-man/one-woman situations—even things like driving to Church meetings together. In the past, Jim and Susan scoffed at that, considering the advice excessive. But now they no longer consider this precaution overstated.

Because Jim had so many free afternoons and so few specific plans, he began dropping in on Susan’s best friend, Liz (a fictitious name also). At first this visiting was quite innocent. The two families had been good friends for a long time, and both spouses knew of the visits. Besides, since there were always several small children present, the two of them felt they weren’t really alone together. The little children, however, weren’t adequate chaperones.

Unfortunately, Liz and her husband weren’t communicating well with each other at the time, and she felt she needed some emotional support. Because of Jim’s visits, she gradually began to rely on him for some of that support. He, in turn, recognized her need to talk out problems, and sometimes felt much like a counselor as he talked with her. Gradually, however, Jim found himself in conversations with Liz that he would have been embarrassed to repeat—intimate topics and details of private matters. The attraction of such discussion was strong—and Jim now sees how he rationalized such conversation.

5. Maintain open communication between husband and wife. Jim and Susan had always been able to talk about anything. Yet, it should have served as a flashing warning signal when he stopped sharing the specifics of his visits. The proper sense of formality and reserve had disappeared between him and Liz. Sadly, Jim did not feel unfaithful to Susan, but truthfully he was already beginning to redirect his interests, although he didn’t want to admit it or face up to it.

6. Satan can subtly lead us toward sin in such small steps that we may not even recognize what is happening. What had started as a normal friendship between two married people began to get completely out of hand, and even now it is difficult and embarrassing for them to face up to what happened. Liz gradually became too emotionally dependent on Jim, and he didn’t know how to back away without hurting her—nor did he really want to—for there was an attraction developing that motivated Jim more than he wanted to admit. Little by little the emotional need was permitted to devolve into a physical interest. The descent was so gradual that each step seemed not to be much more compromising than the last. The process happened so insidiously and compellingly that they ignored the laws that should have been governing their lives.

7. It’s hard to simply back out of a sinful situation. Finally, however, they realized that boundaries had been passed that shouldn’t have been.

Jim didn’t want to tell Susan what was happening because he was ashamed, afraid of hurting her and of losing her respect. He also knew she valued Liz’s friendship highly, and he could see that this would injure that relationship. Largely, though, as a result of the increasing attraction, Jim didn’t want to stop seeing Liz, and he rationalized that her dependence on him was too delicate a thing for him to abandon completely.

So he convinced himself that he could reverse the flow of events and simply back the situation up to proper levels again. But his rationalization didn’t work. Each time they were together, even though he rationalized that he could control things, they became more involved instead of less.

At this point, even greater tragedy could have occurred. Fortunately, however, the story has a better ending than it might have had. Guilt pressed on Jim, and thoroughly aghast at his condition, he faced up to what he was doing to himself, his wife, and his children. He felt a deep sense of sorrow and regret for what he had pulled Liz and her husband—his good friend—into. He realized that he had placed himself at the edge of spiritual and marital peril and in the process was bringing ruin to his family and everything that had meant the most to him. He therefore bought and read President Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness and realized that if he were going to free himself, he would need to do it the Lord’s way—through confession and complete change.

With terrible wrenching, he went both to Susan and to his bishop. He says that, of the two, it was much harder approaching Susan because he knew she would be overwhelmed with despair and confusion. And she was. The first few days after he talked to her, they both felt as if the world were crumbling apart. But, together, they have coped. Both did a great deal of weeping those first weeks as they tried to make sense of the situation and reach out to each other again. In the process, they learned as much about recovery from sin as about the entry into it.

The bishop was sensitive and supportive—and Jim and Susan are both very grateful for his spiritual counsel. He knew how sincere Jim’s sorrow was and helped him have hope in his ability to get his life in order and obtain forgiveness. He also talked with Susan, letting her just talk out her feelings. At the same time, the bishop was firm in his counsel, pointing out that Jim’s involvement with Liz must come to an immediate and complete halt, whatever it took—even if it meant moving away to remove himself from the source of the temptation.

In the Lord’s own way, and after the passage of time, Jim was able to know forgiveness and peace again. “I have understood the meaning of ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit’ in a more real sense than ever before,” Jim says. “We’ve both been scoured internally, but our hearts have been touched and healed.”

He continues: “Because we want to have a stronger relationship with each other and be obedient to the Lord’s commandments, we’ve tried to put our family’s spiritual affairs more in order. We now start each day kneeling in prayer, and we study the scriptures as a family every evening. We think we are more teachable now. We know we have to rely on the safeguards of the gospel.”

Susan’s recovery was understandably difficult. “I know I have been touched by the Spirit,” she says, “and I’ve received undeniable confirmation of my husband’s love and his ability to be strong and stable in the future. Although I have had frequent periods of extreme depression, there has been a tangible force for healing in my life. I try not to think of the past, but instead let the memories gradually dissolve from my mind.”

But there was still the matter of resolving their relationship with the other family. Both couples attended the same ward and would be in weekly contact. “Forgiving my husband was, in fact, the easier task for me,” says Susan. “But how should we act toward the other couple?”

In trying to work through her feelings, Susan was blessed with some insights new to her. “To be honest,” she admits, “my earliest reaction toward my old friend was hostile. But one night I suddenly understood during an anguished prayer that I had to release my hatred and be forgiving before I could be free of the chains that were holding me bound. Like Jim, I too began to feel sorrow for the tragedy that had been brought into our friends’ lives.”

The couples are now on speaking terms with each other. Jim has come to the solid understanding that there must always be a distinct emotional distance between himself and any person of the opposite sex, and that a breach in proper relationships must never happen again. He is now convinced that there is great security, after all, in the kind of healthy caution we are all counseled to maintain.

Jim and Susan have spent a lot of time lately reconfirming and strengthening their marriage bonds. “It was a sad experience,” Jim says, “but we’re determined to learn from it.” Susan’s temporary job ended, and she was again able to be home full time. That, in itself, has been beneficial, since, they admit, the stresses put on them by her continued absences were a significant factor in the original trouble. “We spend afternoons together,” Susan says, “doing things we particularly enjoy—swimming, bowling, hiking—and we have started some house projects together. We have especially spent a lot of time just talking and simply being close to each other.”

Jim and Susan’s experience may seem unlikely and contrived. But it happened. “Because of our experience,” Susan says, “we’re more aware than ever that we shouldn’t be so naive as to think we are immune to temptation. Now we’re trying harder than ever to protect ourselves and our family by keeping the Spirit alive in our home and by really obeying the counsel of our leaders. As a result we feel confident that we will be both a cautious and a more securely happy couple.”

Photography by Jon T. Lockwood