“The Greatest Test a Marriage Can Have,” Ensign, Aug. 1988, 22
If you saw me with my husband and our six children at church, you’d probably think that we weren’t much different from most LDS families. I could be the woman who leads the singing in Relief Society, and my husband could be one of the ward clerks. You’d have no way of knowing that we were once rocked by an experience that would tear most families apart.
Jim (all names are fictitious) and I fell in love in college and married while we still had several years of education ahead. I dropped out of school, and we started our family right away. We struggled in those early years trying to provide for our children and keep Jim in school. When he finally graduated and began full-time employment, it seemed as though our troubles were ending.
We moved into our first real home, and although we were still far from being well off financially, we could pay bills and afford to do some things that we hadn’t enjoyed for twelve years. We didn’t see any problems affecting our marriage, and I certainly foresaw no possibility that my husband would be unfaithful to me.
Looking back, there were plenty of warning signs. We were both so busy and caught up with our own lives that we spoke to each other only with sentences like “Remember to come home early for Marcie’s school program,” or “Don’t forget to pick up my shirts at the cleaners today.”
We had lost a lot of our intimacy. Physical contact was limited to a hug and a quick kiss in the morning. We even neglected to say “I love you.” Our marriage had a feeling of “I’d share my life with you if I had more time, but you understand how it is.” We were seldom alone together: when we went on dates, we were always with friends, and at home people always seemed to be around us.
Our spirituality had sagged. Though we still actively attended church and held ward callings, we didn’t pray together. We stopped going to the temple, and we didn’t read together from the scriptures or other Church publications. We seldom shared our spiritual goals or gospel thoughts. Foolishly, I could not imagine that anything serious could go wrong with our marriage. After all, weren’t we married in the temple, and didn’t we love each other?
I don’t know if words can describe my feelings when I learned that my husband had been involved in an affair for two years. It was more than I could comprehend. At first I denied it. But the awful realization began to crush me. I cried whenever I was by myself, but in public I pretended that things were fine. I stopped eating and dropped to ninety-five pounds. The world around me seemed to be unfocused, and sometimes I felt that I couldn’t even move.
Through all of this, a kind and loving bishop and a close friend helped me greatly. Following my husband’s confession and excommunication, our bishop regularly counseled with us, sometimes separately, sometimes together. After the shock wore off, I had an overwhelming desire to talk—to pour out my feelings of betrayal and rejection. Ironically, the person who was most readily available was Jim. I began to open up, and for the first time in years, I turned to him. I think this was the beginning of the renewal of our relationship.
The changes we had to make did not happen overnight. It took years to repair the damage and learn how to nurture our relationship. We had to realize that we both were responsible for our actions. Elder Marion D. Hanks has said, “Much that happens to us in this life we cannot control; we only respond. But much of the pain we suffer and inevitably impose upon others is self-induced through our own bad judgment, through poor choices.” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 11.)
On the other hand, we had to quit blaming each other and ourselves. At times I blamed my husband, at times I blamed myself, and at times I blamed the Lord. Even in my prayers, I’d sometimes say, “How could you let this happen? I thought you loved me.” We had to learn to be fair with each other and with God.
We also had to learn to communicate meaningfully. We had to become friends again—to start paying attention to each other and to find time just for ourselves. We had to learn how to forgive. Though the process was slow, I often felt the comfort of the Holy Ghost enfold me like a warm comforter. My pain did not lessen for a long time, but the Spirit helped me to know that the pain would pass away and I would once more find joy in living.
I had previously assumed that forgiving would be extremely difficult if someone had greatly offended me. But as the hurt, anger, and bitterness began to fade, I realized that I still loved Jim. Forgiveness then seemed to come naturally. What was most difficult, though, was rebuilding my trust in him.
Many couples find it impossible to rebuild that trust. I feel that I was fortunate. Jim’s sincere repentance and his desire to prove trustworthy helped tremendously. But I also know that Satan frequently introduced thoughts of distrust into my mind to keep our marriage from becoming strong and sacred.
Why did our marriage survive infidelity when so many others have failed? We were committed to the idea that marriage is eternal. We believed that our marriage was worth fighting for, and we were willing to pay the price to save it. These thoughts may have been what finally prompted Jim to confess rather than leave. Once we made up our minds to try to save our marriage, we committed ourselves to each other. Jim has told me that the strength he felt in that renewed commitment helped him make the strenuous effort it took to regain his membership and temple blessings.
Jim and I have learned what we should have done to avoid trouble in our marriage. We should not have thought that marital problems happen to other people. Some of those “others” were our friends. Why had we thought we were invulnerable?
We should have put each other first. When Jim was still in school, he studied at the library in the evenings. I enjoyed spending that time with the children or working on personal projects. But after Jim’s graduation, he was suddenly home most nights, and I resented the “intrusion” on my time.
We should have kept up the feeling of being sweethearts. We should have kept the words “I love you” in our vocabulary. We should have kept doing thoughtful, considerate things for each other.
We also learned firsthand that repentance and forgiveness can be complete through the atonement of Christ. We learned how valuable the gospel is in strengthening and guiding us. As we began to study the scriptures and Church publications together and to pray as a couple, we were amazed at the direction and strength we received.
We learned to trust in the Lord. I had previously believed that I was a capable, independent, self-sufficient person, able to handle difficult situations and crises calmly and well. But when I found myself totally incapable of coping on my own, I discovered the difference between leaning on the arm of flesh and relying on the Savior. In learning to walk by faith, I learned how the Lord can comfort and relieve anguish; how he can teach us wisdom, justice, and mercy; how he can lead us. Elder Neal A. Maxwell tells us that “we can … actually do as Peter urged and cast our cares upon the Lord (see 1 Pet. 5:7); He is familiar with them, including even the feeling of being forsaken (see Mark 14:50; Mark 15:34). Nothing is beyond His redeeming reach or His encircling empathy.” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 72.)
We learned how very fallible and imperfect we are. Often it takes a painful experience to remind us how much we still need to learn. It is in Christ that we are perfected, not in ourselves. As children, we used to play the game “Mother, May I?” Sometimes we could take baby steps, sometimes giant steps. In this life, sometimes we take baby steps and sometimes we must stretch spiritually and take giant steps toward our Heavenly Father.
Finally, I learned that we must let go of the past. The Apostle Paul said, “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark.” (Philip. 3:13–14; italics added.)
I was counseled that I could not begin a new life unless I could turn my back on the old one. Rehashing the events that had transpired, recrimination, and retribution could serve no worthy purpose. In time, I was able to do this, and I have never regretted that I did.
We hope that you will be more cautious than we were. Continue to nurture your marriage as you do your children. Make sure that you spend time with each other, even if you have to schedule it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, because you love your spouse, you are protected from developing interest in someone else. Avoid discussing personal problems or marital unhappiness with anyone other than your partner, and be aware that a long-term or a close working relationship with a person of the opposite sex can lead to emotional intimacy, which almost always precedes physical intimacy.
If your marriage is based on truth and integrity, it will have great strength. If you honor the covenants you have made with each other and with God, you can experience the guidance and power of the Holy Ghost. The greatest protection from the power of the adversary is to spiritually fortify yourselves and your marriage. In the end, we can have no greater honor than to stand before Jesus Christ as worthy sons and daughters of God and to receive together our crown of exaltation. It is a price worth paying.