What’s It Going To Be?
There was a newspaper article last week about a 75-year-old man who admitted to having an affair. It was nothing, he told his wife, just a fling. His wife said all he needed to do was ask for a divorce and she would grant him one, to which he replied he wanted no such thing. Barbs were exchanged. The woman was angry and marvelously feisty, but even the sharpness of her tongue could not conceal the depth of her pain. At their age, she said, she didn’t think she would have to deal with infidelity again. Then towards the end of the piece, she said, “Maybe it’s my fault because I always smell like food.”
It broke my heart.
Indeed, at that age, one ought to be enjoying the harvest of the early years of turmoil. Enough already. She’s right. If you want a divorce, time out, and aren’t mature or man enough to honor your vows, at least give your wife due respect. Give her the truth—no matter how bad it makes you look—so she can make an informed choice about how to go on with her life. It will be painful, yes, but nowhere near as devastating as years and years of betrayal. By dealing always on the level of truth, you still honor your spouse. She deserves it.
But alas, perhaps I speak of future man. Present man would rather go the cowardly path and do everything behind his spouse’s back. He doesn’t want to hurt her but he can’t bear to look bad. He doesn’t want to lose his family but he cannot put his selfish needs aside: the need to feel young, sexy, needed, powerful, and adored. So off he goes anyway, to be his sadly immature self — a narcissist and total coward. He makes himself believe he’s doing things behind his spouse’s back because he doesn’t want to hurt her, even if that pretty lame excuse really only protects him from seeing and being accountable for the wounds he inflicts on her. Seeing the depth of her pain would force him to straighten up and he just can’t do it. Won’t do it. Can’t do it. Won’t. The real tragedy is that—bad as it sounds—all that could be his truth. It’s insane logic but that’s his truth and that’s what it could very well be for life.
So there she is, the woman in the article, appropriately angry, spewing fire. But in the end she folds and finds reason to blame herself, which proves my theory that women are partly but often to blame for men who get away with decades of marital murder. Most women just turn a blind eye and let their husbands do what they will. And so they do.
The female propensity for self-blame is part of the whole drama. Maybe they’re not fixing themselves up enough; they’re not thin, sexy, smart or young enough. Maybe their breasts are too small, thighs too big. They love their kids too much? Maybe they smell like food. Whatever. It is this cycle of self-blame (too much for women, completely absent in men) that keeps everyone in limbo. She takes responsibility for his actions. He coasts in the shadows. Without one word exchanged, everything shifts. By sheer default, the marriage rots. He fools around; she pretends it’s not happening. Then one day something forces her to see it, so she gets angry (though not enough) and then turns around and blames herself.
In a perfect world, the husband would be man enough to honor his wife with truth, every step of the way. It doesn’t mean he never stumbles but, when he does, he walks the path of truth and is totally accountable for his actions. In a perfect world, the wife never plays blind and is brave and forward about setting boundaries of truth and fidelity, making no excuses for anybody’s bad behavior. I think those two changes could be a great start for a true marriage.
People love to say, “Christ is at the center of our marriage”, but any form of lie or denial is not Christ-like at all, no matter what anyone says. Having Christ at the center of your marriage doesn’t mean you turn yourself into a doormat and a martyr. It also doesn’t mean you keep breaking your vows because you cannot help yourself, or it means nothing to you.
Having Christ at the center of your life means striving to be like him in bringing truth and integrity into your union, even if it means making painful decisions. John the Baptist did say that after him would come one who baptizes with fire. That is worth pondering. Being Christ-like doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to immorality and untruth. It means shining a clear and honest light on the darkest part of ourselves and working towards putting all our fragmented and wounded pieces together in the service of others. No excuses.
It is difficult to take an honest look at ourselves and see our failings, but as we get older it becomes more and more important to do so. If we are in a marriage or partnership, and especially if we are parents, it becomes very clear that doing this very difficult self-work is what love is about. Admitting your weaknesses and asking for help is a very courageous and selfless thing to do. It shows more courage than propagating your bad habits in the dark because you’re ashamed of yourself and are too scared to face the light on your own. Nothing purifies more than facing and consciously transforming that in you which is flawed and weak. It is a true baptism of fire. It is a job that honors the Christ in you.
It is within the realm of love to say no to someone who constantly shows disrespect for a covenant you both vowed to uphold. It is. It is within the realm of love to say, “Enough. No more.” If at the ripe old age of 75, your mate is still looking for his youth in someone else at the expense of everything you had together, all bets are off. The one who dares offer a lame excuse is a stench-drenched rotten egg.
There is a point in every human life when we must take complete responsibility for the kind of person we are. There is a time when excuses stop flying. You can be the person who stumbled but chose to learn his lessons and live by them or you can be the cad who decided to let his weaknesses be his god. You can be the person who feigned blindness and allowed darkness to cover more ground, or you can be the one who favored the light.
There comes a time in one’s life when you decide: This is who I am. You decide. You live it. If you choose to let events run your life you will soon realize that your time is simply up.