Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart

Marriage & Mountain Climbing

I just finished Dr. Stephen M. Judah’s (1949–2008) book Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart. The book is full of stories of his experiences counseling couples caught in the web of an affair (or some cases multiple affairs). He describes these marriages using a very helpful illustration: mountain climbing. As Judah sees it, couples climb toward an affair. He calls it “the ascent into brokenness.”

Novice climbers approach the mountain unaware of what awaits them. In my one experience climbing, I remember watching a couple of my team members have uncontrollable emotional reactions as they acclimatized to the altitude. Similarly, nothing can truly prepare a person for all that marriage entails. Couples should avail themselves of every opportunity possible to prepare and train, just as a climber should! Preventative measures are practiced by the wise of heart. Even so, you still have to climb (i.e., get married) to have the real experience.

from Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Dr. Stephen M. Judah

Judah describes the active affair as the peak of the ascent into brokenness; he also calls it the “death zone.” The reason for such a description is because a person cannot linger long on the peak of a mountain and live—the body simply cannot take it. Likewise, a marriage cannot linger long in an affair. He also compares the active affair to the peak of a mountain ascent because an affair does not simply all of a sudden happen. A couple climbs into it. Judah describes the progressive ascent into brokenness as the accumulation of brokenness from sin, brokenness from the family of origin, brokenness from our peer group, brokenness from dating relationships, romantic love, civil war, the evolution of affair conditions, and finally the peak—the active affair. Rather than an affair being a spontaneous act of passion, the spiritual and social science of the act explains that the affair is the result of the unchecked accumulation of brokenness in a person’s life. We enter marriage with imbedded flaws that remain hidden until a crisis exposes them.

As a boy, I remember watching footage of the January 28, 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger explosion. It happened 73 seconds into its flight. All crew members were lost. The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology concluded its hearings with a statement: “The fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel, who failed to act decisively to solve the increasingly serious anomalies in the Solid Rocket Booster joints” (under Conclusions, pages 3–7). Years of poor decisions by experts who failed to act decisively created a death zone that exposed everything.

The Ascent into Brokenness

Civil War

In his chapter entitled “Civil War,” he writes, “The experience of civil war has universal and unmistakable characteristics: (1) Awfulization best characterizes the overall experience. The warring pair tend to primarily see the bad in the other. The good is denied or remains carefully ignored. Each becomes at risk to fall into a pattern of being at their worst. (2) Awareness of incompetence—The couple becomes mostly conscious of each other’s incompetence. (3) Negative response—The couple moves either against or away from each other, engaging in classic fight or flight. (4) Depressed sensory acuity—The couple’s senses are diminished, and they attribute the lack of clarity to a lifelessness in their relationship. (5) Separation—They may think or say, ‘I can’t stand to live with you.’ (6) Incompletion—They may think or say, ‘Something is missing.’ (7) Unfamiliarity and disbelief—They may think or say, ‘I’m in the wrong place with the wrong person. How did I ever get here?’ . . . We demand more and put up with less” (pages 65–66). The reality is that both spouses have both brokenness and wholeness within them. Dr. Judah states that “master couples” learn how to focus and practice an awareness of one another’s competencies, which eventually evolves into an unconscious trust in one another’s competencies.

Evolution of Affair Conditions

I found chapter seven, “The Evolution of Affair Conditions,” insightful. He suggests that both “difficult” and “good” marriages experience affairs, and then he seeks to answer the question “Why?” He proposes a two-fold answer: (1) the 60% push and (2) the 40% pull. A negative or difficult marriage environment is likely to “push” a spouse toward an affair. Dr. Judah describes the primary factors at play as (1) communication issues, (2) character or developmental issues (e.g., unmet needs), (3) conflict resolution issues, (4) adult life stage or landmarks (e.g., mid-life crisis), and/or (5) confused or broken choices. A combination of these factors can literally “push” someone toward an affair. However, sometimes affairs (40%) happen in marriages described by couples as “happy” or “fulfilled.” In these cases, there are factors present that “pull” a spouse into an extramarital affair: (1) proximity, (2) similarity, and (3) reward. Work relationships where men and women are working in close proximity and where conversation moves from work-related into more personal feelings, desires, dreams, etc. Unintentionally, boundaries are crossed. From proximity, similarities may begin to surface and create a dangerous intimacy. Eventually, it is possible for the offending spouse to perceive rewards associated in an affair with the third party person.

After explaining these “push” and “pull” realities of the evolution of affairs, Judah offers wrong ways to handle the evolution of an affair and right ways to handle the evolution of an affair (pages 69–75):

Wrong Ways Right Ways
Toying with the possibility of having an affair Commit to finding a way to create a strong marriage—step away from the edge and look for the safe path
Acting out (without talking about) your negative thoughts and emotions Talk about your inner struggle—find friends of the marriage, those who will strengthen your commitment to the marriage bond
Blaming yourself or your partner Replace blame with understanding and take responsibility
Getting bad advice from friends, family members, coworkers, affair partners, or even counselors Get professional guidance that specializes in marriage or relationships
Triangulation or substitute triangulation, which is focusing more on the third party or some other substitute that you do on your spouse Embrace the usefulness of suffering, and choose optimism—suffering together can be a bonding experience
Focusing on the third party rather than on your core values and commitments Focus on the primary couple, the husband and wife
Waiting for a crisis, that is, most people seek help only after an affair has happened Focus on your core values and commitments
Be proactive, preventative and preemptive.
Master essential disciplines—Dr. Judah covers these in part three of his book.

Dr. Judah brings this chapter to an interesting close by warning readers not to dismiss the role of both evil and good supernatural forces at work behind the evolution of an affair. As people of the Bible, we believe in supernatural realities. God calls us to love as he loves—with faithful, steadfast love; however, sin, Satan, and demonic activity are realities opposed to human flourishing. Beware the spiritual forces at work in the “push” and “pull” of the evolution of an affair. Cling to your God and to your spouse.

The Descent into Wholeness

The third part of the book is entitled “Descent into Wholeness.” Surprisingly, the descent down the mountain is harder than the climb up. I remember being caught off guard by this during my single mountaineering experience. There a number of factors that make it more difficult: (1) you’re not as motivated; (2) the goal destination seems boring and anticlimactic; (3) it hurts your joints and feet in an unexpected way; (4) you’re off balance because of terrain; (5) you’re exhausted; (6) you have fewer supplies and possibly damaged gear; (7) you’re far more irritable; (8) the path isn’t always as clear; and (9) well, you’re just done! While all this is true, you must make it back down the mountain—your life depends on it. You can’t survive long at the top. Reaching bottom restores normal, whole, healthy living.

In this section, Dr. Judah walks the reader through his five essential disciplines that have the potential to restore wholeness to a marriage broken by an affair: (1) SHARE—sharing the truth with your spouse, (2) RECONCILE—reconciling the crisis with your spouse, (3) REFINE—redefine and realign your character through development and commitment, (4) ENHANCE—rebuilding and cultivating the positive, (5) ENVISION—flourish by creating the possible, exploring tomorrow’s dreams, and generating today’s plan. The first three disciplines function “like powerful workhorses to transform the negative” (1) communication techniques, (2) crisis experiences, and (3) character traits; whereas, the final two disciplines (4) cultivate what is good and (5) create the possible.

The Crisis & RECONCILE

In chapter ten entitled, “The Crisis,” he borrows an experience from Andy Politz, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest multiple times. He writes, “On one occasion he helped rescue a party of five . . . They had spent the night near the peak in bad conditions. Another party had come across them but left the party for dead, giving them only a candy bar to assuage their own guilt. Andy and his party, by contrast, abandoned their climb to devote all their resources to the rescue. The party in trouble needed oxygen and water of course, but mostly they needed someone to walk them down the mountain step by step. Every two steps those being rescued would collapse. Generally competent, experienced and strong, now they were temporarily dazed, confused, weak and blind. They could not rescue themselves. They needed somebody to help. Rescue by definition usually requires others” (page 108).

He continues to develop what the essential discipline of RECONCILE looks like for the offending and the offended spouses. The offending spouse may experience a great deal of relief when the affair is either discovered or confessed; however, the offended spouse often goes through a threefold process that he describes as (1) disorganization, (2) reorganization, and (3) organization. Further, the offended spouse may experience something similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other severe emotional conditions. Judah writes at the close of this chapter, “Oddly enough, the descent into wholeness involves temporarily putting your partner into a crisis state. The offending spouse has been in the death zone for a while, so descending lets them breathe a little easier. By contrast, the offended spouse feels like they have been dropped into the death zone of a mountain peak without any acclimatization. The necessary disclosure hits the offended spouse hard” (page 125). While this crisis has to be a part of the journey, it is miserable.

Flourishing & ENVISION

Chapter thirteen introduces that couples who have experienced an affair can indeed flourish again. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Here, he helps couples recover and reestablish core desires and core values together. Having “survived, stabilized, and succeeded, then pursue significance” together. Couples that reach this ENVISION stage of the descent into wholeness are invited to imagine a resurrected relationship in which they can clarify goals and adjust priorities. Couples that remain committed in the descent can have fulfilling relationships, discover anew that they are good at something together, make the world a better place together, and enjoy peace with God together.

The Spiritual and the Scientific

Descending into wholeness is possible for the couple that has encountered the “death zone” of an active affair. It will take help from others; it will take commitment to a process; and it will take a new hope and vision. Dr. Judah has a couple of appendices at the end of his book that speak to special situations that couples may face along the way of their journey. His final chapter addresses “The Spiritual and the Scientific: A Fusion of Strengths.” He is a committed Christian, who has trained and worked as a social scientist (a.k.a. a professional marriage counselor). He describes the relationship between the two by returning to his mountaineering imagery. He explains, “Mountain climbers have found one particular rope design superior to all others. The structure involves an inner core rope that provides strength and a series of woven otter strands which amplify strength and offer protection. You cannot actually see the vital inner rope. You can only see the otter strands. When spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of social science combine, a fusion of strengths occurs. They become woven together like strands of a rope. At the core lies an indescribable, invisible and vital force. We cannot see God, but we can see the strands surrounding the core” (page 172).

Don’t Lose Hope; Grab the Rope

Don’t die on the mountaintop trying to handle your crisis all alone. There is hope. Get some help. May God grant your marriage the grace to descend back into wholeness with a new hope and vision. May it be stronger having gone through such an incredible crisis.

Holy Week: Redemption Devotion Two

WLC Holy Week: Redemption Devotion for Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Redemption in the New Testament

Redemption means freedom from bondage, which is secured by the payment of a price.” The “price” referred to here is the “ransom payment” required to deliver a person or thing from slavery or captivity. There are a number of dimensions into which the theme of redemption continues in the New Testament:

  • Setting free of the Jewish people from beastly kings and empires by the ransom price (Luke 1:68; 2:38; 21:28; 24:21)
  • Setting free from sin by the ransom price (Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12, 15; 1 Pet. 1:18)
  • Setting free from the curse of the law by the ransom price (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 3:13; 4:5; Heb. 9:15)
  • Setting free of our bodies by the ransom price of the legal adoption as sons (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14; 4:30; Heb. 11:35)
  • Setting free of opportunities/time/relationships from evil by the ransom price (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5)

The New Testament gets to the heart of why we need a more profound redemption and stronger Redeemer. Sin is at the root of the political, spiritual, physical, and relational slaveries encountered in our world, personal lives, relationships, and experiences. Sin has affected every person who has ever lived (cf. Rom. 5:12); therefore, it affects every institution, group, and activity of which people are a part. Until we get real about the problem (=sin), we can’t begin to get real about freedom.

Dimensions of New Testament Redemption

Political: Do you believe God cares about politics? Do you believe he cares about your politics? The righteousness or wickedness of nations and their leaders? Historically, we can observe that God frequently advanced his program by his sovereign activity over global politics. The redemption of Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s plan for an eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace that will eliminate every trace of the beastly kingdoms of the world (cf. Daniel 7). How can you partner with God’s kingdom agenda by redemptive living at the political level? Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, and even Paul employed their political influence to advance God’s program and glorify him to nations and kings.

Spiritual: Jesus paid the ransom price to set you free from sin’s slavery—freed from its punishment with justification, freed from its power with sanctification, and eventually freed from its presence with glorification. He also paid the price to set you free from God’s law—its penalties, its demands, and its brand of righteousness. While God’s law is holy and good, it’s purpose was to make sin sinful. Now, the cross is where we discover the sinfulness of sin. We aren’t lawless; rather, we are filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Do you know how to walk by the Spirit and to be free from the law? Read Galatians. You’ll gain an understanding of redeemed spiritual living in Christ by the Spirit and learn how love for God and others sets the boundaries of our freedom (cf. Gal. 5:13).

Physical: Did you know that believers have been granted a legal right to inherit a new and free body on the future day of redemption? This is what is meant by “adoption to sonship” in Romans 8:23. God will set our bodies free from death, just as he did for his Son through the resurrection of his physical body. Through God’s legal adoption of believers in Christ, we now belong to him in life and in death, body and soul; therefore, we should glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Are you using your body as an instrument of righteousness or as an instrument of unrighteousness?

Relational: The way to “buy back” opportunities, time, and relationships from evil is through a sacrificial and evangelistic lifestyle filled by the Holy Spirit. It’s going to cost you. Redemptive living always costs, just as it cost Jesus his life. However, it also results in you becoming a life-giver, just like Jesus. By sacrificial worship in the community, we give life to the church. By sacrificial love and submission in our marriages, we give life to our spouses. By children sacrificing their wills in obedience and honor to their parents, we give life to them. By sacrificing the time to be a parent that teaches, we give life to our children. By sacrificing status and rights in order to serve the Lord in difficult situations, we give life to those around us. By sacrificing cultural expectations that are contrary to God’s will, we give life to others. By committing to the work and sacrifice of an evangelist, we give the words of life to needy sinners. What’s the New Testament’s response to evil days? Redeem the time. Take advantage of every opportunity and relationship. There are adventure and freedom in the sacrificial and evangelistic lifestyle of a life-giver. Will you redeem the time God has given you?

Merry Christmas Aleppo

citadel of aleppo

I’m not a professional in political science at the international level. I don’t know all of the inner-workings of the conflict that is raging in Aleppo, Syria. All I know is that I woke up and checked my newsfeed, just like many Americans this morning. CNN reported breaking news of the advance of Syrian forces, who were reported to be employing execution style methods to weed out the final population of rebels in eastern Aleppo. Then, I opened Facebook. My cousin had shared a video collage of certain Syrians giving perhaps their last moments and words to a watching world.

Sometimes, I hate the internet. I despise the mobility of information I’m exposed to from around the world. I muse, “If there were no internet, I wouldn’t know about all the horror in Aleppo.” Yet, for the very same reason, the internet is a great grace to us. It makes us aware of needs throughout our local, national, and international communities. I am aware of deep injustice and evil in the world, residing in the heart of humanity. I am aware of the need for the dawn of a new King, a new earth, and a new humanity—a new creation.

It’s Christmas time in America. Is it Christmas time in Aleppo? Choke that one down. There’s nothing pleasant about war, death, and starvation. While many of us will probably enjoy family, decorations, food, laughter, presents, the fruits of our labors, and reminders of the Incarnation, Aleppo will be weeping and mourning—families destroyed, decorations of rubble and bloodshed, hunger and starvation, wailing and crying, no provisions, let alone presents, fruit from vocational work as a distant memory . . . and will there be any reminders of the Incarnation?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. I hope so. It may be all that some have left—their faith in Jesus and the hope of eternal life. Aleppo has ancient roots in Judeo-Christianity. The Aleppo Codex (“The Crown of Aleppo”) was housed there for half a millennium, which significantly contributes to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible. Did you know that Aleppo is only an hour and a half drive (65 miles) from Antakya, Turkey? Antakya in the book of Acts is known as Antioch—the mission center from which the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. But today, Aleppo is in ruin and misery.

Remember that time Jesus chose to praise a Syrian over his own worshippers? In case you don’t, here’s the story for you,

“And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they [the residents of Nazareth] heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him [Jesus] out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

(Luke 4:27–30 ESV)

Jesus’ praise of the Syrian caused such anger in his own people that they were ready to kill him. The message of course is clear — just as Naaman rather than the Israelites experienced God’s power, so would others rather than the residents of Nazareth experience the power of the Son of God.

You can read more about Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1–14. His name means, “one endowed with beauty” or “pleasantness.” It’s kind of an ironic name for a tough, military commander. It’s also an ironic name for a leper. There’s nothing pleasant or beautiful about war and leprosy.

Elijah and Elisha prophesied in Israel during an era when it was a spiritual wasteland. Oh, there was plenty of religious activity going on—plenty of prophets, plenty of sacrifices, plenty of altars, plenty of worship, plenty of gods, plenty of offerings, etc. Yet, it was very rare for a person in Israel to have an undivided heart for Yahweh, the true God of Israel. Hence, we have a number of stories from that era in which those outside of Israel graciously receive the miracles and the word of God. Naaman was one of those recipients.

God sprinkled his grace all over the story of Naaman. First, 1 Kings 5:1 reads,

. . . through him the LORD had given Syria military victories.

Wait, what? The God of Israel gave military victories to a Syrian commander? Yep. Paul House writes,

At first this claim may seem startling because Naaman is not an Israelite. However, 1, 2 Kings emphasize repeatedly God’s sovereignty over all nations and all people (271).

Second, God raised up help for Naaman from unknown, common sources. Elisha the prophet may seem to be the obvious hero in this story, but really, I think it’s the unknown servants who point Naaman to God’s healing power. The young Israelite slave girl shares the knowledge Naaman needs (1 Kings 5:2–3). Her suffering at the hands of a Syrian raiding party led to Naaman’s deliverance. She was like Daniel and Ruth—seeking the blessing of those around her despite their own sorrow. Later on, other servants approached him after the words of Elisha provoked his angry pride. They steered him away from pride and toward common sense—

“O master, if the prophet had told you to do some difficult task, you would have been willing to do it. It seems you should be happy that he simply said, ‘Wash and you will be healed.’” So he went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, as the prophet had instructed. His skin became as smooth as a young child’s and he was healed.

(2 Kings 5:13–14 NET)

Lastly, God healed Naaman. He didn’t merely heal his skin disease; he converted his soul. He said in 2 Kings 5:15,

For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!

He responds to his new faith in the God of Israel by modes of generosity and worship (2 Kings 5:15b–17). He also has the insight to request forgiveness for the idolatrous duties wrapped up in his vocation (2 Kings 5:18–19), and recognizing the rare sincerity of his faith, the prophet tells Naaman to “Go in peace.” Such a discerning faith was not common in Israel during Elisha’s day.

Human Rights Watch reported yesterday, December 12th, that residents in eastern Aleppo have not received aid since July of this year. Civilians caught in the fray between opposition groups and Syrian forces are starving to death and are not receiving necessary medical treatment. Now, house to house executions are reported to have completed. One resident was reported as saying,

Massacres are happening and the world is watching.

This afternoon, news sources are now reporting that the Syrian forces have secured Aleppo and reached a ceasefire with the rebel opposition. Supposedly, the Bashar Al-Assad regime is ready to make way for overdue humanitarian aid.

In the very least, may we pray for God’s grace upon the Syrian people. Surely, we believe that God’s omnipresence and sovereignty extends over that nation.  Maybe God will use you. May God’s grace heal the wounds — body and soul — of the people of Aleppo. Lastly, may we, the Church, pray and seek God in a way dissimilar to the residents of Nazareth in Jesus’ day, but rather may we carefully and intentionally share in suffering where we can and pass on blessing as we’re able. May God’s grace restore and endow the people of Syria with beauty and pleasantness as he did for Naaman. Merry Christmas Aleppo. Merry Christmas.