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 One

WLC Holy Week: Redemption Devotion for Monday, March 26th, 2018

Redemption in the Old Testament

For these three Holy Week Devotions, we will use a very precise definition of the word “redemption.” It means freedom from bondage, which is secured by the payment of a price.” The “price” referred to here is the required “ransom payment” needed to deliver from some sort of slavery or captivity. There are a number of ways that redemption was practiced in the Old Testament. Here are a few:

  • Setting free of a criminal by the ransom price (Ex. 21:30; Isa. 63:4)
  • Setting free of land or property by the ransom price (Lev. 25:24, 29, 33, 51; Jer. 32:7–8)
  • Setting free of the firstborn by the ransom price (Ex. 11:1–12:7; 13:13–15; Num. 3:46–51; 18:16)
  • Setting free of the childless widow to the kinsman-redeemer by the ransom price (Ruth 4:6)
  • Setting free of the sinner from guilt and consequences by the ransom price of the covenant (Ps. 111:9; 130:7; Isa. 59:20)

In ancient Israel, a household typically designated a man to be the go’el or the redeemer. He was responsible for redeeming property. We might compare it to our practice of a father co-signing a car or education loan for his child. If necessary, he designates himself to pay the ransom price in order to set the child free from the bondage of debt. The Israelite go’el avenged a harmed or killed family member by seeking the legal ransom price from the guilty criminal. This is comparable to our legal definition of restitution. In a patriarchal society, a childless man who died suddenly was a great tragedy for his name and inheritance, and a childless widow entered a desperate condition (cf. Gen. 38). Therefore, ancient Israel practiced levirate marriage in order to redeem these situations. Finally, Israel’s God is the Supreme Redeemer, whom they trusted to deliver them from their enemies, who had taken them captive, like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, and to deliver them from their sins by his faithfulness to the new covenant.

As you think about redemption in the Old Testament today, notice that many of the applications pertain to family relationships. To “free” a family member from bondage always came at great cost to the redeemer. Notice too that the Old Testament speaks of redemption in both the physical and the spiritual realms.

Redemptive Living

Redemption for You:

Physical: Are there any areas of the natural, physical life (e.g., debt, crime against you, emotional or social trauma) in which you need redemption—freedom from bondage secured by someone willing to help with the price? What is your hope in the situation? Have you prayed about it? What other friend or family member may be able to help you navigate this? Are you willing to be honest with them?

Spiritual: Are there any areas in the spiritual life (sin’s temptations, guilt, consequences, Satan’s darkness, influence, or accusations) in which you need redemption? Jesus stands today as your Redeemer. Your Redeemer lives! He has paid the price. Have you singled out the spiritual problem? Have you referenced God’s word to see what it says about that topic? Have you written out your reflections—connecting what God says about this spiritual matter? Have you prayed about it? Have you found authentic fellowship with another man or woman to help apply Christ’s redeeming power?

Redemption for Others:

Physical: Are you in a position to redeem someone who has fallen on hard times, fallen into one of the bondages of the natural life? Inventory your resources and loved ones. Redeem where God may lead you. Remember, the one redeemed can’t possibly pay you back.

Spiritual: Jesus redeemed us by paying a ransom that we could never pay ourselves, nor repay. Have you experienced the power of the gospel in redeeming you from sin’s temptations, guilt, and consequences? Have you experienced freedom from Satan’s darkness, rule, and accusations? If yes, then you are in a position to help others find this freedom in Christ. Inventory your spiritual knowledge, resources, and your loved ones. Redeem where God may lead you. Even if you feel your spiritual experience or resources are meager—remember that our God is strong, and it is he who is at work in you.

The Seven Rings of Marriage

Rings As Seasons in Marriage

Next in the 2018 Messenger series on family and relationships, I hope to convince you to read a new book on marriage. A professor at Bible College used to tell us poor students that a good book was worth selling the shirt off your back to have in your library! This is one of those shirt-sellers! The name of the book is The Seven Rings of Marriage written by Jackie Bledsoe. The title is creative and memorable. Here’s how the chapters unfold:

Introduction
Chapter One: When Your Dream Becomes a Nightmare
Chapter Two: Begin with the End
Chapter Three: The 7 Rings of Marriage—An Overview
Chapter Four: Ring #1—Engagement RING
Chapter Five: Ring #2—Wedding RING
Chapter Six: Ring #3—DiscoveRING
Chapter Seven: Ring #4—PerseveRING
Chapter Eight: Ring #5—RestoRING
Chapter Nine: Ring #6—ProspeRING
Chapter Ten: Ring #7—MentoRING
Chapter Eleven: What Ring Are Your Wearing?
Chapter Twelve: End with the Beginning
Conclusion

Workable Hopefulness

I’ve read many books on marriage. This book is refreshing. It addresses real marriage problems, seasons, work, and celebrations from a biblical perspective. It’s theology is simple and solid. There’s tons of direct, measurable application points for each RING. I also appreciated the tone of the author when it comes to the messy and dirty moments of marriage. Bledsoe avoids what I’ll call “whiny hopefulness”—hope that’s laced with a grinding and annoying whine. Almost like, “There’s hope, but woe is me.” I totally get it, even been guilty of this myself—we live in the tension of both suffering and hope. Romans chapter eight affirms this already-not-yet reality in which we live. However, the solution in the messes of life and marriage is not to whine in the tension, but rather to persevere in faith, obedience, and to make good changes to restore God’s purposes for our lives. The author nails what I’ll call a workable hopefulness. He offers solutions to a husband and wife willing to put the gospel to work in their marriage.

Marriage Earthquakes

Let me give you a few examples from Chapter Seven: Ring #4—PerseveRING. He creates great word pictures to describe special trials in marriage. He describes these moments as Earthquakes and Storms. He describes an “Earthquake” in marriage as the release of built-up stress that has accumulated over time and causes severe disruption and upheaval. He gives a list of potential fault lines in marriage and then offers tips on how to survive a Marriage Earthquake by applying principles from the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) protocol dealing with earthquake safety:

First, DROP down to your knees before the earthquake knocks you down, meaning pray together about the fault line.

Second, COVER your head and your entire body if possible, meaning guard your mind and body.

Third, HOLD ON until the shaking stops—a marriage earthquake is a time to hold on tighter to your vows and your spouse. Here’s a quote: “The shaking will stop eventually. So don’t let go prematurely. When the shaking is over, you can pick up the pieces knowing you have survived something that destroys many other marriages” (189).

Marriage Storms

Regarding Marriage Storms, he parallels these with our constant concern and preparation for weather in day-to-day life. You can spot a storm coming from far away if you’re watching. Bledsoe observes five different hints that a marriage storm is approaching: (1) You have not spoken your spouse’s love language; (2) you have not been truthful; (3) communication is lacking; (4) you’re not praying together; (5) you have an island marriage (i.e., isolated from or not allowing other married couples to be involved in your life). Then, the author advises how to prepare for these storms: (1) Have your storm gear ready (e.g., Bible verses, babysitters for dates, agreement that no storm will end in divorce); (2) know that storms are not always going to be there; (3) have a storm crew; (4) create your weather patterns as best you can (i.e., if you know certain actions or inactions may generate a storm, what can you change or improve?).

Promises for Marriage

Lastly, in addition to talking about the hard work that is necessary when wearing the PerseveRING, Bledsoe reminds readers of seven Biblical promises for going through tough times:

You are unbeatable because God is always with you (Josh. 1:5)!
Things are working together, and good results will come from them (Rom. 8:28).
Despite the way life may look, you are a winner (Rom. 8:37)!
God wants to help you, and He will if you ask Him (Ps. 55:22; 1 Pet. 5:7).
Even in tough times, good things are happening (Ps. 112:4).
God’s grace is enough, and His power is strongest when we are weakest (2 Cor. 12:9).
The challenges you face now pale in comparison to the blessings you’ll receive (Rom. 8:18).

Final Thoughts

Chapters Six and Seven are my favorite in the book, probably because they apply to the things that are most important to this season in my marriage: I need to continue DiscoveRING who Aimee is and continue to learn how to love her well, even in this busy season of family and work. In Chapter Six, the author gives terrific lists for 25 Date Night Conversation Starters and 25 Fun Date Night Ideas. While these are my favorite chapters, Bledsoe has really put together a complete book on each season of married life.

There are other recent great works on Christian marriage—Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage and John Piper’s book called This Momentary Marriage—both of which dig into the theology behind Christian marriage. If you are looking for an amazing story, read my friend Rick Rood’s book entitled, Our Story . . . His Story. In this book, Rick tells the story of his experience of God’s grace and strength while he and his wife Polly battled an awful illness. I’ve personally appreciated The Seven Rings of Marriage by Jackie Bledsoe because of his ability to say exactly what I need to hear with just the right dosage of pain and positivity. Hey, a shot hurts, but when you need it, you need it. It’s been a refreshing read. Again, I strongly recommend this book for all those aspiring for a good and godly marriage.