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Satan is subtle. And we are all vulnerable.
A good friend taught me a lot about the subtle process that Satan uses. She is an earnest, married Latter-day Saint. She caught me at a social gathering to tell me of a great friendship she had developed with a man in her ward. She and he enjoyed great discussions about the gospel. Sometimes he called her from work. Occasionally they met downtown for lunch. He bought her little gifts. She told me how much she enjoyed her companionship with the man. I was worried. Then she told me how good the man was with children . . . and how she wished her husband would be as sensitive. Then I knew.
The devil had carefully woven her discontent about her husband together with her affection for another man. The effect was devastating to her marriage. She was trying to find some way to leave her husband while still doing all she believed was right. It is a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation. She does not enjoy her marriage and family. Yet she can’t find any way to have what she thinks she wants. She is trapped. She is right where the devil wants her. She is miserable.
The devil’s methods for tricking us are predictable. Trouble starts with behaviors that seem very innocent. We do good, helpful things: supporting a troubled neighbor, sharing gospel ideas with a ward member, working closely with another person on a ward activity, listening to the troubles of a co-worker. All of these kindnesses are good. But the trouble begins as a person starts to feel responsible or very close to someone who is not his or her marriage partner. Affection is growing that claims part of the heart that belongs only to the spouse.
The covenant we make with God to avoid all sexual relations outside of marriage precludes not only physical, but also romantic relationships outside of marriage, even if they are only mental or emotional.
In his talk, “The Eternal Nature of the Law of Chastity,” Elder Gene R. Cook has said that we do not have the right to stimulate or be stimulated by anyone who is not our spouse. That is a high standard! We do not have the right to allow or entertain sexual feelings for anyone but our spouses. In the early stages of extramarital flirting, the intoxicating feeling of someone’s affection and the sense of our innocence may blind us to the seriousness of our situation.
Stages of unfaithfulness
The unfaithfulness moves to a more serious and dangerous stage of unfaithfulness when one or both of the people declare their relationship “special.” They would never dream of “doing anything immoral or improper.” But a person increasingly makes excuses to see the special friend. They plan their schedules to assure that they will be together. Cards, notes and gifts are exchanged.
One tell-tale indicator that a relationship has moved to a dangerous stage is worrying about what people may say about the time or affection that you are sharing with the other person. Another indicator is making excuses or telling lies to hide the time or resources spent on the other person. This is the point at which “friends” begin sharing more of their daily thoughts and feelings with each other than with their spouses. At this point the spouse is displaced as the key recipient of heartfelt communication as emotional intimacy is given to an outsider. These are sure signs that you are doing something wrong.
At this stage, sacred covenants have already been violated and permanent damage lurks. The rightful place of spouse in a person’s heart is crowded by affections for another person. At this stage of unfaithfulness the person is especially likely to be finding fault with his or her spouse. The spouse is compared to the special friend: “I wish my husband were as good with children as Fred.” “I wish my wife were as alert and interesting as Mandy.”
At this stage a person is misled enough to start weaving fantastic fantasies. One form of the fantasizing may sound like “Maybe the Lord wants me to be happy with this other person—and in my case divorce would be sanctioned by Him.” In a more malignant form, it may sound like: “Maybe the Lord will take my husband so that John and I can be together. Somehow, someday, the Lord will work this beautiful relationship out for us.”
Ouch! The Lord is not a heavenly hit man who takes out selected children in order to satisfy our whims and lustful fantasies. He asks instead that we learn to love each other and overlook the inevitable faults we discover. He asks that we honor commitments and strengthen our partners. He asks that we be as good and kind to our partners as we would have them be to us. This is the Christian mandate in its most soul-stretching form.
This stage of unfaithfulness can be a full-blown addiction even if physical intimacies have not been shared. The treatment for it can be wrenching. But rationalizing that it is not a problem and that we can handle it may only delay the pain and increase the risk of further, permanent damage to the family.
The final stage of unfaithfulness begins officially with the showing of any physical affection. It is easy for “special friends” to justify a squeeze. Even a kiss seems innocent enough. The “friends” may be determined to avoid immorality at all costs. They may think that full sexual expression is not even to be considered. But intoxication with the pleasures of romance make the insistent and powerful pleading of biological urges more and more difficult to ignore. Even if a couple exercises the restraint to avoid having intercourse, the damage to family relations that comes from divided loyalties and ugly dishonesty is terrific and tragic. Trust is destroyed. Covenants, with all of their glorious promises, are wasted.
But it does not have to be that way. At any point in the process we can repent. The more time and emotion that we have invested in our fantasy, the harder it is to repent. Satan will not let go of us gladly.
We may try to kid ourselves into thinking that we can somehow honor our covenants while holding a special place in our heart for the “soul mate.” But we lie to ourselves and to God in believing this. We violate our covenants. The devil must roar with laughter as he observes us feeling confined by our sacred covenants while yearning for something that does not and cannot satisfy. Wickedness never was — and never will be — happiness (Alma 41:10).
An ounce of prevention
Latter-day Saints should be alert to the predictable temptations that Satan uses to break up marriages. We should monitor our behavior and our feelings closely. By being alert to the danger signs we can prevent the problems that begin so innocently but end so disastrously.
There are several guidelines that can help prevent trouble.
- Do not allow the seeds of lust to germinate. Do not look on another woman or man with lust. Do not entertain mental fantasies of romance or passion. Do not let your mind be poisoned with the sick encounters in soap operas, worldly literature, or any form of pornography.
- Never make excuses to spend time alone with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. Guard the level of emotional intimacy you build with a non-spouse. As Shirley Glass, a scholar on faithfulness, said, we should maintain a wall between us and those who are not friends to our marriage—who threaten it in any way. We may open a window to those who are friends of our marriage. And there should be neither walls nor windows between us and our spouses. We should be as one.
- Take responsibility for the messages that you give. You do not have the right to be “cute” or flirty with anyone but your spouse. Do not use cards, gifts or charm to win the affection of anyone who is not your spouse.
- Do not allow your heart to dwell on anyone. Push daydreaming of any person but your spouse out of your mind promptly. When you are worried about the intruder, pray for him or her and trust Heavenly Father to care for him or her. The untangling of excuses and emotional dependence can be the hardest part of overcoming the addiction.
- If you find yourself making excuses for continuing the relationship, you are addicted. Get help. Talk with your bishop or stake president. Seek out the help of friends who will help you overcome your addiction.
- Spend more enjoyable time with your spouse. Have weekly dates doing those things that you enjoy together. Find ways to improve your relationship. Be patient. Recognize that many of our frustrations with our spouses are built on the false assumption that they ought to be a certain way. Change your assumptions. Recognize that even the best marriages have more and less satisfying times. Be patient. Be true to your covenants. Enjoy your partner as he or she is. It is easy to believe that things will never be right with your spouse. Trust the Lord that He can heal all wounds.
- Renew your spiritual efforts. Turn to the Lord in prayer. Ask for strength to put temptation out of your mind. Fill your empty places with service, scripture study, and love for your family.
- Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t allow yourself to spend time alone with the person. Avoiding is better than resisting. Make your spouse a partner in all of your efforts to help a person of the opposite sex.
- Keep your soul free of the soul-numbing barrenness of pornography. The greatest sin of pornography may be that it reduces the sacrament of intimacy to a random and wanton act of self-gratification. Preserve or renew your awe in the blessing of simple acts of affection.
- Celebrate the sweet gift of companionship. The amazing message from our marriage partners is: “I’m trusting you with my life, my body, my hopes, my dreams. Please be kind and gentle.” Each of us should rejoice in the sacred gift of spousal trust. If we have squandered any part of it, we should work to re-qualify for it.
As my wise colleague James Marshall observes, “The grass is greener on the side of the fence you water.” If we tend our own little patch, even with all its weeds and rocks, we will find a joy that passes understanding. If we sit on the fence and dream, we will lose even our allotted garden spot. And the devil knows that.
We should be prepared for Satan’s attacks. He offers love, fun and a satisfying life. But it is a lie. He wants to get us to violate our covenants. But he has no joy to deliver on his grandiose promises. He is the master of misery. That is all he has to offer.
If we have been unwise enough to have been caught in a trap, we may repent. When we honor covenants made with our Heavenly Father we are always blessed. Always. Sometimes Father’s process requires us to be patient. Sometimes He requires us to bear discomfort. But He always blesses those who obey eternal laws. And the blessings are in incredible disproportion to the price we have paid.
”To those who claim their love is dead, let them return home with all their loyalty, fidelity, honor, and cleanness, and the love that has become but embers will flare up with scintillating flame again. If love wanes or dies, it is often infidelity of thought or act that gave the lethal potion.”[i]
The joy of fidelity
Fidelity may seem to be confining. It always will—unless we adopt God’s perspective. “Through the lens of spirituality we see all the commandments of God as invitations to blessings. Obedience and sacrifice, loyalty and love, fidelity and family, all appear in eternal perspective.”[ii]
Those who have loved faithfully and patiently can reap a harvest of joy and companionship. This sweet truth is acknowledged even by secular scholars: “For true lovers at all points in history, a fleeting touch on the cheek from the one they adore will be worth more than six hours in 37 positions with someone they do not.”[iii]
Those who resist the lure and guile of Satan, those who honor covenants, those who tend the little garden of their own covenants, will enjoy sweetness in this life and rewards unmeasured in the world to come.
As usual, Satan’s lies are extravagant—but empty. In contrast God’s promises are sure. When we, like ancient Joseph, quietly honor our covenants—even making sacrifices and fighting temptation—God will reward us with blessings unfathomable to those who have grabbed pleasure over principle: “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart” (Psalms 32:11). “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
Not ‘Just Friends:’ Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal by Glass and Staeheli is especially focused on helping couples prevent and recover from affairs.
Creating Your Own Story
Do you notice times when you feel drawn toward someone who is not your spouse? Have you purified your heart so that you choose obedience over the ego-buzz of romance? Do you push away temptation and call on Heaven for mercy?
Are you cultivating appreciation for sweet companionship in your marriage? Are you consciously grateful for the blessing of simple affection with your spouse?
Have you set a standard for yourself to avoid spending time alone with a person of the opposite sex?
Have you carefully monitored your words and actions to be sure that you do not flirt with anyone but your spouse? What might you do differently to be clearer in your commitment to your marriage?
Do you carefully keep yourself out of situations where flirting and immorality are common or acceptable?
Do you avoid websites, movies, and entertainment that turn intimacy into a matter of lust?
Do you share your appreciation for your spouse with friends so that they know of your commitment and affection for her or him?
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[i] Faith Precedes the Miracle, 147.
[ii] Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft , 123.
[iii] Desmond Morris, Intimate Behavior, New York: Random House , 85.