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Many years ago, when I was way too young, I fell in love with a very cute boy, who was also too young. I was stupid and foolish, but very much in love, and I gave myself to him, whole heart and soul, and body. We had quite a torrid love affair until just before our junior year in high school, his recently divorced mother moved her family, and my lover, many miles away. I was devastated! We tried to keep in contact through the years, and both dated other people. I even became engaged at one point, but broke it off because all I could think of was him and how he loved me.
So, I contacted my former flame. He told me he had confessed to his bishop and gone through repentance and was getting ready to leave for a mission. We wrote letters and I impatiently waited for him to get home. When he did get home, we started dating and once again became sexually active.
I was desperate to get married and used everything I could think of, including my body, but the more desperate I became, I only turned him away from me and he broke off our relationship and broke my heart. Now I felt used and cheap. So, I went to see my bishop, a very kind and caring man, to begin the repentance process. Not long after he left me, I met my husband, a wonderful and honorable priesthood holder. We’ve been married now for almost 50 years, and I do love him dearly.
My problem? Through the years, I’m ashamed to say, my old flame and I have occasionally been in secret contact with each other. A few years ago, I finally found the strength to quit contacting him. I told my husband about it. Understandably, he was very hurt, but very forgiving and only asked that I never contact him again. But I can’t quit thinking and dreaming of him. And, I’m ashamed to admit, but I think of our lovemaking sometimes. Am I guilty of adultery by my thoughts?
Please, please, please help me to stop thinking of him and wanting to contact him again! I do love my husband and I hate myself for being “unfaithful”. Please help me! I don’t know where to turn. I pray and pray and my prayers seem to go unheard. Maybe I’m just too sinful to be heard!
It’s tragic to hear that you’ve been emotionally tortured for decades, unable to find closure with this relationship from your youth. I’m glad to know you have started making steps toward not only ending this relationship, but also claiming the privilege of a loving marriage, which appears to still be within your reach. You have work to do, but you’re headed in the right direction.
Even though there isn’t anything you can do to reverse your youthful mistakes, you can put these memories and experiences in the proper perspective so they don’t continue to pull you back into this euphoric fantasy, which disconnects you from reality. Please don’t expect these thoughts and feelings to disappear immediately. You’ve split and attuned your heart, mind, and body to this relationship while married to another man for decades, so it’s not going to be wished away quickly.
Thankfully, you’ve done the right thing by breaking off contact with this other man and revealing the truth to your husband. It’s important that you continue to turn to your husband and others for support when you’re feeling pulled into this former fantasy. It’s likely you’ll feel pulled toward this old relationship in one way or another for the rest of your life. Recognize that you’ve spent your entire life thinking about and nurturing this other relationship. You brought this competing attachment into an engagement and then a fifty-year marriage. This isn’t something your brain, body, and heart are just going to instantly jettison.
In fact, the appetite for this connection to your former lover isn’t coming from a twisted place. We all have an inborn need to be seen, touched, comforted, and loved. You jumpstarted this in an intense way at a very vulnerable age when your brain and body were still developing, long before you were physically and emotionally ready. This longing for connection was misplaced and misdirected both at the beginning and throughout the past five decades. The reason this is confusing for you is because the need to be connected is good, but not in the way you’ve been doing it.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained this need for discipline of these healthy needs through the account of the Savior’s experience of being inappropriately tempted to eat while facing physical hunger in his forty day fast in the wilderness:
“Whatever else Satan may do, he will certainly appeal to our appetites. Far better to play on natural, acknowledged needs than struggle to plant in us artificial ones. Here Jesus experiences the real and very understandable hunger for food by which he must sustain his mortal life. The temptation is not in the eating. He has eaten before, he will soon eat again, he must eat for the rest of his mortal life. The temptation, at least the part I wish to focus on, is to do it this way, to get his bread—his physical satisfaction, relief for his human appetite—the easy way, by abuse of power and without a willingness to wait for the right time and the right way. It is the temptation to be the convenient Messiah. Why deny yourself satisfaction when with ever such a slight compromise you might enjoy this much-needed nourishment? But Christ will not ask selfishly for unearned bread. He will postpone gratification, indefinitely if necessary, rather than appease appetite—even ravenous appetite—with what is not his.
Sexual expression is also a high and holy physical gratification we were designed and created to enjoy. It is as natural as it is appealing. It is given of God to make us like God. But it is not ours without price. Not instantly. Not conveniently. Not with cozy corruption of eternal powers. It is to be earned, over time, and with discipline. It, like every good thing, is God’s right to bestow, not Satan’s. When faced with that inherent appetite, a disciple of Christ must be willing to say, ‘Yes, but not this way’. The right and proper and sanctified physical relationship of a man and a woman is as much a part—indeed more a part—of God’s plan for us than is the eating of our daily bread. But there is no convenient Messiah. Salvation comes only through discipline and sacrifice.”[i]
Part of this discipline and sacrifice mentioned by Elder Holland is the willingness to stay completely in the light with your thoughts and temptations toward this old relationship. You’ve gone too many years giving back into the pull of this unrequited fantasy. If you’re truly going to be united with your husband, he needs to know that you not only have sexual fidelity to him, but also emotional and mental fidelity. I recommend you work closely with a therapist who specializes in affairs to help you learn how to communicate with him about these strong feelings.
Work closely with your bishop and confess everything so you can receive full forgiveness and know you’re in good standing with God and the Church. This will be an important part of your healing, as you’re completely willing to surrender decades of secrets.
Your willingness to keep your struggles in the light will not only protect you from further secret rendezvous with this man, but it will also help you restore trust with your husband. Instead of protecting yourself and this other relationship, you’re reassuring him that you will stay faithful to him. You worry that you’re too sinful to get answers to your prayers. I trust that you will be filled with light as you continue asking for forgiveness from your husband and your Heavenly Father. Don’t confuse darkness and light by keeping these things to yourself. Nephi warned us not to, “call evil good, and good evil, [or] put darkness for light, and light for darkness, [or] put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”[ii]
Sharing these struggles with your husband and professionals will also help you begin to understand your own unmet or unacknowledged emotional needs that continue to live inside you. Instead of ignoring or misdirecting these powerful emotional needs, trust that you can understand how to meet them in healthy ways.
When the thoughts and urges overwhelm you, it’s best not to fight them or suppress them. Researches have found that mindfulness strategies are a powerful way to eliminate cravings and powerful triggers. One method called “Urge Surfing” is an effective way to cope with these strong reactions. You can read more about it here https://portlandpsychotherapyclinic.com/2011/11/riding-wave-using-mindfulness-help-cope-urges/
I also recommend you attend the addiction recovery meetings sponsored by the Church. You can find a meeting in your area by visiting http://arp.lds.org. Work through the steps and learn how to deal with triggers and set healthy boundaries around this longstanding pattern that has been so damaging to you and others.
Early in your life you became over attached and possibly addicted to the attention of this other guy. Openness with your husband, your bishop, and professionals will help you stay accountable and break the trance of this relationship. You’ve already made significant steps toward ending the powerful grip this relationship has had on you since you were young. Turn to your marriage and give your husband your full measure of affection and connection so you can enjoy the privilege that has been unavailable to both of you.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] 1 Nephi 15:20