Threefold marriage

I have been married for 19 years. We’ve had ups and downs but the last few years have been hell. My husband had affairs online with two different women. I tried to look past it but can’t. I was really sick at the time and he said he needed someone to care about him. I thought that when you got married it was to be through thick and thin and through sickness, too. I have lost all faith in him. I want out, but I still love him so much. I feel so alone and depressed. How do I cope with this despair?

You cope with despair by facing it. Those painful feelings are a natural response to your husband’s betrayal. An adult response to the illness of a spouse is care and concern. His choice to cheat while you were sick reveals that although he’s grown older over the years of your marriage, he hasn’t grown up. And your husband’s desire for attention (needing someone to care for him) is a sign of a God-sized hole in his heart. That level of neediness cannot be repaired without good and consistent therapy. If he’s willing to go, your marriage has a chance of thriving.

But what do you really want? You love someone who cheats on you and offers a relationship that you cannot depend on. Your emotional and spiritual work is to begin to love yourself. If you did, you would not tolerate abuse.

Perhaps we should review the purpose of matrimony. Marriage is a threefold institution: spiritual, corporate and socio-political. It is intended to facilitate the spiritual growth of two individuals so they may learn the secret of genuine love and eventually turn, together, toward community service to strangers in need, thereby resurrecting the world. It also provides a business-style arrangement that allows for the reduction of poverty and the growth of assets. And marriage is a convention that perpetuates certain cultural expectations and norms. So, marriage is not “through thick and thin, sickness, too.” The marriage vow is a promise to grow toward this level of commitment. That’s the spiritual level of marriage and it can only develop with intention and focused work on the part of each partner.

Religion, couples therapy and couples retreats are containers that invite change in the willing. Married couples also can read and discuss quality books on relationships, share journals with one another or practice other ways of removing their masks and being real. Without this level of intimacy, marriage remains a business and social institution that is emotionally and spiritually empty, leading to the behaviors that you (and so many others) are wrestling with today.

I smoke herb daily. I like the way it makes me feel and I’ve done it forever. My new girlfriend hates it, says I need a 12-step program, that I’m an addict. The only problems it’s ever caused me are arguments with her. We’re great together otherwise and I’d marry her in a minute. How do we get around this? Everyone’s addicted to something, so what’s the big deal?

Spoken like a true addict! Reality check: Most people are attached to something or someone but not everyone is addicted. Addiction implies an imagined inability to live without a substance or person and a compulsion to use even though doing so creates chaos in some area of your life—including your inner life. People who self-medicate do so to avoid facing the truth about themselves and their history. In other words, each toke you take is an investment in your blindness. Anyone who is awake notices the pain, anger and neediness just below the surface of an addict’s thin social veneer. So what should you do? Get therapy and learn why you’re avoiding a deeper understanding of yourself.

Meditation of the Week

Willie Armstrong, aide to Assemblyman Gene Mullin, says his mama gave him these instructions for living: “Make your life a page-turner!” What would it take for you, dear reader, to muster up the strength to leave your comfortable cocoon and begin the real adventure of your life? No ropes, no nets, no one to save you but yourself?