Direct Answers - Column for the week of September 15, 2003
I have a couple of questions for you. If a person no longer feels they love their spouse, is it time to divorce?
Also, do you think a person who has had an affair can change enough for the betrayed to forgive and continue the marriage? Is it possible to salvage a marriage after the affair?
Marie, a book could be written on each of your questions, but the last question sounds like the one you are really asking. What do you mean by salvage?
Do you mean the cake just fell on the floor and the guests are arriving. Can we patch it together and serve it from the kitchen so no one notices what happened? Or do you mean, after an affair, can you have the kind of marriage you would wish for your son or daughter?
Marriage is a relationship different from all others. You can date many people, you can be friends with many people, you can be neighbors to many people. But the act of getting married says I choose this one unique being to share everything with me for the rest of my life.
The basis for willingly binding yourself to one person is love. Their fidelity allows you to believe in their love. Their fidelity allows you to sustain your love. But if that person is unfaithful then they, not you, have brought their love into question. Infidelity validates your doubts about their love.
The idea of fidelity is in the marital vows because it is essential. Fidelity is the one thing promised in virtually every religious tradition and understood worldwide. Why? Because breaking faith breaks the marriage.
It is possible to forgive betrayal, but in our experience it is not possible to forget it. That would be like forgetting you have kids. It isn't going to happen. The unfaithful person would like the other person to forget, and the one betrayed would like to forget, but barring amnesia they cannot.
How do you believe "I love you" after you have been betrayed? That is what people ask us years and even decades afterwards. For some people
who stay in the marriage, divorce was not an option. For many people, it is not the case that they healed after infidelity. They simply live with the pain. Is that a "marriage" salvaged?
Others claim you can get over infidelity. We say you may not be able to overcome infidelity. The difference is we focus on the innocent party.
Wayne & Tamara
I am an advice columnist myself, a Dutch one from Holland. I read your column online because I appreciate your work, your tone and style. My question is how do you get your quotes from world literature?
I mean, the questions from your correspondents are pretty much straightforward. Mostly I agree with your advice, but you quite often have allusions to Shakespeare or Hemingway or other writers, allusions which corroborate your point in a wonderful, illuminating way.
How come you have these citations at hand so easily? Do you go through books when answering questions? Do you have citation books or indexes? Or just an excellent memory?
Beatrijs, a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti talks about a pickpocket who looks at a saint and sees nothing but pockets. We write about relationships because we see the world as nothing but relationships.
When we look at a letter, our experience and these allusions just pop out. In the case of your letter, it was a line from a poem one of us read decades ago.
We don't have perfect memories either. Most of us know much more than we think we know. Part of finding the answer to our problems involves letting what we know out. Part of finding the answer to our problems involves reading each situation with the sum total of our life experience.
Wayne & Tamara
About the Author
Authors and columnists Wayne and Tamara Mitchell can be reached at www.WayneAndTamara.com.
Send letters to: Direct Answers, PO Box 964, Springfield, MO 65801 or email: DirectAnswers@WayneAndTamara.com.