Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Interview with Ben Wilson, part 2  

This is part two of my interview with Ben Wilson. Also check out part one and part three.


Most Christians believe divorce is a sin, except in certain cases. Adultery is often cited (and supported with Matthew 5:31–32) as one of those cases in which divorce is allowed. Do you think an affair is an acceptable reason for the offended party to ask for a divorce?

It can be but that usually isn't the best question to ask. I think with Jesus' words we often want to make it into a final list when I just don't think he did that much. He was speaking to men who were treating women in horrible ways through often divorcing for no significant reason. So the core of his teaching to me is directed at each man in something like, "Husbands love your wife intentionally with tenderness and respect." Often times the passage is used the exact opposite of what he intended. By that I mean pastors sometimes guilt women to staying in a marriage with a man who is being a total buffoon or even evil in beating her. To me he was seeking to protect women and that is often missed.

The better question to ask is, "What are the possibilities for our relationship in this marriage?" At times, some Christians pray for their spouse to have an affair so they'll have a 'legal' way out. That is a coward's prayer. Humility, suffering, perseverance, character are all words that are neglected in that prayer.

To sum up, I would say that it is generally worth putting all you have into rebuilding your marriage and seeking to move through the pain and trauma of an affair to restore it even after an affair. A divorce should still be sought in light of the question, "What does it mean to love my spouse well?" A divorce could be sought at some level as a last ditch effort to help the spouse have an encounter with God. The Greek word for adultery doesn't usually mean just one affair but sexual betrayal over and over. So I don't think one affair is a good reason to divorce. But to be fair, every situation is different and I am sure there are some situations where it is the best way to love the other.

If a married couple who had been through an affair told you they wanted to divorce, would you encourage them to stay together?

I encourage a couple to make a decision to work through the process of the betrayal and to worry about making a final decision about the marriage down the road. There is so much pain, trauma and upheaval just after the revelation that neither will be thinking and feeling clearly enough to make that decision. I do believe that if two people commit to being honest, place a high value on their relationship and a high value on God that going through the process will lead them to a better marriage than they had before the affair.

Why did you and your wife decide to stay together after the infidelities were brought to light?

For me there were two main reasons. The first was that I couldn't stand the thought of another man tucking my kids into bed at night. If we divorced Ann would remarry and I didn't know who that man would be in relationship with my kids. I hated that thought. My kids and I rubbed noses like Eskimos and it was great. They are teens now and don't do that. :)

The second was out of gratitude to God for entering my life and literally saving me from suicidal thoughts. I called out one day and said, "God this can't be what you intended for my life. Either take me back or show me the way." The Spirit came in me that day and I began to listen and make different choices in my life.

I read that it took about as long to get over the affair as it went on. It went on sporadically for three years. So I gave God three years to save my marriage. In the meantime I committed to face all of the pain I could each day. I didn't commit to the marriage but I did commit to the process of rebuilding. Our biggest leap of forgiveness came after fourteen months.
Ann says part of it was she didn't want to fail at marriage. All of our siblings but one has been divorced and she didn't want to join them. Also Ann is a very loyal person (yeah we see the paradox). She knew at her core that she really loved me. Kids were also a reason for her too. That's it in a nutshell.

We both also have a certain degree of pertinacity. I was a state champion at golf and she was an all-district basketball player in high school. We both knew what it was to work hard with a goal in mind. Short term suffering for long term gain so to speak.

It has been ten years since the infidelity in your marriage, and you appear to have come a long way since then. Do you feel that your marriage is fully restored? Are the wounds all healed and trust regained?

Yes I feel our marriage is fully restored and waaaaaaayyyyyy beyond what it was before the affair. We talked the other day and we have both grown so much the last ten years. We were 30 year old adolescents (I was 33. I can't tell you how many people I see whose lives are turned upside down at 33) then and really are adults now.

We read, reflect, seek to discern, challenge each other and ourselves and offer grace to one another. We want to be 'on the grow' (Charlie Tremendous Jones phrase) the rest of our lives.

Yes, the wounds are healed. We touch our scars a little more often than the average couple because of this strange calling we have. We want to be present with the emotions we felt ten years ago when we share our story so it doesn't feel like we are talking in a third person manner.

I trust Ann and vice versa. We are also both much more aware of our fallen nature and don't pretend it doesn't exist. She is capable of heinous sin and me too. Oswald Chambers said an unguarded strength is a double weakness. Being aware of our capacity for sin helps to keep us 'on the grow' and moving closer to one another. That is the best guarantee against another affair occurring.