Dear Dr. Elia,
I am going through a divorce. After being married for more than 24 years, I found that my husband had been living a double life for at least the last seven years and probably even longer. As the proceedings of the divorce have unfolded, more & more hurtful evidence kept coming out: the hiring of escorts, having multiple girlfriends, not to mention the emotional abuse he dished out to me and our children. The husband I had thought was a worthy temple holder, who held church callings, gave priesthood blessings, and seemed like a wonderful Dad, has simply turned out to be a big lie. The time frame of these betrayals corresponded with many of our life’s important events (son going on a mission, vacations, birthdays, grandchildren born, family illness & deaths, etc.) Finding out about all of it has been heart-sickening and such a blow to my self esteem.
I am seeing a therapist, but just as I think I am making progress, more evidence surfaces. The hurt, betrayal and anger that comes up seems like it will never stop. I do not want to become a bitter old woman — I want to move on and live a full life! I want to be happy, and I want my children to be happy. I am grateful for the power of prayer, scriptures, priesthood blessings, the Atonement, temple attendance and my support group. These are the things that have helped me through the mess so far. But sometimes I also feel like I am going to get swallowed up whole by the proceeding of the divorce, the grief, the anger and the horrible betrayal.
I’m asking you how a woman and her children are supposed to get through all of this? By forgiving? How will I ever be able to trust someone again? How do I teach my children to move forward in life positively and get through the betrayal they feel too? I need some guidance and direction.
I have heard that adversity can come as a result of three different types of situations: sometimes it comes as a result of our poor choices, at other times the circumstances of life can simply cause problems or pain. Your situation falls into the third category, which happens when another person’s destructive choices bring about pain, suffering and loss to those around them. Unfortunately, your husband’s selfishness has caused the loss of your family as you’ve known it for 24 years. You imply that it’s been the last seven years since he started to “act out” outside of the marriage. Hopefully at least the first 17 years were good.
So what does the future hold for you and your children? Well as you know, ultimately no matter how devastating the circumstances have been, your future can only be determined by the choices you make today. Understand that your reaction to this tremendous life changing betrayal is absolutely normal. You are doing everything in your power and within your control to heal from the break up of your marriage and your family. You are already using many positive tools by having a support group, attending counseling, reading scriptures, taking time for heartfelt prayers, asking for blessings and making use of the Atonement. Maintaining your children’s love, respect and support are also crucial. And as you know, finding solace in the peacefulness of the Temple can bring you additional strength as you face the long road to recovery. You are doing many things right already!
I’d like to focus on one of your comments, that this has been a huge blow to your self-esteem. Try to remind yourself that his inappropriate actions of infidelity are a reflection of him and not of you. The inner and outer beauty that you possess as Heavenly Father’s daughter is NOT diminished by someone else’s sinful behaviors. I recognize the betrayal you must feel, but rest assured that you didn’t cause these things to happen. The real culprit is lust! There are many unhappily married couples, but most of them do not choose to sleep around and break their marital covenants. No one has forced him to be unfaithful; he chose to do it entirely on his own!
You also asked about your children and their healing prospects: my advice is that the best way to teach your children to move forward is by your own example. If they see their mom moving ahead by creating a new, happier and more optimistic life, they’ll have “permission” to do the same. If they see you forgiving their father, they will eventually do the same. I’m sure that they used to look up to their dad, but that trust and respect has now been shattered. So they must look up to you for guidance and direction. The most hopeful message you can give both them and yourself, is your desire to live a full life and be happy. This is a righteous desire and it will be granted to you in time.
Your heart, mind and soul are in the right place. Your priorities are in alignment with your spiritual beliefs. Treat this period in your life as if you were running a marathon. At times it will feel like the end of the race will never come, but surely it will. Endure with all the temporal and spiritual tools that you have available. What feels like just surviving right now will eventually become a loving and thriving life. You will have joy in your posterity. This too shall pass! You’re doing everything right. Be patient and faithful. Rely on the Spirit for comfort, guidance and protection. Hold onto hope, and may God bless you for your faithfulness!
Dr. Elia Gourgouris is a nationally known speaker, relationship coach, and the president of LDSCoaching.com. With over 20 years of experience, he has inspired thousands of individuals and couples to find greater happiness and fulfillment, both in their careers and their personal lives. He holds a degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Gourgouris speaks to groups around the country regarding women’s issues, self esteem, communications skills, and relationships. He is also a favorite presenter at both BYU and BYU-ID Education Weeks, and Time Out for Women conferences. He is the author of “DTR: What You Need to Know Before You Get Married” and he has an upcoming CD entitled “The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Just Surviving to Thriving!” He and his wife, Sona, live near Boulder, Colorado, with their children.