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I am writing to you because I am very confused, and I read your website and I am assuming you have strong religious background. Please correct me if I am wrong. I really need a religious voice.

My situation is that I recently broke up with a boyfriend, however it was more than that. Three years ago, we took traditional vows together and we exchanged rings and ever since then we considered each other husband and wife. We never signed papers for a marriage license nor did we have priest there that day but from the bottom of our hearts we considered ourselves married to each other. We did not live together, but all other actions indicated marriage. Everything to buying cards that said to my husband and to my wife to the way we took care of each other and sacrificed ourselves for the other.

We had some problems, and decided to take a break. In that time, which is about 6 weeks, he is in what considers a serious relationship with [another woman]. I read a lot in the Bible, using my study Bible and I looked at many things online, and basically from what I understood was that God wants us to be with the one we married, to put our faith in Him and our relationship. By being with someone else, it is committing adultery and that he wants you to reconciled with your marriage partner. From what we understand, God wants us to be with the one we married, He does not acknowledge or want us to be with someone else.

Basically, the question is would God consider what we had a marriage? God knows our hearts and our hearts truly believed we were married. I also read in Duet. that God acknowledges the vows we make unless either a husband or a father objects to them and that was not the case here. I know people who have signed the papers and had a priest pronounce them husband and wife and have not actually had a marriage the way we really did.

I am scared that considering that this is a real marriage, by my boyfriend/husband being with someone else he is sinning, committing adultery, and God won't be happy with that, and that he will be punished later in life and won't receive eternal life.

I want to know how I should proceed from here. I know God would want me to forgive my husband. Please help me in my situation, if you could support anything with Bible verses or any insight, it would be greatly appreciated. Let me know if you have any questions that would better understand the situation for you to give an appropriate answer. Please get back to me as soon as possible or if you can recommend me to talk to anyone else, let me know. Thank you so much for your time and help.


Dear Suzanne:

Thank you for writing, and I am sorry for your trouble.

I do think it is fair to say that I have a strong religious background considering that I have read many of the so-called "sacred texts" of humanity, including the Writings of Baha'u'llah (Baha'i ), the Dhammapada and other sutras of the Buddhist tradition, the Tao Te Ching (Taoism), the Bible (Judaism and Christianity), the Analects of Confucius, Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads (Hinduism), the Avesta (Zoroastrian), the Book of Mormon, the Eddas (Scandinavian) the Qur'an (Islam), the Tanakh (Judaism), and others. In addition to these readings, as well as others in the philosophy and psychology of religion, I have spent a good part of my life pondering the questions to which religions claim to have the answers. In short, I have thought about religion in a deep way, so if you really do want a religious voice, I might be that.

But I am afraid that when you assumed that I have a "strong religious background," you did not mean that you assumed me to be a man who has thought deeply about religious questions, but rather a person who believes and preaches some kind of orthodox doctrine, or maybe not just some kind of doctrine, but only orthodox evangelical Christianity with its insistence on born again salvation and an afterlife in heaven or hell.

If that is the kind "religious voice" you were seeking to speak the advice you need, you may wish to stop reading right now, for if you read further, you will be exposed to ideas which are not based on fervent belief in some particular doctrine, but rather stem from a point of view which has emerged naturally and organically from my experience of living a human life, pondering for many years the question, "Who Am I?"

Having grappled with that question has brought me to an appreciation of love and compassion, which to me is the essence of religion, the core of all religions, but what I came to feel about life and about "God" [quotation marks because there is no name for the unnamable] involves ideas which might upset your apple cart even more than it already has been upset by finding out that your "boyfriend/husband" is not faithful to you. So, if you wish to keep reading, continue at your own risk please.

That said, and fairly warned: Although I have read the Bible, as well as many other religious books, I certainly do not take the Bible as a literal rule book of instructions on what to do and what not to do, and I strongly advise people to stop reading that book as if it were factually correct or morally authoritative. The Bible, like the many other books considered sacred by one group or another, is important not because it is factually accurate, but because it attempts to approach some of the deeper longings and some of the perennial questions that arise in each generation of human beings. Those kinds of books which deal with creation myths and other aspects of humanity's relation to the divine never were intended to be historical or literally true or to be taken as "gospel." In fact, those preachers who do claim to take the Bible literally are forced to ignore many long passages in order to do so, or else they are forced to declare that the Bible may seem foolish, but only to those who do not "know" God [the word "know" in quotation marks, for how can someone know the unknowable?].

For example, is it really literally true that slaves owe obedience to their masters, even the cruelest masters, as we read in 1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, and other places in that sadly misunderstood book? Or did "God" really mean to make a law saying that any man with damaged or missing genitals, as well as any man who doesn't know the names of his ancestors for ten generations, cannot enter into religious congregations, as we read in Deuteronomy 23:1-2? Would I have to show my genitals at the door?

In any case, Suzanne, since I am a psychologist and psychotherapist, not a theologian (surely that was evident to you when you visited my site), and since this page is an ask the psychologist resource, not Bible study, I must answer your letter, not as a Bible teacher, but as a psychologist. From that point of view, the most notable aspect of your communication to me is the lack of any real emotion or concern for yourself, except deeply hidden between the lines.

Your words sound dry and theoretical; they do not seem to be the words of a woman whose lover is now, unexpectedly, in the arms of another. You have just been disappointed to find that the trust you put in your "boyfriend/husband" was misplaced, this guy is now carrying on with another woman, and yet you do not say a single word about your disappointment, your jealousy, your sadness, your anger, or any of the emotions that an ordinary human being would feel under such circumstances. As I read your letter, your only reaction to the news of this infidelity is your worry that your marriage vows might be real in the eyes of "God" [quotation marks because no one knows what that is], so that your "husband" is now a sinner who will be "punished for his sins later in life and won't receive eternal life."

In other words, your only questions to me seem to be whether or not your "marriage" was a real one, and, if it was, what to do next to save your faithless "husband" from eternal damnation. I am sorry to say that I find those questions sad to hear. They are sad, because you are looking to an outside authority to determine whether or not your wifely love--which you claim to have felt and experienced--was real or not. How could I know that? How could a bible of any kind help with that? You are the only one who could know that. You are the only authority in regards to your emotional life. The Bible knows nothing about what is happening in your life. It is an old, dead text, written by numerous people, some brilliant, others foolish, some of whom wrote their sections centuries apart from others. It is a book which has been heavily reworked and censored, with portions destroyed, other portions completely changed, and others added, all this editing done not for religious purposes, but for political ones. Do you really want to consult such an incoherent mixture, such a mess, to determine if your marriage was real or not? How sadly academic! Where is your life, where is your experience? And your letter is sad because it demonstrates that your fear of death, of having an ego which is not everlasting, but finite, perishable, and fleeting, has so overpowered you, that you have chosen to pursue a life which is emotionally dead now but which promises the "hope" of an "eternal" afterlife in heaven. You have chosen belief in a fantasized future instead of living a life that is alive now, in this eternal present. I can think of nothing sadder or more wasteful of a golden opportunity to be alive.

This is, from the psychological point of view, the dirty little secret behind much so-called "religious" practice. Like a child in kindergarten, one wants rules to follow, with the threat of punishment if they are not followed, and promise of reward if they are. And the reward will be something deeply desired by the unexamined self: the promise that nothing really matters now, because "I" (the ego) will live forever in a reconstituted (young and beautiful) body with Jesus (or whatever god one worships) in heaven (Valhalla, nirvana, Zion, celestial glory, paradise, the happy hunting ground, etc.) From this point of view, your "marriage" [quotation marks because for some reason you chose not to formalize it with a license or even, although you say you are religious, by clerical witness, and because you never even lived together] was not a relationship between two people, but rather an attempt only to please "God" [quotation marks because this "god" is just an idea in your imagination] by following the rules, not, that is, an attempt to find love and joy in the present, but to ensure admission to Utopia "later."

I know this from your letter in which you write not even one word about the loss of your "husband," but only about your concern that he might now in violation of the rules. You do not mention--but I read it between the lines--that you fear also that you might also be in violation since if your "marriage" was not a marriage, you are guilty of fornication. Apparently, from the biblical point of view, at least one of you is damned. He, for adultery, if you are "married," or you, for fornication, if you are not. You see, Suzanne, this is the kind of trouble one finds when life is lived from a rule book: the rules are just so darned complicated and hard to figure out, and no matter how hard I try, I seem always to come up short of perfection. No wonder you feel confused. You are totally out of touch with your womanhood, your own center, the ground of your own being, the place where you truly live; your head is stuck in a book.

Sorry if this offends, but on this page I speak plainly and from the heart, and I did warn you to continue reading only at your own risk.

How do you know that there is punishment in hell and how do you know that there is a reward in a heaven? How do you even know there is a "heaven," or anything beyond this very moment? When did you begin to believe those things? Who convinced you of them? What words, what coercion, did that person use to convince you? When did your "faith" begin, at one year old, two years old, three years old, four years old? When? Why do you assume that some authority, a human being like yourself who grew up also, just like you, coerced into carrying a load of "faith," knows what God is, what God wants, and what God will do to those who break the rules? And who wrote those rules anyway? Who told you that "God" wrote them, and why did you believe it? These are important questions, for if you do not consider them, you do not have "faith" at all, but just the credulity of a child who has "faith" that Santa will come down the chimney because Daddy and Mommie said so. I have defined what I mean by "faith" elsewhere. Please take a look at that discussion.

You ask me what to do next. I will give you my best guidance: Have a talk with your "boyfriend/husband," as you call him. Ask him what he is up to. Ask him what his intentions are. Ask him if he considers that you two are married or not. Leave "God" out of it. Just try to get an idea of what this particular human being--to whom you may or may not be married--is doing. Forget about his eventual "salvation." Just find out what is going on now. Salvation in the future is nonsense. Salvation in the present requires living in the present. As Abu Al-Bistami wrote in the ninth century (after Christ), "Anyone whose reward from God is deferred until tomorrow has not truly worshiped Him today."

When you find out what your "boyfriend/husband" is thinking about, get back to me with some personal questions if you like, and I will try to do my best for you.

Be well

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page last modified February 28, 2006

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