You Make the Call: Confession of Past Discretions

The following question is posed by an anonymous BCC reader:

You’re the bishop. A 45 year-old member of the church presents himself in your office. He has only recently become active in the church. He stopped attending shortly after he was ordained a priest nearly 30 years ago. He is married with a wife and 3 kids, ages 8, 10, and 12. The wife is not a member, but she is interested in the church, and on her prompting, the family is starting to attend.

You ask him if he is willing to accept a calling in the ward. He is. You ask him if he is interested in preparing to receive the Melchizedek priesthood. He is. (He recently sat through all of the missionary discussions with his family, as they are preparing for baptism.) You ask him if there is anything in his life that is not in conformity with the commandments of God. He says, “There is, in my past. I had a sexual relationship with a co-worker when I was married to my wife. It was brief, lasting only a few weeks. It was seven years ago. I quit because I knew it was wrong, I love my wife, and didn’t want to lose my family. It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever done such a thing, and I’m ashamed of it. After I came to the realization that I didn’t want my marriage to end, I put a lot more effort into strengthening our relationship, which is quite good now. But my wife doesn’t know my secret, and it would destroy her. Based on things she’s said to me about her own parents’ ruined marriage, I think it’s quite likely that she’d divorce me. If I am to repent of this sin and seek the Lord’s forgiveness, do I need to confess this to my wife?”

What do you answer?

Comments

  1. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    You answer that, spiritually speaking, confession will always be good for both him and her mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You should caution him that he feels cautious about doing so for an honorable reason — the same reason he stopped the affair in the first place — because he wants to protect his family. Invite him to discuss such issues further with trained professionals the LDS Church provides through LDS Family Services. They can help to counsel him and his wife as his family goes through the change of joining the Church and will be of much more help in regards to when, how, and possibly even if he tells his wife. Counsel him that full disclosure is always healthy in a marriage, but that you, even as an ordained Bishop, cannot help him insofar as to how, when, or if. Tell him that you will not place any limitations on his activity with the ward or with any ordinances that you have responsibility over in regards to him ever confessing to his wife. That is between him, her, and the Lord. And certainly to not do so before talking to someone with more training in marital counselling.

  2. I say no. But then, being a wife, I’d want to know–maybe.

  3. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    Oh, and mention the awesome power of the Atonement. Repentance is more about changing who you are than some sort of ritual cleansing; eventually he should confess, but as Bishop you need to encourage him to not let guilt and pain cloud his mind.

  4. I know of a similar case where a husband discussed his inappropriate behaviors (perhaps not as serious as adultery – but still some kind of an attachment to a woman besides his wife) with an ecclesiastical leader and the wife was kept in the dark. She later learned about it and how it was handled and resented it very much. She has been inactive ever since.

    One of the very real issues here is that the church priesthood leadership is male and if a woman is kept in the dark about the behavior of her husband and is essentially ‘absolved’ by a male institutional hierarchy, it leaves her feeling that she is part of an organization where men protect each others backs at her expense. She becomes invisible.

    I am curious what the church actually advises in these situations. I wonder whether there is a specific forthright guideline that is cut-and-dry or if it is something that is somehow decided on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of a priesthood leader.

  5. while confession would ease his guilt, i disagree with tom that it would be beneficial to the wife. i think it’s a selfish confession to make and if it’s something that won’t ever happen again, he needs to take it to the grave.

  6. There are physical consequences to infidelity as well as emotional ones. Many STDs can be asymptomatic yet and still very threatening to overall health.

    I also agree with danithew that a couple men conspiring to keep her in the dark of sexual indiscretions has a very very unsavory feeling.

    And in response to this:
    Based on things she’s said to me about her own parents’ ruined marriage, I think it’s quite likely that she’d divorce me.
    I would say that this is her decision to make, not his to make on her behalf by withholding pertinent information.

  7. A competent therapist would help him explore the pros and cons of telling her, and let him make his own decision. Assuming the behavior really has long stopped, the only reason to tell her would be to absolve his guilt. The cons, on the other hand, are huge: Wife is devastated, possible divorce, shattered family. The impact on the three children could be incalculable if the family breaks up over it.

    So I think I’m with makakona: He should take it to his grave.

  8. I think he does. Isn’t part of repentance to confess and seek forgiveness from the people you have wronged? His wife is the one who has been wronged in this case, so I think he needs to confess to his wife and seek forgiveness.

    I think he is underestimating his wife. As much as it would kill me (just reading this makes me want to vomit), I would want to know if it were me. I would likely consider divorce as an option, but if the marriage really is good now, I would also consider staying married.

    If he doesn’t confess now, he will need to at some point. I don’t see how their marriage really could achieve unity otherwise.

  9. I agree 100% with MikeinWeho. I think the Bishop’s ONLY area in that situation is his spiritual condition not dishing out marital advice. If I ran the circus I would say hey you are fine in terms of the Church, I encourage your church activity and IF you want to seek professional help through LDS social services or another agency I would like to help in any way that I can. The Bishop shouldn’t meddle in people’s marriages. I have seen too many marriages that went kaflooey when they have.

  10. “Assuming the behavior really has long stopped, the only reason to tell her would be to absolve his guilt.”

    I’m completely with Mike. Telling her, if its really in the past and he’s committed to his family, would be a selfish act. Unless there is a real reason for her to know, take it to the grave.

  11. If this were about therapy or whatever, I would agree that he should make that decision himself. However, if this is about repentance, it is hard to see how a person can repent of a sin without admitting to the person that you have wronged that you have wronged that person and asking their forgiveness.

  12. In this case, he has been affair free for 7 years. I would say, that he seems to have learned his lesson and has shown by his actions over the last 7 years that he was serious about his marriage. He should keep it to himself and never tell her. It serves the purpose of keeping his family together for his kids and his marriage together. If he was feeling much more guilty, tell him to wait until all of his kids are grown and out of the house. There is no reason at this point to possibly break up the family. He can work it out with the Lord later.

  13. Mommie Dearest says:

    If he has fully repented, and is 100% committed to his marriage, why bring such a hammer down on the innocent wife? He should look seriously at carrying his burden of guilt without her “help”, and preparing their marriage for the possibility of her finding out from someone else, by making her the queen of his life, by being the best husband to her and father to their children that he can be. I think a competent family therapist is a good idea to help him to explore the situation, and to fine tune his marriage and prepare for the possibility of the ticking bomb exploding. Or, he can prepare to go detonate the bomb himself and, if his wife is willing, maybe they and the family counselor can put the pieces back together. I lean toward keeping her perception of their marriage intact, and making her perception the truth, as much as possible. He might keep a record of his thoughts and feelings with the counselor, to share with his wife in case he isn’t able to keep her from knowing about it. For when she’s so mad at him she doesn’t want to ever talk to him again.

    The bishop is not really involved in managing their marriage. His primary job is in helping the man with his repentance. He should hand the marital issues over to a family counselor. And keep his mouth shut.

  14. Is someone wronged, though, if they don’t know and feel they’ve been wronged? Is it possible that this bad decision has actually made him a better husband, more grateful for his wife, and feeling really stupid for what he’s done, such that he knows he would never make such a decision again? If he can manage to live with not telling her, and she does not sense that there’s something between them, and it’s no longer taking place, is she still wronged? What happened doesn’t even exist anymore. They are not the people they were then. None of it is real anymore (aside from possible STDs).

    Probably best to repent as much as possible and carry on being better. She can deal with the knowledge in the next life, when she’ll be better able to understand and forgive.

  15. I thought the Church required him to tell her as part of the repentance process.

  16. As a bishop I would probably advise him to ponder and pray about it and decide what he needs to do to be right before God and himself. Telling him that he must tell her or that it would be better not to tell is not a great idea either way for reasons clearly outlined in other comments. I don’t know if I could give him a recommend to get sealed in the temple knowing about that. At that point, I would become a conspirator with the husband in the dishonesty against the wife, and that doesn’t seem right.

    But for myself, I really cannot see how repentance is possible without facing the consequences of coming clean about the misdeed. Maybe I’ve read Hamlet too many times: ‘May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?’

  17. Past discretions?

  18. Well, I dont’ trust the man. Has he really been faithful since? What has his wife really told him about her parent’s marriage? What an awful position to put a Bishop in.

    He broke marital vows by physically being unfaithful…secret keeping could be a for m of unfaithfulness. Will the secret really remain a secret? The best way for her to find out is for him to admit it with no “reason” to do so…It is not best for him to find out hehas an STD and be forced to admit, or for someone else to come to her…ugh

    This is a hard one. I can see the potential for damage…but it’s not like his wife would wish she just hadn’t known…she would wish it hadn’t happened. There may be real consequences for the children.

  19. Here’s a scriptural passage that might be helpful to some degree.

    Doctrine and Covenants 42:24-26
    24 Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out.
    25 But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive;
    26 But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.

    It seems this brother has truly forsaken the sin.

    I still am unsure about whether or not he has a responsibility to confess to his wife. It seems to me that he does – however, the consequences to the family might be horrifying.

  20. Some things that are true are not very useful.

  21. One factor to take into account is any potential gender bias that might exist.

    So one exercise that ought to be employed by those who would make this decision is that they should take the situation and turn around.

    That is, imagine that it is the woman who has committed adultery and the husband that does not know. If a bishop would be more uncomfortable with keeping a husband in the dark than in keeping a wife in the dark, then it is certainly something to think about.

    I suspect, deep down, instinctively, many bishops (and many men, in general) will to some degree instinctively identify with the (formerly?) unfaithful husband and his fears and that this instinctual reaction might influence the way the decision is made.

    On the other hand, if the bishop can unequivocally and honestly say that he would be as willing to work through a similar process with a woman, in the same way as if it were a man, then maybe there isn’t as much of a problem.

  22. Yeah, John F. This is about “past discretions”–in the same sense as in that horrid song:
    “Let no spirit of discretion overcome you in the evil hour.”

  23. Mommie Dearest,

    If he has fully repented, and is 100% committed to his marriage, why bring such a hammer down on the innocent wife? He should look seriously at carrying his burden of guilt without her “help”, and preparing their marriage for the possibility of her finding out from someone else, by making her the queen of his life, by being the best husband to her and father to their children that he can be.

    Well said. I’m with those who say this man should take it to his grave. If my wife had committed such an act seven years previous, had realized the mistake she made and hadn’t done anything like unto it since then, I wouldn’t want to know. Even if I knew, I probably would not divorce her because I feel that would be selfish on my part. As a son of divorced parents, I cannot say how damaging it is to have my parents divorce when I was 12 years old. In my case, my father was abusive to both his wife and his children (me and my sister). I don’t know how things would have been different if they didn’t divorce, but not having a father around made things harder, IMO. In the end, one has to ask himself or herself which aspects of life are of greater value. If a wife were to divorce her husband because of an incident that occurred 7 years previous even though he had been good since, a great husband, and a loving father, what aspect of her life is of greater value and priority?

  24. Norbert,

    At that point, I would become a conspirator with the husband in the dishonesty against the wife, and that doesn’t seem right.

    Conversely though, if you as the bishop, who has the insider knowledge that this husband has cheated on his wife seven years previous and has not “completed the repentance process” by telling his wife, and you don’t give him a temple recommend, are you not therefore creating the scenario in which the action will be revealed? After all, what exactly is the husband supposed to say to the wife for him not getting a temple recommend? Another lie?

  25. As the comments seem to show, there is no easy answer. God bless our Bishops, who actually have to deal with these issues.

  26. I have to agree 100% with Starfoxy. He could have unknowingly transmitted an STD to his wife that could have dire consequences later in life. The best example is HPV: Men don’t know that they have it, and it shows now visible or detectable symptoms in women until it causes cervical cancer. All moral reasons aside, he needs to confess to her so she can be tested. If he really loves his wife and is concerned for her well being, he will take steps to make sure her health is not in jeopardy.

  27. The policy in the handbook available online says nothing about how one goes about repenting. It states only that those who commit such transgressions “are subject to church discipline.”

    I think that bishops do have a role in marriage counseling, insofar as they meet with married couples and discuss many different topics relevant to a healthy marriage. In this case, I would suggest that the man and his wife both meet with the bishop for an initial discussion, and then refer them to LDS Family Services (or a marriage counselor approved by the same) for intense couples’ therapy.

    Um, Mark B, the word in the hymn is “digression”, not “discretion”. Digression is going awry, astray, off on a side tangent. “Choose the right! Let no spirit of [going astray] disturb you in the evil hour! There’s the right and wrong to every question, be safe through inspiration’s power.” Discretion, along with being a funny-looking word, is acting in such a way as to avoid causing offense, which is the exact opposite of what is being discussed here. An indiscretion, on the other hand, is when you do something that causes offense to others.

  28. 26…this is exactly how my friend’s mother found out that maybe her husband was not all she thought he was. She died of AIDS before he did. Finding out in the doctor’s office…not cool. Blessedly her children were old enough that she wasn’t nursing them…possibly infecting them.

  29. putting his process of repentance above the welfare of the family seems like another selfish act. i just can’t get on board with telling her, at all (given there are no std’s involved and he is being honest about it never happening again). i feel strongly that if he went to god and said, “look, i know i was technically supposed to tell her, but it would have destroyed her and ruined our family and i was working so hard to make things perfect,” god would be okay with that and not string him up.

    of course i would wish that it had never happened to begin with, but next, i would wish i didn’t know about it. i’m the type of person who HAS to know everything, but i frequently regret finding out, as i would in this case. taking std’s out of the picture, how does it benefit anyone to tell? it only benefits him, in alleviating the guilt of the secret and helping him complete the repentance process. too bad, so sad, take one for the team. this could be so devastating to a family.

  30. He broke their marriage contract not her. The morally right thing to do is to tell her what happened and face the consequences of his own actions. Hiding this secret doesn’t make it not committed nor undone somehow.

    He caused the problems a confession may bring on now and it was his actions that will bring pain to the wife. Pretending it never happened is only like a wedge in a growing pine tree. The wedge weakens the tree until it tears it apart. He needs to clear this up and address all the issues that lead to his sin. Also,as above, there could be issues with STDs that need to be addressed.

  31. Alex T. Valencic 27

    Its all in Book 1 “Stake Presidents and Bishops 2010″ which is not online -only book 2 is online.

    And the chapter on church discipline is rather extensive and does state in sec 6.6 “The repentance of a married person who is involved in a sexual transgression usually includes confession to and seeking forgiveness from his spouse” (as then “a young unmarried person who commits a sexual transgression should be encouraged to inform his parents”!!)

    By the way, I always interpreted “usually includes confession” as meaning where and if its possible to do so since many people who confess to adultery are already separated and it’s pointless trying to seek the other spouses forgiveness in the matter. But when they are still married it’s a must do to see if the wounded spouse actually wants to stay married or not , imho.

  32. #18 that is an area where a trained marital thereapist would be good for to help him sort all that out, not the Bishop, who as you say what a spot to put him in!

  33. I find it odd that so many comments say that this man should “take it to the grave.” And then what? The wife passes on to the other side and finds out that her husband kept this secret from her their whole life? That their marriage was not as honest, open, and wonderful as she thought, in a major way in fact? It seems to me that it is the wife’s right to forgive her husband or not to forgive him now. But he has to tell her. I think he has to tell her.

  34. Or, on the bright side__you could confess__and she says “I knew about this all along”__and it will be behind you.
    Otherwise, take it to the grave. I think now, it’s more about today’s actions toward your family.

  35. Bob Loblaw says:

    Having witnessed 2 family friends go through a similar situation I am torn by the decision. Very similar facts: man cheated on wife for a short time many years ago. Forsook the sin. Lived in guilt for many years. Bishop felt impressed that the brother had suffered enough – based on his individual circumstances and did not subject him to church discipline. He told his wife, who in turn shared with my mother, her best friend.

    The news rocked the family and their close friends. They had 2 boys serving missions at the time the news was made public.

    In the end the couple is still together, but I know they went through really a difficult stretch as she worked on forgiving him. They had a great marriage and relationship prior to the confession. I think such news would have split my parents up, after hearing my mom’s reaction and her subsequent treatment of her friend’s husband – and I’ve always thought they had a strong marriage.

    My opinion would be it depends on each individual set of circumstances. Maybe that’s why the handbook allows for some discretion “usually includes confession”. I know that is a cope out, but some situations are complex enough to require a case-by-case analysis. I would agree that such a decision is between the husband, wife, God, and perhaps a family counselor. If the spouse who committed the sin wanted input from the bishop that’s okay. But the bishop, in my opinion, should NOT automatically require any spouse to reveal such a sin to the other.

    Also, I think after seven years the STD issues would be less of a problem, but I’m not a doctor.

  36. Bob Loblaw says:

    Oh, and for the HPV scare, from the CDC website:

    Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.

    In my opinion, this is not enough to require confession.

  37. If the poor man had instead gotten drunk one night seven years ago and run someone down in his pickup, I seriously doubt there would be this level of angst and gnashing on an ostensibly liberal blog. What is it about sex that makes us breathless twelve-year olds?

  38. I think the important fact is that they have 3 children under the age of 18. A divorce would hurt them more now then when they are adults. Yes to truly repent he would need to tell her. If he is being a good husband and father now, it is more important to the children and their upbringing now than absolving himself of guilt. If he felt that it was necessary to tell her in the future, wait until the kids are grown. Besides, more time will have past and he would have more time to show his wife how much he loves her.

    As a Bishop, I would think it is more about keeping the family together for the sake of the children. If it is working now, why hurt it further. Besides, repentence is about changing actions. He changed his actions, regrets his decision and has shown his commitment to the correct course of actions. He really has fulfilled the purpose of repentance.

    In the church we sometimes get lost in the how to’s of the repentance process and forget the purpose of it. It is to help someone learn how wrong and serious their actions are and to make the necessary corrections to their lives so that they don’t repeat their actions. He has demonstrated this.

    I’ve read the handbook and this advice may go completely against it in some ways, but you have to look at the whole picture of what is going on and what is best for the family in the long run. Keep the family together.

  39. There are no absolute “rules” to repentance and church discipline. While it may be a usual part of the process to require confession and the seeking of forgiveness, that doesn’t necessarily always apply when the confession would cause more harm than good — can you imagine any good coming from the case of a long-ago rapist or child molester or stalker or wife beater knocking on someone’s door and saying “Surprise! It’s me again! I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

    Bishops always have discretion in disciplinary matters. Seems to me that under the conditions posited, the man has repented, no good would come of confession to his wife, and great harm could result. The purpose of repentance is to release guilt by placing it on the shoulders of the Savior, not on the shoulders of another innocent party.

  40. pdmallamo: One teensy weensy difference between your scenario and this is that yours is a criminal offense against the state and cannot be handled by the church alone. Adultery is neither a civil nor a criminal offense, at least where most of us live.

  41. MikeInWeHo says:

    “Pretending it never happened is only like a wedge in a growing pine tree. The wedge weakens the tree until it tears it apart. ”

    So let’s just swing the ax into it a few more times now and hope for the best??? The damage has been done; the only question is how to mitigate the consequences for all involved, including his young children. He’s not “pretending it never happened.” If he were doing that he wouldn’t be talking to his bishop at all.

    The STD concern is a red herring in this particular debate. He could easily be screened himself and if something turned up factor that into his decision then. Again, a good therapist would be invaluable in a situation like this.

    One other thought: If he does decide to tell her, this should be done in a guided environment such as with a couples counselor or maybe the bishop. It should be a thoughtful, planned process and not just an “OK, Brother Clinton let me know how it goes….” kinda thing.

  42. MikeInWeHo says:

    Ardis and I agree! The end is nigh!

  43. What I find interesting about that hypo is this: Ordinarily the church forces the adulterer’s hand with the imposition of discipline and penalties that have to be explained to the non-offending spouse. As this hypo is constructed, it seems unlikely that this fellow, a prospective elder returning to activity, would be subject any such discipline. However if an active high priest were to make such a confession, he would likely be be excommunicated or at least disfellowshipped, which would require some explaining to his wife, whether it was good for the marriage and children or not. I don’t think is this is an injustice to the high priest, but is it fair to his children?

  44. pdmallamo,

    If the poor man had instead gotten drunk one night seven years ago and run someone down in his pickup, I seriously doubt there would be this level of angst and gnashing on an ostensibly liberal blog. What is it about sex that makes us breathless twelve-year olds?

    And you come to this conclusion…how? In any case, as Ardis noted, there’s a big difference between adultery and killing someone (accidental or not).

  45. Julie M. Smith says:

    “While it may be a usual part of the process to require confession and the seeking of forgiveness, that doesn’t necessarily always apply when the confession would cause more harm than good ”

    I think what is tricky here is that the bishop and the husband get to decide what will do more harm or good for the wife and kids–they don’t get a say. How do we know that she hasn’t had seven years of growing suspicion and that a “I did this, but it is past” wouldn’t be a great relief to her?

    To be clear, I’m not so much disagreeing with the standard you articulate but rather wondering how the husband would decide whether confession would do more harm than good.

  46. But Ardis, if you are a rapist or child molester that feels compelled to apologize to your victims from long past, I think that it probably IS a good idea to start the visit by shouting SURPRISE!

  47. I’ve learned from experience that a person will take greater offense at not being told about the sin than learning about it later. People who are already in love are able to look past those past mistakes, but if there’s a lack of trust, then the sense of betrayal is that much greater.

  48. I wonder if he’s really just more concerned about himself. Is he afraid that she’ll think less of him and/or leave him? Is he afraid of the embarassment it will cause? Is he really putting his family first or just himself? Is he working from pride or from humility?

    I like what Starfoxy said at the beginning of the thread that “a couple men conspiring to keep her in the dark of sexual indiscretions has a very very unsavory feeling.”

  49. John Mansfield says:

    How about blog comments where a person expresses support for the notion that past adultery should not be confessed to the spouse? Should they be kept secret from the spouse so as not to injure him/her with unresolvable mysteries?

  50. Coffinberry says:

    Does no one here remember that M*A*S*H episode where Hawkeye desperately talks BJ out of confessing to Peg about the relationship with the nurse? Why did that seem like the right thing to do then, but doing the same thing would not be the right thing here? (Or was it?)

    I suppose it would be nice to have a script in life, and a crystal ball where you can see the consequences of telling or not telling. There are pluses and minuses on each side. I don’t think the Bishop can tell this brother what to do (and for the reasons Starfoxy noted… there should not be a conspiracy between men about what to tell a woman whose life would be profoundly affected), but I do think it would be well for this brother to personally and diligently seek the Spirit on how to handle it, and to pray that his heart may be opened to his wife’s heart.

  51. Julie M. Smith: I’m presuming that after so many years, a man knows his wife well enough to be able to place a pretty safe bet. Who hasn’t had the “If you ever had an affair…” conversation with their spouse? Come on, that’s just good fun. (Mind you, people do often react differently than they think they would.)

    I’m sure there is a bit of selfishness in wanting to protect himself. But I have no doubt that concern for his family is genuine.

    If she’s an average woman who did not wait until marriage to have sex, she’s probably been exposed to HPV already, anyway.

    (Alex, pretty sure Mark B. was kidding.)

  52. I rather suspect that the motives that the husband has for not telling his wife could be more about his own selfish reasons than avoiding divorce. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, and yes, the wife will feel hurt and angry. He will be embarrassed and shamed. But he has wronged her by the affair, and covering it up will do nothing to increase the fidelity of the relationship going forward.

    Having been involved with a few couples who have suffered through adultery, and formal church discipline, the couples that make it through are the ones where both spouses are completely involved in the repentance process.

    He has already hurt his wife. If he has really been working hard to make things better in the intervening years, she will have noticed, just as I suspect that she may have some suspicions about the possibility of an earlier affair.

    The atonement works both ways; it allows him to seek repentance, and it is what allows her as the wronged spouse to forgive him.

    Professional counseling can’t hurt, and likely will help. Not dealing with this is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. Confessing to the bishop is good, but he is not the wronged person, and the one who needs to grant forgiveness.

  53. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins–behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

    Who should a person confess to as a part of their repentance?

  54. If I were the wife in this situation, I would absolutely want to know. Of course it would be devastating. I’m sure I can’t fully comprehend just how devastating. But I would need to understand what happened. What was going on in our marriage, and in his life, that set him up for this? And where is he with those issues now? No doubt would be rough going, but I would far, far rather go through the rough together with the hope of coming out with a marriage based on honesty and reality rather than one based on avoiding the hard things. In my experience, avoiding the hard things as a strategy always fails eventually anyway. (Another thing to consider: there’s a reasonably good chance she already knows or suspects.)

    It’s easy to say to oneself that such things are long over and past, but as we all know besetting temptations have a way of recurring. The husband has already demonstrated that he’s perhaps not the best judge of his own weaknesses and limitations. The wife absolutely needs to have this crucial piece of information at her disposal when the two of them negotiate–as every couple must–the limits and boundaries they’re comfortable with in interactions with other people.

    And the idea of my husband and bishop essentially making such important decisions for me–decisions about my health, my marriage, my children, my family–(because _I_ can’t be trusted to do what _they_ determine is best??) is, to say the least, profoundly disturbing. No way in hell, guys. I’ll make my own calls about my own life, thanks.

  55. Gee, Alex. I don’t know what I’d have done without your helpful lesson on English usage. Now that you’ve mastered digression/discretion, perhaps we can move on to sarcasm, irony, hyperbole, etc.

    But there is not a right and a wrong to every question. That alone (putting aside the execrable music and the trite lyrics) should be enough to keep us from ever singing that horrid song in church. But I digress. Or discrete.

  56. I like what Starfoxy said at the beginning of the thread that “a couple men conspiring to keep her in the dark of sexual indiscretions has a very very unsavory feeling.”

    Yep. And danithew’s right. For some reason I have a hard time imagining a bishop engaging in this kind of conspiratorial paternalism if a wife came in to confess that she cheated on her husband a long time ago but he doesn’t really need to know, now does he. He’ll just be upset and take the kids away.

  57. Mmm… ZD Eve just convinced me in comment #54. Be my new life coach, Eve.

  58. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Knowing is half the battle.

  59. I wonder how responses to the hypothetical would be different if the offending spouse were the wife (sorry if someone has raised this already). How would men feel about the bishop instructing a wife to keep such a secret from her husband?

  60. I think he needs to tell her. The bishop needs to encourage him to come clean. I am not sure he can really totally repent without telling the wife.

    Ditto on the comments about the male vs female issues. This actually happened in my extended family with the wife being super upset at the Bishop/Church.

  61. John Mansfield says:

    Coffinberry, I was thinking of that MASH episode too, with the thought that any marital advice that television screenwriters would deliver through Hawkeye’s mouth is probably advice worth ignoring. And do you remember the similar episode in a late season, when Hunnicut felt temptation again but did not give in to it? It shows how a mustache can save a man.

  62. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    59 – The hypo does not say the Bishop instructs the guy to keep a secret. And I’m not sure that is what a Bishop does either. He should just talk through the consequences of telling/not telling her (e.g. breach of trust, living with material transgression on mind, etc.) and then let the guy/woman decide themselves whether to disclose. The Church doesn’t discipline for non-disclosure of material information between spouses; it disciplines for sinful behavior.

  63. I think that there’s lots in M*A*S*H* worth emulating. Mostly Frank Burns.

    Consider this: Don’t you feel like an ass as a bishop if you encourage this guy to tell his wife (for all of the valid reasons given here), and his wife leaves him with the children? Then the guy is thinking, “Sure, a month ago I was happily married with my wife of many years and three beautiful children. Now I’m living in a studio apartment, heating soup on a hot plate, wishing I still had my kids. But boy am I glad I came back to church!”

  64. I dated my wife before and after my mission. While I was gone we decided she should date other guys. When I came home, one night she decided she needed to tell me that she was involved in some petting. She did it because she was feeling guilty and thought I deserved to know. It didn’t help me to know this, I don’t feel we are stronger or have better communication for her confession. (I’m completely over it now, never think about it unless these conversations come up)

    I wish she hadn’t told me.

    I realize this situation is somewhat different, she had no commitment to me while I was gone. But I think the emotions would probably be the same.

  65. Why in the world do people think if he tells he needs to do it with the Bishop present, or a counselor. That would tick me off, trying to mitigate the damage about something so private by having another person there.
    I think, in this situation, I’d rather not know (or at least until the kids were gone). But if he told, I certainly would like to be the only person in the room.

  66. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    (64) – Was it heavy or light petting?

  67. I like what Starfoxy said at the beginning of the thread that “a couple men conspiring to keep her in the dark of sexual indiscretions has a very very unsavory feeling.”

    Yep. And danithew’s right. For some reason I have a hard time imagining a bishop engaging in this kind of conspiratorial paternalism if a wife came in to confess that she cheated on her husband a long time ago but he doesn’t really need to know, now does he. He’ll just be upset and take the kids away.

    If I were bishop, I’d give the wife the exact same advise I’d give the husband, so this argument bears no weight to me.

    I think that bishops do have a role in marriage counseling, insofar as they meet with married couples and discuss many different topics relevant to a healthy marriage. In this case, I would suggest that the man and his wife both meet with the bishop for an initial discussion, and then refer them to LDS Family Services (or a marriage counselor approved by the same) for intense couples’ therapy.

    Then you and I understand patriarchal authority very differently. For some reason I think the position of patriarch of a family takes precedence over the position that bases it’s authority in the Aaronic priesthood.

    I believe that bishops’ authority extends in these cases only to the repentance process. I don’t think there exists a bishop in this world that understands the communication patterns in my marriage better than I do. I’m happy if any bishop feels inclined to give me marital advise, but I treat it with no more weight than anyone else giving me advice.

    In the end I think that the confessor (man or woman) should pray, fast, and receive direction as to wether God beleives that confession to the wife/husband is necessary for repentance. In many cases I’m sure they’ll feel impressed to confess, in many, they probably won’t. I don’t think this question has a cookie-cutter answer. There are too many variables, and too many lives that will be affected.

  68. For some reason I think the position of patriarch of a family takes precedence over the position that bases it’s authority in the Aaronic priesthood.

    This is what both President Packer and Elder Oaks have been talking about in conference lately.

  69. married to a sex addict says:

    Having had the experience of being married to someone who was (as I thought) 100% active in the church, committed to the gospel, committed to his marriage and children and *would never do something like that* and then trying to recover our marriage and recover from the effects of sexual addiction/living with a sex addict, I have a few thoughts.

    When a person has had a sexual indiscretion, they will, above all, desire to keep it secret. They will sincerely believe and convince themselves that they feel this way out of concern and love for the other person/relationship. My husband is addicted to porn, and that addiction escalated to other things. For years and years he refused to discuss it or talk about it because “it made the problem worse” or “he didn’t want to hurt me.” As much as it hurt to find out that my husband had a dark side that I didn’t know about, it didn’t hurt nearly as much as being lied to. I personally believe that a relationship must be based on truth and honesty or else it isn’t really a relationship. The whole business of “taking it to his grave” and “not letting it affect their relationship” because he’s going to be so nice now is complete garbage. (I would use a stronger word, but I’m Mormon.) :) It has already affected their relationship and continues to do so. The infidelity, the continued deception, his guilt, all of those affect their relationship.

    “Nobly” keeping it secret so as to “save their family” is a load of crap. When we choose what to do based on avoiding consequences and trying to control them (What about the marriage? What about the kids?) you can easily justify all kinds of behavior in favor of the greater good.

    He should tell her. That said, I would recommend he go to a therapist to discuss the timing and method of disclosure. It isn’t something to be taken lightly.

  70. “For some reason I think the position of patriarch of a family takes precedence over the position that bases it’s authority in the Aaronic priesthood.”

    Isn’t the bishop also the presiding high priest over the ward?

  71. what if you pray about it and don’t get a strong answer in either direction?

  72. #69 And that is the thing that an untrauned Bishop wouldn’t know or know how to deal with and they should seek counselling.
    #70 Years ago the Church had five circles of responsibility of Bishops, Judge in Israel, Aaronic Priesthood, etc. One of thecircles was not emotional. Bishops shouldn’t be delving into other’s problems

  73. B.Russ – I agree that the ultimate responsibility is on the father (or mother were situations reversed). But you discredit the role of Bishop in the process of making your claim. The Bishop also happens to be the presiding High Priest. And that is what his ecclesiastical authority for the entire ward is linked to. It is usually we church members that get confused in thinking about “Bishop”, as it relates to his Aaronic Priesthood role. The only reason why he could be a Bishop in the first place, is as the presiding high priest, unless he were a literal descendant of Aaron that is — and even if he were they’d make him a high priest before giving him the role of Bishop over a ward.

    That being said, I fully agree with you that a father or mother has every right to receive direct revelation from God for themself and their family. This does not preclude the church leader with stewardship in a certain area from knowing the mind of God more clearly in a certain matter. Of course, they could also know it less clearly if they were making judgments outside of the spirit. So, like you say it’s up to the father/mother to determine what to do, but not for the reasons why you say it (lessor authority of the AP office).

  74. To clarify my intent – a Bishop is not entitled to “more clarity” in revelation about a family. Indeed he is entitled to more clarity than a Father or Mother. Worthiness, careful consideration and experience in following the spirit is what brings that clarity. A Bishop *may* have more practice at it, but these things should not be and no family member should rely on that or else they’re missing a large point of this life.

  75. blarg…

    “he is entitled to NO more clarity than a Father or Mother…”

  76. #69
    A short affair is not the same thing as a sex addiction. Apples and oranges.

  77. It was not my intent to discredit the bishop’s role. However, even if we see him as presiding High Priest over a ward, the stewardship is still the same, over the ward. Not over the communication patterns of a family.

    My apologies for the incorrect stationing of a bishop’s authority.

  78. you know who I am.... says:

    You really are rolling the dice when you tell the bishop in the first place. Why can’t you confess to God and move on? Salvation is not determined by the bishop or the church, or this man’s poor wife. God knows the intent of this man’s heart, and we should not underestimate the reach of His grace.

  79. married to a sex addict: Point well taken. However, we are not dealing with a diagnosed sex addict here. We are dealing with a short time occurance that has not been an issue for years. From the information we’ve been told, he’s not had a problem with cheating on his wife for 7 years. He has shown a sincere change over a long period of time. What would be served by dredging it up know?

    Yes, I understand the whole honesty thing. I understand the openness that should be in a marriage. You still have to ask, what purpose would it serve? It really depends on his point of view. If he did it just to absolve himself of guilt, it would be wrong to tell her. That would be focusing on himself. If he did it because they needed to work on underlying problems in the relationship. There might be some good to telling her. However, he should wait until his children are grown if the rest of the situation is still good. If he is NOW acting like a good husband and father, then that should not be interupted for the good of the kids.

    It would be completely different had continued to sleep around or had an addiction to pornography. That would require working together and a confession. I also don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that he take it to the grave. Sincere repentence would dictate that he apologizes, accept the consequences and try to repair the damage. The timing of that should be considered. I also think it would be different if it had happend 6 months ago rather than 7 years ago. That amount of time can indicate a sincere change and not just a desire to change. He actually showed by his actions that he had changed.

    There really is no completely right answer. It depends on motives and details that we don’t really have. You have to decide what is most important to you. My first concern is to his children and providing them a loving home environment. That can do more to help children grow up strong and moral people. Also, with the possibility that they are embracing the gospel. It is important to have that a bigger part of their lives. That does not excuse his actions in the least. He will have to deal with them some day, I am sure. Its not the if that is in question, but the when.

  80. I agree wholeheartedly with married to a sex addict’s comment.

  81. It would be good to hear or learn about the experience of bishops or stake presidents in dealing with these kinds of things. I suspect they might have some practical wisdom and inspiration to impart on the subject.

    I don’t think there is a single cookie-cutter response to the specific question(s) being asked by the post … but at the same time I suspect there are people who have seen these kinds of circumstances arise and have counseled many men/women/couples through these kinds of situations. After awhile, I suspect they must develop some canned responses that get tweaked slightly on a case-by-case basis.

    However, I lack that experience and my comments in this thread have been a sort of personal inquiry to try and feel out what I might think on the subject/question.

    I did recently hear a member of a stake presidency say that while he was a bishop of a singles ward, in regards to the confession of serious sins (such as fornication) he developed over time certain minimum time periods that he would expect a person to abstain from the sacrament – or that sort of thing. But he was clear that these guidelines were general and were tweaked slightly on a case-by-case basis. He felt that when people committed certain acts, they lost their ability to feel the Spirit for a time – and he said he was generally waiting for the person to arrive at a point where he/she could once again feel the Spirit.

  82. I agree with #69 as well. And you can’t really say it’s not the same thing. She’s talking about how dishonesty can harm the relationship, not isolated versus continued infidelity.
    I also wholeheartedly agree with ZDEve and Starfoxy. To not tell a spouse about a violation of the relationship throws the relationship unto unequal footing because the unoffending spouse doesn’t have all of the facts about the relationship. Any spouse (male or female, who cares) owes it to the other to be honest and let the cards fall where they may. We can’t make decisions for other people; that shows an utter lack of respect.

  83. I agree with #69 as well. And you can’t really say it’s not the same thing. She’s talking about how dishonesty can harm the relationship, not isolated versus continued infidelity.
    I also wholeheartedly agree with ZDEve and Starfoxy. To not tell a spouse about a violation of the relationship throws the relationship unto unequal footing because the unoffending spouse doesn’t have all of the facts about the relationship. Any spouse owes it to the other to be honest and let the cards fall where they may. We can’t make decisions for other people; that shows an utter lack of respect.

  84. Bishops are not marriage counselors. However, they are uniquely qualified to divine help in their role as judge in Israel, and to help this man through the repentance process. Professional counseling for the marriage issues are above and beyond that process, not to supplant it. They don’t need to be there or a counselor there when the husband confesses to the wife. That’s creepy.

    But the Lord is not the aggrieved party here, nor is the bishop, so while that is a partial confession, it’s not the true confession that needs to take place. How can someone truly repent of something if they dodge the issue of telling their wife that they cheated on her? I feel the marriage is in more danger if he never tells his wife.

    I’ve sat on disciplinary councils at the high council level, both for excommunications/disfellowship decisions, and also for the reinstatement/return hearings. The men who come in with their wives to talk to the bishops and stake presidents, and are present for the disciplinary councils, are the ones that a year or two or three down the road are back with their husbands and a much stronger relationship to return to membership and full fellowship.

    My take is that the husband is being selfish, and values the avoidance of shame and embarrassment above the commitment to his wife and family.

  85. are back with their husbands and a much stronger relationship

    I think that would be an impossible thing for a third-party to judge.

  86. Consider this: Don’t you feel like an ass as a bishop if you encourage this guy to tell his wife (for all of the valid reasons given here), and his wife leaves him with the children? Then the guy is thinking, “Sure, a month ago I was happily married with my wife of many years and three beautiful children. Now I’m living in a studio apartment, heating soup on a hot plate, wishing I still had my kids. But boy am I glad I came back to church!”

    gst, I take your point. And certainly the range of human experience is vast enough that in some situations it’s going to be better not to tell. After all, we are the church of Nephi and Laban; evidently even the biggest rules have exceptions. But in the spirit of BKP, might I suggest that there is nonetheless a rule here, and a principle.

    mmiles, isn’t the analogy rather Granny Smiths and Honeycrisps? To my mind one of the most important reasons to tell is to set in place the marital habits of transparency and thestructures of accountability that will prevent our good hypothetical Brother Sippeduponce from turning into Brother Clinton, to borrow MikeWeHo’s memorable moniker.

  87. “Any spouse owes it to the other to be honest and let the cards fall where they may.”

    The cards, in this case, being children, aged 8, 10, and 12.

  88. ZDEve,
    Except I have no reason to believe that a short affair seven years ago will turn him into Brother Clinton.

  89. ZD Eve,

    After all, we are the church of Nephi and Laban; evidently even the biggest rules have exceptions.

    I was thinking of the Nephi/Laban comparison as well, just didn’t know how to really put it in good words.

  90. #87 Yes, those are some of the cards. I don’t think the story implies that the wife might abandon their children, though.
    The decision to stay in the marriage or leave is the wife’s. The fact that he knows she feels so strongly about infidelity is all the more reason to tell her about it. Leaving her in the dark (and treating her like a child, IMO) is just salt in the wound. She’s more likely to forgive him when she’s been treated like an adult than if he assumes she can’t handle the truth. Saying the decision to keep the affair a secret is for the good of the family is, as #69 said, “a load of crap”.

  91. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    I don’t see any issue of lying or dishonesty in this OP or topic at all. It doesn’t say that his wife asked him and then he denied the act or told her something that was false. Aren’t we really talking about when the duty to disclose information arises between those in a relationship of trust? That is very complicated issue.

    I dilute the value and “materiality” of information that my wife may be interested in by telling her every trivial decision I make everyday that is not readily visible to her (e.g., I washed the dishes last night after you went to bed and I had ice cream, I saw an attractive woman today and did not act upon it, I wanted a double western bacon cheeseburger and went with a single today honey, etc.). But now when I do something that I think is eventful or praiseworthy, it falls on deaf ears. My good judgment has lost all value in the process of trust building. Information from me is no longer a scarce commodity for her, unfortunately for us.

  92. Also, I’m surprised at the intelligent people on this blog calling for this hypothetical man to keep this secret from his wife. Many commenters here are very vocal about their desire for the church to be more transparent, but in a very personal relationship we should keep others in the dark “for their own good”? Sorry, I just don’t get that.

  93. Look, I don’t think it’s for the wife’s own good in a condescending way, and I’m fairly sure no one else is saying that either. I think it comes down to concern for the kids. If this was a childless couple, I would say he absolutely should tell her.

  94. Eric, I think my marriage is strengthened by disclosing those little victories when I come home from work. “Good news, honey! I saw an attractive woman today and did not ‘act upon’ her!”

  95. #92, I am not saying she should not find out but the bishop shouldn’t be the one giving advice on the marriage, a trained marital therapist should help the husband sort things out and the husband should come to a decision.

  96. Except I have no reason to believe that a short affair seven years ago will turn him into Brother Clinton.

    Well, actually, I think you do. Is Brother Slippeduponce a sex addict? No. Is he even close to being a sex addict? No. But there’s still a significant difference between Brotherslippeduponce–especially since he hasn’t said a word about his slipup for seven years–and Brotherneverslippedup.

    But in any case, greater transparency and appropriate accountability are a good regardless of his potential, or lack thereof, for sex addiction.

    Observer, your version of trust-building I think would qualify as apples and oranges.

  97. well, people tend to be treated differently in church discipline depending on where they are coming from. the fact that this guy wasn’t super active his whole life means he will be treated differently than someone who had been. women are treated differently than men, rich people vs. poor people. children from single parent homes / one member parent homes, etc.

  98. But there’s still a significant difference between Brotherslippeduponce–especially since he hasn’t said a word about his slipup for seven years–and Brotherneverslippedup.

    Actually, there are two significant differences. Much like Sisterneverslippedup, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, Brotherneverslippedup doesn’t exist.

  99. #98 – This isn’t the place for confession, B.Russ. We have Bishops for that.

  100. “children from single parent homes / one member parent homes, etc.”

    Seriously??? Ugh. I really hope that bias is not widespread.

  101. I think he should tell her. The question really is when that should happen, imo. I can’t answer that for him – and I generally wouldn’t try to answer it for him if I were the Bishop.

  102. The one who seems to be afraid that divorce will result from this scenario if a confession is made, is the husband who cheated, not the wife. She’s expressed concerns about her parents apparently failed marriage, but wouldn’t some open honest discussion about the problem go a lot farther than hiding from it? What will the wife think about the long term prospects of their marriage if she finds out later that the husband confessed to the bishop, and never to her? The guy wants cheap absolution; the bishop can’t grant any kind of absolution, only serve as a guide in the repentance process. If he wants forgiveness, it has to come from the Lord and his wife. And that’s a whole different case.

    If he can’t grant his wife the respect of being completely honest with her, he’s still a potential cheating scumbag, and maybe she should divorce the stinking jerk.

  103. The decision about whether to continue the marriage is the wife’s, even though it involves their children. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be counseled to forgive her husband and give him a second chance, especially since things are, apparently, going well right now. Relationships built on unequal ground are not good for children either.

  104. #100 – Kristine, it’s not – at least not in my experience.

  105. Thanks, Ray :)

  106. Observer (91) Clearly, we are speaking from vastly different perspectives if an act of adultery is a “trivial decision” that needn’t be disclosed.

  107. “The guy wants cheap absolution; the bishop can’t grant any kind of absolution, only serve as a guide in the repentance process. …”

    You don’t know that the guy wants cheap absolution. That’s filling in the blanks with subtext that you only suppose is there. All we know from the OP is that the guy is trying to make his life better, that he has voluntarily opened up to the bishop, and that he seems to be afraid that he’ll lose his family. He has asked the bishop for advice. That’s an act of humility.

  108. #98 – This isn’t the place for confession, B.Russ. We have Bishops for that.

    Luckily I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses. This topic is not, and will (probably) never be my weakness. This is one area that misanthropy serves me well =)

  109. If the father was a candidate for baptism, any past adultery would require approval from the Stake President.

    So my advice to the Bishop would be to “punt”, and set up an interview with the Stake President.

  110. Mommie Dearest says:

    Question: does it make any difference that the wife is not a member but is interested enough to have the family attending Sunday meetings? Definitely a discussion topic for the bishop and counselor with the repentant husband. And commenters.

    That said, I think the guy should tell his wife at some point just to get that behind them both. Only then are they both free from any more potential fallout. He should prepare to tell her in some way that has the least negative impact on the innocent parties. That might involve waiting for a while. Or not. (This is only hypothetical, after all.)

  111. Zefram, we are debating the (perhaps not so) hypothetical post about a guy who confesses to his bishop about a past serious sin that most directly affects his wife. I’m having a hard time understanding how much he values that marriage if he is not willing to be totally honest with her about something of that magnitude.

    Sorry, not trying to come across as a self-righteous jerk, and I do recognize that this is a tough situation. I just can’t see how avoiding the disclosure is doing any long term good. The bishop is not handing out marital advice, he is handing out repentance advice, which is totally within his right to do. He should encourage him to tell his wife. There are a lot of gray areas out there, but for me this isn’t one of them.

  112. mmiles,

    Why does the husband get to have all the facts when deciding what is “best for the kids”? The fact is, he made the choice to possibly irreparably harm the marriage when he didn’t keep it in his pants. He doesn’t get to decide the consequences now by keeping her in the dark. Or, at least, he shouldn’t.

  113. The guy wants cheap absolution; the bishop can’t grant any kind of absolution,

    But neither can the wife. The discussion is whether or not telling the wife is necessary in the repentance process. Not who can absolve him. I know you realize that, but I think it needs to be emphasized that the wife’s opinion of him in no way affects the state of his soul.

  114. B. Russ,

    I know I am reading stuff into the mind of this guy, and you are right in saying that his wife can’t grant him absolution either. But she can forgive him, and after that it is up to the individual and the Lord for ultimate forgiveness.

    There are so many ways that this can play out, but anything that dodges confession to his wife will only make the repentance process harder, IMO. Additionally, the atonement is what allows her to be able to forgive him, as well. She has been wronged through no fault of her own; the atonement is not only for repentance, but for healing from all sorts of emotional wounds.

  115. I think calling him a “cheating scumbag” and a “stinking jerk” is probably not a good beginning.

    This is probably why some people choose not to confess their mistakes at all.

  116. If he can’t grant his wife the respect of being completely honest with her, he’s still a potential cheating scumbag, and maybe she should divorce the stinking jerk.

    Thanks for saying that, kevinf.

  117. MCQ, I said that, not his bishop. I was just responding to what was for me an incomprehensible defense of the husband’s apparent unwillingness to really face the consequences of his actions.

    And to reiterate, I called him a “potential cheating scumbag”, not an actual one. I am guilty of calling him a stinking jerk, though.

  118. ZDEve-
    You’ve fully convinced me.

  119. I don’t think this is an overarching feeling, but I think there are some on this thread that think this is a male question(problem), as if it made any sort of difference.

    FWIW, while men are marginally more likely to cheat than women, according to this survey women are much more likely to find out if their man has been cheating than vice versa (i.e. a woman is more likely to deceive her husband about an affair) – last question, section 2.

  120. MCQ, I probably should avoid sparring with an attorney, but isn’t calling adultery a “mistake” kind of like calling murder an “unfortunate accident?”

  121. FWIW, Jesus treated it as a “mistake” in John 8:10-11
    Interestingly he didn’t command her to confess her sin to her husband. Though it could be argued that being taken in such a public manner, he would probably find out.

    Nevertheless, his command was simply to sin no more.

  122. I called him a “potential cheating scumbag”

    But aren’t we all? I mean, past performance may not necessarily be indicative of future results, right? This particular guy has a record of both adultery and good deeds–how do you determine which is most salient?

  123. StillConfused says:

    I would never advise this man to tell his wife. It would crush her and unnecessarily so. His punishment for his sin is living with knowing it. Plus it was seven years ago, he addressed it and took care of it. Anything more at this point would not be for the benefit of him, his family, or his relationship with God. It would just be to make a spectacle of him and his family. If my advice were not acceptable to the LDS leaders, then I would encourage him to find another faith that would be a better fit for him and his needs.

  124. But aren’t we all?

    Speak for yourself, Eurotrash.

  125. Denial won’t help!

  126. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m glad that this is, even hypothetically, none of my business.

  127. B. Russ (119), why do you think some people think it’s a male problem? I’m not getting that feeling. I think it would be just as easy (and wrong) for a woman to show a lack of respect for her husband by not telling him the truth. I guess I’m just not getting that vibe like you are.

    And StillConfused (123), saying “it would crush her” is exactly the kind of disrespect I’m talking about. Finding out the truth, no matter how much we may not like it, does not make one incapable of dealing with it in a mature and thoughtful manner.

  128. Somehow, had the hypothetical been reversed, I don’t think we’d see this comment “If he can’t grant his wife the respect of being completely honest with her, he’s still a potential cheating scumbag, and maybe she should divorce the stinking jerk.”

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but that and similar comments are the “vibe” I’m talking about.

  129. Mommie Dearest says:

    Yup, it’s gonna crush her. Eventually. Whenever she finds out. Which will definitely happen either in this life or the next. Better to get it in the past than keep it in the future, and try to do it in such a way that it doesn’t crush her completely and ruin the kids’ lives.

  130. While I think a few of the words might change… “jerk” feels male to me (which I also think is weird of me)… I can totally get behind the gender reversed statement.

    I also am totally in the group that thinks he cannot finish the repentance process until he tell his wife. And they cannot have a good marriage as long as a lie like this is festering.

  131. Maybe what he should do is tell her, but then immediately quote D&C 64:9 – Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

    I think that would go over smoothly.

  132. Cynthia L. says:

    The sex addict comment doesn’t seem particularly relevant to me. It says the sex really isn’t as bad as the lying. Ok, but I don’t see a lot of deception happening here (necessarily). There isn’t necessarily “continued deception,” unless for some reason he finds himself having to talk about that period of time. I think if he does ever have to say anything about that time that involves deception (comission or notable omission), that dramatically changes the calculations. He can’t keep lying.

    It’s also possible that the deception at the time of the affair was different in degree or kind than something like what is described in the sex addict comment or what we would imagine in our own active LDS marriages. Being active LDS, bearing your testimony, having couple prayer, all sort of implicitly announces that you are not cheating on a regular basis. All these acts become lies when you are an adulterer. But this couple were basically not members at the time. Maybe they got married almost expecting affairs. (Actually the bit about her divorcing him would argue against an in interpretation of their marriage as being open to some degree, but let’s ignore that for a second.) So we should be clear about what happened.

    This also has bearing on the extent to which the bishop would be seen by the wife as colluding in a cover-up. All the “this happened to my sister and she was pissed at the bishop” stories seem to have to do with couples who were both involved with the church at the time of the incident. The bishop may have had jurisdiction over him at the time from the church’s perspective, from the couple’s perspective he was nonexistent and meant nothing to them. If there is no expectation the he is policing her husband’s behavior in that time frame, then not doing so is not some kind of implicit lie or lie of omission.

    Despite these quibbles with others’ weightings of things, in the end I come down on the side of he really should tell her.

  133. Cynthia L. says:

    “…announces that you are not cheating on a regular basis…” should be “…announces on a regular basis that you are not cheating…” Little but important difference in semantics there. :-)

  134. For the record, I’ve never once said he shouldn’t tell her, just that it’s not the bishop’s place to decide.
    I also have a hard time believing that 100% of the time, the truth is the best option in this situation, but that’s not the question posted by the op, the question is what the bishop should counsel. And I think the bishop’s counsel should be prayer and fasting. (unless the bishop feels he has received personal witness on what this brother should do . . . but I’m still not convinced that the bishop even has the stewardship to receive such revelation)

  135. B. Russ and others, in regards to my use of the terms “cheating scumbag” and “stinking jerk” and the apparent link to male gender, let’s look at it this way. We were talking about a husband who cheated on his wife. Were it the wife cheating on the husband, we would use other terms, none of which are very complimentary, so I apologize for using disrespectful and gender linked terms at all.

    How about just “cheater” and “egregiously dishonest person with no respect for his/her marital partner?”

    Believe me, if it was the wife and not the husband, I would still think it wise for her to confess, just as I would for him to confess.

  136. I second B. Russ’ observation about the sexism involved by some in analyzing this. The unsavory “conspiring” men comment works both ways. Were my wife confessing to a female bishop and they “conspired” to keep her transgression from me, I’d be tempted to use it as fuel for my misogyny. Were she confessing to a male bishop and got the same advice, I might question how much influence I’d want to let church authority have in my life. Maybe a good indicator that withholding the transgression might not be a good idea.

    I’m also continually surprised how much credence professional counseling is given vs. bishop’s counsel. Sure, I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes where bishops have royally screwed things up, but I’ve heard just as many about counselors. Which would be harder, getting three bishops to agree or three counselors? Hmm….

    Seems like the decision could be arrived at over time with the counsel of the bishop and the influence of the Spirit. No hurry. Eventually, the wife would need to be told, but I would let the Spirit prepare her and guide the timing. I think a lot of bad choices are often the right choices made too soon.

  137. B. Russ, # 134, if you take “marriage counseling” out of the question, and are just talking the repentance process, this is exactly the kind of thing the bishop does have stewardship for.

  138. I think there’s sexism in the idea that she shouldn’t be told because she needs to be “protected” from the truth.

  139. Difficult. But I must agree with those who say that the wife must be told. If I were that bishop, I would simply tell the guy to seek professional advice on the matter and that he could choose when to disclose… be that days or years from now. You can’t even count his admission to the bishop as an actual confession because he must admit it to his wife first before he ‘takes it to the Lord’. I’d make the guy feel welcome at church, but I would grant no access to ordinances or any semblance of membership in good standing until full repentance was made. You can’t build faith or respect upon a lie. You can only mock God by shining something like this on.

    In truth, the damage to the wife and kids was already sealed with the act. They just don’t know it yet. But the consequences of that damage are perpetually on their way, it’s just a question of when they will arrive. The longer the lie is upheld, the greater the time period in which everything between the sin and the confession is a sham. How long is it going to be? 7 years? 15? 30? A false temple marriage is, ostensibly, a hell of an Easter egg to discover upon one’s death. What if the victim dies first? What if she has to hear about it from others before you tell her? What if she dies suddenly and unexpectedly? If the harm has already been delivered in actuality (with the act itself), and is really only veiled with a lie, then why not look at the actual big picture (not just mortality) and give your spouse the chance to forgive? Why not respect her while she lives?

    To ‘take it to the grave’ may seem brave, but isn’t it really just a commitment to honor the lie (instead of your covenants) by giving your life to a colossal act? That may be fine if you’re Brando, but what if you’re an agent of Christ who has to accept callings, seek revelation, exercise your Priesthood (if you’re male), say family prayers, testify to others, Etc.?

  140. I didn’t think she needed to “be protected” from the truth… I thought it was about protecting the family from her reaction to the truth. Even worse, right? Only, I see no difference whether it was husband or wife.

  141. Well, Stephanie, since you’re the only person on this whole thread who has used “protect” or “protected” in the context of the wife’s feelings, I don’t know who you’d be labeling as sexist.

    Perhaps if you could use a particular example of someone argueing in favor of withholding the truth we could discuss that, but I think you’ll find that none of them are arguing that the reasoning is protecting the wife’s feelings. The closest argument is those argueing that confession will only console his conscience while causing pain to her, therefore the net benefit of confession is all to him, so it would be selfish to do so (also, I’m not the one making this arguement . . . ) but thats not exactly the same. So congratulations, you won an argument that didn’t exist.

  142. 129, exactly.

  143. B.Russ, see StillConfused comment 123:

    I would never advise this man to tell his wife. It would crush her and unnecessarily so.

  144. 137 – correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole spiritual leader giving advice in the course of repentance is completely an extrapolation of the call to be a Judge in Israel. I’m not aware of any scriptures or revelation that dictate that a bishop is to counsel a sinner in the repentance process, though I am very familiar with this idea as a current tradition.

    It seems that most examples of repentance (in the scriptures) are personal with God, not involving an intermediary dictating how the repentance process should progress.

    And, of course, the call to confess is not the same as submitting to the advice of another.

  145. Thomas Parkin says:

    “In truth, the damage to the wife and kids was already sealed with the act”

    This is factually incorrect.

  146. 143 – yeah, if that portion is taken out of context, and were the whole of her arguement, sure, but she goes on to talk about the damage to the family and making them a spectacle. And she makes the assumption that the man has already repented and been forgiven of his sins.

    Are you implying that the woman won’t be crushed? Because otherwise, as just one third of the overall argument SC makes, I don’t see why it would be offensive.

  147. Thomas, a person can change. But the consequences of acts cannot be avoided.

  148. B.Russ, I think it is patronizing to the wife to assume that she is not adult enough to handle learning the truth and making decisions based on that information that are in the best interest of the family. She is not a child. Of course she will be hurt, crushed, etc. But she is owed the respect of knowing the truth. I think that anything less is infantilizing to her.

  149. I’m not sure #147 is accurate. Seems that if the person changed and the wife and children never knew, they’re effectively protected from the consequences of the act.

    Unless, that is, the father cannot receive absolution without his wife’s knowledge of his transgression.

  150. The unsavory “conspiring” men comment works both ways. Were my wife confessing to a female bishop and they “conspired” to keep her transgression from me, I’d be tempted to use it as fuel for my misogyny.

    Well, actually, Martin, I called it “conspiratorial paternalism,” and I simply observed that it’s less likely to occur between a bishop and a formerly adulterous woman than it is between a bishop and a formerly adulterous man. I stand by both my description and by that statement. (Since you consider it “unsavory,” what sort of description would you prefer?)

    I’m also continually surprised how much credence professional counseling is given vs. bishop’s counsel. Sure, I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes where bishops have royally screwed things up, but I’ve heard just as many about counselors.

    Agreed.

  151. This should have been a poll! I would love to see the results of that. Don’t really have time to tally up the responses of 147 comments, yay or nay….

    I say: he needs to tell her! I’d like to echo what’s already been said about temple marriages. If his wife gets baptized, and they’re on the path to a temple marriage, she absolutely needs to know about his adultery. Then let her decide how to proceed, instead of trying to predict how she’ll react and make the choice for her. That is, IMO, disrespectful to her as a human being.
    I was just reading the post on the economist’s POV on callings–and it reminded me, isn’t part of a free market perfect access to complete information? The wife can’t make the best decisions for her without having all the information.

  152. For the record, I don’t think the guy’s a jerk or scumbag, or whatever. He made a mistake, just like we all do. That doesn’t mean he’s now in a position to hide from his mistake, though. His wife has a right to know who she’s committed her life to. I just see no justification for not telling her. It’s not good for their marriage or their children in the long run.

  153. Obulus (139),
    That’s just crazy talk.

  154. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think it is a good thing to remember that repentance isn’t only, or even primarily, a matter of reconciling deeds. It is primarily a matter of sanctifying being.

    When the Savior says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed the act in his heart, He isn’t saying that lusting is as bad as adultery. He is identifying the source of the problem. It is not only possible, it is likely that a person is adulterous without ever having committed the act. Alternately, a man, or woman, who committed this kind of sin in the past may well have a being that hasn’t really got a deep propensity to the act. Some people commit adultery compulsively, because of their nature. Other people find themselves dead inside, deeply unhappy in their relationships, perhaps keeping these very things from themselves day to day, and then the opportunity arises and they surprise themselves by doing something they never believed they would do.

    The first instance is a matter that needs deep and long repentance. The second is a circumstance that mostly needs forgiveness. A legalistic rather than human appraisal may do damage to hearts that are … all human hearts are … tender things. I’ve pretty much always believed that if we could really see deep into other’s hearts, we would always have compassion for them.

    I’d personally be far more likely to confess this thing to my wife – since I’d hope that my relationship was a place where I could err on the side of openness and frankness – than I would be to confess to a bishop. The question for me personally would be: is this a thing that continues to hamper my spiritual progress? If I could honestly say that it was holding me back, I would possibly go to a bishop that I trusted for help. If I could honestly say it was a thing in the past, reconciled and _not_ hampering me spiritually, I would probably let it lie. Obviously, if it is a thing that keeps me from answering a TR question in the affirmative, it is a matter that, at least if I’m in a place of wanting to attend the temple, needs some discussion.

    I like the bit where it says, roughly, that you can know if a man has repented because he will confess his sin and forsake it. I use this a measure for myself. I’ve got plenty of sins in my past. If I can confess them, that generally indicates to me that the thing has lost its charge for me. That it has lost its negative charge in my being. Generally we have to have this hope of freedom in order to confess a thing that hasn’t been forsaken.

  155. Thomas Parkin says:

    “But the consequences of acts cannot be avoided.”

    Then we’re all headed to hell.

  156. B. Russ, I think you are mixing things up. The church can forgive, and the Lord can forgive, and they are actually two separate things. Church forgiveness is manifest in rebaptism, restoration of priesthood or temple blessings, or dismissal of a disciplinary process through ending a period of informal or formal probation. This process is the one that is directed by bishops or in the case of excommunications, a stake president. The handbook of instructions is quite detailed on how the repentance process works. But without going through this repentance process, the church ordinances and blessings are withheld.

    The Lord’s forgiveness is ultimately, as you pointed out, between that person and the Lord. As much as I try, I can’t see someone like the example in this case, bringing his wife into the church, aiming for a temple sealing, and yet still harboring an unconfessed sin of a serious nature like adultery. And I have difficulty thinking that someone can feel right with the Lord if they have not confessed the sin to the wronged party.

  157. ZD Eve, sorry. I meant the “unsavory image” conjured by the comment, but I said “unsavory … comment”. apologies.

  158. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Poll, poll, poll, poll!!!!

  159. Ah, I see what you mean, Martin. Thanks for the explanation and apology.

    (Now that I’ve evidently persuaded not one but two people to change their minds–and evidently persuaded one that I would make a good life coach, heaven forfend!–and garnered such a gracious apology, I’m frankly sort of freaked out. This is not the blogging I know! People, you do know that you shouldn’t believe a word I say, don’t you? ;) ).

  160. Thomas (154)” Other people find themselves dead inside, deeply unhappy in their relationships, perhaps keeping these very things from themselves day to day, and then the opportunity arises and they surprise themselves by doing something they never believed they would do.”

    Yes, but wouldn’t it be so much better if he could discuss this with his wife to try to remedy his pain. Even if things are not so bad for him right now, don’t you think she could be counted on to understand that the adultery happened at a very bad time in his life? And if she can’t be counted on for some measure of compassion, isn’t it better to have that out in the open, too?

  161. Steve Evans says:

    TP, we’re all in fact headed to Hell. Isn’t that sort of the point of the Atonement, etc.?

  162. Thomas Parkin, thank you. Great comment. Repentance is reconciling ourselves with God. Sanctifying being is a nice way of describing it.

  163. Sorry, I meant to say “reconciling ourselves to God, not our acts”.

  164. Thomas Parkin says:

    Karen,

    My tendency would be to tell my wife everything … before, during, and after it has happened. :) Where there isn’t much real communication though … that can be a problem. It can be a mess of words, always misconstrued. Things get really really broken.

    I think you’re right, on the whole, the wife should be told. I just know that there are always exceptions.

    kevin,

    thanks. :)

    Steve,

    Exactly my point!

  165. Steve (161),
    Yes, but that has twisted the direction of consequences from what Obulus used. No doubt, we are all headed to hell, because, for a truth, none of us can escape the consequences of our own actions. This is not disputed, I don’t think.

    What Obulus said, though, was that the wife and son cannot avoid the consequences of our actions. I don’t think that there is any fundamental law governing the world which dictates that all people I sin against in my heart need to suffer the consequences, is there?

  166. Master Blaster says:

    After reading all these comments, no wonder ‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’ was/is one of the Ten Commandments!

  167. 148 – You, and most, are making the assumption that the wife wants to know, that she would prefer to have honesty over security.

    I don’t think I’d want to know if my wife had cheated on me seven years ago, had forsaken the sin, and had from there forward been a loving good wife. Maybe I’m a lone voice, but I just would rather live in ignorance. My wife might feel completely different, luckily this is not a problem for me. Perhaps tonight I’ll sit her down and let her know that I don’t want to know if she ever cheats on me, as long as its a one time thing.

    Perhaps I’m infantilizing (??) myself, I just don’t see anything gained by knowing what happened 7 years ago. I imagine that woman was a different person back then than she is now, and isn’t that what repentance is? Aren’t I currently married to a faithful woman?

    Regardless, your point is moot in that it has nothing to do with gender in my opinion, and noone has tried to make the point that women are somehow weaker and THATS why the information should be withheld. You are reading ideas that just aren’t there.

  168. Thomas Parkin says:

    BRuss,

    You make me laugh. I didn’t want to know what was going on with that last wife, while it was going on. In fact, I had some strategies for making sure I didn’t know. I still don’t want to know.

    My heart problem? I’m attracted to crazy women, and they to me. Took a long time to work out the right brand of crazy. :)

  169. B.Russ, it’s more than that. I think the wife is entitled to know.

    And I disagree that my point is moot. Just because someone didn’t come out and say it in black and white doesn’t make it irrelevant.

  170. 149. Martin, your point assumes that our mortal life is all we have to face.

    155. Thomas, I sincerely agree with your points concerning forms of adultery, seeing the heart, and compassion. But I can’t get with the logic in your conclusions. I don’t see how an unrepented past adulterous affair wouldn’t hamper one spiritually.

  171. Besides, it’s funny that you are accusing me of “reading ideas that just aren’t there” when you are the one who said this:

    Somehow, had the hypothetical been reversed, I don’t think we’d see this comment “If he can’t grant his wife the respect of being completely honest with her, he’s still a potential cheating scumbag, and maybe she should divorce the stinking jerk.”

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but that and similar comments are the “vibe” I’m talking about.

    Would you like to hold your own accusations to the same scrutiny?

  172. 169 – but the inverse isn’t true? Just because you want to read sexism into a comment, it has to be a sexist comment?

  173. Steve & Scott, what I meant was that they are going to obtain the information eventually, and that info is going to damage them. I didn’t mean the consequences of the husband/dad committing the sin.

  174. Thomas Parkin says:

    ” I don’t see how an unrepented past adulterous affair wouldn’t hamper one spiritually.”

    I didn’t say unrepented. But you might be surprised how some things, even bad things, just go away. Time is a healer. You just say, I am no longer that man. To the degree I’m capable, I will work to undo damage done. But, I also know that a lot of that is impossible and at the end of the day am left trusting Jesus. There are times when you, full of anguish, will go to wronged party and ask their forgiveness only to have them say, “oh, that, take no more thought of that, that is in the past …”

  175. Um, right back at ya, B.Russ.

  176. 171, yes Stephanie, I’d love to hold my comments to the same scrutiny.

    You are reading sexism into a comment that may or may not (but probably doesn’t) exist.

    I’m reading judgment into a comment that obviously exists, AND contains language that is usually tied to sex Jerk/Scumbag (almost always) = male

  177. Whatever, B.Russ.

  178. 168 – the truth is, I’d rather just not be married to an adulterous spouse, but thats not the point. Assuming I am married to an adulterous spouse, I gain nothing by knowing. Especially if I have kids at home and want to keep the marriage together regardless.

    (obviously sitting my wife down and telling her not to tell me if she cheats was sarcastic . . . )

  179. Obolus, my 149 assumes no such thing. If our hypo adulterer can achieve absolution without confessing to his wife, then what would be the consequence in the eternities? The whole point of “absolution” is that the atonement protects one from the consequences of his/her actions, right?

    The question is whether absolution can extended to the adulterer without confession to the spouse, and I’d tend to challenge anyone who claimed to know the answer definitely.

  180. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The whole point of “absolution” is that the atonement protects one from the consequences of his/her actions, right?”

    I don’t think “protects” is the best word here.

    “The question is whether absolution can extended to the adulterer without confession to the spouse, and I’d tend to challenge anyone who claimed to know the answer definitely.”

    Are you saying that not confessing to a spouse is an unforgivable sin? So far as I know, the only unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Ghost.

  181. Thomas, I understand. But Gillian Welch says that time is a revelator. I tend to agree with her. If sins are buried with time, then what is the ‘bright recollection of all your guilt’ about? Is Amulek just riffing because he knows that he’s got Zeezrom on the ropes?

    I still don’t see how any meet repentance for adultery is possible without confessing. So until a sin is properly repented for, the stain remains and any spiritual progress that doesn’t lead to true repentance is a fantasy.

  182. Thomas Parkin says:

    Obolus,

    I’m not talking about burying one’s sins. I’m talking about one’s conclusions about oneself after relentless and unswervingly honest self-reflection.

    “I still don’t see …”

    I agree with you this far. :)

  183. Thomas, ok. But this:

    “You just say, I am no longer that man.”

    doesn’t sound like this:

    “I’m talking about one’s conclusions about oneself after relentless and unswervingly honest self-reflection. “

  184. I really don’t think it’s the Bishop’s place to require confession to the wife. This is someone else’s marriage he’s dealing with and that is no small thing. He needs to assess the contrition of the brother, but if he can do this without requiring a confession (which I suspect he can do in this case) then the decision of whether or not to tell the wife and all the consequences of *either* decision needs to be on this brother.

    ZDEve apparently won a lot of converts to her position in a comment that started with “If I were the wife in this situation…” I think that is a terrible way to decide what to do in situations like this because none of us is the wife in this situation. Not all relationships are identical to ours. Assuming we can tell what the brother should do by imagining ourselves in the his or his wife’s position is a big mistake, I think.

  185. Lots of commenters are saying that he probably should tell her, but there are some situations where not disclosing the affair would be better for everyone. I think there can be exceptions to rules, but I can’t think of any time when not being honest would be better. Can someone give me some hypothetical situation where this is the case? Although, maybe I just disagree and it’s not worth trying to think of one.

  186. Scott in #165- Amen.

  187. Thomas Parkin says:

    Yeah Obulos … I would say … saying I’m not that man can’t come without a great deal of hard earned self-knowledge. But when the time comes when you can just say ‘I’m no longer that man …’ there isn’t much point in forcing yourself to suffer and suffer. We sin so much and do so much harm … you might think you don’t, or someone doesn’t … but they do. If you can get to where you can honestly say ‘this is something I would no longer do …’ that’s a big win for you, because the rule is that we don’t change … and I for one wouldn’t want such a person to go on forever beating themselves up, no matter how serious the misdeed might have been.

  188. Thomas, so you don’t actually “just say” it. Can you understand my confusion at what you stated?

  189. 179. Martin, by and large, absolution is defined as remission or forgiveness of sins declared by ecclesiastical authority. The requirements for repentance are spelled out in the scripture that Thomas alluded to from D&C 58. And that is what Bishops have to go on: confession & forsaking of the sin.

    As for whether the Lord forgives an adulterer without the spouse being told the truth, I guess we’ll never know unless we go there personally. There is Matt 5:24.

  190. Scott (165),

    I think what might be missing is that even when we think we have covered a sin it leaks out in ways we don’t recognize. To assume this man’s relationship with his wife has been unaffected because he was sorry and stopped doing it would be short-sighted. To cover a sin is a lie and that lie is a wedge whether either partner recognizes the source or not. You have to withhold a part of yourself in order to keep something like this from your spouse, and a secret place in the soul doesn’t leave room for becoming one.

  191. Sunny is dead on.

  192. I once told my husband that if he cheated on me, I wouldn’t want to know. He told me, “Tough luck.” So there’s that.

  193. Sunny is not dead on, because Sunny is reading meaning into what Obulus meant, when Obulus has already stated that what Sunny said Obulus meant isn’t what Obulus actually meant. In short, Obulus makes clear in 173 that he was not referring to a subtle wedge in a relationship that slowly but surely alters the course of eternity. He was (on my reading) fairly clearly talking about the dirt being spilled, which, in my experience, fails to happen a not-insignificant amount of the time.

  194. Thomas Parkin says:

    Obulos,

    Yes.

    Sunny,

    Well said.

    The reason I think it is important not to say that the man should _absolutely_ tell the wife _is_ because there are exceptions. But it goes beyond that. If we think we know what must absolutely be done we are in a position to inject ourselves into a situation that _should be_ seen as beyond ourselves. A relationship that has got to the point where someone has been unfaithful is a messy situation, loaded with mess, which is going to be tough to unravel, for the people involved, who should be involved, let alone for outside observers. Angels fear to tread, and all that. Bishops should certainly fear to tread, and should themselves make sure their motives are as close to pure love as possible. My first comment is the thing on this thread I’d most want to stick by: thank goodness this is none of my business. If we are a person who thinks they can say definitively say what another person should do in such an uncertain and precarious a situation … that is going to do more harm than good, except by accident. We may think the odds are on our side, but we probably are underestimating chaos if we do.

  195. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” Simply put, the antonement is about so much more than merely reconciliation with God for our sins, or failure to keep the commandments, it is also reconciliation for all our relationships. The atonement makes reconciliation for our trespasses and offenses against fellow other persons. To withhold the truth from his wife, this man withholds the full healing and freeing effects the atonement offers both of them: healing of forgiveness for her and freedom of fear for him.

  196. It’s interesting, in a huh-maybe-Carol-Gilligan-didn’t-quite-have-it-all-figured-out sort of way that it’s women who are arguing for an absolute rule in this case. My sense is that, if ever a relational ethic were useful, it would be in precisely such a situation. I think that only the man could possibly know whether he was acting out of love for his wife or fear for himself in not telling her. And he could only know that about himself by also deeply knowing her, and whether she is more like B. Russ (and me, incidentally) in preferring not to know, or like other women who would want to know.

    Similarly, the bishop could only give good counsel in the context of a relationship with this man–thank heaven! that the Handbook doesn’t spell out instructions for such cases.

  197. It is very wrong to keep this secret. Maybe especially if she would divorce him over it. She has a right to decide what she is personally willing to forgive and what she does not want to forgive.

  198. What if, hypothetically, at the beginning of the marriage, or anytime in the marriage, she told him if there ever was anything,–she didn’t want to know? Then what?

  199. Sunny is not dead on, because Sunny is reading meaning into what Obulus meant, when Obulus has already stated that what Sunny said Obulus meant isn’t what Obulus actually meant.

    Oh, yeah. Now I remember why blogging is such a timesuck.

    For the record, my assessment of Sunny’s dead-onness is limited to her description of the way secrets are present in relationships, whether they’re spoken or not. As to the accuracy of Scott’s above, well, I couldn’t begin to say. So I won’t.

  200. “Oh, yeah. Now I remember why blogging is such a timesuck.”

    Oh Eve, but you’re winning friends and influencing people.

  201. 199,
    Well, if you limit it to Sunny’s reading, then I fully agree with you: sinning, whether confessed or not, eats at you like cancer and, while we can start again through the Atonement, we have to start where we are, not where we were.

  202. mmiles, that’s what’s scaring the pants off me! (Perhaps not the metaphor for this discussion, come to think of it. Ahem.) I don’t want to influence people because I’m so painfully aware that I mostly don’t know what I’m talking about.

    But I like to make friends. ;)

    Scott, I think the problem with the scenario in my view is that where we are is where we were precisely because the Atonement has not been applied. Only through the Atonement can the two be uncoupled, can the present be liberated from the past.

  203. ZD Eve,
    That might be true in some kind of wonderful spiritual sense as pertaining to eternity, but I think that’s completely wrong as pertaining to earthly effects, which is what we’re talking about here.

    Facts are facts: If a child molester repents, the Atonement can make him spiritually whole. However, his repentance will not reset his life to the moment before he committed his crime and destroyed relationships. Those are out of his hands.

  204. Scott, indeed. Didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. I’m starting to think we’re talking about two completely different things.

    Kristine, now I know why I’ve never been a Carol Gilligan fan.

  205. It’s possible. Although, I have been known to talk out both sides of my mouth at the same time, so one can never be sure.

  206. Oh, there are lots of reasons not to be a fan :) I’m not either, especially. There are other thinkers one could invoke here, too–Feuerbach (via Buber?) or Levinas, maybe?–who’d argue that an absolute right action can’t be adjudicated outside of the relational context…

  207. Good point that there are better sources for a relational ethic. In certain ways perhaps I love the idea–the principle, if you will!–of such an ethic more than its application.

    Maybe at the end of the day it’s a matter of temperament. I read with astonishment Joyce Carol Oates’s description of her marriage in her account of her husband’s death in the latest New Yorker. What astonished me specifically was that she said she and her husband never shared anything unpleasant with each other unless it was absolutely necessary. I’m an incessant ruminator /blabbermouth/whiner, and if something is on my mind it’s generally out my mouth. And while I’m not particularly good at reading people in general I can tell the instant my husband walks in the door at the end of the day whether something’s bothering him. If something big were up I think–I hope!–I’d know–not necessarily what was wrong, just that something was wrong. So I guess I find it hard to imagine being in a marriage where an affair has occurred but wasn’t discussed for seven years. I suspect–and I acknowledge that I could be really, terribly wrong about this–that I’d find the not discussing it much harder to bear than the affair itself, especially if in the intervening seven years my husband had been faithful and we had a good relationship at the end of it. For me it would be an immense relief to speak it and get it out on the table. (And if it was a one-time thing seven years ago and things were good in the present I’m relatively sure I wouldn’t leave.)

    But that’s just me. (And perhaps to my husband’s immense gratitude I will eventually learn some of the Oates virtues of not sharing quite so many unpleasntries. ;)) As Jakob J. said above, I think, there’s no conclusion to be drawn from what I’d prefer.

  208. “Kristine, now I know why I’ve never been a Carol Gilligan fan.”

    I will just say that such discussions make me smile.

  209. Eric Russell says:

    In basic training we were put through countless tactical scenarios where the outcomes were always lose-lose. The instructor would shoot down any course of action we proposed. At the end of the class, if someone managed to ask him how he would respond to the dilemma he would pause and – somehow managing a straight face – say, “well, it’s situational dependent.” We eventually figured out that that was really the only correct answer to any given scenario.

  210. Cynthia L. says:

    #209: Heh! Personally, I think the best answer so far has been Michael #109: Punt to the stake president. :-)

  211. 209 – “In basic training we were put through countless tactical scenarios where the outcomes were always lose-lose.”

    I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

  212. I do think this thread makes clear why adultery makes its way into God’s Top Ten Commandments list.

  213. I’ve noticed that most of those who do think he should tell are not exactky advocating for the Bishop to take a part..punting is a good option for him…

  214. Previous comment notwithstanding, I must say how much I’ve enjoyed this Puritan jubilee of hopping-mad spouses and leering avatars. Readers might want to consult Lawrence Foster’s 1984 Religion and Sexuality or Todd Compton’s 1997 In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith for a little perspective. Once upon a time we Mormons approached sexuality with a bit more equanimity and grace, not to mention panache. What happened?!

  215. I must say how much I’ve enjoyed this Puritan jubilee of hopping-mad spouses and leering avatars.

    I live to serve.

    Once upon a time we Mormons approached sexuality with a bit more equanimity and grace, not to mention panache.

    I too used to long for the days when we approached protracted deceit in our most intimate relationships with “panache”–whatever that might be–but then, there’s always Ecclesiastes 7:10 to give one pause concerning such desires.

  216. So, to sum up:

    (1) Don’t commit adultery.
    (2) Don’t be the bishop.
    (3) Whatever you do, don’t be the stake president.

  217. Invoking polygamy to justify adultery? Puke.

  218. very anonomous says:

    Don’t tell. Don’t tell. Don’t tell. Don’t tell. Don’t tell. Something along these same likes happened to me (as the receiver of the bad information) and I could not deal. I had no idea how badly such information would be impossible for me to live with, but it was. Don’t tell. Don’t.

  219. “So I guess I find it hard to imagine being in a marriage where an affair has occurred but wasn’t discussed for seven years.”

    Folks lucky enough to find themselves in a marriage that makes this scenario so difficult to envision should give thanks, and cut the rest of us some slack.

  220. it's a series of tubes says:

    So, to sum up:
    (1) Don’t commit adultery.
    (2) Don’t be the bishop.
    (3) Whatever you do, don’t be the stake president.

    Concise, and brilliant. I wouldn’t wish being bishop or stake president on my worst enemy.

  221. very anonomous says:

    At this point it is simply cruel for the husband to confess to his wife. He is trading her happiness for his own personal absolution. Cruelty piled on cruelty.

  222. To all the people who say don’t tell because it’s been 7 long years: what if it had happened yesterday? What if it had happened one week, month, year ago? I don’t have to tell my wife, and I’m not going to do it again, are probably two of the most common things someone involved in pornography/adultery tell themselves. Why don’t people confess, because it’s so much easier years down the road. The bishop isn’t even looking at disciplinary action.

  223. Eric Russell should be thanked for providing us with that “it’s a situational dependent” phrase. That’s actually useful. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to use it.

  224. “So I guess I find it hard to imagine being in a marriage where an affair has occurred but wasn’t discussed for seven years.”

    Folks lucky enough to find themselves in a marriage that makes this scenario so difficult to envision should give thanks, and cut the rest of us some slack.

    Fair enough. Slack cut.

    But, to clarify: I wasn’t _at all_ trying to say, wow, look what an amazing wonderful marriage I have that I can’t even imagine this kind of deception. (For the record, my marriage is pretty good, and I am immensely grateful for it, but like all marriage it’s imperfect and like all couples we’ve had our issues and our difficult periods.)

    What I was trying to say was I just can’t imagine the secret not coming out somehow, not immediately manifesting itself in multiple ways. For me things just have a way of coming out sooner or later, which is why I’m in favor of getting it over with sooner. But as I said above, that’s me. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this thread, it’s that I may be even weirder than I thought I was.

    That is all.

  225. re: 214
    I agree, pdmallamo. This post has been very entertaining. Contemporary Mormon views of sexuality and what constitutes a valid family are profoundly ironic, given the history. Do only outsiders see it that way?

    Back on topic: The more I ponder the original question, the more I think there is no black-or-white answer. It’s highly personal.

  226. I agree with the “situational dependent” crowd but mostly in a theoretical way. That is, I believe there exists the possibility that this man through prayer and reflection could come to the honest conclusion that the way he could best serve his wife and their family was by suffering silently. Which then brings up about one billion ancillary concerns: 1) (no I am not really going to catalog one billion concerns- my desire to escape work isn’t that overriding) He wasn’t silent- he received the balm of discussing it with a counselor/Bishop- you can say that they didn’t/couldn’t offer him absolution but he still received the comfort of unburdening himself 2) I can’t escape how strange and antithetical it is that as I think of this situation, my mind keeps returning to the rather Puritanical idea that the correct answer must coincide with whatever makes HIM suffer the most. I think this is tied into my idea of mutual self-sacrifice in a marriage being the highest good but I can’t shake the idea that his suffering both offers some sort of atonement and is it’s own decoder ring for the right choice. Weird. 3) I believe that his silence could be the correct option much in the way that I believe that there are women who participate in mainstream p*rnography because they enjoy the work, rather than a long history of exploitation and trauma reaching back into their childhood. That is, I think it *could* be true for about .02 of the population. 4) What kind of marriage do they want to have? I have a great friend who has a “good enough” marriage and it really is good enough. It makes her more happy than not and she would choose it again. I used to think that was crazy talk and if we weren’t all using Wesley and Buttercup as our marriage ideal then what was the point? Maybe this couple just want to raise their kids, be kind to each other and get by. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I don’t want that for myself; I want, deep, radical love. I want it to hurt a lot sometimes if it gets us to a better, truer place. And so far, it does hurt and it does make us better. If they want that- of course he needs to tell her. 5) I’ve read too much Alice Miller to be able to believe that there exists an unspoken lie that isn’t perceived and acted out. I am still holding out the possibility that the consequences of telling would be worse but I honestly have a hard time buying that. 6) It just is all complicated by taking place within the framework of a patriarchal system. I’ll just echo what the women before me have said, the aspect of men colluding with the absence of any women is deeply disturbing. Again, this supercedes any good or egalitarian impulses on the part of the men themselves- it is the system itself that is rank and no amount of pure intentions can rescue that.
    And I love the idea of having ZDEve as my life coach- I have already implemented her two part self improvement course (scarfing cookies and swearing) to great effect. :)

  227. Yes, there is clearly no black-or-white answer, which is why it makes an interesting “you make the call” post. However, ironically, this is what makes it obvious that the bishop should not be the one making the call.

    I am surprised at how many commenters are focused exclusively on the question of what the husband should do, and not on the question (posed by the post) of what you would say if you were the bishop. Both questions are interesting, to be sure, but I get the sense from some comments that the distinction is escaping some people.

  228. cwc: Damn! Hell! Scarfscarfscarfscarfscarf. ;)

    Jakob, for me it’s far more possible and there more interesting to think about what the husband and wife should/could/would do than it is to think about the bishop. I’m not a bishop. I will never be a bishop. And I don’t want to be a bishop, nor anything like unto it. My husband’s a psychologist, and I don’t want to be a psychologist, nor anything like unto it.

    The distinction doesn’t escape me. I’m just more interested in the situation that is, for me, mentally inhabitable. That’s all.

  229. 228 Plus, she’s a gal. You wouldn’t want her getting crazy, uppity ideas in her head like, “what if I could exercise ecclesiastical authority?”
    This way leads damnation!
    :)

  230. onceabishop says:

    If I were the bishop in this case, I would punt to the stake president, who likely would talk to me about the case, and then say “do what you feel is best”. That would put the ball back in my hands, and I’d have to think about the family, what I know of each partner in the marriage, pray for guidance and hope that I got it. Then I’d either tell the guy either to tell his wife, or not tell his wife, after weighing all the situational dependent issues.

    Which is no answer at all. That’s why it is easier to talk about what the husband should do.

  231. I’m not a bishop. I will never be a bishop. And I don’t want to be a bishop, nor anything like unto it.

    Interestingly, I’m not an adulterer, don’t want to be an adulterer, nor anything like unto it. Similarly I’m not married to an adultress, don’t want to be married to an adultress, nor anything like unto it.

    So for me, all parties involved in this discussion are completely hypothetical, and I think the more important discussion IS what the bishop should counsel, since this discussion IMO is more likely to affect current or future bishops in their stewardship than it is to affect any adulterers into deciding what they should do.

  232. buuuuuuuuuut I could be wrong. Any anonymous adulterers/adultresses swayed during the course of this discussion? Speak up!

  233. That too. Risking my eternal salvation to participate in an unwittingly genderbending online thought experiment?

    I think not!

  234. I think the more important discussion IS what the bishop should counsel, since this discussion IMO is more likely to affect current or future bishops in their stewardship than it is to affect any adulterers into deciding what they should do.

    Given that you’ve just confessed you’re a not-adulterer married to a not-adultress, you know this how?

  235. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    As Flynn said to his son in Tron, which applies to the Bishop here, “doing nothing is doing something.” The Bishop should just listen, facilitate thought and conversation, and let the dude arrive at his own conclusions and decisions. The Bishop and Church are under no duty to recommend that this husband tell or not tell his wife. Disclosure is a relational trust issue, not a sin issue. The sin issue occurred years ago.

  236. In fact, precisely the opposite case can easily be made. There are far more potential adulterers/adulteresses reading this thread (all of us) than potential bishops (already down to half of us. Less, actually, but we’ll set that aside.)

    Q.E.D.

  237. 235 – potential is one measure (less than half) likelyhood for effect is another. So no, its not QED.

    233 – Completely opinion. I just think that of the two parties, the bishop is more likely to be influenced in their approach by an open discussion. Refer to 231 if you think I was making a statement of fact.

  238. B. Russ, what are we even arguing about again, and why?

    Look, if you want to have the bishop discussion, be my guest. I myself just don’t. But that’s perfectly OK with me. Most discussions, online and off, are ones I don’t want to have.

    What I just can’t follow is this claim that the bishop discussion is more important to have because potential bishops are more likely to be influenced by three people duking it out at comment 240 in a tiny corner of the Bloggernaccle than potential adulterers are. I can’t see how this isn’t completely unknowable.

    Clearly, though, this isn’t much of an issue. So good luck to you, merry Christmas, and all that.

    And I’ve already neglected my kids way too much to participate in this thread. So peace out. ;)

  239. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    Re 237 – We need to get to a comment 240 now.

  240. 237 – I believe we were arguing about the meaning and application of QED, but I might be mistaken about this too.

  241. StillConfused says:

    I reviewed this posting with my husband last night. I love reviewing BCC with him because he is a traditional Mormon and I am on the other side of the spectrum. We both feel strongly that we would not want to know. He also said (as a former bishopric guy) that the seven years has shown that he has forsaken the sin and he didn’t see any need for any discipline or disclosure.

  242. Thanks everyone for your input, we’re closing the thread now.

    On occasion I am asked whether I have admin powers at BCC, such that I can close threads at my whim. In fact, I do not exercise any admin powers here. I am not a BCC blogger. I close threads solely through the power of moral suasion.

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