Mrs Satchel: What faithfulness looks like

Two years ago I fell head-over-heels in love with two older men known to me, surreptitiously, as GK and CS. I would spend hours cuddled up on the couch with them on alternating nights as my husband slept upstairs in bed.

Seemingly benign, this clandestine nighttime habit of mine, accompanied by other horrible habits, such as eating trail mix (which often falls by the back of the couch and goes squish), ate away at my married life.

Truthfully, GK and CS (aka Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Clive Staples Lewis) had stolen my heart, my mind and my time. You might call this marital unfaithfulness.

Ironically, it was in the search for a sense of myself, and in making sense of the world, that I was led to the books and their affable authors, but away from my husband, who is not the bookish type.

Even before we tied the knot, we had begun to go our separate ways, sensing, perhaps, that the person we had married was not the person we desired to be with for a lifetime.

How many people wake up on day three of their honeymoon and say, ‘What have we done?’, I wonder? What ensued, for the first six long years of our marriage, was a turbulent time imbued with worries and fears; nary a happy moment can we recall. Isn’t that pitiful?

For my part, I had started to stray down the long, winding, precarious road of an eating disorder in a desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of control while my whole world seemingly tipped itself upside down in a new home in a new town.

My new husband was unwittingly dragged along, doing the best he could to survive in a war zone. I went a very long way away from reality before I finally woke up one day and saw him again, thankful that he was still there and no longer the enemy.

When one partner figuratively departs the marriage to embark on an existential journey, to find purpose and meaning, or veers off track into a world of their own, a vast chasm in the marriage can appear like an iceberg in the mist.

While your inner dialogue resembles a Woody Allen movie (think Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris), reality gets further away. Your partner remains on Planet Earth RSVPing to social occasions, paying bills and generally tries not to have a nervous breakdown.

Doing an Elizabeth Gilbert within the marriage context is not uncommon, I think, in a world that calls on us to be fully realised individuals and all things to all people (including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram followers).

But to remain faithful to a spouse while they embark on a journey of self-actualisation is no easy thing. You may find your partner in the departure lounge. Alternative sources of companionship might be sought out. It can leave them very vulnerable to letting someone else in to pick up the slack.

If you are a sensitive soul, perhaps given over to melancholy moods, who has to regularly retreat from the world and into books and such things because life can be a bit much, really; or who has a lot of healing to do because something went awry in your early life, fidelity can be especially difficult for a spouse, I think, because you are not always present or pleasant.

This is where faithfulness steps in. Faithfulness is the lighthouse when love is lost and hope has given way as two disparate souls living in the same house go their separate ways, like ships passing in the night.

It is possible, and quite normal, to feel very lonely in a marriage at times. But a faithful spouse will bring you back to reality, ever-so-gently, and remind you that you’re in this together; that this life you’re creating, and everything you’re negotiating, mentally and emotionally, is to be shared.

As GK once said, “Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.” Alas, some get more war than they bargain for. But war is easier to weather with a faithful friend by your side. And, thankfully, beauty can come out of the struggle: good things, like our darling baby girl Isabel.

We are so very grateful to still be sharing a marital bed (often with Isabel sleeping between us, kicking us in the head!).

So while now I’m inclined to share passages from treasured CS books with my husband, sometimes leading to delicious discussion (other times the sound of crickets), I’m also more likely to put down my book, put on my boots, pack the trail mix and set out on an adventure. Together.

This is an extended version of an article that appeared in WHITE magazine, spring 2014.