“Ask a Priest: How Could My Love for a Married Man Be Wrong?”

Q: My ex-husband and I were married in the Church for 24 years and have been divorced for two years. I have a court-awarded permanent restraining order against him and cannot contact him regarding the annulment process. I am not even sure if I qualify for an annulment. We had a good marriage for many years — three children, we were both Eucharistic ministers. I am struggling now because I feel lost in regards to receiving the sacraments. I am in love. And I’ve never been in a situation where love was considered “wrong.” The man I love is my best friend, and he is married. He is not Catholic. I cannot stop myself from loving him. It is not lust, it is not merely sexual (though we have had relations), he has been my friend for over a decade, and we have grown very close. Shortly after divorcing, I went through an immoral phase — drinking, partying, sleeping around. I regret that phase and am deeply sorry for those sins, but I have not been to confession for those things — because I can’t go to confession and leave things out, yet I can’t confess being in love with a married man because I don’t feel sorry for it. And I have no intention of terminating my relationship with him. I have a hard time believing God would turn his back on me for loving someone I’m not supposed to love. I yearn for holy Communion. I ache to confess my past sins. But I don’t feel that my love is wrong, and therefore can’t confess and ask forgiveness. I know the easy answer is to simply terminate my relationship. I can’t. Even before we were intimate, we loved each other. It is not a relationship I can just drop and walk away from. I consider myself a good Catholic. I have never strayed from the Church. Never questioned my faith. But I struggle with my emotions. I love God. Deeply. And I love this man. Deeply. I cannot lose one for the other. Any advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thank you very much for this question. It is clear that you are suffering greatly in your current situation. I promise to pray for you, in addition to sharing some thoughts here, which I hope will be helpful for your reflection.

There seems to be a basic misunderstanding at the root of your difficulty. It is never a sin to love someone. Loving someone means actively willing what is best for that person. You can certainly love, in this authentic way, anyone, including someone else’s husband.

But there are different ways of expressing our love for people: appropriate ways, and inappropriate ways; helpful ways, and harmful ways.

Clearly, committing adultery with someone is neither an appropriate nor a helpful way to express love for that person.

Authentic love expresses itself in ways that respect each person’s state in life. Without that respect, we end up damaging ourselves, others, and the Church.

If you truly love this man, you will seek God’s help and grace to continue loving him, and that will include ending once and for all the adulterous affair. You don’t have to ask God’s forgiveness for loving this man, only for committing adultery with him, and for all the lies and deceptions that always accompany adulterous relationships. Let me explain a little bit more.

We have inherited original sin from our first parents. And the effects of original sin are these: It darkens the intellect, weakens the will, and disorders the passions.

The devil tries to play on the damage done by original sin, which is why we can often be mistaken about things.

Jesus knew this, which is why he didn’t pull punches on certain topics. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).

You might feel in your heart as though this adulterous relation is good. But feeling so doesn’t make it right.

Our feelings can often mislead us. Think of your own wedding day and the love you felt for your husband and he for you. Those feelings have evaporated. (Feelings aren’t the same as love, but that is another topic.)

The point here is that feelings are not the firmest ground to stand on. We need something more durable. This is where faith comes in. And this is why we have the Church to guide us.

Now, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t guide the Church for 2,000 years to teach one thing about marriage, and then whisper something different in your heart. That just isn’t the way God works.

For the sake of your soul, and your friend’s, and for the sake of his marriage, you need to step back and rethink things. Is it God who has turned his back on you? Hardly. He only wants the best for you and for all of us. Which is why he commands that we respect marriage and practice chastity in our respective walks of life. And doesn’t your friend’s wife have a right to his fidelity?

It would help to speak to a priest directly. There might be a chance for annulment, too, though you would need to research that a bit.

It might also help to do a retreat. Our affiliated movement Regnum Christi offers retreats around the country, http://www.regnumchristi.org/en/retreats/.

At least you are honest enough to recognize that you are not ready for confession yet. The Holy Spirit can work with honest souls.

I hope you let the Spirit speak to you clearly.

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