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“Ask a Priest: What If I Am in Love With a Married Man?”
Q: I am 20 years old and Catholic. I’m writing because I’m stuck and don’t know what to do. I fell in love with a married man in his 30s. He has been married for three years, but the wedding was not done in the Catholic Church, so his priest calls the marriage invalid. The woman he is married to is quite abusive. She throws guns at him when she doesn’t get her own way. He said she has been different since he married her, and the fact that she threw a loaded gun at him that almost went off gave him PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. He stays married to her because of God. I have been good friends with him for a few months while in college together. I respected him so much that I never wanted to do anything to make him mess things up with his wife. Only last Monday we kissed, but then I stopped him. He said that he “chose” me. He makes me feel different — better than I ever felt before. He inspires me to be my best. He drives me out of my comfort zone and makes me feel like I can do anything. I never loved someone as much as I do him. He is meeting with his priest soon for advice on whether he should avoid me or get a divorce. I know I’m just going to get hurt in the end. I feel God would want him to stay with his wife — that is why I pushed him away. What should I do? Will I go to hell for stealing his heart unintentionally? Will he ever feel safe again if he stays with her? Thank you. -L.G.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good that you are thinking about what God wants in this particular situation. He certainly wants the best for you.
Yours is a complicated situation, so let’s try to go through it step by step.
First, your friend has to resolve his marital status. You are not helping him with that right now. You mention “his priest,” and this suggests that he has some kind of ongoing contact with a priest, which is a good sign. Your friend needs to work with the priest to see whether the legal marriage can or should be blessed by the Church. That the wife is throwing loaded guns at him and “has been different since he married her” indicates that they need serious counseling. The tossing around of loaded guns is life-threatening and shows that there are serious problems here. A permanent separation, not excluding a civil divorce, wouldn’t be out of the question.
In the meantime, you should keep your distance from him. Trying to continue in any kind of dating or courtship capacity while he addresses his situation is imprudent and will only stir up more problems. As painful as it will be for you to pull back, that really is necessary at this point.
Even if he is only legally married, outside the Church, you should have respected that relationship and not gotten too close to him in the first place. If you really love him, you will want him to be reconciled with God and the Church, especially by getting his marital status resolved. To be around him will only tempt him and distract him from what he needs to do. Putting distance between you and he will not be easy. But if he truly loves you, he will want to help you live your faith well and he will understand the need for the two of you to pull back.
You yourself should find a priest or spiritual director who can help you. (If need be, check the website of your local diocese for possible contacts, or read through the posts about finding a spiritual director at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. Even just having an older woman as a mentor could be helpful — someone who is objective and prudent and faithful to the teachings of the Church, who can be a much-needed support for you at this time. Such a person could also help guide you in the event that your friend gets a civil divorce and is eligible to marry in the Church.
In any case, cultivate your prayer life. Try to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation frequently. And do things that will put you in contact with a network of good Catholic friends. A campus ministry or a local pro-life group might offer a chance to enter such a network. Having the right people around can help a lot as you make decisions that could affect the rest of your life. God bless you … I will pray for you at Mass, because I know that doing the right thing in this situation will be difficult.