Are You Black & White or Fifty Shades of Gray?

by | May 13, 2015

In the early days of processing my husband’s betrayal I rejected his vehement declarations that went something like this:

 “Even though I did this, you need to believe me, I never, ever stopped loving you.” 

Yeah, right. There was no way I was buying that.

We just don’t say we love someone and do something so utterly and horribly unloving. 

Or do we?

One of several things that saved our marriage was my learning to hold,


BOTH my husbands many obvious virtues AND this one unthinkable vice. 


Like many people, I had often seen my world in black and white. You’re either for us OR against us. You like me OR you don’t. You’re good OR you’re bad. You’re either right OR you’re wrong. It’s either all OR nothing.

I had little capacity for complexity or a healthy, integrated, middle ground. 


 He was either a loving, godly husband OR an awful, lying cheat.

….an honorable pastor OR a sinful man

…a man of God OR a tool of the enemy.


In my hurt and disorientation I could not see the TRUTH of PARADOX:

two opposing statements that are BOTH TRUE at the same time. 


Like this familiar statement that most Christians would agree with:

~Jesus was both God and man.

As Mary once said, “But how can this be?”

The same way you can be both a father and a son or a mother and a daughter or a teacher and and an artist or …a Christian and a sinner.

Two different aspects of the same person co-existing. This is called “BOTH AND” or Non-dualistic or “AMPERSAND ( & ) THINKING.” With ampersand thinking you can learn to accept the horror that your loving husband has ALSO been unfaithful, or that your esteemed pastor has ALSO morally failed. 

It means that SIN NEVER CANCELS OUT the GOODNESS in a person’s soul.

It means you can see both aspects of a situation without judging it all one way or the other.

It means you are learning to see how you, too, have goodness & compromise in certain areas of your life.

In her excellent article, “How Can He Do This and Say He Loves Me,” Debbie Lasser describes her own growth in understanding “how can this be?” after discovering her husband’s failures:

” With greater education about (stress) and trauma…I learned how the brain can literally ‘dissociate’ and close off certain memories or behaviors while others take over. I learned that pain, fear, and anger can distract one temporarily from healthy behaviors to choose behaviors to comfort and survive.

I slowly began to believe that betrayal is complicated—not black-and-white. When my worldview expanded to include other possibilities to my simple and legalistic thinking of the past, I could take in the both/and truths of (my husband) Mark’s behaviors: he did love me AND he was medicating some extraordinary pain with unhealthy behaviors.

…embracing ampersand thinking was what led me to stay with my husband. What I knew was that I was in tremendous pain from his infidelity AND I truly loved him. Speaking up about that pain and getting support allowed me to hold the tension of both truths—and to choose to stay and work toward a new life of faithfulness with Mark.” 

Living in the tension of two opposite truths about a person we love or a situation we care about requires a journey through complexity. Most of us don’t like that. That’s too much work, too much mystery. Too much letting go of our need to be right.

We want simple, absolute certainty.

Like, get on or get off the bus.

 Why should I see fifty shades of gray when life can be so much clearer in black or white? 


Because REAL LIFE is never just black or white.


God Himself is not Father OR Son OR Holy Spirit— but all three in One Person at the same time. A fairly mysterious, simultaneous complexity.

But God is perfect, you say. What about our fallible friends & spouses & family? Do we just OVERLOOK their sin?!

We never overlook pain or unhealthy behavior.

And yet as we do that we also see how our perfect God handles OUR SINS  by receiving, welcoming & holding BOTH our dark & light- the first time, every time for all time.

(Psalm 139:12 …the darkness and the light are both alike to You.)

When this has been gifted to us– where do we get permission to see & hold each other any other way?


My journey to embrace the paradox has not been easy. 

But it has made ALL the difference.

It made forgiveness & compassion & complete restoration of our marriage possible.

So, I’m wondering today what situation or relationship with others or even your own view of yourself has you thinking in black and white? Is that bringing you closer to understanding and resolution or is it being destructive, hurtful, limiting, punishing and exclusive?

Sadly, so many marriages, families, friendships, churches and businesses

are being fatally severed by well-meaning but divisive people entrenched in either/or thinking.  

We all need help to learn how to see a hurtful situation or relationship with more clarity, find a better balance to what feels like opposites, to gain insight, compassion and love. We can’t just read a good book or talk with a friend if we hope to rewire years and years of reinforced patterns of black and white thinking.

That’s why we’re here. Let us help you learn how to see and hold what feels like polar opposites with healing grace and truth.

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