Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Making of an "Affair" part 1

This is a topic I'd rather not be writing about but it's too important and relevant to skip. I deal with couples every week who have been torn apart by inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex. I see the pain and long agonizing months and even years it will take to bring healing and reconciliation.

I also sadly observe the couples who don't make it because the pain is too great and/or one or both won't accept the hard work it will take to be restored. Add to that children who can be impacted by it all and it makes you wonder why anyone would risk facing all this.

However, what I want to make sure we all understand, including me, is how vulnerable any marriage can be to an affair. That's because the majority of affairs do not just happen. There were several stages that the offender went through most likely thinking that there would never be a problem. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

So let me in this first post on this important topic suggest some of the dangerous phases of our relationships and their warning signals that can help us avoid the tragedy of an affair.

We must first be aware of and address the times when our marital relationship is vulnerable. Our relationship is particularly at risk when . . . there is significant stress (which is most of the time), when we're not communicating well, when we've gone through a difficult emotional experience such as death, job loss or other personal challenge.

We can be vulnerable when we're too busy to spend significant, intimate time with each other and our relationship is just on auto-pilot or in orbit. We are in danger when our children's attention and activities are allowed to rob us of meaningfully connecting with our spouse.

The problem is that when we're hurting and not relating with our spouse, we can easily be attracted to someone else who does connect with us. They may be the associate at work, the volunteer or staff person at church or even a neighbor who simply shows us a little attention. But when we talk to them they listen, they're interested in us, they follow-up concerning our struggle or even pray for us!

In those times of need some meaningful interest from another person, interest that we're not getting from our spouse for whatever reason, is like a cup of cold water in the desert. It tastes wonderful and without thinking much about it we long for more. So we find ourselves wanting talk to them a little more, spend a bit more time with them, send them one more email/text or even consider having coffee or lunch. That leads to the second stage which I'll call engagement.

We start to connect with this other person beyond our normal relating. We can begin to take risks and not care because the thrill of having another person care about us seems so worth it.

Of course, we disguise it by saying it's nothing or it's just for business. We call them just a good friend and a person whose wisdom and advice we find helpful. But without knowing it we could be on our way to an affair. Why?

Well, intimacy is more than physical, contrary to much of Hollywood's perspective. Intimacy involves body, soul and spirit. When we start to expose our soul and spirit to someone of the opposite sex, we're starting to become intimate with them. Is that necessarily all wrong? Of course not. But it's dangerous because the physical was designed by God to work in tandem with soul and spirit in men and women.

This is why affairs are so prominent among religious leaders, counselors, doctors and therapists - there is much soul and spirit connecting that goes on between those leaders and those they work with every day. Now obviously an affair does not need to be the result but we must be intentional about doing our part to keep things from escalating beyond appropriateness.

Because if we're not careful we'll at some point move to the next stage - betrayal. Yes, in some sense the betrayal has likely already started but at this point a significant line is crossed. That line is usually a sexual relationship that has started but it doesn't have to be physical. It may be emotional but the connection is at a new level. The spouse begins talking and relating to that other person about things that are deep within. They share words meant only for their spouse but they don't care anymore.

They may even take their "spirituality" to a new place, praying for each other, sharing Bible verses and being involved more deeply in serving together. It may sound and look acceptable but it's not.

If you find yourself at this place or headed in this direction, I want to plead with you right now to stop. Get some help. Talk to someone. Quit the relationship today. The consequences are too great. God said that we're to give ourselves only to our spouse and he said that for our good.

I'll talk next time about some practical things you can do to keep yourself from ever getting to this place. In the meantime, as Proverbs 4 says, guard your heart.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

1 comment:

  1. Gary, I wish my best friend had read this before her inappropriate relationship with an old high school friend. It is so cliche, but she started talking to him on Facebook and one thing led to another and she is in the middle of divorce proceedings. Her and her husband had been married 15 years and have two children. Needless to say, it has been devastating for everyone.