By Stephen Goode
Many times, affairs aren’t premeditated. They begin when we begin to place our trust in a person of the opposite sex who is not our spouse. As we begin to drop our protective marital guard, bonds can form that become hard to walk away from. With all the focus on affairs, and in-appropriate marriage relationships, let’s look at what you can do in your own marriages to protect your covenant.
From Stephen’s book Marriage Triage.
What is extra-marital attraction from a Christian’s perspective, and what should be the Biblical response? In this article we will address these hard-hitting questions.
“When you are intoxicated by devotion to Christ, it subdues the desire for additional inebriants.”
Jennifer had known Sam for only about six months, and they worked closely together on a few work projects in their business unit. Sam loved playing what he considered to be harmless practical jokes on Jennifer because it made her laugh and light up. She had a beautiful smile and a magnetic personality that just made people feel at ease and comfortable around her. Why shouldn’t Jennifer seem this way? After all, she was a woman who loved the Lord heart and soul, and she was very active in her local church ministries. She wanted to be a good example to others around her, and part of this was being warm and inviting. She never saw any harm in letting a man in her office play jokes on her and carry on playfully each day. She never once looked at this behavior as a potential “boundary tester” and enjoyed the personal attention Sam would sometimes give her. Jennifer began to be more open with Sam about many areas of her life, and even caught herself sometimes staying after work to chat with him about work related issues, and sometimes even more personal things. It became easy to communicate through all the modern day means at their disposal, from text-messages to short emails.
She became so comfortable with their conversations that she didn’t even begin to notice that she had been dropping her own protective boundaries that were in place to guard her heart from temptation. She rationalized away the thought that anything was inappropriate about her behavior with Sam, but she began to notice that she was looking more and more forward to going to work each day. Jennifer even began to dress a little differently and spend more time in the morning getting ready for work. She even caught herself wearing dresses to work which was totally out of character for her fun-loving personality. Still she did not see anything necessarily wrong with her behavior toward Sam because they had never actually touched or even hugged, but emotionally she was beginning to feel something more than a casual friend should experience.
All of this playfulness and time spent in comfortable conversation would be fine except for the fact that Jennifer is a married woman. Has she already carried this emotional infatuation too far? Should a married woman never expect to feel an attraction or connection with another man as long as she lives or is it a matter of our behavior we need to control?
In the scenario I have created, the husband has been very distant to Jennifer for years, and he has not been a consistent spiritual leader in his home. Jennifer has felt lonely and neglected and strongly desires to share an emotional connection with her husband, but the husband has been off his post as the guardian of Jennifer’s heart for quite some time. The result is that Jennifer is now left both vulnerable and empty in her marriage, which has opened the door to outside influences. Although Jennifer is still responsible for her decisions with Sam, the husband should have never placed Jennifer in this position of temptation. If the husband fails to seek a spiritual and emotional connection with Jennifer, she could be subjected to the temptation of a man eager to give her the attention she desires. If Jennifer chooses temporary happiness instead of obedience to Christ, she is about to make some regretful memories she will never be able to erase.
The scenario I described is not based on any one particular couple, but it represents a mosaic of many couples I have spoken with over the past 20 years. Even when I was in police work there were so many domestic incidents where husbands simply failed to fulfill their Biblical roles and in turn the wife made some wrong and sinful choices. In other words, sin brought forth more sin. I know that some of you may not even see an issue with the friendship in this scenario because after all, nothing necessarily happened between Sam and Jennifer, but sin doesn’t start with the act, but in the heart. (1 John 2:16) Can a married woman feel an attraction to someone other than their husband and is it a sin?
You may think I have lost my mind to address this taboo question, but the answer is quite simple. Throughout your entire marriage you will sometimes feel connections, attractions, and likes for people other than your spouse for various reasons. Maybe it’s someone you share work duties in common with or maybe it’s someone who likes a particular hobby that you also enjoy. It could be that the two of you worked on a particular project and have had to talk a lot about some work goals you have in common. It could also simply be the person has qualities that appeal to you.
Even if you have an awesome and sacred relationship with your spouse you can still sometimes see something you like in the opposite sex. This doesn’t mean you must run from the presence of every person you will ever see, but the Bible has some clear direction on the way you should behave yourself. Remember that sin doesn’t indulge itself at the mere temptation, but it does begin in the heart. Remarkably it’s the same path that God uses to become intimate with us. The Bible says that man looks on the outside, but God looks in our hearts. (1 Sam 16:7)
Even though you may sometimes have an attraction to another person, that attraction is never to be pursued out of obedience to God, and submission to your spouse, whether they are doing their part or not. (Eph 5:22-23) Even if you are married to a spouse who is not carrying their load, you are not given a pass to seek out someone you are more attracted to. You are to be patient and pray daily for them and ask God to change their heart. You must strengthen your own heart through prayer and Bible study. (James 5:8)
In the scenario with Jennifer we can follow the pattern of what led her down the road of compromise. It started out with a sense of attraction or comfort, and it should have stopped there, but the positive and euphoric experience was alluring. She began to feel so comfortable with Sam that she encouraged the practical joking and playfulness in their relationship. She then began to spend more time with Sam and shared with him about her personal life and maybe even her frustration with her husband. At this point she has shown total disrespect for her marriage and opened the door for Sam to get emotionally closer to her. If Jennifer does not end this behavior immediately, there is a high likelihood that Sam could replace the emotional connection reserved only for Jennifer’s husband. The pattern is quite simple to follow and is found in the book of James.
“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. (Desire) Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
The scenario was subtle in its approach much like the illustration of the slowly boiled frog. Any frog will jump right out of a boiling pot, but if you turn the heat up slow it will never know what happened until it’s too late. Since Jennifer dropped her guard early in the relationship when the joking and playing was occurring she was unaware of the danger of what appeared to be harmless activity. I referred to this type of activity as boundary testing earlier because there are times when men either knowingly or unknowingly use this type of behavior as a way to break the ice. In many cases it may be harmless, but a married woman needs to be cautious with other men in her life. She does this out of a desire to be obedient to God and it is a way to show her husband respect even when he is not around. It also prevents a boundary or foothold that may diminish her desire to work on her marriage.
I want to get personal with wives for a moment so stay with me just a paragraph or two more. Have you crossed any emotional lines with men other than your husband? Is there another man in your life right now who you constantly feel the need to defend in front of your husband or make casual contact with, either through phone, text or email? Have you reached a point in your marriage where you just don’t care anymore and just want someone who will fill the void in your life? Wherever you are today I have good news for you! I have just the man you need in your life that can fill the void and make you feel fulfilled! His name is Jesus Christ and He desires a close and intimate relationship with you every single moment of your life. If you take the time to fall in love with Jesus Christ then I can assure you he will give you the strength to resist those moments of temptation that may be attacking you even now. He will give you the strength to resist when the temptation is the greatest.(James 4:7-8) I will be praying for all wives who have a husband who is not encouraging them or providing emotional strength so they will not fall into temptation.
Practical Ways for Wives to Guard their Heart
1. Sever any ties if you are in an emotional relationship with a man outside of your marriage immediately!This includes but is not limited to emails, phone or text contact.(Eph 4:22)
2. Radically study the scriptures or you will compromise! (Theology of Biblical Counseling, Adams)
3. If you work around a man that you find appealing then never be alone with them, and never share personal life matters with them. If they are really a temptation then find a Christian accountability partner to help you remain pure in your marriage that will pray with and for you. If a transfer in your job is a possibility, pursue it! Your marriage and obedience is worth it!
4. Never tell a man you are attracted to him under any circumstances. Be guarded and respectful. If they know there is a chance they will be more persistent.
5. Never go to lunch alone with another man.
6. Always pray that God would increase your desire for your husband in your marriage.
7. If you have a husband that will pray with you then do so daily, even if it is at first awkward.
8. Never confide in another man with the exception of formal counseling, about personal issues.
9. Never have long cell phone conversations with a man who is not your husband.
10. There are many more we could list, but you can begin to see a pattern of steps necessary to guard your heart.
A Personal Note to Wives from Steve
My wife April and I have been married for fifteen years at the time of this article,and we have learned from many experiences both terrible and exceptional. What I can share with you about the issue of extra-marital attraction is that even though we struggled in this area in the early years, our personal relationship to Christ and quiet time has played a key role in our unity. When I am in the Word and praying with April I see her through the filter of God’s eyes and she is utterly breathtaking to me. At this point in our relationship, after fifteen years I still get awe-struck when she walks in the room and it is almost surreal to me that this beautiful Godly woman is my wife, and mother of our children! It wasn’t always like this in fact if you were to talk with April she would tell you that there were times she thought we would never make it past status-quo.
How wonderful it has been to see how God can transform and renew the way we perceive our spouse when we become totally dependent on our relationship with Christ first and foremost! April and I didn’t arrive here overnight and we understand that as we nurture our relationship with Christ it provides a bond of protection in our marriage. Please don’t get the wrong idea that we have experienced our last argument, temptation or disagreement. In fact we can still have struggles, but the frequency, recovery period and desire to reconcile and be transparent is so much more resolute and genuine between us. We offer the issues and struggles of our marriage as a testimony to God’s grace and forgiveness. If you are struggling with extra-marital attractions we encourage you to make it a struggle! Don’t give up! Immerse yourself in God’s Word and prayer daily or more if necessary. Contact a Biblical counselor who can help guide you! You can make it through Christ! (Phil 4:13)