Wednesday was the final day of the Couples Counseling class I audited at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. I am very glad I took this class. Interestingly, just today three different people called me asking for counseling for them and their spouses. There's a lot of need out there, and I'm thankful for the insights this class has given me.
Day 5 dealt with the dark side of marriage: separation, divorce, affairs, and domestic violence. I want to reflect a little bit on affairs. Our professor shared an alarming statistic. 25% of men, and 15% of women, have had (or are presently engaged in) an affair involving sex. Add to these numbers another 15% of both men and women who have had some kind of inappropriate "emotional affair" with someone besides their spouse. That's a lot of people.
This topic hits close to home for me because some of my closest friends have ruined their marriages through adulterous affairs.
* I think of the guy who discipled me in the early years of my Christian journey; he later had an affair with his secretary, left his wife and four children, got a divorce, and married the secretary.
* I think of one of my closest seminary friends. He and I were from the same hometown. He met someone online and ended up having an affair with her. He left his wife and two sons for her.
* I am thinking of several pastor friends who have destroyed their wives, children, and churches because of sexual and/or emotional affairs with women in their church.
* I think of several couples I counseled and married, who are now no longer married because one or the other of them succumbed to an affair.
Why does this happen? Usually, the "infidel" (who I will assume to be a man for the sake of this discussion) develops a growing attraction to a person of the opposite sex whom he knows at work or within his circle of friends. He appreciates her skills and her looks. He begins to feel drawn to her, to flirt with her, and to fantasize about what a relationship with her might look like. She represents escape from the work that his marriage requires. She feeds his insecurity and doesn't require anything of him. So they open their hearts up to each other more and more, crossing the line of appropriateness and honor. They get emotionally and perhaps sexually entangled. They begin to hide their relationship from others; they deceive their friends and respective spouses. They work hard not to get caught. An addictive cycle of shame and excitement about the affair intensifies the relationship. Interestingly, at some point one or the other of them may try to get caught because it takes too much emotional energy to maintain the masquerade. When the truth is brought to light, the anguish, anger, and pain of broken marriage vows must be dealt with...if possible. For some couples, thankfully, the grace of God enables repentance, forgiveness, and healing. For many others it's too late.
I've seen firsthand what affairs do to the women, men, and children affected by them. No amount of pleasure or escape is worth that.
As with most sinful patterns of behavior, it's the early warning signs of an affair that must be taken seriously. When a husband or wife feels unhappily married, he or she is vulnerable to an affair. An available, interested person of the opposite sex shows up and - wham! - it looks like an easy way out of the pain. It seems a way for a man to feel competent and attractive, a way for a woman to feel wanted and valued. This is when one must be willing to follow Joseph's example and flee (Genesis 39:12). Don't stay and ponder it; don't play with it. Run!
Have you learned anything from your own or others' experiences you'd be willing to share about this subject?