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Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions & Addictions Develop

A strong marriage does not just happen. Although Tim and I have been married for 34 years now, we are not careless about the predators to our marriage. Remember that marriage is one of God’s ideas. It is a gift. Intimacy in marriage is also completely God’s gift. He called it good. Something so incredibly valuable as marriage must be protected. Think about this. Satan does not have good intentions toward you. Destroying you and encouraging you to forfeit God’s gift of marriage and intimacy would be victory in his ongoing war of opposition to God. One of the most insightful resources that we have read in our marriage is Anatomy of an Affair by Dave Carder. He discusses how affairs, attractions and addictions develop. Much of this blog is taken from his ideas. Guarding your marriage against these potential dangers insists that we identify the risks of who you know, the risks within your own home and the necessity of continually developing your relationship.

In the years that I have listened to conversation regarding marriages that have failed due to unfaithfulness, it has surprised me to hear so many state that they thought they were immune to cheating on their spouse. Why? So many do not consider the cost of making the decision to have an affair. Many regret that they did not recognize the dangerous behavior that took them to disaster.

This discussion is aimed at sounding the alert to those who desire to have a healthy marriage. Whether you are married or would like to be married in the future, it is imperative that the following considerations be revealed. A healthy marriage is a choice that both parties make when they choose to do the daily work of strengthening their marriage.

Close Calls – Emotional and Sexual Betrayal

Close calls contain a similar pattern. The deadly pattern follows a pattern of growing mutual attraction, entanglement, destabilization of the marriage followed by termination and resolution. Many who fall into temptation recall that it started innocently. The reality is that God created us to be sexual creatures. The gift of sex is God’s beautiful plan to seal the relationship between a husband and a wife. However, it is perfectly normal to be attracted to other people besides your spouse. Denying that you are only attracted to your spouse is simply not honest. Dishonesty actually increases the problem of temptation.

Becoming entangled with an infatuation often begins with eye contact, fantasy and then possibly revealing the attraction. Often the marriage has lost its passion. With the responsibilities of everyday, children, finances, aging parents and other weights, the headiness of a side fling draws the married partner toward disaster.

What does the Bible say about affairs? In Hebrews 13: 4 he instructs us to give honor to marriage and remain faithful marriage because God will judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery. In Deuteronomy 24 a soldier is instructed to stay home for a year and bring pleasure to his wife. This is scripture. You can’t make this stuff up. There is more to unpack in the Bible about marriage, but one thing is sure, God loves us so much that he created marriage for companionship and pleasure. Marriage as God’s gift must be protected.

Think of physical danger where there is a predator. Your mind might immediately jump to preparation that could eliminate the risk or how you would protect yourself and the ones you love. In a similar way, an affair is a risk threatening to destroy a marriage.

Strangely, relationships that start as affairs seem to always end. Even marriages that began as an affair struggle to establish trust and safety. The sexual energy created by tension of secrecy quickly evaporates with the commitment of marriage. It takes energy to work through differences in ones background, values, goals, faith beliefs and expectations.

Marital Voids

When spouses do not nurture their relationship, the marriage is at risk for an affair. According to Carder, there are two components to a marital void: emotional and activity. The emotional void occurs when one or both partners quit doing what they used to do when they first met. In the early days of a relationship they accommodate, admire, adore, affirm and show affection for each other. These healthy patterns drew the couple to each other. Nurturing was the glue. The activity component refers to the fun that a couple has together. This includes companionship and memory making fun. If you are married, ask yourself if you are still having fun with your spouse.

Internal Age

Did you know that everyone has an external chronological age as well as internal, developmental age? A few years ago, when my youngest son was about 15 years old, he asked me if I could answer a question. Suddenly, he had begun to suspect that all grownups were not, well, mature. I concurred. All grownups are not grownup. Some people regress while others rapidly progress. Circumstances, roles and environments trigger these variations. For me, I have always felt like an “old soul.” Perhaps it is because I was the oldest and there were serious situations in my younger years that created a heavy load of responsibility.

Some feel a vibrance of life as they maintain energy and drive while they move into each new season. Others are simply worn out from the weight of responsibility of caring for others. These excessively tired people often long to be cared for by someone. Spouses may start off at similar places in their external and internal age, but sometimes vary as they journey in life. When an affair occurs, either the internal and external age of the unfaithful spouse matches that of the person in the affair. To prevent an affair, be sensitive about this situation. How old are you on the outside? How old do you feel on the inside? This may be a new concept, but it is fascinating to think about and analyze.

Flirting and Fishing

Some married people enjoy flirting and fishing just as they did before they were committed in marriage. When considering the why behind this unfaithful activity, it might stem from the desire to enjoy a rise or response from the opposite sex. Some want to feel as if they still have it or are still attractive. This sort of behavior is preliminary to a full blown affair. This habit is extremely dangerous. If you find yourself doing this or if your spouse is actively seeking sexual attention from others, you cannot run fast enough to a Christian counselor. If your goal is to identify a potential affair, this is a red light.

High risk factors

Key to success in avoiding an affair is to identify high risk factors in you or your spouse. If you are not married, you have a great advantage to spot trouble early. Knowing these ahead of time will help you to make an informed decision about your potential mate. In family history, high risk comes from being family to a history of infidelity up to two generations back. Single parent and blended families create a more vulnerable family background. Physical abuse or chronic conflict in one’s upbringing creates high need for nurturance and reassurance. Sexual molestation in childhood and abuse of many types ramp up risks for affairs.

Statistics show that adolescent promiscuity defined by sexually active by fifteen and more than six partners in the teen years factor as high risk. Those with learning trouble have a high need for reassurance and nurturing due to the emotional struggles in learning.

Certain times in life such as a time of loss – job, death, healthy, career, finances – invite a person to look to sex for healing and comfort. Change such as a pregnancy, school, home, job or season of life invite the excitement of an affair to reassure youthfulness, vitality and attractiveness. Any transition in life is a high risk time.

Risky Behaviors

In an effort to build a strong marriage, avoidance of the following is critical. Opposite-sex friendships or work relationships with private conversations create intimacy reserved for the marriage relationship. Volunteering with someone of the opposite sex offers a bond over a shared passion that is lacking in marriage. Going solo in public often invites interaction that might be unhealthy. Some people are more needy than others. This last one is really tricky. You are inching toward vulnerability for an affair if you fantasize about someone other than your spouse. Don’t raise your hand if you have done this. Just realize that this is wrong as the Bible identifies lusting mentally as equivalent to action in Matt 5: 28 where Jesus says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (ESV)

If any of these areas are a risk area for your marriage, what can be done to prevent an affair. While a book could be written with the ideas, here are just a few.

  • List favorite memories. Do them again. Recreate the happy moments.
  • Be alert for close calls. Identify. Stop disaster before it happens.
  • Identify borrowed patterns of interaction from your family of origin.
  • Establish rituals. Develop habits that are unique to your relationship with your spouse. Some of the favorite rituals that Tim and I have is that we read the scripture out loud together in the morning while we drink our coffee. We pray together in the morning and at night before we go to sleep. We share a secret code for an invitation to intimacy as soon as possible. This is fun to exchange in public in a crowded situation. It is unspoken and can draw the cutest smile from Tim. What rituals do you share with your spouse?
  • Read the Bible together out loud.
  • Pray together out loud.
  • Work as a team. Ask what can I do for you today? This week? Do your part promptly. Be reliable.
  • Nurture. Treat your spouse as kindly as you did when you were trying to convince them to pick you.
  • Practice nonsexual touch (pg 164 of Anatomy of an Affair)
  • FInd a new shared hobby!! Tim and I are doing this enthusiastically!! Once we began the empty nest season, we decided to invest our time and money into creating this podcast for you, our listener. Our hope is that the over 70 podcasts with our companion blog Nurturing My Nest and the two books will inspire and equip you to build a Biblically based home and family.
  • Build hedges to protect your marriage. Read our blog and listen to our podcast Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It

With the above ideas my hope is that you can avoid a failed close call and the disaster of a destroyed marriage. Remember that God intends a gift for you in marriage and intimacy. Recognize the anatomy of an affair and run fast and far away!! Choose marriage!

Bypass the “I wish I had known.” Help your family and friends be equipped with this same awareness by sharing this blog and its companion podcast at Embrace Your Everyday.

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