Emotional affairs. They’re heart-wrenching for everyone.
Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question, take a stab at it, and then invite you all to chime in in the comments. Today I’m going to tackle what to do if you feel drawn into an emotional affair. Here’s a woman I feel great sympathy for. She writes:
The problem is, there is this man from church who I’ve developed an attraction to. I didn’t mean to, and I’ve tried to reason the feelings away. This man has never made a ‘move’ on me, or anything. My husband thinks he talks to me a little too much, so he likes me to only talk to him when he’s around and I comply. I find myself looking forward to seeing him, dressing up “for church”… It really makes me dislike myself. I’ve prayed about it a lot.
The other day I asked my husband what he would do if I died. He said that he didn’t know, that he’d miss me terribly, and that he’d get lots of help from family and the church. Then he asked me what I’d do, immediately my mind went to the man at church and how I’d want to marry him. I don’t even really know the man that well. I only know his major interests. I didn’t tell my husband that, I just said that I didn’t want to think about him dying, and I don’t want him to die, it’s the truth.
Help. I hate having these feelings. I want them to go away. I keep praying about it, and limiting talking to the man. I try to only talk to the women at church now, because he is popular with the men at the church. How to I stay emotionally faithful to my husband? I hate the thought that I may be having an emotional affair.
Wow. Okay, I know she’s not alone, so I want to give some practical help today.
I want to say something right off the bat that people may be surprised to hear:
Just because you are attracted to someone else DOES NOT mean that there is something wrong with your marriage.
Did you hear that? Let that sink in. I think we sometimes believe that attraction can only happen if we are unhappy, or lacking something. But you are not DEAD. You are simply married. And sometimes we meet someone who pushes all the right buttons.
We’re then thrown through a tailspin of bewilderment. You thought you were immune to this, because you have a great marriage. You’re in love with your husband. How could this be happening to you?
So here are some thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Temptation is Not Sin
Jesus was tempted. Feeling attracted to someone is not a sin. And it really can happen to anyone–even someone with a good marriage.
2. Temptation Does Not Mean there is Something Wrong with Your Marriage
As soon as we’re tempted, and feel attracted to someone else, we often start to look at our marriage and figure there’s something horribly wrong. There’s some unmet need, and my subconscious is trying to point it out to me.
That could be true, but from the women I’ve spoken with I’d say that’s not necessarily true at all. Your marriage very well could be fine. It may not be, of course; but being tempted does not mean that something IS wrong with your marriage.
When we are attracted to someone else, the worst thing we can do is to then assume that we are unhappy with our marriage. That makes us start to doubt our marriage even more. “I must find my husband lacking if I’m attracted to this guy.” No, that’s not true. You just may very well fit with that other guy as well.
I am not one of those “there is only one person out there in the world meant for you” kind of person. I believe that God lets us choose our spouse, and that it is then up to us to become the best spouse we can be. Perhaps it’s because my grandfather was married three times to three wonderful but very different women (they all kept dying of cancer on him). Were those last two marriages substandard because the first was the love of his life? No, I don’t think so. He was happy in all three marriages, because he decided to love those women and be the best husband he could for them.
So the fact that you are attracted to someone else is simply because there are many different people we could have potentially worked with.
Now, perhaps there is something wrong with your marriage. Hopefully this, then, will be the nudge to start addressing that problem by going to a counselor, talking to your husband about it, or doing something to change the dynamic. But it does not necessarily mean something is wrong, and assuming your marriage is on the skids is the worst thing you could do at a time like this.
3. You Are In a Battle
You are not to blame for being tempted. This does not mean there is something wrong with your marriage. However, what you do with those feelings is something for which you can be held to account.
If you start dreaming about the guy, or dressing up for the guy, or thinking about what you will say the next time you see him, you have crossed over from the temptation to the actively participating in the fantasy. You’re having an emotional affair (an affair of the mind). And that’s dangerous–even if he’s not reciprocating.
What I’m getting from this letter writer is the question, “how can I make this go away??!?” And I understand the feeling. You just want this horrible reality that you’re attracted to this guy to go away. You want these thoughts to vanish.
But the problem is that we begin to think that these thoughts, and that this attraction, is something that happens, and we have no control over it.
These thoughts come, and you can do nothing to banish them.
2 Corinthians 10:5
Yes, you can! We have control over our thoughts. We can choose whether to entertain them or not.
We take every thought captive. We choose what to think about. If a thought enters your head that you know is wrong, replace it with something else. Pray. Sing a worship song. Make that your prompt to text something nice to your husband. Seriously, every time you think about this other guy, go text your husband and tell him something new that you love about him. Whenever you think about this man, go and hug your children. Choose to replace the thought.
Why don’t we do this? Because the thoughts are actually fun. Infatuation is fun. Gary Thomas outlines the science of this in his book Sacred Search. Infatuation is heady, and more intoxicating than a drug. But it’s not real. What’s real is deciding to love someone, day in and day out. So recognize you’re in a battle and fight! If you engage in that fight for long enough, by praying and taking every thought captive, you’ll find that your thought patterns do start to change. But don’t expect it to be easy. You have to FIGHT!
4. Don’t Convince Yourself He’d Be an Awful Husband
I think often we feel, “oh, if I saw his flaws I wouldn’t be attracted to him anymore.” I think that’s a wrong way of looking at it. You see your husband’s flaws, and you’re still attracted to him, but that’s because you have decided to love him. If you decided to love this other guy, chances are you could overlook his flaws, too.
Stopping the infatuation with the other guy does not depend on seeing him as a horrible human being; it depends on seeing your husband in the right light, and taking your thoughts captive. Don’t think about how this guy probably snores and farts in his sleep; think about how much you love your husband, and how you will remain faithful. Fight the battle, ladies!
If you left your husband for him, you would open yourself up for a world of hurt. You’d hurt your families. You’d hurt your kids. You’d hurt your husband. And you’d hurt your relationship with God.
It isn’t about whether or not he’d be better with you than with your husband; it’s that you’ve already made a vow to your husband, and to break that would have serious awful consequences. So fight! Fight FOR your marriage way more than you fight AGAINST this guy. Make your marriage a priority; not seeing this guy as an awful guy.
5. Set up Boundaries so the Attraction Does not Become a Full-Blown Emotional Affair (or worse)
Set up boundaries in your marriage. It sounds like she is already do this: she’s not talking by herself to him very much; she’s trying to keep her husband near when he’s around. She’s trying to make sure that they don’t develop a real relationship that could blossom into an emotional affair–or worse. Good decisions!
I’d encourage anyone who is tempted by an emotional affair to set up some serious boundaries and do not let yourself be put in a compromising situation. Don’t text him–even if you can think of a legitimate reason to do so. (We’re on a committee together, and I need to tell him about the next meeting. I can text him then, right?). No. Because chances are you’ll start trying to think of more “legitimate” reasons to text him. Don’t friend him on Facebook. Don’t be alone with him. If you are on a committee with him, consider leaving that committee. If you work with him, consider leaving that job. I know that not all of these actions may be possible, but what I have found is that when you put distance between the person that you think that you are emotionally attracted to, and put your energy into your husband, that attraction wanes.
6. Love Your Husband Wholeheartedly
Dedicate yourself even more to loving your husband. Make your sex life great. Flirt with him. Nurture your marriage every way you can. As you find yourself spending more and more time with your husband, you’ll likely find your attraction to the guy diminishing.
What do you think? Have you ever been in danger of an emotional affair? How did you extricate yourself? And what boundaries for marriage work best for you?