Infidelity is one of the most painful and devastating experiences that a married person can encounter! Around the world, it is universally accepted as grounds for divorce and is even a legally accepted justification for murder in some states and many societies. Secular movies, television and books often depict infidelity in a humorous fashion but people impacted by infidelity are invariably shaken to the very core of who they are!
The Bible warns those who are married against extra marital affairs and in fact it seems to be so important to God that he posts them in the ten commandments twice; in Exodus 20:14 & 17. “You shall not commit adultery.” (vs 14), and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (vs 17).
We may read this and not think that it is of any consequence to us, and yet statistics indicate that in the coming years many of us will be involved in affairs ourselves; either as the one betrayed or the betrayer.
Studies vary regarding the percentages who cheat ranging everywhere from 10% to over 75% but no matter the percentage the truth is that anything over 0% is too high. The actual percentage probably falls somewhere around the 25% – 30% range, and the Christian community is not immune. Carol Botwin, author of Men Who Can’t Be Faithful says: “Although some earlier studies indicated that men who were religious were more likely to remain monogamous, other, more recent studies have shown that religious men are as apt to have affairs as those who never enter a church. That goes for some religious leaders too.”
Charles Mylander, evangelical pastor, and author of Running The Red Lights says: “Christians may fall into extramarital affairs even when they are not looking for them. Too often well-meaning believers make unwise moves and suddenly realize they are in love with someone other than their spouse. The revelation…’If only I had known what was happening…’ dawns too late.”
Reasons for infidelity range all over the map. We can have unrealistic expectations that our relationship will always be the way it was in the early days of marriage and so cease to work at it. Or there is the belief that ‘if my spouse really loves me, he or she will know what I want without my needing to ask.’ Maybe there is extraordinary work stress or possibly one partner is going through a midlife crisis. Then there has been the increased opportunities for men and women to be alone together, as in work related scenarios. Studies have empirically shown that when persons of the opposite sex are in constant contact, such regular exposure enhances interpersonal attraction and tempting situations naturally increase.
We also have seen an increase since social media has become commonplace with the reconnecting of old flames. Seeing an old friend or flame from years ago on Facebook followed by a pleasant interaction is not wrong in and of itself, however if, because you are old ‘friends’, you feel it’s ok to meet several times alone… (after all it’s only a coffee), that is a recipe for disaster and often leads to more. We also have seen a rise in sexual addiction, especially since there is so much available online. And these are only a few examples, there are many more ways that affairs can start.
So how can we affair proof our marriages? The following five action steps are not fool proof nor are they a cure all for affair proofing a marriage. However, if they are followed together as a couple, your marriage will definitely be made stronger and put in a healthier place so that you can work on any other deep seated issues you may have.
1 Foster a deep ‘friendship’ love
This is vital to a healthy marriage . A lot of people marry on the basis of romantic feeling (eros – love), but the core of a good marriage is not romantic feeling, but deep friendship (philia – love). The only way you will know if this sort of friendship is a possibility is by spending time together.
Couples do this fairly well before they’re married, it’s called dating or just hanging out or being together. But after you’re married don’t stop. Continue to build on that friendship through-out your marriage relationship. Learn to have fun together and commit to ongoing date nights and the occasional weekend away. Allow your marital friendship to grow such as determining that your spouse should come before your extended family, friends, hobbies and career. Certainly, we all agree that a career is important because it helps to supply the family material needs. However, there are times when a career can become a sort of ‘mistress’ itself. A career is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
And commit to the understanding that your spouse should come before your kids. It is so easy to focus strongly on our kids and yet studies have shown that children feel safest in a family when the husband-wife relationship is the core of the household.
2 Communicate from your heart consistently
Learn to listen to your spouse. Lack of communication is the major problem cited by both men and women impacted by affairs. How can you discover what your spouse really feels and where they are emotionally if you don’t listen to their heart? And how can you expect to resolve conflicts without truly listening? Listening helps to avoid many of those issues to begin with.
The late Harriet Pilpel, who practised family law in New York said, “I have seen a number of women whose husbands, according to them, have simply ‘walked out on them without any warning.’ When I talked further with them it turns out there were serious problems in the marriage. But the (wife) did not confront these issues, no less ask (her) partner to confront them with (her).” Oh, and just in case you’re wondering guys… listening is not just for your wife, that goes for you too, possibly twice as much because most of us guys are naturally poor listeners to begin with.
Communication involves speaking the truth in love and stating clearly and fairly your understanding of the issues as well as how you are feeling about the situation. Never speak with the intention of ‘getting even’ or with the attitude, ‘Wait till I give you a piece of my mind.’ Instead the goal is to open lines of communication, share as clearly as possible, and understand both sides of an issue as best you can.
Speaking the truth in love is really the fairest way of communicating because internalising your feelings hurts you because you are unheard and therefore not honoured. But also remember that keeping your feelings inside hurts your spouse as well; if they don’t hear from you, they are unable to respond (remember, we are not mind readers!).
Don’t avoid the tough or painful issues because the facts are that tough stuff is a reality in everyone’s lives. That’s hard to do because the natural tendency is to avoid hard situations and the pain that comes when we hurt. But the problem with avoidance is that it can cause a lot of other problems, because the pain comes out anyway and only ends up attacking each other. So, it’s better to communicate openly and face the issue and the hurt head on and in unity. This will build your relationship rather than tear it down.
3 Pray with each other often
According to FamilyLife USA, less than 8% of couples surveyed pray together on a regular basis. A Southern Baptist Convention’s poll in 2001 discovered that of Christian couples who actively pray together, the divorce rate is less than one percent. This begs the question: How often do you pray with your spouse? I mean really pray. Don’t include saying grace at supper, that doesn’t count.
The most important communication tool in a healthy relationship is prayer together. Intimacy and openness grows between a couple who are vulnerable enough to honestly spend time in prayer. A couple who prays together – stays together.
4 Mutually fulfill sexual needs
Research finds that an unfulfilling sexual relationship places men in high risk of having an affair. In fact, the number one need of men is sexual fulfilment. Sex is a beautiful gift from God reserved for the couple to procreate along with the mutual pleasure of each other. And by the way, research also shows that the sexual need for men does not diminish with age, in some cases it increases… just saying.
5 Remember your first love
Reminisce often about how and when you and your partner met. What were some of the activities you did together? What was it about your spouse that caused you to fall in love? Get a baby sitter and have a regular date night… just the two of you. Take at least one weekend a year away from everyone and re-engage alone as a couple to explore your love for each other and what that means and how you can grow more in love each year. “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” – Proverbs 5:18
6 Learn anti-temptation strategies
Identify personal areas of vulnerability and honestly examine yourself and your relationships to discover those areas which are your weakest link because after all, awareness is half the issue. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24
Along with learning anti-temptation strategies make an explicit commitment to fidelity by developing personalised statements that both partners make to each other outlining your love for each other along with your commitment only to each other and then reviewing these commitments often.
Be aware of the high cost of infidelity. Think about the loss of relationship with spouse. trust totally gone, children would be without a mom or dad, reputation is gone, damage to the church and the name of Christ, major financial loss, you can add many more…
But still, the best strategy to guard against temptation is to develop a biblical conscience. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4
The Bible is very clear regarding affairs…it is sin, but don’t be discouraged if you have ever been unfaithful to your spouse. There is hope for redemption with our father because after all we serve a loving God who offers forgiveness if we humbly come to him and seek repentance.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11