Who plans to be unfaithful on their wedding day? I’ll bet that only one-in-a-million profess their marriage vows while thinking in the back of their mind, “Gee, how can I mess around when this vow stuff and reception are finished?”
The Affair You Never Thought Would Happen
We take our marriage vows seriously and we swear them prayerfully before God, each other, our friends, and our family. We embark on our honeymoon with excitement and delight.
Yet, as the reality of day-to-day married life goes on, many spouses find themselves teetering on the edge of infidelity. Life brings changes in a married couple’s relationship. Perhaps one of them yearns for the chance to feel the electricity, for lack of a better term, of a new and blossoming relationship.
If and when infidelity occurs, most couples don’t know how they arrived at this most unfortunate of destinations – marital disaster. But arrived, they have. The pain and trouble an emotional affair or full-blown extra-marital affair will cause has just begun.
Can Your Marriage Recover After an Affair?
Is there hope for married individuals to redeem themselves when they have been unfaithful? Is it possible to stay focused and attached to your spouse “…and only to your spouse so help you God”?
The answer to both questions is “yes” says psychologist and author, Dr. Shirley Glass. In her excellent book, Not “Just Friends” – Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity,1 Glass argues that mutual, intentional planning and frequent analysis of the marriage are key to preventing infidelity.
With the tsunami of sex addiction, the psychological and neurological effects of pornography, the easy introduction to others that the Internet offers on chat sites, and which can even be found in the business environment, more and more men and women allow themselves to be lured away from their marriage vows and their spouse.
Walls and Windows in Your Marriage
Dr. Glass uses a model of “walls and windows” in the house of marriage when she treats a couple after infidelity. Walls surround the house that the couple are in, with no walls but just a window between them. Windows are transparent and allow us to clearly see what or who is on the other side of the glass. The use of windows in speaking of marriage suggests a journey to the grace of trust and emotional intimacy.
On the other hand, walls are what keep the spouses safe in marriage. Walls are used to bar everyone else from the marriage, which is a sanctified relationship and which includes God as the third entity in the relationship. Walls need to be used to install boundaries and keep them strong. Those walls should be dedicated to preventing emotional temptation.
Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage
In order to protect your marriage, you need to consistently gauge the levels of emotional intimacy within it. Emotional intimacy is the free and abundant sharing of issues, feelings, and thoughts – no matter whether they are happy or sad, good or bad. Emotional intimacy is the clear pane of glass through which each partner can see the other.
Deep emotional intimacy leads to trust, which leads to a stronger, more resilient, and richer marriage. Without emotional intimacy, marriages die and both spouses become sad, detached, angry, and resentful. After all, infidelity means that at least one partner (the betrayed spouse) is forced to watch the death of a once-beloved relationship.
Without the use of walls and windows, secrets, idle chatter, the extra marital affair, or the emotional affair over the water cooler at work, will cause harm to the marriage – harm that is all-too-often irreversible.
The Reality of Infidelity
Glass offers wisdom about what we need to know, or remember, about “love.” She makes the following points, which I paraphrase here. First, don’t compare or confuse the “electricity” of an extra-marital, “amorous,” or “imagined” relationship with the content and assured feelings that are foundational to any real, long-term relationship. Second, feelings related to “being in love” are associated with Stage 1, with its idealization, passion, and infatuation. Feelings of “being in love” are natural, but they also cause most of us to lose, to some extent, healthy perspective of the facts of the relationship over time. Third, “real love” is something you move into over time and is characterized by “acceptance, understanding, and compassion.” Fourth, once the affair diminishes in intensity or ends, cold reality, which often includes remorse, guilt, and shame, replaces of the golden aura of the affair.
What can a couple do from the beginning of their relationship and during their marriage to prevent either spouse from drifting into forbidden territory? Dr. Glass offers Seven Facts about Infidelity and Seven Tips for Preventing Infidelity. Both lists cut to the heart of the matter and are incredibly educational. Dr. Glass’ advice is based upon many obvious, but often overlooked or unused, personal principles and boundaries. In her book Not “Just Friends”, Dr. Glass reveals the following points.
Seven Facts about Infidelity
- A happy marriage is not a vaccine against infidelity.
- The person having the affair may not be giving enough at home, rather than not getting enough.
- It is normal to be attracted to another person, but fantasizing about what it would be like to be with them is a danger sign.
- Flirting is crossing the line because it is an invitation that indicates receptivity.
- Infidelity is not only about love or sex – it’s about maintaining appropriate boundaries with others and being open and honest in your committed relationship.
- You do not have to have sexual intercourse to be unfaithful. Passionate kissing or oral sex is a violation of your commitment to your partner.
- Emotional affairs are characterized by secrecy, emotional intimacy, and sexual chemistry. Emotional affairs can be more threatening than brief sexual flings.
Seven Tips for Preventing Infidelity
- Maintain appropriate walls and windows. Keep the windows open at home. Put up privacy walls with others who could threaten your marriage.
- Recognize that work could be a danger zone. Don’t lunch or take private coffee breaks with the same person all the time. When you travel with a co-worker, meet in public rooms, not in a room with a bed.
- Avoid emotional intimacy with attractive alternatives to your committed relationship. Resist the desire to rescue an unhappy soul who pours his or her heart out to you.
- Protect your marriage by discussing relationship issues at home. If you need to talk to someone else about your marriage, be sure that person is a friend of the marriage. If the friend disparages marriage, respond with something positive about your own relationship.
- Keep old flames from reigniting. If a former lover is coming to the class reunion, invite your partner to come along. If you value your marriage, don’t look up old flames on Facebook.
- Don’t go “over the line” when you’re online with Internet friends. Discuss your online friendships with your partner. Don’t exchange sexual fantasies online.
- Make sure your social network is supportive of your marriage. Surround yourself with friends who are happily married and who don’t believe in fooling around.
Christian Counseling to Recover from an Affair
If you are impacted by an extramarital affair, and want repair for your couple relationship, consider professional Christian counseling. Whatever happens to your relationship, you can emerge stronger from the situation.
1Glass, Ph.D., Shirley. 2007. Not “Just Friends” – Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity Simon and SchusterPhotos
“Sneaking Around,” courtesy of Bui Linh Ngan, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Keeping Secrets,” courtesy of snowbear, morguefile.com; “Circle of Commitment,” courtesy of Jamierodriguez37, morguefile.com