Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks about ruining their marriage. So why is it that people have affairs? The underlying cause of infidelity often stems from the defensive structures people create as a reaction to trauma experienced in childhood.
To really understand what this means, picture a little girl whose father is not around most of the time, is authoritarian, doesn’t show any interest in her recitals, and whose mother is there but is always preoccupied with her own personal issues.
Although the father constantly tells her he loves her, deep down inside the girl has never believed him and though she knows that her mother loves her, it has never felt like enough.
As the girl reached her 20’s, she dated, fell in love, and got married to a man who had a similar personality to her father’s, and whenever he says he loves her, something inside her says it’s not real.
Several years go by and she is introduced to a man at work whose musical interests are the same as hers. She is even more tempted because she chooses not to tell her husband about it. Since the man doesn’t know her that well, his interest in her gets around the defensive I’m-not-lovable-structure, then she begins to crave his attention like an addiction. The affair has already started.
Sex by this point almost an afterthought. The attention of this not-loved-one comforts her hidden, desperate, ruined younger parts. Unfortunately, leaving her husband for this man means he will become a loved one and she will more likely have a relationship with another person again, and the cycle will go on.
This situation is just an example of the many defensive structures and narratives we all have.
The Power of Love
We are designed to bond with one another. When we experience attraction for someone, our bodies automatically respond as if there’s a possibility we might mate with them. Our pupils dilate, capillaries expand to increase blood flow, and our pulse moves quickly. It can make one breathless.
The reptilian brain is always trying to procreate. In Freudian terms, the id says, “I want that!” and the ego says, “I know how to get that!” The superego, on the other hand, says, “You can’t have that, because (insert moral reason here).”
If we live with an emotional lack such as in the above example, we can easily confuse lust for love. Actual love is a deeper connection formed by years of growing together with another person.
Erotic love plays a wonderful role in a marriage but erotic love by itself always makes a person even more lonely in every relationship. Once you jump from one intimate relationship to another, you won’t be able to receive true love from another, so you will automatically end up with what’s not real.
The Anatomy of Having an Affair
When motive fuels desire and opportunity leads to action, infidelity starts to happen. Just like any other sinful acts, people wouldn’t be interested in becoming unfaithful if they’re not getting anything in return.
To satisfy oneself sexually is not the only obvious payoff. Having an affair also tends to heal the wounded part of the self that encourages the behavior more than anything else. Another payoff is the thrill that comes with indulging in the forbidden actually building up the erotic energy in the relationship.
Sin is the opposite of good, and infidelity is the same. Similar to an addiction, for most people it only works for a while. As soon as it fails, the consequences come in the form of deep shame and guilt, hurting marriages, hurting children, and often the loss of jobs or homes.
Having an affair is a sin that can wreck whatever trust and happiness there is in a marriage. This is why it’s necessary to acknowledge infidelity before it spreads and causes any more harm.
Where Does Infidelity Start?
Flirting with someone else when you’re married is never harmless. More likely your sexuality is integrated into your personality making it safe for you to say, “It’s just how I am.” That doesn’t make it harmless.
Everything starts when you’re in a really difficult situation, emotionally vulnerable, feeling alone, and someone who looks attractive enters your life and makes you feel good, and you begin walking down the path. The best way to prevent infidelity is to stop it as soon as you start to realize that it’s happening.
Here’s another classic example of infidelity waiting to happen. A man works for an environmental company and has to drive for four hours to get to work and to meet up with his team. He’s already having trouble with his relationship with his wife and as if destiny tries to test him, there is a beautiful single woman on the team.
One afternoon, as they are having a great conversation, laughing at each other’s jokes, they look into each other’s eyes longer than usual. The man realizes that he’s attracted to the woman and he can tell she feels the same way.
That night the woman shows up at his hotel room door and asks the man to come to join her for a drink downstairs. At that moment he realizes he has to say NO right there and then, not when he’s already in the bar with her. There would be only one reason for that man to accept her invitation and that would be to dabble with adultery in the private hope of actually making it happen.
The man made up an excuse to avoid her and no longer communicated with her outside of work. Though the man thinks he will never be unfaithful, the chance of him engaging in adultery would have been exponentially higher had he gone with her. We are not just wired for bonding, we are also wired to want that bonding as much and as possible.
Our intelligence makes it possible for us to sidestep that wiring and avoid looking for something or someone beyond our marriage in order to meet our needs. Some suffer silently for many years while their relationship slowly declines and grows cold. Others cannot control themselves and end up finding comfort in other people’s arms.
Both of these results are terrible and God wants something much better for us. The traditional marriage vows that say “to have and to hold, to love, honor and cherish, forsaking all others.” is already a great reminder for us to keep. If you or your spouse doesn’t feel loved, honored, or cherished, it’s best to take action right away, probably through the help of a counselor.
How Do You Come Back After Having an Affair?
Infidelity is devastating to a marriage. If a spouse is not hurt by the infidelity then something is not right within the relationship and it could make a person think the marriage didn’t even matter in the first place. Since trust is a primary foundation of marriage, it’s extremely hard to restore once it has been broken by betrayal.
If the two of you chose to stay together after infidelity, a counselor is the best person to run to for help to find your way back together. Anger is a common and long-lasting emotion and while trust no longer seems possible, most of the time it will return, though it may take years.
There is no excuse for betrayal but understanding the emotional factors behind the action of the cheating spouse will help a lot – not in any way to cover up what was broken, but to be able to forgive an imperfect human being at the end of the day.
If you’re the spouse who cheated, it’s normal and proper for you to feel an overwhelming guilt for some time especially if you’re known to be a person whose values is big on faith. It’s going to be a painful recovery process and there is no way you can rush it.
It is unrealistic to expect your spouse to exhibit a desire for you, or to feel comfortable in your presence or to enjoy your company before they’re ready; there are some boundaries that you must not violate. They must decide when to restore you to fellowship.
This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you have no right to make choices or you don’t have a voice or can’t put in place your own healthy boundaries. It’s wrong to assume that it’s okay for us to be treated like a doormat and put up with whatever abuse our spouse inflicts on us. They have every right to display anger but not to become abusive.
As you navigate the process of recovery the following rules of engagement will probably benefit you:
- Hold up a hand if either of you needs to pause the conversation.
- Conversations that have been paused conversations must be rescheduled and pick up at the pause.
- Counseling sessions are the best time to have most of your relationship conversations.
- Each of us must be responsible for our own feelings.
- It’s best to ask permission before talking using such questions as “Is this a good time to talk about _____?” “I wonder what would happen if _____?” “I’m detecting that you are (angry, distant, etc) and am wondering what that’s about,” or “Would you let me tell you my impression of it?”
It takes hard work to recover from infidelity but if both partners work at showing a great deal of compassion towards one another, learning to forgive, and holding on to each other to face a common enemy (rather than attacking each other), it can result in a much richer, deeper relationship than before.
How To Protect Your Marriage Against Infidelity
The truth is that no one is immune from committing a sin; we are flawed human beings. That being said, motives and opportunities can transform in many different ways thus, infidelity can happen in a marriage. However, there are a few steps you can take to strengthen your relationship and fight infidelity:
Keep God the Center of Your Marriage
Being married, whether you did it in a church or not, means you made a promise before God. He cares deeply about your relationship. Allow him to be in it. Ask for His help to love right, to be more forgiving, to fight your own selfishness, put up good boundaries, and be responsible for your own emotional struggles.
Take Infidelity Seriously
Pay attention to what your body does. If you stare at or talk to an attractive co-worker, or the spouse of your friend, or a single friend and notice your body is having a certain reaction to it (fluttering in the stomach, a catch in your voice, a desire to look more deeply into their eyes, or confide in them for connection), recognize that and admit it to yourself.
There’s nothing wrong in saying, “I think I’m really attracted to this person”; you don’t have to hide it from yourself. You can admit your attraction without feeling guilty. Remember, we are designed to be attracted to people and once you realize this, you will be able to respond by saying, “but I will not do anything about it.” Then correct your flirtatious behavior.
Have the Willingness to Set Boundaries
Setting up boundaries can be embarrassing but sometimes they’re a must. A professor once shared how a woman approached him after a presentation, gave him a hug, and pressed her whole body to his. He moved away from her and said: ”My wife is the only person who can hug me that way.” Now that may sound a little too forward for some, but it’s a great example of setting boundaries. It also inspires us to be more confident in defending the sanctity of our marriage.
Work On Your Emotions
Finding a therapist who can help you find an unprocessed emotional trauma in your past, identifying them, and finding out what you did to survive it is something you may want to consider doing. The more you understand your own emotional grid, the easier it is for you to change it, put up healthy boundaries, and build up firm, reciprocal bonds with the people you love.
Do The Work of Loving Your Spouse
One of the many great things about marriage is the sense of comfort we can get from the companionship of someone familiar. However, it becomes dangerous once familiarity transforms into complacency.
There was once a man who said that on his wedding day, he told his wife, “I love you. I’ll let you know if that ever changes.” Although what he said was meant to be a joke, it did, however, make a point. We find it easier to forget to do the little things that strengthen our love for the other person.
Recall the things that you both loved doing together and find out if it’s possible for you to do them again. Send cards, give flowers, and keep birthdays and anniversaries in mind just like the good ‘ol romantic days you both once had. Be thankful for the ones you love and remember the reasons why you feel in love with them. Rehearse the things that made you love them and rekindle them as best you can.
Learn to look at yourself and your spouse as an amazing, special reflection of God’s image here on earth. Value each other and the miracle of your relationship as well as keep each other while walking towards a future of growth and health.
“Lonely”, Courtesy of Luis Galvez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Affair”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Drink After Work”, Courtesy of Sasint, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Fireworks”, Courtesy of Jared Sluyter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License