Just Friends? Or Something More?
She’s really pretty. The softness in her voice makes me feel strong and important. When I need her the most, she’s there and she’s so easy to talk to. She makes me feel young, smart, and talented… I wish my wife cared about me this much.”
We all agree that a sexual affair is both harmful and morally wrong— but we’re are not so clear definitive when it comes to emotional attachments. Our emotions are powerful and our emotional needs can be relentless. During times of vulnerability, the temptation to connect with someone outside our marriages often calls to us with powerful delusions and deceptive promises. Once the door is opened, even the most devoted, self-disciplined man can be fooled into thinking this is actually a good idea.
It would be easy to conclude we can eliminate the temptation by avoiding all contact with any female other than our wives— but that is impractical and unrealistic, isn’t it? It is equally naïve to ignore the signs of an unhealthy emotional connection, though many do so to their own peril.
So, what is the difference between a friendship and an emotional affair?
- Casually interacts with you in the course of your normal life.
- Is comfortable around your wife and your wife is comfortable with her.
- Does not need to see you regularly.
- Is a casual part of your natural social or business life.
- Is filled with anticipation about your next interaction.
- Involves plans to meet on a personal level.
- Is a secret you try to hide from your wife.
- Makes you feel better about yourself than anyone else you know.
The Tyranny of Responsibility
In performing weddings for more than 20 years, I have never heard a couple say, “We want to get married because we want to be very busy and responsible together.” And yet, it has been estimated that the average adult doubles his responsibility level every 10 years. So at 40 we have four times as much responsibility as we did at 20. This is awesome when it comes to career and personal influence but it can be one of the strongest interrupters to intimacy since trust, loyalty, and attraction are cultivated with personal time.
In the midst of your busy, challenging schedule, someone suddenly appears who has the right kind of time and the right tone. From your perspective, she understands your world, cares about you personally, and makes you a priority. If at the same time your conversations with your spouse are either demanding or boring, the new relationship takes on a complicated attraction.
Hooked on a Feeling
One of the more powerful reasons emotional affairs feel so right is chemical. When a romantic relationship is new, the human body produces phenylethylamine (commonly referred to as PEA), which has a narcotic effect to it and produces strong feelings of attraction.
The dreamy look in your eyes, the euphoric joy when you hear her voice, and the anticipation in your gut at the thought of her— is all produced by chemicals.
PEA lowers your natural inhibition levels and hinders your ability to discern wise courses of action. It appears this chemical was designed to jump start lifelong, intimate relationships since it lasts only about 18 months. Once it is gone, it will not be produced in this same relationship again. It makes love fun, energetic, and thrilling at the beginning of your journey together.
There is another, more important chemical at play in intimate relationships called Oxytocin which produces a tenacious sense of long-term loyalty. Unlike PEA, Oxytocin can be produced repeatedly with a few rather simple activities.
Any time a couple laughs together, shares mutually satisfying memories, or engages in sexual activity, Oxytocin is released in the blood system. Simple, romantic routines, therefore, keep couples connected and protect us from detrimental emotional attachments.
- “Couples who pray together, stay together” because prayer develops both a spiritual and chemical bond.
- Couples who date throughout their lives add Oxytocin producing memories to their journey regularly.
- When a couple experiences a sexual encounter they both believe was good, they emotionally, spiritually and chemically increase the bond between them.
- Conflicts that are effectively resolved become shared memories and can lead to great “make-up sex,” giving a double dose of the bonding chemical.
The problem is that most couples neglect these routines over time. They mistakenly think love is only supposed to be spontaneous so they don’t schedule prayer, dates, conflict resolution or sex which can leave an emotional hole inside themselves. If you entertain the possibility of a new relationship, you run the risk of releasing a healthy dose of PEA, which will make this new person look more attractive, more intelligent and more compassionate than she actually is while weakening your inhibitions at the same time.
Fuel on the Fire
The third contributing factor is spiritual in nature. The Holy Spirit is actively compelling us to follow His lead, embrace the truth of God’s word and apply self-discipline in a pursuit of excellence. At the same time, the demonic world is looking for ways to establish footholds in our lives that diminish our effectiveness, cloud our credibility, and wreak havoc with lifelong relationships. They do this by deception. “When he [the devil] lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
When you become vulnerable to an emotional attachment outside of your marriage, demonic forces go to work and start feeding you lies that sound really good:
- “You deserve to be happy and she makes you happy.”
- “You have been working really hard and your wife doesn’t even seem to notice.”
- “You probably married the wrong person anyway.”
- “The kids will understand. After all, they are tough and resilient.
- “It isn’t hurting anyone.”
- “Nobody even needs to know. It can be your secret.”
The problem is that actions based on lies never work out. They lack the stability to stand up in the pressure of real life. They eventually get discovered and create damage among everyone involved.
How do you get out of an emotional affair?
- Call it what it is. Even if sex or physical affection are not involved, an affair is an affair. To call it anything else is to deceive yourself.
- Tell the most trusted men in your life. Be honest with them and ask them to hold you accountable to your recovery plan. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) so don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just handle it on your own.
- Break all contact with the person whom you have had the emotional affair. You probably won’t feel like doing this so it will need to be a gritty decision of your will. You have been playing with fire, which can only be extinguished by getting rid of email addresses, phone numbers, social media connections and any opportunities to interact. A clean break is the only way to get your heart clean.
- Tactfully tell your spouse. Sincerely apologize for your actions and give her time to ask questions. Give simple answers with a soft tone of voice. She will be hurt but if she senses you are being defensive, she will continue to wonder if it’s is really over.
- Begin praying with her every day. Keep it short but consistent. Two minutes every day is better than 20 minutes every once in a while. Plan weekly dates. Some may cost money while others may simply be a walk in the neighborhood. Keep the conversations personal. Choose topics ahead of time if you find that you tend to only talk about kids, bills, responsibilities or the affair you are trying to put behind you.
- Do something simply “romantic’ every week. Bring flowers home for no reason. Send an email that talks about the five reasons why you are glad you married her. Leave a note in the kitchen for her to find that says, “I love you.” Every romantic gesture will train your heart to reconnect with her.