Avoiding Emotional Adultery
As I began to delve once again into God’s Word, I recognized three steps I should have taken when faced with the temptation.
In her book, The Enticement of the Forbidden, Judy Starr tells about the intense attraction she felt toward another man during a mission trip in the Caribbean. She and her husband, Stottler, had begun the mission trip together, and she stayed on after he left because of other responsibilities. Her story here begins at the point when she returned home from the project.
My decision before God to remain faithful and return home came solely from my will, because my heart ached to stay with Eric. As I moved through the motions of boarding the plane home, numbness overtook my senses. Nothing seemed real.
The plane finally touched down in California. The grace of God, along with the counsel and prayers of others, had brought me home. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. As if moving through a haze, I staggered down the ramp to meet my husband. The weight of despondency dragged at every step. I had phoned Stottler, revealing part of the story, and I told him I was coming home. Now it was time to face him. By God’s grace there had been nothing physical between Eric and me, but emotional infidelity seemed equally as painful.
When we arrived at our house, Stottler and I sat tensely on the couch, my legs shaking with fear, anticipation, and exhaustion. Weary of the battle against God, I yearned for His fellowship again. I missed having a tender heart that could sense His leading. I also hurt over the anguish I had caused my sweet husband. But the healing of my relationships with God and Stottler was only possible if I began making right choices.
When we choose to sin, problems and sufferings will drag behind us like a ball and chain. The only way to break the chain is to deal with the root cause—confess the sin. So I told Stottler how I felt about Eric. I told him that I had seriously considered staying in the Caribbean. Then I asked for his forgiveness.
I am enormously blessed to have a godly husband. We cried together many times, and we began the process of rebuilding what I had so quickly torn down. Yet for a time, my emotions continued to bleed.
Addiction and withdrawal
Much like a drug addict in isolation, I experienced withdrawal symptoms from Eric. In many ways, an affair is similar to an alcohol or drug addiction. The process of breaking free brings intense feelings of pain, anxiety, and depression. For several months I longed to be with Eric, and a continual dull throb lodged in my heart. Life often seemed bleak, and the future uninviting.
Although I don’t remember having thoughts of suicide, they are not uncommon for people mired in affairs. A woman can’t imagine life without her lover, yet she also recognizes the grief she is causing her family. Suicide may seem the only way out. But time does heal wounds. As the days wore into months, my internal hemorrhaging slowed to a drip, then finally began to close.
It was a slow process back. I had constructed a brick wall between God, Stottler, and myself through one bad choice at a time. Now I needed to make good choices one at a time to tear down that wall. Although the process was painful, each day became a little easier—as long as I stayed away from Eric.
What I should have done
As I began to delve once again into God’s Word, the Lord clearly showed me three steps I should have taken when faced with the temptation toward Eric. These steps also apply to any woman who chooses to rebuild her marriage after making poor choices.
Step 1: Be honest with yourself. Looking back on my entire scenario in the Caribbean, I wondered if the romance with Eric was unavoidable. I alone was responsible for the preparations and daily operations of the boat project. Therefore, each day I had to work closely with a charming captain while being surrounded by an enticing, seductive setting. Was all the heartache avoidable? The answer: absolutely! I could have stopped myself before the infatuation ever began.
Through my disastrous choices, I learned a very important truth: Never underestimate the power of attraction! When attracted to a man, it’s easy to convince ourselves that the feelings could never really grow, so we try to rationalize them away.
Yet we can so quickly begin daydreaming about this attraction: I wonder where he is right now. I really enjoyed our conversation yesterday. When can we talk again? Of course, this friendship is harmless. I would never want anything to happen—I just enjoy his company.
I had those thoughts. They are an open door to a roomful of deadly cobras. The enemy wants you to believe those little lies so that he can slowly ease you into the room. And once you’re in, you will be bitten. Playing with poison will ruin your life.
As we begin toying with an attraction, by necessity we hide our feelings and actions from our husband. The Lord says, “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil” (Proverbs 12:20). Deceit always leads to further deceit as sin takes us further and further into danger. It’s so much easier to close the door and never step into the snake pit in the first place!
Step 2: Be honest with God. I believe that what made me the most vulnerable for my involvement with Eric was my lack of daily time in God’s presence. Nothing in my life has had the consistent power to transform me more than my daily times of reading the Bible and praying.
For several months previous to the Caribbean project, I had been ignoring God’s daily call to come away with Him for a time of refreshment and renewal. By the time I arrived on the boat and met the captain, I had a wall of poor choices blocking my sensitivity to the Lord. Because I had allowed my heart to become spiritually insensitive, I refused to bring my feelings toward Eric to the Lord. I refused to acknowledge His conviction, seek His perspective, and rely on His strength to resist my wandering emotions. It was a recipe for disaster.
I am convinced that the most critical element in protecting your marriage is your personal time alone with God. It is irreplaceable. There are no substitutes—not listening to Christian music or Christian radio, not going to church or attending Bible studies. Only as we spend regular one-on-one time in prayer with the Father and time reading His Word will we keep our heart sensitive to obeying His voice in the face of temptation.
Step 3: Be honest with your husband. Once Stottler and I were aboard the boat, it was only a matter of days before I knew a strong attraction existed between Eric and me. But I failed to use the protection that God had provided to help me lock the door on temptation—honesty with my husband.
As soon as I felt that excitement of attraction toward Eric, I should have told Stottler. Telling your husband is a marvelous way to dispel the mystery of a secret intrigue. As long as no one knows, you nurture that attraction, create romantic scenarios in your mind, and dream the fantasy. But as soon as you invite your husband into the fantasy bubble, it bursts. Its ugliness is exposed. And though revealing the temptation to your husband may feel uncomfortable at the time, doing so will save you both from incredible long-term heartache.
God gives our husbands to us as an umbrella of protection. Their prayers for us are God-ordained coverings of shelter. If I had told Stottler immediately upon sensing my attraction to Eric, my thoughts would have been exposed and Stottler could have prayed for me. His prayers and wisdom could have strengthened me to remain sensitive to God’s leading throughout my dealings with Eric. My accountability friends should have been told as well. Giving an account to others is a wonderful deterrent to disobedience.
I also should have determined never to be alone with Eric and sought Stottler’s accountability on this as well. When the need arose to work with Eric, my husband or one of the team members should have been included.
Upon returning home to California, I developed a “No Secrets Policy” toward Stottler. What a relief it was to have the closet door opened and all the darkness exposed! My No Secrets Policy relates to any area of my marriage or my walk with God that will affect my relationship with Stottler. For example, feelings of attraction to another man, past moral indiscretions, impure fantasies, and a stagnant fellowship with the Lord can all create a wedge in a marriage if not dealt with immediately.
Honesty, however, is not an excuse for a lack of restraint in our words. The No Secrets Policy does not give me the right to say anything to my husband that pops into my head, especially on those days when I feel like spitting nails. Spewing every negative thought I may have toward Stottler in a moment of anger or physical depression is a sure way to drive a wedge into our relationship. Those moments require self-control.
Honesty protects both our husbands and us. It helps our husbands know our predisposition toward certain temptations so that they can help us face those challenges. By revealing to Stottler any current temptation I may be facing, he can help me to avoid further disasters. And if I continue pursuing the temptation, I will have to tell him. What a wonderful deterrent that is! It’s easier to just resist the temptation in the first place than to reveal my failure to my husband after the fact.
If establishing honesty in your marriage means exposing an affair from your past, proceed carefully. Make sure you have confessed your sin to the Lord and that your heart is broken over your wrongdoing. Then think through how to reveal this news, knowing that it will most likely elicit strong emotions.
When you reveal a previous or current indiscretion, your husband will very likely be upset. Therefore, you may want to talk with a pastor or a Christian counselor first to receive his wisdom on how to share a dark secret. If your husband has been known to be abusive, ask someone to accompany you. Although building a foundation of honesty may be frightening, keep in mind the words of Dr. Willard Harley: “As painful as it is to discover an affair, very few ever divorce because of it. In most cases, both spouses make adjustments that help avoid a repeat. But without the truth, there is little assurance that it will not happen again.”
Adapted by permission from The Enticement of the Forbidden by Judy Starr. Published by LifeConneXions, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, Copyright ©2004 by Judy Starr. All rights reserved.