The Anatomy of an Affair: Dave Carder
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Counselor Dave Carder, author of The Anatomy of An Affair, explains how attractions and addictions develop — and how to guard your marriage against them.
The Anatomy of an Affair: Dave Carder
Dave: Okay, I think people might be surprised [that] as a pastor of 30 years, the number one call that I would get for someone that wanted to meet with me is on what? Now you know what the answer is because of what we’re talking about today. But if you didn’t have any idea, what do you think my assistant would come in and say?
Ann: If it’s a couple, I would say an affair. If it’s a guy, I would say porn.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Man, my wife knows everything. [Laughter] You’ve been married to me too long.
Ann: Because I’ve been married to you a long time.
Dave: Would you have thought that though if you didn’t know what we were talking about today?
Ann: I might think that just based on friendships and relationships with women and the pain that I’ve seen in marriages.
Dave: Yes, and as I think about that, I’m talking late 80’s, 90’s to today, affairs have been a part of marriage from that beginning, and people want to figure out, “Can we make it; can we save this thing?”
Ann: “And how do I not fall into this; can my marriage be protected from an affair?”
Dave: Yes, we’re going to talk about that today with Dave Carder. Dave Carder is, in my mind, the expert on this, not because he’s had an affair. But you’ve written about this and studied this. Man, your books have helped so many couples.
Dave, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Dave Carder: Thanks a lot. I’m looking forward to this.
Ann: We are, too.
Dave: You have been talking about this subject since when?
Dave Carder: I started in ’77, when I tracked down my senior pastor who ran off with another woman.
Dave Carder: Yes.
Dave: Tell us that story.
Dave Carder: You want to hear the story?
Dave: Yes, I read it in your book, and I found it fascinating. Because you had several stories like that that got you to say, “I’ve got to start jumping into this.
Dave Carder: I would never have decided to do what I’m doing today or what I’ve done.
Actually, I was on a road trip with a bunch of Christian teenagers doing Backyard Bible studies and tent evangelism and that kind of stuff. Went home Sunday night after the service broadcast, and got a phone call from my senior pastor’s wife who was crying hysterically on the phone.
[I] drove over to the parsonage, [and] walked into the house. Three teenagers were over on that couch hugging themselves just sobbing. The wife was at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. Two of those kids had been with me on this mission trip.
From there, about 11 o’clock that night, I drove to an apartment building where I used to have Bible studies in the bottom floor every other Thursday night with all the boys in the apartment complex. I crawled on my hands and knees up to the first floor plate glass window because I was so afraid of being seen, being viewed as somebody—
Ann: So you’re sneaky.
Dave Carder: Yes, I’m sneaky.
Ann: Yes, you are.
Dave Carder: I get up in that window and look up in that window and look inside and there’s not a stitch of furniture in there. I had just been there two weeks ago. That was an apartment that a single mom had with two teenaged boys. That began to put pieces together in my head.
I went home that night/went to bed/got up early the next morning/went to the school bus stop. Sure enough there were some of my boys from my Bible study there. I asked them, “What happened to such and such?”
“Oh, they moved.”
“What do you mean they moved? Where did they go?”
They said, “They wouldn’t tell us where they were going but they had a big U-Haul truck out here.” I immediately knew where the only U-Haul Truck store was in town. I get in my car and drive to the U-Haul Truck Store. Basically—
Ann: You’re like a spy.
Dave Carder: No, I’m mad at this point in time.
Dave Carder: I’m really angry at this guy if this is the truth. So I go to the U-Haul Truck Store, and I say, “I think my senior pastor has rented a U-Haul truck. Can I look at the invoice and make sure all of the details are correct?
He gave them to me. I looked and sure enough, he rented a U-Haul truck to Dallas, Texas. I drove home, packed a suitcase, drove 90 miles to an airport, bought an airplane ticket and went down to Dallas-Fort Worth. I waited a whole week in a hotel; sat in the 14th floor with binoculars watching the U-Haul Truck Store right down below me. [Scoffing sound]
He didn’t show up. I had to go home for a week but I took his picture down to the U-Haul truck guy and said, “He is bringing a truck in here; I know. It will probably be on Monday. Here’s my address and phone number. I want you to call me when you see him. Get an address for me and call me.”
Monday morning at ten o’clock I get a call from this guy down in Dallas, Texas. He said, “He’s in my office. Okay.”
That afternoon I flew back to Dallas, took a friend with me, drove over to this house, walked up, knocked on the door, and this single mom screamed when she opened the door and saw me there.
Dave Carder: To make a long story short, we tried to talk him into coming back. He wouldn’t. My buddy drove us back to the airport. We turned the car in. As we pulled in I said, “You know, Paul, when we get home, I’m going back to graduate school and I’m going to figure this out. Because I’ve only worked for three pastors and two of them have run off with other women in their church.”
Ann: How old were you at the time, Dave, when you said that?
Dave Carder: That was in ’77 so I would have been 32.
Ann: That was it.
Dave Carder: It was it. I was going find this guy and….
Ann: You’re a good friend.
Dave Carder: We were great friends.
Ann: So that’s why you were so devastated.
Dave Carder: Yes, so I went back to graduate school and long story short, here I am.
Dave: You’ve spent over 40 years—
Dave Carder: —40 years.
Dave: —as a therapist, you have run a counselling center at EvFree in Fullerton, California. You were in Detroit where I was—
Dave Carder: Yes.
Ann: —for a little bit—
Dave: —just down the road for a while. All these decades you have been helping couples navigate this topic.
Dave Carder: Yes, and doing research on it, yes.
Dave: Yes, I mean here we are in 2023. Is it different now than it was?
Dave Carder: Oh yes, it is quite a bit different.
Dave: In what way?
Dave Carder: In 1995, the new way started by reaching people on the internet. At that point, I would tell you that the old girlfriend and the old boyfriend became the most dangerous person in your life.
Before that, it was pretty much a matter of, and we used to say it all the time, first affairs are always about comfort and distraction. There [are] reasons why people get involved with adultery in most cases. You have to find out what some of those reasons are. It didn’t make him do it but it certainly contributed to the wellness failure.
Back in Luke, when Jesus was tempted, after all those temptations, it says in Luke 4, the devil left Him for a more opportune time; meaning we’re all strong most of the time but sometimes, we are not.
We’ve got to figure out “What changed in you and what caused this vulnerability in you?”
Dave: Let’s talk about and you write it in your books, The Anatomy of an Affair and Torn Asunder, I remember seeing these books in the 90’s.
Ann: Me, too, Dave. I remember “Thank goodness somebody’s written something.”
Dave: As a pastor, it was like something we needed in the church. You just said, many affairs are the result of comfort or distraction. Explain what that means.
Dave Carder: It’s very soothing. God designed five or six different chemicals that all they do is produce soothing, great experiences inside of you. They’re built that way.
People who are stressed out, burned out, empty—we use the “HALT B” acronym, etcetera—those people are vulnerable to someone being nice, kind, generous, loving, sensitive.
The other thing is distraction. There’s nothing to distract you as much as being interested in somebody else. Infatuation is a crazy thing to go through. We look for those things.
In taking a history of a couple with adultery that’s one of the first things you want to find out is “What drove this vulnerability?” Think in terms of grains of sand that wore down the boundaries that normally would have protected them. Every one of those contributive factors would be insufficient by itself, but clustered together they take you down.
The more of those you can find, the more likely you can figure out why this happened at this time with this person.
Ann: Wow! Interesting. So you and Ronnie have been married fifty-four years?
Dave Carder: Yes.
Ann: How many kids?
Dave Carder: Four.
Ann: As you watched this happen around you with so many friends having affairs, I’m assuming that you started implementing safeguards in your own marriage.
Dave Carder: Yes.
Ann: What did that look like?
Dave Carder: One of the things Ronnie was always good about—I was, too, but I could get distracted sometimes—were having these really great moments together/we’d get away. With four kids, you’ve got to get away.
Dave Carder: I began to realize and developed a mantra that began to manage our behavior. That is “Spend money on your marriage and go away.” You’ve got to find yourselves again. [If] you get lost in trying to raise your children, you’re teaching them all the wrong things. They think they’re the most important thing in this marriage and they’re not. [Laughter]
Dave: They’re close but they’re not the most important thing.
Ann: Especially as a mom, it’s easy to make them the priority.
Dave Carder: Oh, it is.
Ann: One, they’re so demanding, and then you feel guilty if you’re gone. If you’re a working mom then you’re going to leave again. You feel even more guilty. But I think you’re right to spend money. I love that. Get out; go on a date.
Dave: I know a lot of us say, “We can’t do it; it’s going to cost too much. I can’t get out; I’m not going to leave my kids.” You have to.
Dave Carder: When your memories end/your memories together end, when your first baby is born, you are done.
Dave: You are done?
Dave Carder: You are done. You will go through the next few years raising your kids and probably becoming great parents - but come the time the last child leaves, you will sit down at the breakfast table and look across and say, “Who are you?”
Ann: Or even “I do not even know you or like you.”
Dave Carder: Yes.
Ann: On our 25th wedding anniversary, Dave—
Dave: Oh no, are we even going to talk about this?
Ann: —David prayed for a free trip to Mexico, and God answered that prayer. We had a free trip to Mexico. Someone got married, wanted us to go, asked me to go, too.
Dave: —wanted us to do their wedding. They didn’t know I had been praying for months. Because I’m a cheapy so I was like—
Dave Carder: You and me both.
Dave: —“God, you’ve got to make this free,” and we ended up in Mexico.
Ann: But I remember we sat on that beach looking out over the ocean holding hands, and I remember saying to Dave, “I would marry you again. Knowing everything about you, going through everything we have gone through, I would still choose you.” We also said, “We need to do this every year.”
Dave: And we’ve done it every year since.
Dave Carder: Good for you.
Dave: Let’s go back to—I know there are couples listening; they are like, “I want to protect my marriage, so you have already given me some things I need to do.” You mentioned earlier and I used an acrostic, HALT. I know what you mean: hungry, angry, lonely, tired.
Dave Carder: And bored?
Dave: I never heard the “B.”
Ann: Oh, “B.”
Dave: Talk about that a little bit because couples need to understand, because that’s when they are going to be weak, right?
Dave Carder: That is when you are vulnerable. That’s when Jesus was vulnerable in temptation.
“Hungry”: The sense of emptiness, the urge to do something. “I’ve got to find something,” a craving, if you will.
“Angry”: When you are irritated, frustrated, you have nobody to share it with - you keep it all inside. You lay awake at night, etcetera.
“Lonely”: You are all alone. You know alcoholics call the bottle a woman. I heard that in AA for years. It is a sense of comfort for you, when you are exhausted, tired, worn out, at your wits end - hanging by a thread. If somebody can rescue you, great. You tell yourself, “I can’t do this; I need somebody.”
Or when you are “Bored”/plain old bored. We started adding bored to that list when the internet came in, because that is one of the big drivers in pornography.
Dave: Yes, one of the things you said in both your books about affairs is a lot of affairs happen because the marriage loses fun, loses joy.
Dave Carder: Yes, one of the things that we forget to do and need to do is to build experiences in our relationship that generate infatuation, generate feelings for each other. Love is a feeling: it is the icing; it is the energy; it’s the whatever you want to call it on the marriage.
I’ll give you a little exercise. When couples are on the downhill side of recovery from an affair and certainly for couples who have not been involved in an affair, here’s a great fun exercise: We call them eight greats. You each privately make a list of your eight greatest experiences apart from your children and without friends. You cannot include your marriage but you can include your honeymoon.
Now if you are on a family vacation, and your kids are with you but you had a dinner alone, like at Disney, where we are, that is fine; no kids. No kids can be available.
After you each have made your list—do it in pencil because you will change it—after you each are finished, you get together and you merge the lists. The ones that match, three or four are pretty common, then she gets five, you get six. She gets seven; you get eight.
Now Orange County, three years ago, the average cost for a divorce was $36,000. So divide eight into 36,000. You could spend $4,500 on each one of those items, and you will be miles ahead of what you end up with after going through them.
One of the recovery points is “When you leave counselling, I want you to do one of those every so many months.” Most of them are not expensive items. Many times they are very simple things. You can include even experiences in your dating relationships as you look back.
Just come up with your list of “Eight Greats.” The reason we do this is the very same reason why girlfriends and boyfriends are so dangerous. Because the infatuation is stored in your brain from the first time you did that experience, and we’re trying to stimulate that and bring that to your conscious thought.
Ann: Give us an example of what one of yours and Ronnie’s would be.
Dave Carder: One time when we were dating we did a walk on a railroad track that was in disarray - they weren’t using it. We walked into a park. I was a Boy Scout. I was the quartermaster so I got used to cooking for the group and troop and everything else.
I put two steaks, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, took a lighter along. We found a place; we built a fireplace - a little wood place. Long story short, I cooked us two baked potatoes and two steaks on that grill out in the middle of nowhere. It sealed it, baby. She married me. [Laughter] It worked!
Ann: I would, too. That’s this cool romantic, rustic—
Dave: What comes to your mind if you think of “Eight Greats” for us?
Ann: Before we were married?
Dave: Anytime in marriage.
Ann: This is—
Dave: Last four years.
Ann: First year of our marriage, we went up into the mountains in Colorado. We were being trained for Cru.
Dave: This is seriously a memory?
Ann: Yes, and we decided to go up into the mountains with a tent; we borrowed a tent.
Dave Carder: Oh, I’ve got some of those.
Dave: You’re going to love this. You know what I decided to do? “Let’s fast while we’re up in 10,000 feet altitudes.”
Ann: The best part of camping is eating, so we’re not even eating. I can remember we’re starving. It’s beautiful. It was cold.
Dave: Then we decided, “We’re breaking the fast.”
Ann: We are so bored.
Dave: We go fishing because it was the only way we were getting food.
Ann: Here’s my memory—
Dave: I caught nothing. That’s what I remember. I caught nothing, and we got in the car and we drove home.
Ann: But here’s my memory. I remember sitting on a rock in the absolute [most] gorgeous mountains with this big lake. You had your guitar, and I remember you just worshiping. I was like, “Look at our life. This is amazing.” That was just this great—what is one of yours?
Dave: That was not even close to the top eight. [Laughter] I’m like, “That is what you remember.”
I remember driving to Manhattan from Detroit right before football season because with the Lions, I had a lot of work coming up—and just going to Broadway plays and eating in restaurants and driving home.
Ann: Oh, it was so fun.
Dave: A lot of it was the drive.
Ann: But we had to spend some money.
Dave: Let me ask you this, Dave, because that’s one side of it, bringing joy and fun back. The other side, because I’m thinking there’s couple listening that is like, “How do we protect ourselves?” Especially in this day and age, you’ve got the internet; you’ve got old boyfriends, girlfriends, Facebook, you name it. Not saying those things are bad.
Ann: —social media.
Dave: But we’ve got a different world to protect ourselves from. Let me ask you this real quick. Billy Graham Rule, do you agree with it or not?
Dave Carder: Yes.
Dave: I mean men not really spending time alone with women that aren’t their wife-
Ann: That doesn’t fly today, you know.
Dave: —in ministry.
Dave Carder: I know but remember every Monday, men and women who are colleagues at work get on planes, drive to customer in another city, take him out to an expensive restaurants, and have all the alcohol you want. You take him to sporting events and concerts and everything else. Then you go back to the same hotel. That is corporate dating.
One of the things to remember about that—and I’m going to come back to your question in a second—this behavior is called ego-dystonic, meaning it’s contrary to a person’s to a person’s individual values and stated beliefs.
Now in some cultures it is not but in a Christian man or woman, most of them would say, “Adultery is wrong.” It is on God’s top ten list.
When they act out like that, it really fractures them very, very deeply on the inside. How can you protect yourself is the question. You have to be honest with yourself. A lot of this starts with texting, going back, getting in touch, “I wonder what ever happened to Suzie?” My wife, if she’s listening, she’ll tell you - Suzie is an old high school girlfriend so I always use Suzie. [Laughter]
Dave: Is that a real name or made up?
Dave Carder: No, it’s a real name. You get on the internet and you start looking for them. Pretty soon, it’s just kind of casual and you are texting “You’ve got three kids; I’ve got three kids. Oh, yes… [Inaudible]…,” and on and on.
Ann: It starts innocently.
Dave Carder: It starts innocently. But that infatuation you had for that person is locked into your brain. You never forget the person you kiss passionately, unless you were really promiscuous, made out with. It’s there. It’s all there.
Are you a car guy?
Dave: Oh yes.
Dave Carder: Okay, [as] a senior in high school, I drove a 426 Plymouth. I sold that. [Laughter] I hate myself. But anyway, it was a great car, and so here Barrett-Jackson maybe six or seven years ago something like that, after the 2008 crash, I’m watching the auction and here comes this Plymouth Belvedere across the auction block, just almost identical to what I drove.
I thought, “That car sold for almost $200,000. The guy that bought it, when he got in that car, and started that up and drove it off, that car was rocking with that big cam in it. [Laughter] He was sixteen dragging Main Street, okay? That’s what he was doing. He just paid a lot for it.
Now that’s what happens with old girlfriends and boyfriends. If you stay in touch with them for 30 days, you will feel confused about the person that you married, because your spouse had stopped generating those kinds of feelings in you.
Dave: If you stay with them another 30 days—I’ve heard you say this—
Dave Carder: —you will find ways to meet and have sex. It will sweep you right off your feet.
Dave: That’s why I didn’t let Ann’s old boyfriend, who ended up playing for the Detroit Lions, come to the Detroit Lion’s Bible study. He came to our front door—
Ann: He totally came to the Bible study.
Dave: I’m like, “You’re not coming into this house.” I let him in but I did have a thought as he got to the front door; like, “I don’t want this guy in my Bible study.”
Fortunately, he was only with the team two weeks and they cut him. But that was fine. But I had that feeling like, “Of course, I love him; I want to lead him to Christ.” But there was a protective part of me like, “You don’t need to be around this guy, and I don’t need to be around my old girlfriends.”
Dave Carder: All of us have downturns in our marriage and that might be one in those vulnerable times, just like the devil trying to come back and tempt Jesus.
Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dave Carder on FamilyLife Today.
Ann’s got some homework for couples coming up in just a minute. Stick around and see if you think it’s a good idea for you and your spouse.
But first, Dave Carder had written a book called Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them. You can get a copy as our thanks when you help reach more families by giving at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Here’s Ann with a practical next step after listening to today’s conversation.
Ann: This will be a great podcast to share with your spouse just to say, “Hey, I listened to this today. Let’s talk about this when we get home or sometime let’s go on a date, and talk about how we are doing/do we have any protection going on in our marriage, and have we had fun or have we spent money?”
Dave: Yes, there’s two sides.
Dave Carder: Yes.
Dave: “Let’s make a list and say, ‘What are we going to do to add some of the feelings we had before and what are we going to do to protect?’” Is that right?
Dave Carder: Yes.
Shelby: Maybe you are in a situation where it is confirmed - you were betrayed. Listen, you are not alone.
Tomorrow on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson bring back Dave Carder to talk about all the things you need to do right now.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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