An Affair in the Making

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Discovering that a relative or friend or church member is involved in an affair shocks us. Yet attractive, interesting people are everywhere. Christians are just as vulnerable to the ravages of an affair as non-Christians. So carefully maintaining the “walls and windows” of our marriages is essential for nourishing intimacy and keeping threats out.

Walls and Windows

The image of a wall surrounding each person in a relationship illustrates how we all hold private thoughts and feelings. Married partners in healthy relationships promote intimacy with each other by opening windows in their walls that allow unguarded exchanges of private thoughts and feelings. In affairs, spouses close windows to their partners while installing new ones elsewhere that let another person in.  

Neglecting Maintenance

John and Mary parent four active children. Both have satisfying jobs. Between work, family, social, and church demands, they have little time left for one another. Each would describe their marriage as strong. But all the demands on their time have led to a long dry period during which not much of their intimate inner life has traveled back and forth through their open windows.

At work Mary is involved in frequent meetings with Sam. Sam’s excitement about their mutual project energizes Mary. As the project develops, Mary and Sam don’t have enough hours in the day to get their work done. They begin to meet over lunch. Before they discuss their project they exchange stories about life outside of work. Mary notices Sam’s attentiveness. She’s always wished that John would be more attentive.

Affairs do not begin with love. They begin when the walls protecting us from threats to our marriage relationship are not maintained. The stray sentiment that crosses Mary’s mind about her desire for John’s attentiveness ought to be shared with John. Instead she mentions it to Sam. A crack develops in Mary’s wall. As Mary shares more thoughts and feelings with Sam, the crack widens to win­dow size. Meanwhile, her window to John starts to close.

Most people do not intentionally set out to have affairs. Early on the erring spouse rationalizes, “Oh, we’re just friends.” But ultimately, infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust. Research shows that emotional affairs are as devastating as sexual affairs. You can bet that your spouse will react with all the intensity that goes with sexual betrayal even if your “friendship” hasn’t yet crossed that line.

Your marriage is in serious danger when you find yourself not telling, or “forgetting” to tell, your spouse about the person you went to lunch with or who is calling or e-mailing you. When a “friend” knows more about your marriage then your spouse knows about your “friendship,” your marriage is in trouble. What may have been—or even seems, for now—to be a good marriage needs attention!

Read the book suggested in the sidebar. Brave the tempest and sort matters out with your spouse. Seek counseling. But don’t ignore the cracking walls and closing windows!

Homework for Spouses

The walls and windows image comes from Shirley Glass, Ph.D., author of NOT “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity (with Jean Coppock Staeheli; Free Press, 2004. Don’t let this book’s title mislead you. While it’s helpful for couples recovering from an affair, the book is an invaluable guide for all couples wanting to shield their relationships from the ever-present threats to intimacy.

“Seven Tips for Preventing Infidelity” from NOT “Just Friends” is an excellent list of common-sense guidelines put together by Shirley Glass. It’s available under “Free Stuff” at www.couplesinstep.com.

—Irene Oudyk-Suk

About the Author

Irene Oudyk-Suk, MSW, RSW, is a couples and sex therapist in Toronto (couplesinstep.com). Irene is a member of Lawrence Park United Church.

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