No good moral person gets up in the morning, looks out the window, and says, "Wow, this is a great day! I think I'll go out and commit adultery." But the tragedy is that many good, people do get involved in affairs.
Sooner or later, most of them would like to get out but are unsure of how to do so. Many also have mates who are asking for guidance about how to help their spouses end the affair. Success in helping people get out of an affair depends, to some degree, on which stage of the relationship they are in.
Stages Of An Affair
Affairs tend to follow a general pattern. First is the secretive excitement, the sense that "someone really loves and understands me." For a short period of time, life takes on a powerful exhilaration that is a sharp contrast to the pressures, stresses, and drabness of the previous few months or years.
Then the affair settles into a second phase--routine meetings, letters, and phone calls. In this phase there develops a growing sense that the affair is only meeting part of life's needs. For example, a man writes, "My relationship with this young woman is all that I've ever wanted in a relationship. Yet, if I stay with her, I will lose my children and my friends. I'll experience rejection of my extended family--plus I'll lose some of my business, since I am a marriage and family counselor."
The third stage of many affairs is one of heavy confusion. One part of the person says, "I know it would be best if I would get out of this and work on other healthy relationships--or work on my marriage." Knowing that the affair is sin begins to weigh heavier. The dark side of the personality is being pulled, because the person feels certain needs are being met through the affair. As the song says, the person is "torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool."
"I have been involved in an affair for the past two years. I know this isn't what God wants, but I've never met a man like him. Now I can't imagine living without him."
At this stage people say things such as, "I have been involved in an affair for the past two years. I know this isn't what God wants, but I've never met a man like him. No one has ever been so caring toward me. I had never intended to get so involved when I first met him, yet somehow it just happened. Now I can't imagine living without him."
This Christian woman wants out. She feels guilty because she knows it's wrong, but she doesn't really have the emotional support to leave the affair.
In the next stage the dissatisfaction with the affair increases. Perhaps the affair partner starts to demand too much, or there is a realization that the affair is an artificial relationship that will destroy much of life. The person starts to come to grips with reality. How can you take the person you're involved with to your mother's house and say, "Mom, I'd like you to meet my new love--we're involved in an affair"? How do you introduce this person to your small Bible study group? And the guilt keeps grinding emotionally and physically.
As satisfaction decreases, the person begins to realize that a "great part of me" is lost by being involved in this affair. "I am losing more than I am gaining." When this teeter-totter of gains and losses is recognized, often a person then develops the courage to break from the affair.
The final stage is one of recovery and prevention where former relationships with the mate or other friends are reestablished. It is important to build affair prevention into those renewed relationships so that the individual will not become an easy target for another affair.
Causes Of An Affair
We have found that people generally get involved in affairs when they are experiencing some sort of loss in their lives. The loss could be related to career or some relationship. Or it might come from a tragedy in the life of a close friend or family member, or from some other loss of control over life events.
When you are experiencing loss, you want someone to understand you, care for you, nourish you, and help restore you. If your normal circle of friends--or your marriage does not provide that, then you may be very open to someone else's caring.
If you are married and lonely, work on marriage enrichment. If you're single, enlarge and deepen your personal relationships with "safe" people.
Often both people involved in affairs are vulnerable. Both have experienced losses. In a sense, they share each other's misery, and their losses bind them together.
Untangling The Affair
How do you get out of an affair once you are involved? First, it's important to understand your lack of fulfillment, your losses, and your unmet needs. You must discover what is creating the vacuum in your life. Don't ignore losses. Confront them. Take them to God in prayer. Ask God to heal you in the depths of your personality where these losses have made you vulnerable.
Second, ask God to forgive you and clean you. Ask Him to give you strength to say no to temptation.
Third, compensate in legitimate ways for the losses that you're experiencing. If you are married and lonely, work on marriage enrichment. If you're single, enlarge and deepen your personal relationships with "safe" people. If you're feeling unfulfilled at work, consider a career change or redirection. If you need excitement and adventure in your life, plan fun projects, such as sailing, backpacking, or a special trip.
Fourth, try to reduce about ten percent of the stress load on your life. Prioritize what you're doing. Then get rid of the junk at the bottom of the list.
Fifth, begin a deeper level of communication with your mate or a close friend of the same sex. Push the barriers of honesty and accountability with that person so that you'll have more stability when you experience future losses.
Finally, view God as a friend. Get into a daily habit of reading a small section of the Bible. Reflect on how those ideas should be practiced in your life. Then talk frankly to God about yourself. Ask for His deliverance and guidance.
Mates Are A Key To Help
Forgive your partner! Forgiveness means, "I know what has happened is wrong, and I grant you forgiveness because Christ has forgiven me."
Mates are extremely important in the recovery process--or in affair prevention. Ultimately, people stay married because their needs are being met. Are you helping your mate stay happily married to you? Think about the following list.
Ask yourself, "What are my mate's changing needs? How can I meet those needs so that my mate is a happier, more fulfilled person?"
- Think about changing yourself. Are there things about you that irritate your mate? Are you a growing, thinking person, stimulating to be around? Are there an extra twenty-five or fifty pounds that you ought to shed? Are you living your life out of habit and dull routine when a small change could bring greater marriage satisfaction?
- Become a friend to your mate, not a mother, father, or conscience!
- Help your spouse reduce stress and accomplish the goals that he or she has set for life.
- Forgive your partner! Forgiveness means, "I know what has happened is wrong, and I grant you forgiveness because Christ has forgiven me."
- Now, resolutely leave the past behind. Apply Philippians 3:13: "Forgetting what lies behind, reaching forward to what lies ahead." Leave the affair and all of the misery of the past with God. Don't hold it as a club poised over your mate's head, waiting to pound when he or she doesn't do something that you want.
We would strongly urge you to read The Myth of the Greener Grass which deals with causes and cures of affairs. The following books that we have written also have chapters which deal with affairs: Men in Midlife Crisis, Your Husband's Midlife Crisis, Women in Midlife Crisis and When a Mate Wants Out. For additional spiritual help, please see our article, "How to Connect With God"
J. Allen Petersen in The Myth of the Greener Grass says, "People who have affairs have the child's longings to be touched, caressed, held, hugged, and kissed whether they admit it or not . . . They want a loving friend, a pal who isn't judgmental. They want someone to convince them they're still loved, lovable, and very special."
Admit those needs to yourself, seek legitimate ways to meet your needs--and help meet those needs in your own mate.
Getting out of an affair is hard work--but it is also a chance to grow as a person, to get closer to God, and to develop an even stronger marriage.
Conway / Farrel Articles ~ Reprint by permission only, ©2011
Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com
The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.
Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.