This is the first of a two part blog on this difficult subject. In this part we look at the origins, or basic cause of affairs, in the second we look at the major factors that go into becoming vulnerable to an affair.
I have long said this about extra-marital affairs:
- All affairs are emotional and some are physical.
What so many people don’t get about affairs is this:
- Affairs always involve a search for intimacy.
To demonstrate the reality of this last statement I want to go through the anatomy of an affair; how one is constructed and how it feeds us psychologically. Because once we understand this we can see how each of us may be unconsciously making contributions to the birth of an affair in ourselves or in our marital partner.
First let’s define intimacy:
Intimacy is the emotional state achieved through the action of being intimate. Being intimate with another person is the continuous and never-ending action of truly revealing one’s innermost being to them. Feelings of intimacy occur when (obviously) one person is being intimate with another. These “feelings of intimacy” include closeness, euphoria, peace, joy, security, restfulness, pleasure, connectedness, support and fulfillment. (From the book, Emotional Prisons – Prisons, chapter 15 – False Intimacy.)
At the core of every person the need for intimacy exists. We know this because of the two truths that are contained in these scriptures:
Gen 1:26(a) – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. ESV
Gen 1:27 – So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ESV
John 10:30 – I and the Father are one. ESV
John 14:11 – Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. ESV
John 14:20 – In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. ESV
I don’t have time or space in this blog to explain what is apparent from these and other related scriptures, so I’m just going to say what needs to be said.
- God exists as three persons in one entity, which we call the trinity, and this is a mystery. (Notice God uses the word “us” in Gen 1:26) However, what we can say is that they are in complete unity of being and in this they have total intimacy. We are created in his image; part of that image is that we are designed to have total intimacy as well.
- Before the fall we had total intimacy as humans. The man and the woman with each other; and also having intimacy with God.
So then, we were created with the need for intimacy within us. This drives certain activities or behaviors. It is the core reason for why God created the simple idea of marriage. Marriage is the union of two physical non-identical adult humans who are incomplete by themselves, one male, and one female with the additional presence of God through His Spirit. (Gen 2:24) The need for intimacy that is built into us cannot be met with any other permutation, contrary to what our current culture suggests. (Such as two males, two females, one male and several females, and one adult with one or more minors, for example.)
When we have complete intimacy we have connectedness because we share ourselves with our partner. We share hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, fears and anxieties; there is nothing held back or hidden. This allows love to flourish between the two human partners, but also allows God to pour His love into the situation.
When we have less than complete intimacy we hide things, we are less than honest about our feelings and we don’t share everything. This inhibits the freedom to be ourselves in the giving and receiving of love, even from God. And this, of course is the natural human condition that exists and has existed since the fall.
In their book “The Top Ten Intimacy Needs”, David and Teresa Ferguson spell out 10 emotional components of intimacy that help us to understand a little of what might go wrong in a marriage where an affair takes place. These are:
- Acceptance, Affection, Appreciation, Approval, Attention, Comfort (Empathy), Encouragement, Respect, Security and Support.
So then, as we are all hard wired for intimacy, we all have these 10 intimacy needs every day. I also think it is reasonable to assume that as each of us is unique, our relative levels of the 10 needs will also be unique. For example some of us may need lots of affection and little support. There are many permutations of these 10 intimacy needs.
Not only do we have our own unique structure of the 10 intimacy needs, but we all also have a unique structure of our ability to meet those needs in a spouse. For example I might be fully able to provide comfort to my spouse, but be totally unable to provide affection.
I hope your mind by now is going to the logical place of realization that in every marriage we have a mismatch of needs and ability to meet them. Some marriages have great big gaps, other small gaps. In every case though God is there, for those that want Him, to step in and fill in those gaps.
Some of us have been to conferences or heard counselors and preachers speak of allowing God to be your spouse, meaning that God can be a substitute intimacy need provider in emotional areas where the actual spouse may be deficient. Well, that is not exactly what happens, because God does not take a spouse’s place, He simply helps us by meeting our intimacy needs. It is when we don’t go to Him that we seek other places to get our legitimate intimacy needs met in illegitimate ways. Some seek emotional relief with drugs, some with perfectionism, some with gambling and as we are discussing in this blog, some through affairs.
We have come to the place when we can say that at the core of every affair is one or more unmet intimacy needs. Here are some examples of this:
- An empathetic man has a high need for encouragement and somewhere inside believes his wife, others and God have not been meeting this need. Along comes a woman who is a born encourager, but need some comfort in her life, and they begin a friendship which later develops into an affair.
- A woman is neglected by her husband and is not given any affection. Instead of turning to her friends and/or God she turns to the very affectionate and charming man in the office. It soon becomes a close emotional relationship.
Hopefully, we can all agree that affairs are sourced from inside us through a desire to have that intimacy we were designed to have. The design is perfect but our fallen nature leads us to seek to achieve intimacy in immoral ways. We often blame our spouse, blame God or blame the devil when we slip into an affair. The real truth is that we are all vulnerable because none of us get all our intimacy needs met through our spouse, and we don’t believe God will help us with them, so we choose to commit adultery. Jesus confirmed this when He spoke these words:
Matt 5:28 – I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ESV
What Jesus called “lustful intent” here is just another way of saying “wanting and working to get my intimacy needs met.” So even if we succumb to an intimate emotional connectedness with a person who is not our spouse, we are sinning just as much as if we had a physical connectedness. This is why all affairs are emotional and some are physical; the physical part does not have to happen for it to be an affair – it is the intimacy connection that counts.
For those that don’t believe this just ask your spouse if you are allowed to have an intimate relationship with a person of the opposite sex as long as there are no physical aspects to it.
In part two of this blog we’ll look at some of the major factors that make us vulnerable to affairs.