When you are dating, engaged, and newly married, you never think you’ll have an affair. You hear stories about other people who had them, sometimes prominent Christian leaders, and typically a feeling of both condemnation and heartbreak sweep over you. But the thought that you’d be capable of such a thing is as foreign as thinking about robbing a bank or committing murder.
On a foundational level, the reason people have affairs is not for the sex. It is for acceptance, approval, and attention (which is the same reason people look to pornography, which is the cheapest, easiest way of getting this). How do I know this? I know this because these are the lures that have tempted me throughout my 8 years of marriage.
On one level, our spouse should be providing these things for us. When they stop providing them, we look for them in other places. There are a lot of good resources out there to help you “affair proof your marriage” on this level. One that I recommend is His Needs, Her Needs by Dr. Willard Harley.
But what happens when your spouse is not able to fulfill one of your needs? Or worse, they refuse to? Does this give you license to have an affair? The logic seems sound…I have a “need”, my spouse is there to fill it. If they fail at this job, I must get this “need” met elsewhere…it is a need after all! I need to eat. If my workroom cafeteria fails to provide the food I need, I certainly have license to go elsewhere for it. The principle of His Needs, Her Needs, and marital advice like it, truly are helpful and I encourage you to read them, but you must do so understanding a much greater and much deeper truth.
My spouse is not God. If I am looking to my spouse to fulfill my deepest needs for acceptance, approval, and attention, I am looking in the wrong place. Only God can truly satisfy these needs. He is the one who created me and designed me. I was created and designed to be in a relationship with him where I fully realize how he accepts me, loves me, and approves of me based on the fact that 1. I am beautifully created in his image (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:13-18) and 2. His grace and forgiveness fill in the cracks of my brokenness, making me completely whole and valuable before him. And he is the only one who’s opinion of me actually counts! (Romans 8:14-17)
I am drawn to an affair when I think that this other person is God. When I think she can offer me the acceptance, approval, and attention that only God can give in a way that satisfies my deepest needs. The reason he/she can make you feel this way temporarily is the same reason your spouse used to be able to make you feel this way: a sexual relationship is a metaphor for the type of intimate relationship we are to have with God (Ephesians 5:31-32). But it’s only an image, only a picture; it’s not the real thing. It doesn’t last and it doesn’t satisfy.
The secret of affair proofing your marriage is to run to God to fill all of your emotional and validation needs. Love your spouse for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health. Love them with perseverance as a whole person, whose cup has been filled to overflowing by the love of God. Not loving that you might gain something in return, but loving as a demonstration of the sacrificial love that you know Jesus has shown to you.
God is God. Your spouse isn’t. And neither is that person you are fantasizing about. Be grateful for your spouse, see them as the blessing they are, and invest in your marriage to make it better.