This is part 2 of a series we’re doing every Monday through the month of July. You can find part 1 here.
It’s the most cliché of movie moments: a [protagonist/love interest/expendable character] is going about their routine unaware that a [monster/masked killer/sentient kitchen appliance] is lurking nearby. As the threat comes nearer you start squirming. You want the person to get up, turn around, run away (out the front door, not upstairs!!). You want the person to ACT! If only they could see the danger they’re in!
This situation describes so many marriages, with one or both spouses going through their daily routines, unaware that there’s a danger lurking nearby. Last week I mentioned that in 1 in 4 marriages at least one spouse is cheating, and yet so many people think “sure, but that won’t happen to me!” The reality is every marriage is vulnerable, and many marriages have the monster of unfaithfulness lurking closer than they think.
I’m not suggesting we all live in fear, suspicion or jealousy. Rather, to go back to the movie example, if a character is in danger what they need to do is flee! Get out of there! Quickly! This is exactly what Paul advises in 2 Timothy 2:22, telling us to “flee sexual temptation.” But avoiding an affair isn’t as simple as saying “am I being tempted to cheat right now?” We have to spot the warning signs before those moments happen. Imagine these signs as the creepy movie soundtrack that kicks in when the danger is getting near – when you see them, it’s time to run. So here are some questions to ask yourself, and some tips as to what running looks like.
Are you lonely?
The human heart is made for human intimacy and when we aren’t finding it from our spouse or from close, same-gendered friends our hearts will redirect to illegitimate forms of acceptance. So look at your life right now and ask “do I feel known, seen and loved?” If no, fleeing looks like intentionally reconnecting with your spouse or same-gendered friends. Grab coffee or a long phone call with a close confidant. Go on a date night or, if possible, a weekend away with your spouse. Your desire for intimacy is good and right, it just needs to be directed appropriately. For some of you this means leaning back in to a healthy, but familiar relational pattern. For other people (people like me!), this will mean learning what true intimacy with your spouse and friends looks like.
Are you stressed?
Life is stressful. Work is often stressful. Kids are basically walking, talking sources of stress you can’t help but love. Stress is everywhere. Some of you are getting stressed right now just thinking about how stressed you are! However, there are some seasons of life more stressful than others. Usually these are times of transition: a new job (or losing a job), a new kid, a new house/city/community, a new financial reality, you get the idea.
So ask yourself “am I in a particularly stressful season of life right now?” If so, fleeing looks like taking care of yourself, body, mind and soul. Regulate your eating habits. Get more rest. Exercise. Make time for activities that are rejuvenating. Also, find safe people to talk to about the stress your under. Ideally this would be your spouse, but usually the stress in our life creates fissures in our marriages so finding a wise spiritual mentor and gifted counselor during this time is huge.
Are you sexually addicted?
Pornography is an all-encompassing cultural problem, and it’s not just a “guy thing.” Statistics show that more and more men and women are regularly consuming pornography. While most Christians would admit it’s a problem that they’re “working on” or want to get better at, many are blind to how much a pornographic addiction is the “screeching violin horror soundtrack” of warning signs in a marriage.
Not only does porn wire us to find sexual satisfaction from someone other than our spouse, it teaches us to numb our loneliness and stress through orgasming. When we climax our brains are flooded with dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and a number of other chemicals that make us feel relaxed. Anti-depressant drugs like Prozac are designed to produce some of these same chemicals, which means self-pleasuring is in many ways self-medicating.
When we use porn for sexual release we are wiring our bodies to move from attraction, to arousal, to sexual release … so what will our tendency be when we find ourselves attracted to someone at work, or church, or in the neighborhood? How much easier will it be to have that conversation over text or Facebook chat that you know is toeing the line? If in these interactions our attraction is screaming out for sexual satisfaction we are already deeply vulnerable.
But know that if you are someone who chronically views pornography there is hope! God wants freedom for you and is actively fighting on your behalf. The way you can flee temptation is by adding accountability to your life. Get an internet filter that sends an email to a safe accountability partner. Find a local group (hopefully through a church) that provides a place for you to share your struggle. Also, while you marriage might not be ready for this today, eventually your spouse needs to know about your struggle. Find a good counselor who can help you navigate that decision.
And as always, pray
The above are just three questions that can help you “hear the music” of affairs. Also, remember that this advice sits in light of last week – our most powerful tool is prayer and the power of God. I’m praying for you and your marriage today as we all learn to affair-proof our marriages together.
Josh with Thriving Marriages