It happens and it really stinks. You’ve been married for years and suddenly you find yourself attracted to somebody else. Maybe he or she works in your office; maybe you even met them at church.
A long conversation turned into a test-flirt that got rewarded and then the touch of a hand and pretty soon you’re talking about how to navigate some pretty serious deception. Maybe you never thought it would go this far or you planned on stopping it before it reached this point but … you didn’t and now you’re cheating on your spouse.
Feelings begin to take hold based on a host of reasons, and some of them are purely biological. Some feelings are as light as the common cold, some as serious as a fatal disease. The problem is, the longer you follow the feeling the more the brain becomes awash with an “insane” logic that seems to make sense. Many feel like their brain has been awakened and their spirit revived, yet while bearing the tsunamis of guilt and shame.
Developing attraction or romantic feelings for someone other than your spouse happens in almost every relationship. Hopefully it’s rare, but it’s normal. Pursuing those feelings, however is harmful and incredibly destructive to people you care about. The irony is that while trying to bring love to that new person, you actually bring them harm. The pursuit involves hiding, manipulation, and lying; the very things you will later despise in yourself and distrust in the other.
If you have children, you’re not present because you’re spending every possible moment with the affair partner or obsessing about the next time you can. And then there is the 5 to 6 years of living hell you go through after you’re found out, even if you don’t get divorced. You may not have gotten into it on purpose but that is how you get out of it; on purpose.
When we begin to develop feelings for somebody else, it’s a great indicator some serious attention needs to be paid to our marriage. If you’ve not acted on anything, shut the inappropriate relationship down and be intentional about finding the spark in your marriage again. If this sounds extreme, imagine your spouse’s response if they knew what was going on.
If you’re already having an affair, you probably feel terrible but are having trouble stopping and have no idea what to do. We know this is extremely painful and want you to know some things you can do:
1. First of all come to terms with the fact this is going to be difficult and it’s going to hurt, but there will be life again.
2. Open up with God and own everything that you’ve done. When I confess without excuses I begin to feel God’s mercy.
3. To walk away from an affair you need to know something you are walking toward; something that is more important to you than that which you are afraid of losing in yourself when you leave. For instance if you felt you could only be your “real self” with your affair partner, walk through the fear of doing that with your spouse now. Yes, it may shake things up but not any worse than having an affair.
4. Talk to a counselor, a trusted pastor, or a real friend and ask for help now. This will make an immense difference and you will feel relief. A trustworthy person can help you do what you probably won’t do alone.
5. My guess is you have stopped being honest with your spouse about what’s not working in your relationship and you fear the conflict, or the silence, if you are. Consequently, you have taken your real self and real needs out of the marriage and that’s a problem. This is where a counselor can create the safety to help you be honest and to hear each other.
6. If you don’t learn how you are contributing to the problem, you will repeat it. Each of us brings our own wounds to the marriage that impact it much more than we can imagine. Invite your spouse to tell you how you contribute to their hurt and loneliness and then listen. It is amazing how people can drop their walls when they feel heard.
7. Stop deceiving yourself and others. When we are in the middle of a deception, we have usually told so many lies that we don’t know how to get back to the truth. The beginning of honesty with others is to first be honest with ourselves.
8. Let the pain that you feel in the absence of the affair partner call you to take a step into the mystery of God’s very real and inexhaustible love. This is not just religious babble. A short book by Henri Nouwen called The Inner Voice of Love is very helpful with this.
9. Tell your spouse the truth. I know this brings you panic because you have no idea how it will turn out. A counselor or experienced pastor is invaluable to help with this.
10. Stay humble and repent through the backlash. Defending yourself or blaming only fuels more anger and increases the chance that you’ll actually believe your defense.
The only thing that can make this situation worse is to heap on more deception. The truth just needs to come out and be dealt with. This is going to cost you and those you love a great deal, but dealing with it now and being honest will be the first step in reestablishing broken trust. Getting caught is going to make it much, much worse. If you walk through this honestly and humbly, you will uncover the meaning of integrity and will find you like yourself better, as will others.