Q: Do affairs always involve sexual intercourse? Can a person be unfaithful without that?
A: There is such a thing as an emotional affair, as opposed to a physical affair where sex is involved. You can indeed be unfaithful without having a sexual relationship.
We hear about this far too often. There is a concept that we talk about at our conferences—guarding your spouse’s heart by praying together. However, when a person outside of your marriage union is trying to attach to you by praying for you, he or she is trying to connect emotionally. We say that the person is not “praying” but “preying”—and you are the target. That’s how Christians so often get drawn in. They think they’re having this spiritual connection and that it’s pure, but too often the emotional wiring overloads and suddenly they are in a full-fledged affair. Even if sex has not occurred, the violation of the marriage is just as strong.
Years ago, a book titled Temptations Men Face described twelve steps to an adulterous relationship. The first ten merely lead up to step eleven—and none of the first ten involves sex. Instead, those first ten steps erode a man and woman to the point where they step into the sexual relationship at step eleven. It starts with a sense of readiness and alertness of another person, and then surprise meetings, then planned meetings, then non-affectionate touch, then passionate embracing. Step eleven is capitulation; that’s where the intercourse occurs. It’s important to understand that by the time the first ten steps have occurred, it’s not a big leap from ten to eleven. Step twelve then is the acceptance of the affair.
Women need to understand that if they are stepping into an inappropriate relationship with a man, it invariably will move toward sexual involvement. Men need to understand that women who are especially attentive may be seeking that kind of attachment.
Let’s take a look at the steps to an emotional affair:
- Emotional affairs don’t necessarily start with an unhappy marriage. That may shock you. It can start with a look that simply says, “I find you interesting.” An emotional affair simply starts with a friend of the opposite sex—somebody at work, somebody at church, a neighbor, or even one of your kids’ teachers or coaches. You may begin to share intimate conversations about the things in your life that you hold dear—your kids, your walk with Christ, your views on the world. And then the biggest red flag is if you begin sharing about problems in your own marriage.
- The second step is when honesty, vulnerability, and chemistry develop the friendship into romance. You go out of your way to see each other. You have private lunches together. You make or receive calls when your spouse is away.
- As your emotional connection with this person grows, the connection in your marriage begins to crumble. You share more of your frustrations and triumphs with this other person than with your spouse. Arguments and conflicts arise in your marriage. You may pull away from your spouse and consistently turn to this friend for companionship and support. You no longer feel in love with your spouse.
- From there it is a short step to the declaration of those feelings and to moving beyond an emotional attachment to a full-blown affair.
We always want to base everything we say in God’s Word. Matthew 5:27 says, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus warned that the first look begins the connection that can eventually lead to emotional unfaithfulness and finally to full-blown adultery.
*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!