The lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil ... Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house ... Proverbs 5:3 & 8
Affairs occur because husbands and wives grow apart from each other and grow closer to someone else. It is that simple. Their obedience to God, the strength of their love for each other and the moral commitment that sustained the vow wanes, and they fall.
Hollywood frequently portrays affairs as sudden, passionate exchanges between handsome men and beautiful women that reach an intensity their marriages never can. And, sometimes that is true. Emotions often intensify in forbidden pleasures. Every kid knows the stolen cookie tastes sweeter than the one served openly on a platter (cf. Proverbs 9:17). While some affairs may occur suddenly and without warning, I don’t believe that is the norm. In most cases, affairs are the result of a gradual decline in positive affection and behavior towards one’s spouse, and the gradual development of those feelings and actions toward a third party.
Photo compliments of Amy Free Photography
Jerry and Lynn Jones identify six stages of development in the anatomy of an affair. The first is attraction. Attraction is the pull we feel toward the pleasantness of another’s personality or beauty of their appearance. It is the same dynamic we experienced when we were drawn to the sweetness and good looks of our future spouse. Getting married doesn’t suppress the natural inclination we have to recognize such appealing features in other people. It may lie dormant for a while after our marriage while still in the throes of new love, but it can and will surface again. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling an attraction. But, it becomes wrong, and dangerous, if we pursue it.
The second stage in the sequence of events in the anatomy of an affair is proximity. That is, being close to the person we are attracted to. Sometimes we can’t help it. Our work desk might be close to the handsome guy or beautiful girl. Can we just shove our desk across the office and position it against another wall? What if they live next door or go to church with us? If we are creating opportunities for physical closeness, we have to stop. If we have no control over the situation, such as at work, we must control our hearts and minds.
Interaction is the third step. If we are close to the one we are attracted to, we have opportunity for interact with them. It may be small talk and sharing a cup of coffee, something innocent in the absence of attraction. But, if we are nurturing a secret desire, then our conversation is devious.
Jerry and Lynn say there are three red flags at this stage in the development of an affair. One, are you excited at the prospect of seeing that person today? Two, do you give extra effort to look nice for them? Three, do you create opportunities to see them? Answering yes to anyone of these is a red flag. Answering yes to all three means sirens are going off. Beware!
Fourthly, self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is opening up your heart and sharing deeper, more personal feelings. “My wife and I aren’t talking much now. When I get home she gripes about how long I work, or I don’t make enough money. I just want someone to talk to sometimes.” If the other person responds with warmth and understanding, and even shares personal thoughts, this is the fifth step: equity. Equity means the other person has accepted your disclosure and is now offering her own. “Oh, I understand. My husband has no idea of all the work I do around the house. I wish one time he would just ask me how my day was.”
At the equity level an emotional bond is being formed. One becomes vulnerable, crossing boundary lines of appropriateness. The other perceives the depth of emotions, accepts the tender disclosure, and responds in kind. Attraction, physical closeness and heart-felt bonding are combining to create an emotional firestorm that must be extinguished immediately, if it still can, or it will lead to the sixth and final stage in the anatomy of an affair: adultery.
The man forgets his vows, his wife, his kids. The woman forgets her vows, her husband, her kids. They make arrangements, they meet, they fall. It’s not a sudden fall. It is the final act in a series of events that has progressed for weeks, months, sometimes even years. At any juncture in the process the husband or wife could have followed Solomon’s advice: “Keep to a path far from her/him, do not go near the door of her/his house (or office or motel room).”
God promises that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). We need to claim that promise when any temptation assails our heart, including the attraction of another person. Remember the warning of the Sage from many years ago, “The lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil ... Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house ...”
(Jerry and Lynn Jones, Marriage Matters Seminars. Available on CDs and DVDs).