Well, let’s see. Without naming any names and without stating what sport he plays, a well-known athlete has been all over the news in the past for having been linked to as many as fourteen women. This famous athlete, who shall remain nameless, is also married. In sports terms that would put him “14 over par” when it comes to monogamous relationships. On top of that, he compounded his problems by trying to avoid the truth, which forced him into playing out of a “bad lie.” Now, as a result of these indiscretions, he is hoping to salvage his marriage and keep his wife from “going for the green” in future divorce possibilities.
There is the overwhelming consensus of people who believe a leopard never changes his spots (or a tiger never changes his stripes) and the belief is that once a cheat…always a cheat. There are many misconceptions about how and why people (not just men) cheat on their spouses. There are others who have varying standards as to what constitutes cheating, affairs, and infidelity. Others will suggest that forgiveness should be extended and the marriage should move on while there are those who would use that opportunity to make the other person suffer, the likes of which usually go beyond the hurt inflicted by the offending party.
Now, with all that being said, I’ll try to clear some of the untruths and hopefully lay to rest some of the nonsense that is touted by “experts” in the fields, namely columnists in magazines such as Redbook, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, and any of the other publications that beckon to us from the rack just before the cash registers at the supermarket. This week’s article may be on the dry side at times, but for me, scientific research in peer-reviewed journals beats writing about popular magazine hearsay that is no different than the conversations had after gym class in high school. So…on we go…
In 1941, a man named Alfred Kinsey was asked to teach a university class for women who were married or contemplating marriage. He noticed that there was little credible scientific research-based information about sex, that he began compiling data from about 18,000 subjects. He began publishing his findings in the late 1940’s. Over time, the Kinsey Institute has been on the leading edge of research in gender, sex, and reproduction. One of his first publications found that in the late 1940’s, about 50% of married men and 24% of married women reported cheating on their spouse at least once. Those numbers have proven to be inflated as repeat studies are done today with a much better understanding of the science related to research design (I won’t go into that because it’s REALLY dry).
The latest numbers from the Institute’s “New Report on Sex” revealed that 36% of husbands and 25% of wives have cheated on their spouse at least once. Another study in 1993 had similar results. But this is speaking solely to sexual adultery. If you take into consideration emotional adultery, one study suggests adding 20% to those figures. These emotional affairs may be more common and easily done because they can be fostered and maintained over long distances with letters, phone calls, text messaging, Internet, and the like. An amazing dichotomy that exists between men and women is that men will rate affairs as being harmful IF they are the ones being offended, and men are more likely to be able to forgive an emotional affair than a physical affair. Women, on the other hand, find it more difficult to forgive an emotional affair, but are more readily able to forgive a husband’s physical infidelity.
Most people surveyed believe that adultery is “always” or at least “almost always” wrong. But about a quarter of those surveyed in 1996 believe that affairs could be helpful to a troubled marriage. In some cases, people believe that affairs are borne out of three needs. First, some are curious what intimacy would be like with others they meet. This is simply a physical desire with little or no emotional involvement. These usually lead to one-night stands. Secondly, some people may believe they are undesirable if their spouse has shown little interest in them lately. These people develop affairs to prove their vitality to themselves and get a boost in their self-esteem. Lastly, if the attention to one’s spouse is lacking, the level of companionship may not be there anymore, or at the very least, not be at the level that satisfies the spouse. So, he or she may seek out an affair to fill the void where companionship, friendship, and emotional intimacy are absent.
Once again we see the Biblical truth of sin bringing pleasure “but for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). Research has found that people find their affairs extremely exciting, especially in the beginning. Spouses with children, and many other of life’s stresses may get together with someone else in many a clandestine rendezvous and look their best for each other and act their best for each other and forget about everything and everyone else for those brief moments. No job. No children. No dealings with normal everyday concerns. Most affairs are an escape from the stressful or mundane life people lead. Of course, the longer one is involved in an affair, the more and more the relationship will lose its luster. There will begin to be stress in that “perfect soul-mate relationship” and eventually, the affair will be stopped, and hardly ever is it amicable. But, because the spouses never took the time to work on their marriages, the tendency is to move on to another exciting and novel relationship with another person. Now you’re getting into the realm of being a leopard that never changes his spots.
If the conditions are ripe in the marriage for spawning an affair, there are a couple of things that increase the likelihood of an affair beginning. One of those conditions is nothing more than the fact that if an opportunity exists, the likelihood increases many times over. For example, research in 1975 found that 27% of housewives had an affair, but at the same time, the statistics for women in the workforce rose to 47%. Another recent study in 1996 echoed those same results. The second thing that is highly regarded as bringing about an affair is that once you have the opportunity, then the eventual sharing of life’s passions with another person cements the affair.
Consider this scenario. A husband and wife are complete opposite in their hobbies and interests and neither can share in the other’s excitement for their passions. Suppose a husband joins a kayaking club, innocently to find people to kayak with instead of kayaking alone. It’s always more fun to share a passion. Well, in this case, there are several women who enjoy kayaking as much as this particular married man. They begin kayaking in a group…with small talk…then they begin going on these club excursions more often. Now, the two people begin hanging back to spend more private time together and discuss more personal things, going beyond just their interest in kayaking. Before long, they plan a weekend kayaking trip together…just the two of them. Of course the husband lies to his wife and says he’s going with his buddies…and on it goes…
Now, what about the lack of physical intimacy in a marriage as a potential for creating the right condition for an affair to develop? I’ve heard know-nothings make stupid statements about a wife when a husband cheats. The tone is usually one of the wife not doing what she needed to do to keep him happy and satisfied. It’s not so much about the level of satisfaction with physical intimacy in a marriage, but rather the lack of physical intimacy itself. If you think I’m being trite, consider this…
“Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency” (First Corinthians 7:5). It’s clear that it is within God’s design for spouses to abstain from physical intimacy but only with mutual consent, AND, it is to be for an agreed upon time after which the two are to resume their physical intimacy (come together again). Otherwise, Satan will tempt one or the other, or both, and if you think it can’t happen to you and your marriage, the Bible says it can. So lack of physical intimacy in a marriage is certainly only ONE condition making for a possible affair, but certainly not the only one.
In Dr. Douglas Rosenau’s book A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy, he gives eight suggestions to prevent men and women from falling into the trap of adultery.
- Decide you will never (or never again) have an extramarital affair. Make sure you tell yourself “Never” and not water it down to an expectation of “I hope not.”
- Set limits. Avoid sharing too much of your soul with a member of the opposite sex. One thing that is drilled into us as we progressed through our with the therapist, or vice versa is extremely high. Dr. Rosenau puts it this way: “Revealing pain and frustration is a bonding behavior and makes you vulnerable to seek comforting.”
- Do not allow a casual friendship with the opposite sex to grow without tight boundaries. Boundaries can include making sure that any and all mates are present. Never allow yourself to be alone with that person. Avoid impromptu counseling sessionsc. Maintain modesty in speech and dress.
- Do not spend unaccounted time with members of the opposite sex.In other words, once you complete that project at the office, don’t go get a bite to eat together. Once you’re finished putting together Thanksgiving Day baskets at the church, don’t go get a cup of coffee together (if one or both of you are married to someone else).
- Be explicit with your mate about what is and what is not appropriate behavior.It not only depends on what one spouse believes is the limit; it also has much to do with how you feel when you reach certain limits. In other words, giving a member of the opposite sex a hug in church during the greeting may be acceptable to your spouse, but you may have other motives for giving that person a hug, and therefore, a limit needs to be set by you.
- Pay attention to you guilty feelings.Might I just add that you may not have any guilty feelings? That is why explicit clarity about what is right and wrong between you and your spouse is so important…AND…if you do begin feeling guilty, don’t ignore the red flag your conscience is raising.
- Build an accountability network.Find a trusted member of the SAME sex to share difficulties, frustrations, challenges, and such so you can have help in overcoming in areas where you are weak. If you’re assigned to a group at church and there is a member of the opposite sex that you are attracted to, and you don’t want to deal with the temptations of the mind, alert your pastor…he’ll GLADLY work something out. Don’t go it alone!!!
- Never think that you are invulnerable.Given the right circumstances and a certain amount of weakness, anyone can do anything they would ordinarily feel confident they would never do. Peter denied Jesus not long after assuring Jesus that he would go to the mat for him. So it can happen to you…beware…
One last thought about affairs and the statistics on affairs…and this is my own personal commentary. The standard for adultery in the Bible, according to the words of Jesus Himself, is extremely high. “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). So, with such a high standard for moral purity, how comfortable are we at putting the percentage of men who have committed adultery much higher than 37% or so? In fact, how close to 100% of Christian men are we comfortable in suggesting have committed adultery? Consider those who don’t feel pornography is adultery. Jesus’ words are very explicit and leave no room for debate on the matter.
But what about women? Research suggests that women seek out emotional affairs more often, which later become sexual in nature. God chastised Israel on numerous occasions for committing spiritual adultery by running to other pagan gods of the enemies they were being held captive by. The church today, the bride of Christ, is confused and disjointed and in many respects is committing spiritual adultery in today’s day and age. So maybe, just maybe, women aren’t off the hook. There may be something wrong with lusting after needs not sought out by the one God provided to fulfill your needs. Perhaps running to another man to get the emotional intimacy you lack and crave in your own marriage would be just as immoral in God’s eyes as a man who fantasizes about his secretary at work. God was not pleased when Israel sought out their needs in other gods, so I doubt it’s acceptable to God to have women run to another man beside her husband for emotional fulfillment…just a thought.
Next week’s focus will be on surviving affairs.//