Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA
Hey. Over your latte, I saw the worry in your eyes. I know this isn’t who you want to be; you never wanted to be attracted elsewhere, you thought you would always be contented in your marriage. But I know your longing runs deep and you’re afraid of your own heart.
If only “I do” meant our eyes never swiveled from our mate’s. But the reality is, they do.
Sure, marriage is a big choice we make once. But it’s also saying “I do” over and over and over again. When you’re drowning in household chores. When he’s flipping on the news and tuning out right when he gets home from work. When you’re depressed after your mom dies, and are looking for anyone, anything, to fill the gap.
Unfortunately, Christians can fail to understand and openly admit how our hearts are “prone to wander” until it’s too late. Emotional affairs, in particular, can arise and flourish because there’s no clear line between appropriate and non-appropriate behavior. We drift into them.
The Clever Lie
“It’s never a sin to love another human being.” I heard this expertly-crafted line in a recent TV drama. I’ll grant them this: Love is never a sin. But in the context of this show, the writer was justifying extra-marital affairs as well as other sexual sins. Our culture can translate love into getting to do what you want and being happy with the person for whom you have affection. (Ask the spouse of the person who has the affair, or the child whose family came apart, if he or she felt “loved.”) The Bible defines love as laying down your life, your happiness, and your dreams for what’s truly best for others.
It’s when we don’t feel fulfilled, that we tend to look for satisfaction elsewhere, don’t we? And sometimes, our life circumstances leave us feeling particularly vulnerable. Hungry. When I was going through this recently—it was a frustrating, insecure time for me—I realized my attraction was far less about the person I was attracted to. It was far more about feeling attractive and appreciated. Maybe for you, it’s about feeling wanted. Sexy. Connected. Happy. Free. These desires aren’t wrong in and of themselves. It’s when they become demands—things we must have, that we’re entitled to—that they become a problem.
Allow me to be frank, friend. No man or woman can fill this gap for you. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity: “Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy . . . something has evaded us.”
This could be part of the reason that 67 percent of second marriages (at least in my country, America) end in divorce. As I’ve seen in the painful path of a divorced friend, we carry so many of our problems with us into the next relationship. Because those longings, those holes, and even those dysfunctions, are within ourselves.
Hear me, friend: Yes, your desire is legit—but no, another person will not fully meet this. Let’s, like David in Psalm 27, beg God, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” I’m not trying to oversimplify our emotional, sexual and other hungers. But I do think that when we’re unsatisfied in our souls, it shows up elsewhere. When we finally satisfy the longings of those holes, it becomes a lot easier to get the rest of our desires in place.
I’ve cobbled together some ideas for days like these, when you feel your mind, body, or heart tugged away from “one flesh” with your spouse. Be fierce, friend. Fight in the way you’d want your spouse to fight for you. Here are some ways.
1. Set up hedges
Talk to your spouse and agree on how to avoid compromising situations. A friend of mine who’s exploring Christianity recently asked me about the rather prudish guidelines of Christian men not being in a house alone with a woman they’re not married to. I explained the concept of our lives being “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2). Before my husband and I married, my parents requested that the two of us never be in a house alone together. It protected us then, and I still hold that general rule for men who aren’t my husband.
2. Flee away and toward.
Like Joseph in the Bible, flee. 2 Timothy 2 talks about “fleeing youthful passions”. Fleeing shares a root with “fugitive”: I.e, Do not get caught in this. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Whatever causes you to flirt with these fantasies or that emotional connection—cut it off. It might mean:
- Unfriending the person on Facebook or other social media
- Deleting or blocking their number or email address
- Choosing not to go to a social event where that person will be
- Confessing to your spouse your attraction
- Getting a different shift at work, or dropping a class
- Leaving the ministry that the person shares with you at church
- Being exceedingly direct with the other person, in a way that leaves no doors open to their advances
Flee in the battleground of your mind, too: “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Don’t just flee away: flee toward. Toward God, hiding yourself in Him. Toward your spouse, acting in the ways of love—out of trust that your heart will follow. For 30 days straight, at least twice a day, pray for desire for your spouse.
3. Give thanks
One surprising antidote for any other form of discontent, suffering, greed, or waiting is gratitude. Thankfulness can take my eyes from myself, from what I don’t have, and turn them upwards. It’s not some kind of glib positivity. It’s a belief that God is enough for me, and will give me enough.
When I’m facing attraction to another person, one of my go-to’s is to begin a mental list of all the things I adore about my husband, the ways he understands me, the life events we’ve endured and cherished together. If the Israelites could forget the God they loved and the miracles He created among them, I’m capable of doing that, too. I want to keep God’s goodness in my spouse in front of me.
You see, friend, marriage is a form of faith, but not faith in your spouse or yourself. It’s that God will give you everything you need to stay married.
He is enough.
This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.