I was talking to a woman today who is to be married in three weeks’ time. They’re ticking all the boxes: preparing the service, their outfits, the (limited) festivities, their new home; they’ve read many books, spoken to a range of friends and done a pre-marriage course. They’re ready! Or they think they are.
“Have you talked about how to deal with other attractions?” I asked. Cough, splutter, silence, shock. “No. What do you mean ‘other attractions’? I’ll never be attracted to anyone other than him.”
Chemistry between two human beings happens. It just happens.
I would call this a blind spot! A naive, utopian, Disney expectation of “happily ever after.” Thankfully, this gorgeous couple are very grounded on many other issues – conflict, mental health, sex, budgets, communication, expectations. But this one was unopened. And this one can derail you.
Chemistry between two human beings happens. It just happens. It could be a colleague, a neighbour, a customer, a friend, a Bible study group leader, a minister. We humans are all social, emotional, sexual creatures, and we all experience “connections” with other humans.
Usually it’s a few years into marriage, when a little bit of the shine has come off. Commonly, it’s when children arrive, and the juggle really begins. Despite having many wonderful strengths, there will always be some gaps in any marriage – aspects where we are really different, where we irritate each other, where we are unable to meet each other’s needs. And this makes us vulnerable.
If we have feasted on too much Hollywood, and if we don’t know that other attractions are likely to happen, it can cause havoc.
If we don’t have our eyes open from the beginning, if we have feasted on too much Hollywood, and if we don’t know that other attractions are likely to happen, then when it does, it can cause havoc. Really nasty havoc. The “Evil One” will start you thinking: “Have I married the wrong person? Did I marry too young? Has this all been a mistake?”
At this point, you are battling not only your hormones but your mind and soul and spirit. The (probably pretty normal) problems in your marriage will be exaggerated in your mind. Your spouse’s weaknesses will seem insurmountable. A mixture of self-pity, rationalisations and justifications will allow you to seek time alone with this other person. And it is all really, really deadly.
So what to do?
1. Don’t hate yourself for feeling an attraction. It is really a biochemical thing that is part of our human bodies.
2. Set good boundaries fast. Call it for what it is, first to yourself, and maybe to a wise, godly, same-sex friend.
3. Focus your attention on your marriage. How can we be enriching, investing in, nourishing us in our marriage? Can I raise this question with my spouse (without tormenting him or her with my inner conflict – there are two different schools of thought on this one). How is our communication? Are we allocating enough time in our week, just for us? Would some counselling help us?
4. Guard your mind. If you can’t do this yourself, then find a good Christian counsellor/psychologist to sort out the truth from the lies with you. Affirm to yourself your marriage. Affirm God’s hand in bringing you two together. Affirm the deep goodness of it being hard to learn to love another sinful human being. This is God’s design and intention – that we learn to love, that the character of Jesus be wrought in us. Did you expect it to be a bed of roses?
5. Get on your knees fast to pray. If you don’t already, prioritise time to soak in God’s word, take time to pray, time to talk to your Heavenly Father about your thoughts and feelings and conflict. He alone knows you better than you know yourself and loves you. He alone can show you the “path of life”.
I have a little handout in my office called “10 steps to an affair”, and here they are:
1. An attraction/connection
2. Disclosing attraction
3. Seeking time together
4. Emotional intimacy
6. Obsessional thoughts
8. Planning time alone together
You can debate the order of these, but the message is simple. Unless you draw a big, black line under number one; unless you refuse to step further down the 10 Step ladder; unless you turn 180 degrees to prioritise and focus on your marriage, you are playing with fire – tantalising, very attractive, seductive, deceptive fire, that has the capacity to burn down your marriage and your family, and your mental health, your ministry and your faith.
So, what should you expect when you get married? Expect that you are making a commitment, a promise, a vow; expect to give your emotional and sexual intimacy to this one person, to “forsake all others” and give yourself to the “Jesus path” of learning to love like him. It really is a wonderful adventure, but please look to the Bible as your handbook and not Hollywood!
Sue Bartho is a clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist.