By Meg Bucher, Crosswalk.com
“Let marriage be held in honor among all.” Hebrews 13:4a
Emotional affairs are becoming more common-place. There is an intimate place in our hearts only we and God know. It’s crucial to ask Him to search it for evidence of deceptive sin. “Sin is deceitful -“ writes Kim Cash Tate, “it leads you to believe things that are not true.” Though culturally appropriate, many marriages have fallen apart due to a lack of clear boundaries between friends of the opposite sex. Jim Daly attributes the rise of technology, work environments unique to current married generations, and a rapidly changing culture contributing to “a recipe for moral confusion.”
What Is an Emotional Affair & Why Is it Wrong?
Hebrews 13:4 in its entirety reads: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
Typically, an emotional affair is a friendship that lacks appropriate boundaries for those in committed relationships or marriages. Statistically, half of these “friendships” turn into full-blown, physical affairs. “Almost all research tells us that affairs happen when friendships occur to meet an unmet need in a marriage,” wrote Mike and Trisha Fox. Scripture separates sexual immorality and adultery. “The Bible is very clear that adultery does NOT need to be sexual in nature,” Mike and Trisha Fox continued, “In fact, the sexual and physical act only proceeds what is already active adultery, unfaithfulness, and infidelity.” Matthew 5:28 warns, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Focus on the Family counselors' report, “emotional affairs often begin when a person’s heart is craving attention.” Marriage is a pressure cooker between two imperfect people. “Frequent starting points include a transition, such as a new job or promotion, a new neighborhood, a new church, or a new team or activity for a child,” wrote Ben Wilson for lifeway.com, “With the advent of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the opportunity is ubiquitous.” When we don’t take care to set boundaries, we are susceptible to our natural tendency to wander in search of what we feel our spouse is lacking. The Gospel Coalition writer Ellen Mary Dykas wrote, “An emotional affair happens when a married person shares ongoing emotional intimacy with someone who is not his or her spouse, in a way that damages the marriage relationship.”
9 Warning Signs of Emotional Affairs
“When an emotional affair is going on,” wrote Abigail Brenner M.D., “it’s no surprise that a person who has shared a certain degree of connection and intimacy with their spouse suddenly realizes that something just doesn’t feel right any longer.” Here are nine clear signs to help us decide whether or not a gut feeling about an emotional affair could be true.
Sign #1: Secrecy
“Any part of one’s life that is essentially kept a secret from a partner is dangerous to the trust between spouses,” wrote Sheri Stritof. “One of the differences between a platonic friendship and an emotional affair is that an emotional affair is kept secret.” Hiding or deleting text messages, putting the phone or laptop screen down when your spouse is around or planned alone time or extra work hours with the same “friend” are stout warning signs of an emotional affair.
Sign #2: Romantic Feelings
Instead of sticking out tough seasons with our spouse, we are tempted to wander into the scene of the happily ever after we feel we deserve. Sharing feelings with a friend that are reserved for two people joined in marriage is a sign of an emotional affair. Sheri Stritof, in her article titled, "What You Need to Know About Emotional Affairs," wrote, “In an emotional affair, a person feels closer to the other party and may experience increasing sexual tension or chemistry.”
Sign #3: Spending Less Time with Our Spouse
Disengaging with our spouse in order to spend time with someone else knocks married life out of balance. “You look forward to being with another person than your own spouse,” wrote Mike and Trisha Fox for Christian Post. It’s inevitable to feel less connected to our spouses if we aren’t prioritizing enough time to spend with them, leaving a big gaping hole to be filled by another relationship.
Sign #4: Talking about Your Personal Life
“You find it easier to open up and unwind with someone other than your spouse,“ wrote Mike and Trisha Fox for Christian Post, “sharing your day, problems, events, people, etc.” If we can picture our spouse’s disapproval over information we are sharing, it should be kept private. Gossip and criticism about our spouse should be off-limits in friendships with the opposite sex.
Sign #5: Seeking Attention Outside of your Spouse
When we don’t get the attention we want from our spouses, it leaves us feeling lonely and neglected. Instead of talking it out with our partners, we can be easily tempted, and feel justified, to find what we are looking for in someone else. “You feel your spouse is not meeting your need for attention, approval, or affection,” wrote Mike and Trisha Fox for Christian Post, “so you start to seek it in others.”
Sign #6: Physical Touch
The physical attraction to anyone other than our spouses is a warning sign. Platonic friendships with opposite-sex require appropriate boundaries. Just like lingering eye contact can spark sexual feelings, so can physical touch. Hugs, and even shaking hands or putting arms around each other. “No matter how affectionate you are at home, you need to set a different standard with members of the opposite sex.”
Sign #7: Lingering Eye-Contact
“A deep gaze can stir something in one or both of you,” states the crosswalk.com article, “The Emotional Affair: When Friendship Goes Too Far,” “Save that eye contact for one person: your spouse.” If a gaze would begin to get awkward with a stranger, it’s not appropriate with a platonic friend of the opposite sex. We can’t always control what we think we can.
Sign #8: Imagining a Different Life or Changing Appearance
“Affairs don’t start in the bedroom,” Dave Willis wrote for MarriageToday, “they start in the mind!” Going so far as to start imagining a new life with someone other than our spouses is dangerous territory. If we or our spouses suddenly change the course of our dreams, hobbies or appearance, it could be a warning. “The sudden change or preoccupation with appearance in conjunction with some of the other signs may be a tip-off,” wrote Abigail Brenner M.D.
Sign #9: Excessive Criticism
Excessively criticizing or comparing our spouse is an emotional red flag. Be careful to note if they, or we, become defensive when questioned about this behavior. It’s unreasonable to expect it won’t happen often in marriage, but an emotional affair could be looming when these behaviors are coupled with other signs on this list.
What Does the Bible Say about Emotional Infidelity?
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
We can protect our hearts from emotional affairs by yielding them completely to our Heavenly Father. We must be diligent in asking God to search and renew our hearts. Only He knows the full agenda lying in the depths of our hearts. Prayerfully we can ask Him to alert us and cleanse us of hidden sin. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit in me.”(NAS) When God sits on the throne of our hearts, and we remain connected to Him through prayer and time in His word, He will guard our hearts. Jesus told us “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
We must ask ourselves, “Does this relationship inspire you to obey Christ or turn away from him?” asked Ellen Mary Dykas in her article, “Beware Emotional Affairs.” “Does this relationship propel you toward your spouse, or away?” Scripture says, in our weakness He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). “In the best of circumstances, in the best of relationships, we all have a place inside that longs for ‘more,’” wrote Ben Wilson, “That ‘more’ points us to God and His Kingdom. When we seek to satisfy the ‘more’ in the now we miss the mark, causing pain to our own soul and those who love us.”
The #1 Way to Prevent an Emotional Affair
“She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” Genesis 39:12 NAS
RUN. That’s what Joseph did when Potifer’s wife cornered him. If all our preventative measures have failed, or we’ve failed to take any, run without hesitation. It’s never too late to barricade our hearts before we do something with irreversible consequences. Those precautions and guards are boundaries. “It can be easier than you think to cross the line, states, “The Emotional Affair: When Friendship Goes Too Far,” an article adapted from “The Great Marriage Q&A Book,” by Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg, “That’s why you need appropriate boundaries with opposite-sex friends and you need to guard your heart- and the heart of your marriage!”
God places us purposefully, in communities and church congregations where we work alongside others for His glory and His kingdom. But keep a sharp eye for the behavioral signs discussed here today, and pray for God-led boundaries in friendships with the opposite sex. No one ever walks down the aisle on their wedding day imagining the possibility of an emotional, or full-blown physical affair. But the increased rate at which they are happening proves we need to be on guard more than ever to protect the sacred vows we promised to each other.
Prayer for Emotional Devotion
Guard our hearts against the things we can’t see, and the lines we are tempted to cross. Renew our desire for Your will over our own dreams. Reassure us we are loved enough by You to cover any neglect from our spouses and give us the gumption to seek counsel to save our marriages. Bring to the front of our minds and top of our hearts the purpose of marriage: to be able to accomplish more for Your Kingdom than we could alone. Throw out the fairy tale notions of warm and fuzzy feelings as the bedrock of our marriages, and instead re-build them on the firm foundation of Your perfect love. A love we don’t always understand, but can fully trust. Let our marriages be full of honesty, sincerity, and passion for Jesus. We trust that when our marriages are aligned with Your will and we are both fully seeking Jesus, our marriages will be more than we could have ever asked for or dreamed of. So, stop us. Save us. Search, cleanse, and restore our hearts. Defend and shield us with boundaries formed in the truth of Your Word. Let all we do, honor You.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,” is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.