The others said goodbye and stood to leave the meeting. He stepped in my way, leaning over me and making eye contact in a single motion.
In a low voice only we two could hear, he said that I was gifted and he put my husband down in a smooth, single statement. To reassure my obvious discomfort, he put his hand on my shoulder as if I could trust his intent.
Before I knew what happened, he delivered the offer to transfer my trust to him, and he waited for my answer.
The time to protect against an emotional affair is before an invitation unexpectedly arrives. Before eye contact is made or words are whispered from someone other than your partner, consider how you will keep your vows.
Before you start looking outside your marriage, look inside.
How Do Emotional Affairs Start?
Guarding against an emotional affair begins with growing a healthy, holy marriage. All marriages ebb and flow, but ignoring needs leads to shadowed spaces where wonderings begin.
What would another partner be like? Would a different life be a happier life?
A dissatisfied heart entertains alternatives when the need for attentiveness goes unanswered. Emptiness takes on a variety of appearances between a husband and wife:
- A lack of intimate connection emotionally or physically
- An absence of shared fulfillment in life together
- An unmet longing to be cherished or appreciated
Unfilled emptiness makes room for an imposter to fill legitimate needs with false promises.
When a spouse accepts a substitute for God’s marital design, they also accept the deception of wholeness apart from His exclusive plan.
Where hunger persists in a relationship meant to fulfill, division emerges to drain the divinely fused oneness.
Emotional affairs form in friendly places—work, small group, next door, sidelines, social media, or doctor’s offices.
Offers lurk where and when defenses are down with a co-worker, service provider, leader, customer, friend, or colleague.
To Guard Yourself against Emotional Affairs, Plan Ahead for 3 Kinds of "Invitations":
1. Disappointed words from someone, bemoaning about their partner
Delivery of this invitation comes enveloped in the expression of a different person’s emptiness. It hopes and assumes that in reaching out to be heard, the needs will be comforted within a trusting, private conversation
By sharing with someone else’s spouse, the disappointed speaker borrows from the promised privacy of the vows each made to their own partner.
2. Someone else’s belittling words against your own spouse
A summons of this kind comes with a decision to make.
Wil you, the hearer, turn away from the one to whom they’re promised and join in the mockery initiated by the belittling outsider?
To begin to join in disparaging a partner is to begin to leave a partner. Emotional betrayal deceives a heart by suggesting freedom as long as lines of physical or sexual intimacy are uncrossed.
In truth, it paves the way for crossing those lines.
Once negative words go uncorrected, it’s easy to welcome resting a hand on an arm, touching a shoulder, or sitting closely side by side.
3. Private words between you two
This invitation comes in the form of cracking inside jokes, sharing private fears, entrusting struggles, or revealing needs.
These private exchanges live freely within a marriage bond, but stir up a sense of trespass when married people share secrecy outside their marriages.
While we may veil our intentions to ourselves in a desire to be friendly and warm, open and trustworthy, the Holy Spirit nudges a straying spouse to be alert in heart.
In truth, good intentions easily become evil temptations. Couples become casualties when one partner’s heart clings to another heart outside the union.
Before responding to an unexpected invitation to unfaithfulness, four decisions to guard our words help to keep us from emotional affairs.
“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity,” (Proverbs 21:23).
Practicing wisdom in how we use our words, verbally or online, sets a guard around our relationship. This may not seem so critical apart from God’s way for a husband and wife, but it’s essential when striving for a strong marriage forging two into one.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light,” (Ephesians 5:8).
Here are 4 decisions to make as a couple to keep it pure from emotional affairs:
1. Share Passwords
Like opening the curtains and letting in the light, sharing passwords or account access in an age of technological communication provides a zone of protection.
Some couples take proactive steps by sharing their social media accounts or calendars. Others share administrative access or password lists as keys to open their streams of communication.
Rather than saying, “I don’t trust you,” open accounts say, “I value our shared life enough to create shared access.”
2. Narrate the Day
By practicing norms of narrating our days and activities to each other, we create a transparent space in our life together.
Restrictions in that space offend our conscience and alert our mate to the emergence of a divide.
As we share about the details of our day, God uses the telling to sweep out temptations. Openness may lead to decisions to join each other at a child’s soccer game, to delete a social media app, to change a service provider, to pray about a commitment, or to look hard at your shared schedule.
Narrating the day may expose emotional hunger or the need for attention or appreciation, helping a couple strengthen their relational health.
3. Strengthen your Backbone
Marriage is not for the faint of heart or the lazy in spirit. Instead, oneness requires commitment to individual and joint strength for the long haul.
Be prepared to boldly speak up for your oneness. When an emotional intruder delivers an invitation to compromise the trust within your bond, stand up strongly for your union.
Leave no doubt of your decision to work towards fidelity.
Tell a friend of the same sex about battles for your wedded bliss, while it’s still only a suggestion. Don’t wait until it’s an all-out assault.
Fight the urge to keep the pressure private. Instead, tell God, tell your spouse, and tell a friend.
4. Feed Your Oneness
Nothing keeps us from emotional affairs like living the vows we spoke by keeping our relationship well fed.
We hear and repeat the words of Matthew 19:6; “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
But countless encroachers insert themselves, pushing partners apart with events, commitments, and distractions squeezing between us.
Many suggestions seem harmless on their own, even good, so we willingly listen and let them in. These create micro-divisions breaking down the strength and resilience of our union.
Healthy, holy oneness between a husband and wife requires a place of priority in our homes. We feed our fidelity when we preserve the time and resources to pour into each other intentionally and intimately.
Guarding against an emotional affair begins with growing a healthy, holy marriage.
External emotional connections take root when a God-ordained union withers.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to who we must give account,” (Hebrews 4:13).
Equally or more deadly than a physical indiscretion, an illicit emotional connection gives the illusion of intact trust. God sees it all. “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence,” (Psalm 90:8).
A healthy, holy marriage is the best defense against the invasive wedge of an emotional affair. You don’t want a loveless, disconnected marriage. God doesn’t want you to have a cheap imitation of His creation either.
There will be times of stress requiring confession, forgiveness, healing, and help if a marriage is to bear the life of oneness God planned for our good and His glory. He wants partners to experience a vibrant, exclusive marriage growing in the rich soil of trust.
Be alert to set a guard against entertaining disappointed, belittling, or private words. Practice proactive habits like sharing passwords, narrating the day, boldly strengthening your backbone, and feeding your oneness.
Act now to keep yourself from an emotional affair before intentions become temptations. God’s extraordinary blessings wait for those who desire His design for their exclusive union.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Ridofranz
Julie Sanders loves helping women find God’s peace in today’s challenging times. She is the author of Expectant, The ABCs of Praying for Students, and the creator of How to Prayer Walk for Your School. She and her husband call Central Oregon home, but serve leaders globally and cross-culturally. Julie can be found at juliesanders.org.