Thursday, January 12, 2006

Marital infidelity: causes, consequences, and conclusions

Index of topics discussed:

How widespread is the problem of marital infidelity?

An affair usually starts as a friendship with the sharing of problems and concerns

Anatomy of adultery: 11 stages of an affair

Myths about adultery; signs that you are becoming mentally unfaithful to your spouse

Why adulterous affairs happen in Christian circles

“Surviving an Affair” is the title of a seminar to be held on January 28, 2006 from 8 AM to 4 PM at the Capitol City Baptist Church in West Avenue, Quezon City. Speakers are Dr. Jennifer Harley Chalmers and Rev. Clem Guillermo. Tickets are 200 pesos each, and info may be obtained from PCEC at 433-1546 to 47.

I have had the experience of counseling women who wanted to have their marriage annulled on the basis of infidelity of their husbands. Your heart will break over stories of women whose husbands have proved unfaithful to their marital vow. Discovering that your spouse has been or is being unfaithful to you is like having your heart slowly carved out with a rusty butter knife. Dr. James Dobson in his book “Love Must Be Tough” says that some men, after finding out their wives have been unfaithful, have driven their cars at more than a hundred miles per hour, intending to crash their cars against cement walls or concrete barriers.

One woman who was abandoned by her husband once asked me for help in getting financial support from her philandering husband. I counseled her on the benefits and protection provided by Republic Act 9262 or the “Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004.” The tragic thing about her story was that her husband had infected her with a sexually transmitted disease. She told me that she couldn’t afford to get the proper medical treatment, so how she could even afford to file a case against her husband? I assured her that RA 9262 has provisions for indigents, or for women who may not be indigent but who currently have no financial resources to prosecute their case.

How widespread is the problem of marital infidelity?

Patrick Morley in his book “Walking With Christ in the Details of Life” said that in his Sunday School class of 25 men, 20 admitted having been involved in an extramarital affair.

Kerby Anderson, in his Probe Ministries articles on adultery, cites several sources that show the extent of marital infidelity in secular and Christian circles.
[1] Janus Report on Sexual Behavior – “more than one third of men and one quarter of women admit having had at least one extramarital sexual experience.”

[2] National Opinion Research Center (University of Chicago) estimates that in the US, some 19 million husbands and 12 million wives have had an affair.

[3] A 1997 issue of Newsweek magazine claimed that as many as 30% of male Protestant ministers have had sexual relationships with women other than their wives.

[4] Journal of Pastoral Care in 1993 reported that in a survey of Southern Baptist pastors, 14% admitted having engaged in “sexual behavior inappropriate to a minister.”

[5] A 1998 survey of nearly 1000 Protestant clergy by Leadership magazine discovered that 12% have engaged in sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and 23% have done something sexually inappropriate with someone other than their spouse.

An affair usually starts as a friendship with the sharing of problems and concerns

Willard F. Harley Jr. in his classic book “His Needs, Her Needs” (Fleming H. Revell, 2001) states in pages 20 and 21 his observations on how an affair starts:
[1] An affair usually begins as a friendship with the sharing of problems and concerns, and the fulfilling of needs unmet by the spouse.

[2] Quite often the friendship that grows into an affair is not based on physical but on emotional attraction. It doesn’t matter if the other party is “overweight, plain or really rather ugly. What matters is that she has been able to meet an unfulfilled need.”

Anatomy of adultery: 11 stages of an affair

Dr. James Dobson in his award-winning classic book “Love Must Be Tough” (Word, Inc. 1996; reprinted in the Philippines by OMF Literature) outlines in detail how a person gets caught up in an extramarital affair. You can find this outline in the chapter entitled “Anatomy of Adultery.” If you are a workaholic spouse, reading this chapter will send tremors up and down your spine.

Dobson says that the adultery takes about eleven stages, but oftentimes, the workaholic spouse discovers the affair only at stage six. What makes Dobson’s “anatomy of adultery” more chilling is it’s told from the point of view of a woman caught up in an adulterous relationship.

Myths about adultery; signs that you are becoming mentally unfaithful to your spouse

William Cutrer, M.D. and Sandra Glahn in their book “Sexual Intimacy in Marriage” (Kregel Publications; reprinted in the Philippines by Evangelical Classics Library), explain some of the myths about adultery in the chapter entitled “Protecting Your Sexuality.” You might be totally surprised but they say that Myth no. 5 is, “If I spend time with God every day, I will not be ‘at risk.’”

Cutrer and Glahn in page 147 of their book cite some questions by which you can know whether you are becoming mentally unfaithful to your spouse. These questions and guidelines can also be substantially found in Karen Scalf Linamen’s book “Pillow Talk: The Intimate Marriage from A to Z” (Fleming H. Revell), pages 179 and 180. Some of these questions or guidelines by which you can measure whether your friendship with a person other than your spouse is dangerously leading you into an adulterous affair, are the following:

[1] “Do you find yourself making special trips past the desk of a coworker, or going out of your way to put yourself in the path of someone interesting at church or among your circle of friends?”

[2] “Have you taken new interest in what you wear or how you look?”

[3] “Do you find yourself looking forward to meetings or events where a certain person will be in attendance?”

Linamen challenges her readers by saying that fidelity to one’s spouse should not be accidental but intentional; fidelity should be by design, not by default. She further says that in case of questionable relationships, “When in doubt, drop the friendship.”

“Pillow Talk” is quite expensive at 495 pesos per copy, but I highly recommend this book to you. When I first browsed this part of Linamen’s book, I wondered, “Why don’t we hear this kind of practical teaching from our pulpits?” I decided to buy the book as soon as I could, even though when I did, I got a lot of quizzical looks from the sales clerks at National Bookstore in Ever Gotesco Ortigas.

Both Linamen and Cutrer/Glahn cite in their books the tragic moral failure of Gordon Macdonald, a world-famous American pastor and writer (“The Ordering of our Private World”). In an interview, Macdonald was asked in what areas of life Satan could possibly attack him. He answered that Satan could attack him in several areas but not in his marriage which he claimed to be strong and vibrant. A year later, Macdonald confessed to having fallen into an adulterous affair.

As Cutrer and Glahn say in their book, page 140, Macdonald now warns people, “An unguarded strength and an unprepared heart are double weakness.” I might add there Proverbs 16:18 , “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Why adulterous affairs happen in Christian circles

Ed Wheat, M.D. and Gloria Okes Perkins in their book “Love Life for Every Married Couple” (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; reprinted in the Philippines by Christian Literature Crusade) explain in page 46 why adulterous affairs happen in Christian circles:

”As a counselor, I have to deal with the tragic results of loveless marriages. The dearth of love has caused men who are known for their Christian leadership to become involved in adulterous affair, or their wives to look elsewhere for the love they feel they are missing. In even more distressing cases, things have been done with legal as well as moral consequences that have virtually destroyed the entire family. Without going into details, I can assure you out of extensive counseling experience that men and women have a desperate longing for the emotion of love in their marriage, and that Christians shock even themselves by what they will do to find a substitute. Of course, a Christian need never be dominated by his feelings – in marriage or in any other aspect of life. But a marriage without good feelings is terribly incomplete, and the many couples I counsel are almost always concerned about the emotion of love and the lack of it in some phase of their relationship.”

John Eldredge in his book “The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of” (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville) explains in a chapter entitled “Disowned Desire” the reason why Christians fall into adulterous affairs. Eldredge recounts the story of Jenny, an unmarried Christian who goes to Ecuador as a short term missionary. While there, she meets and falls in love with a fellow Christian, a charming, intelligent and dashing Latino. The only problem was, the guy was married. Eldredge says in page 66:

“Jenny’s story is not about the dangers of desire but about the dangers of disowned desire. Just because she pretends she doesn’t really want romance doesn’t make the desire go away. It goes underground, to surface somewhere else at some other time.

“David Whyte calls this the “devouring animal of our disowned desire.” It is the reason behind most affairs in the church. The pastor lives out of duty, trying to deny his thirst for many years. One day, the young secretary smiles at him and it’s over. Because he has so long been out of touch with his desire, it becomes overwhelming when it does show up. The danger of disowning desire is that it sets us up for a fall. We are unable to distinguish real life from a tempting imitation. We are fooled by the impostors. Eventually, we find some means of procuring a taste of the life we were meant for.”

Hey, we’ve gone through a lot of things about marital infidelity from a lot of books. I highly recommend these books to you, even though those without local reprints are quite expensive. Eldredge’s books for example cost more than three hundred pesos each. Anyway, if you’re a pastor, a counselor, married or in a relationship, please do read these books (“His Needs, Her Needs” by Harley; “Love Must Be Tough” by Dobson; “Sexual Intimacy in Marriage” by Cutrer and Glahn; “Pillow Talk” by Linamen; “Love Life” by Wheat and Perkins; and “The Journey of Desire” by Eldredge.)

See you on January 28 at the Capitol City Baptist Church for the “Surviving an Affair” seminar!

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