When a marriage is affected by an affair or infidelity, it can be like dropping a pebble into water.
The ripples of devastation grow wider and wider and can last literally for generations.
Thus, as couples who want to have extraordinary marriages, it would be wise to learn about infidelity, what happens, and why, and then find out what YOU can do to keep your marriage affair-free.
To understand how affairs start, a couple needs to understand a few key concepts.
Envision the love of a marriage like a campfire. First there is a time and place for marriage just as there is a time and place for a campfire. It’s made in the fire pit and rocks are put around the fire to protect it. You don’t do a campfire during dry season, during the rain, or in wind near grass as there is a chance that the fire could go “out of control.” And it’s the same for a marriage.
Marriage is for people who make a very serious commitment to each other (a covenant) and then put rocks in place to protect the fire. Next, there are actions a person can do to build the fire–call those Love Kindlers. When people first start dating, they spend every free moment together, they get to know each other and talk long into the night, they do fun activities together and laugh together, they send each other love notes or buy silly stuffed animals or write poems, and they are attracted to each other and express that physically (usually with holding hands, kissing, hugging, and some degree of making out). These are actions that kindle love and make the fiery passions of love blaze!
BUT there are actions that a person can do to put out the fire too–call those Love Extinguishers. Some are like a little drip from the bottom of a holey bucket…some are like pouring a bucket of water on the fire…and some are like dumping a swimming pool! However, if a bucket had enough small holes and the water constantly dripped and drizzled onto the fire, that fire would never be able to blaze would it? Some common Love Extinguishers are things like never really severing that tie with mom and dad, angry explosions (attacking your spouse), being critical or judgmental (finding fault with everything your spouse does), keeping score, treating your spouse like it’s “your way or the highway”, holding an error over their head forever, being a bottomless pit (enough is never enough), or growing too comfortable (neglectful, taking your spouse for granted).
So let’s follow a typical married couple through their relationship. They meet when they are young and either through friendship or attraction, they have some interest in each other–they catch each other’s eye and there is a very initial, little spark. They are trying to maybe start a love fire! So to the little spark, he adds a love poem, flirts with her, and gets her a little gift (adding Love Kindlers); she flirts with him, admires his muscles, and takes the time to get dressed up to see him (more kindlers). Pretty soon they are dating and keep adding more and more Kindlers like he’s finishing his degree in a good field so he’ll have a good job…and she touches him and kisses him and physically wants him.
And after a year of nothing but Love Kindlers, they are so deeply in love they can’t see straight and he proposes–they’re getting married. After the wedding, a small Love Extinguisher or two pops up. He had no idea she left her face goo all over the bathroom and she had no idea he squeezed toothpaste in the middle! She isn’t the greatest cook and he doesn’t help with chores. So that first year or so after the wedding is an adjustment but they also keep up all the Love Kindlers so they still feel really in love.
Then in year two she tells him, she’s pregnant. They have their son and she spends a lot of time with the baby. She’s always too tired for sex every night but they still have some, and well…she gained a little weight but she lost about half of it. Meanwhile he’s feeling the pressure to provide for a family, so he starts working two jobs. When he is home, he’s tired and wants to relax by watching TV. They don’t do fun things together or talk as often, and she misses that so she says something, and they argue because he feels like she’s blaming him. Then in year four she’s pregnant again and this time it’s a daughter. She doesn’t lose any of the baby weight and in fact, she’s stopped even trying to wear nice clothes–just wears sweats and a tee shirt with her hair up in a knot. She wants him to help and he “never does” so she nags. She wants some romance, hugs and kisses and gets pecks or demands for sex. She wants to sit up and talk all night with him, and he wants her to stop talking and leave him alone. He wants her to look up to him and admire his promotions but all she thinks of is the kids. He wants her to be the curvy sexy mama and she falls into bed exhausted. He wants to come home to a clean, quiet, well-maintained home and every night he comes home to a pile of bills, a messy house, and kids crying! More and more they argue, and lately, when they do, the words said are more spiteful, hurtful, and frankly hateful.
One night, while he is playing video games and ignoring her yet again, she logs onto Facebook and has a friend request from her long lost old flame from college–freshman year. Oh she had SUCH a crush on him and it’s nice to hear from him again, so she approves the friend request and sends him a message saying how good it is to hear from him–how is he? He writes back that he’s going through a divorce and that he found her by luck just surfing around–how is she? She writes about her hubby ignoring her and he’s understanding and comforts her. He sends her a friendly little Facebook daisy and then a hug saying “hope you feel better” and she gets a little love zing out of it. Back and forth they go on, starting as friends at first, just catching up and being a little more than friendly…but not much. They exchange photos and treat each other really nicely, and she thinks, “He actually cares about me and gives a rip.” Then he says something really tender and caring, and she’s touched. Meanwhile her husband has no idea about the old flame from Facebook, or maybe she’s told him and he has forgotten about it, and he continues as he had been. He gets home from work and immediately ignores her and goes to watch TV (or play a game). He still gets mad about the credit card bill, and he still tries to demand sex without even trying to romance her. And feeling a little guilty about the Facebook friend, she might suggest maybe they need some counseling or say “this isn’t working for me” but her husband dismisses it and says they don’t need help. Or worse–she brings it up and he argues with her about it and it ends in a big screaming match.
This marriage is actually in the first stage of an affair: Vulnerability! One of the hardest things we are called to do as married people is take our eyes off of the faults of our spouse and instead take personal responsibility for ourselves. As you can see, up to this point, neither spouse was “right” or “wrong” but rather both were contributing to an environment that made their marriage vulnerable. Each one may have had individual weaknesses that made the individual susceptible to extramarital attention, and in addition, they both contributed to making the marriage vulnerable. To create an extraordinary, affair-free marriage, the most expedient thing we MUST do is stop looking at what our spouse is doing wrong and look at ourselves! At the deepest level, marriage is an example of the covenant that God makes with us, loving us even when we were unlovely, and in a similar way sometimes we have to make a commitment to our spouse–to look at ourselves and humbly admit our own weaknesses and issues and then do the work to fix ourselves, even when they are unlovely. One option is to honestly look in the mirror and acknowledge that we have done the Love Extinguisher, but another option that can be really helpful in a marriage is to ask your spouse to tell you what Love Extinguishers you’ve done that have hurt them the worst. Now this can be a big risk for your spouse to open up and be honest with you, especially if you’ve told them to be honest in the past and then blow up at them when they were honest! But if they are willing to be honest and tell you, please listen with an open heart, and if it gets hurtful, rather than being defensive remind yourself to ONLY say, “Thank you for being honest. I’ll think about what you’ve said.” This demonstrates that they have a safe place to truly be honest and they can tell you what is actually on their heart even when it isn’t all lovey dovey–that you can take the sting of honest truth in a mature way.
From this point, if an affair develops, there are three more stages. After vulnerability the next stage of an affair is “The Dark Little Secret”. Before I go any further just a note: I will not call the people involved in an affair “lovers” nor will I say that what they feel is love, because an affair is not a love story and what they feel is infatuation or lust. Love is not a feeling. It is the commitment to behave in a loving way to your spouse, through every circumstance of life, no matter whether the loving actions are returned. Thus, in this stage of the affair, the disloyal spouse and the other person grow more and more and more close; they become more and more and more inappropriate with their intimacy–both emotionally and physically; and they become more and more secretive about their affair, going to lengths to keep it going and keep it hidden. Some very typical tactics that the affair partners will use to keep their “dark little secret” are: sneaking off to lunches together, claiming to stay later at work, setting up new email accounts or Facebook accounts, getting secret cell phones, or walking out of the room and out of earshot when they get a cell phone call. Other clues of an affair would be suddenly changing hair or losing a lot of weight; wearing sexy lingerie that is not typical of them; getting all new clothes in a totally different style; unaccounted money missing from an account or wallet; deleting the “history” in their browser, cell phone and email; a change in the amount of sex (either suddenly wanting more or suddenly wanting none); sitting at the computer until 3 or 4am long after the loyal spouse has gone to bed; lots of “wrong numbers” and hang-ups; accusing the loyal spouse of invading privacy; and picking a fight so they can storm out. In this stage of the affair, the addiction to the love zing is getting stronger and stronger, and they have to go further and further to get that same incredible feeling. Thus, gradually the forbidden fruit will become more and more tempting and they will become more and more brazen. As they become closer friends, grow more intimate, and share more secrets, they will connect more emotionally. If it is discovered at this point–it is an emotional affair. If it is not discovered (or the loyal spouse chooses to not see it)–it usually spills over into a physical affair and yet 99 out of 100 affairs are not about the sex but rather about meeting the basic human needs of the disloyal spouse and heaping on the Love Kindlers.
The third stage of an affair is the Discovery/Addiction stage. During this stage, the loyal spouse discovers incontrovertible proof that the disloyal spouse is having an affair. For the loyal spouse that is the dropping of the pebble into the pond and the ripples of devastation begin to spread outward and destroy everything. At this point the loyal spouse may be tempted to give up and just divorce, but this stage is crucial to reconciliation. IF the loyal spouse can really step up to bat for their marriage and their spouse and realize that two years of being insane might be worth fighting for when considering a lifetime of up to 70 years together, then I recommend that the loyal spouse expose the affair to pro-marriage people in their spouse’s life who are likely to tell him/her “What are you doing? Return to your marriage and make it work!” These folks will likely be a pastor or maybe parents or Christian friends. It is also crucial that the loyal spouse put out of their mind the idea that the disloyal spouse has to come crawling back in complete remorse and beg for forgiveness. This is the time to examine what they did to contribute to this situation, admit their own Love Extinguishers, work to stop them, and once again start to do Love Kindlers. This is to demonstrate to the disloyal spouse that they are REAL and they can be that attractive man or woman they once were. For the disloyal spouse there are two options: 1) admit you’ve done wrong and return to the marriage, never EVER contact the other person again, and work on making your marriage loving or 2) try to convince yourself and everyone else that you were justified in having your affair, that you were never happy or in love, that having an affair is normal and the kids will be fine, and that the other person is you soulmate and you deserve to be happy. Unfortunately the current society in the USA has done a lot to advance option number 2, but the way to true happiness and recovery is not to do the wrong thing in your marriage, destroy your children and extended family, and substitute someone else. Happiness, like love, is a choice–and our spouse does not “make” us happy or unhappy! The way to true happiness and recovery is to do the right thing, be the man or woman God intended for you to be, and honor your covenant.
The final stage is Ending the Affair. If the loyal spouse chooses to be a hero for their marriage, there are steps they can take to help the affair come to an end. These steps can be scary and it takes an amazingly brave person to stand up and do the right thing when their spouse is behaving badly–but it can be done. The most loving thing you can do is allow the disloyal spouse to experience the consequences of their choices. Remember, the loyal spouse is not trying to embarrass or drag their name through the mud–it is the disloyal spouse’s ACTIONS that did that! Envision that the disloyal spouse is a ship lost at sea and the loyal spouse is the lighthouse, guiding them back home to safe port. If the loyal spouse can be lovingly consistent with ending Love Extinguishers, applying Love Kindlers and also allowing the disloyal spouse to experience the consequences of their choices–the affair can be ended, and then the healing can begin! If the disloyal spouse softens their heart and admits they were wrong, for example, the loyal spouse can do a LOT toward marital recovery by recognizing that initially the disloyal spouse will go through a period of withdrawal from the high of the love zing…that they will miss the other person and probably be pretty sad and depressed. If the loyal spouse is gentle and understanding it can be a really good step! Another fabulous step is taking a vacation from work and going on a second honeymoon. Even if money is tight–do it anyway! It’s worth it to save your marriage! However, it’s conceivable that the disloyal spouse will have determined in their heart that it’s over and they are going to move on. There are STILL things that the loyal spouse can do to demonstrate that they will protect themselves and the family and to show that the door to reconciliation is open. If the affair is left alone to run its course, most affairs end naturally within two years because once they are brought to the light of day, they can just cannot stand up to real life. The light of truth reveals that the other person was willing to cheat to be with the disloyal spouse, and they are willing to cheat the minute the disloyal spouse doesn’t “make them happy.”
Once a couple understands a few basic concepts, sees where their marriage or where they are as an individual may be vulnerable, and knows the stages of a typical affair, then they can work to have an extraordinary, affair-free marriage.
Editor’s Note: We would like to thank David and Cindy Taylor for this guest post. David and Cindy are infidelity experts living happily in the Pacific Northwest with their seven children. As marriage coaches and a married couple themselves, they draw on training and practical experience to help both loyal and disloyal spouses recover after an affair. Together they have founded www.affaircare.com and Cindy is also the Portland Infidelity Examiner. Contact David at email@example.com or Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org