“I think I’ll have an affair.”

Of the countless people I’ve counseled over the years who have had affairs, I’ve never known one who one day woke up and said, “I think I’ll have an affair.”  But all of them woke up one day, looked in the mirror and said, “I’m in the middle of an affair.”  Most affairs evolve over time.

So why do affairs occur?  The short answer is that there is either something amiss in the marital relationship or there is something amiss in the heart of the adulterer or both.  An affair is actually a symptom.

Jerry and Lynn Jones, developers of the Marriage Matters Seminars and ministry, identify six stages of development in the anatomy of an affair. The first is attraction. Attraction is the pull we feel toward the pleasantness of another’s personality or physical appearance.  There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling an attraction to someone of the opposite sex.  It is part of our humanness.  But, it becomes wrong, and dangerous, if we pursue it.

The second stage in the anatomy of an affair is proximity. That is, being close to the person we are attracted to. Sometimes we can’t help it. Our work setting might require us to work side by side.  They could be a next door neighbor or a friend at church.  The problem is when we artificially create increased opportunities to be close to them.

Interaction is the third stage. If we find we are in close proximity to the one we are attracted to, it creates opportunity for interacting with them.  It might only be small talk, something innocent in the absence of attraction. But, if we are feeling attracted to them, then the conversations will have a more devious intent. 

Jerry and Lynn say there are three questions to ask yourself at this stage that will reveal the true intent of your heart:

  • Are you excited at the prospect of seeing that person today?
  • Do you give extra effort to look nice for them?
  • Do you create opportunities to see them?

The fourth stage in the anatomy of an affair is self-disclosure. This is when you start opening up your heart and sharing deeper, more personal feelings.  “I just want someone to talk to who will listen to me and share with me” is the refrain most often heard.  But these kinds of conversations are steps toward building the kind of intimacy that should be reserved for you and your spouse.

The Jones’ refer to the fifth step as equity.  It happens when the other person responds to your self-disclosure with warmth and understanding and reciprocates with their own self-disclosure.  Once the equity level occurs an emotional bond is being formed.  What was once a small flicker becomes a raging fire that, if not extinguished, will result in the sixth and final stage:  adultery.

 (tomorrow I’ll share with you how to avoid an affair)

4 thoughts on ““I think I’ll have an affair.”

  1. even though I don’t plan on having an affair any time soon, it was still interesting and enlightening to read about how it happens. Makes more sense now.

  2. I wonder if this is true for an addict. My husband had a 6 year sexual affair with a woman from work. She pursued him aggressively, but he’d already been with a prostitute, going to strip clubs and watching porn, he continued to pursue illicit sex with other women during the affair. He never took the affair partner on a date, bought her gifts, or did anything nice for her. He treated her no different than any other employees except that if she traveled in the same city for work they’d have sex. She was also married (to a man she had an affair with, whom she married while having an affair with my husband) with 3 kids. My husband maintains that he had no feelings for her whatsoever before, during or after the affair. He’s had a psych evulation that showed traits of anti social personality, borderline personality, depression, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and sex. The Dr told us that I was the only healthy relationship he’d had in his entire life.

    I assume this post about affairs is intended for “normal” people, not people suffering from addiction and personality disorders.

    My husband has been sober from illicit sex for 17 months and drugs and alcohol for 15 months. His Dr anticipates that when he’s tested again he’ll no longer show traits of personality disorders or depression. We have been in weekly marriage and individual counceling for over a year and he attends several NA meetings a week.

    1. I cannot imagine the amount of difficult work you’ve had to do to remain in your marriage. If nothing else, it shows you are one tenacious lady.
      Any time someone describes human behavior in terms of what people “usually do,” there are always exceptions. That’s what always gives me pause when writing about these kinds of situations. I don’t want anyone to misapply what I say when there particular situation is different.
      Some sex addicts do follow the same pattern that is described by the Jones’ in my article. For them it is all about grooming the victim and the chase.
      But I certainly agree with you that people with an antisocial personality disorder often have a different agenda.
      I hope you are successful in your recovery and that your marriage will survive, too.
      – David

  3. What about “emotional” affairs between same sex friends, where an emotional dependency develops? This can be just as damaging to one’s marriage. Have you had any experience counseling this type of situation?

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