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)