Let’s be upfront about a dirty little secret. Affairs are exciting. Often undertaken when a marriage has become contentious or stale, or when one member does not feel seen, known or loved well, they offer the illusion of an escape, a way to liven things up, a way to feel wanted again.
The attendant risks – of being found out, of public humiliation, of wanton destruction of our most dear relationships – can make an affair very exciting indeed. For a while. Almost no one gets away with it. At some point suspicions boil over and disaster strikes, leaving wreckage in its wake.
8 Reasons Why Having an Affair is Not a Good Idea
If you are considering having an affair, here are 8 good reasons to reconsider, or if you have started one, to stop.
#1 – You Will Cause Enormous Pain
People who have been cheated on often say things like, “I feel like someone ripped out my heart and stomped on it.” There’s a reason for these colorful metaphors. Being betrayed by the one you love and thought you would spend the rest of your life with causes agonizing emotional pain.
You would have to truly despise someone to deliberately inflict that kind of pain. If you got drunk, or “accidentally” let things go too far and they got out of hand, that is no excuse. In this context, make no mistake: thoughtlessness is cruelty. Neither you nor the one you are betraying will ever fully get over it. How strong your feelings are for the person in your illicit relationship doesn’t matter. It is a brutal disregard for the feelings of the person you are sworn to protect and prefer.
#2 – Your Children Will Suffer For It
Rage, jealousy, and distrust are the poisonous seeds sown in your family relationships when a spouse has an affair. If your marriage is on shaky ground, your children will sense it and be anxious. Affairs rip a marriage apart at the foundation, and only sometimes are people able to come back from it through the difficult work of counseling.
Your children may learn not to trust a marriage, or choose not to have children of their own, or learn that it’s okay to cheat if your feelings are strong enough. By deliberately making a bad choice, we normalize that behavior for them and create in them a greater potential for bad choices and heartache down the road.
Don’t imagine they won’t know, even if you try to hide it. We are connected organically with our loved ones. The poison from the violation of your marriage will leech out of your soul in your turns of phrase, your glances, flashes of guilt or disdain because on some level you think you deserve the affair. Your loved ones may not understand it, but most will pick up on it, sensing that something is desperately wrong.
#3 – Your Extended Family Will Suffer For It
People understand irreconcilable differences. Sometimes spouses are just not able to get along over the long term and choose to end the relationship. In those situations, when the breakup is amicable, ex-spouses can sometimes remain friends with their ex-extended family members.
When one spouse cheats on another, however, the anger and outrage usually run high and those relationships are destroyed. If you have any relationships with your in-laws that you value, know that you will most likely lose those relationships when your infidelity is discovered and everything falls apart. It is not an overstatement to say that people have killed for less.
#4 – Your Friendships Will Suffer For It
When one spouse betrays another, usually the friends end up choosing sides. Mutual friends, friends from work, friends from church will tend to gravitate toward the wounded party, which means they will most likely side with your spouse when it comes to light.
A friend, coworker, pastor or boss who knows you had an affair might reasonably question whether they can trust you. A willingness to betray your most sacred vow will seem to some a significant character flaw. It may destroy some of your friendships, any ministry you might have at church, and possibly even ruin your chances of promotion at work, depending on the moral views of your boss.
#5 – Your Church Body Will Suffer For It
If you have a church body, and especially one where you are in some kind of ministry or leadership role, the same polarization is likely. People will tend to side with the betrayed spouse. Whatever your role at church, you will likely be asked to step down to deal with what is clearly a significant problem in your marriage and your life.
Your reputation will take a serious hit, and some people will stop trusting you, or wanting to be around you. People who care about you will be deeply saddened. Some will blame themselves for not seeing it or knowing how to help. Occasionally, churches split over an affair when it happens to someone in a leadership role. There is no such thing as a harmless affair.
#6 – Your Self-Respect Will Suffer For It
You may be able to talk a good game. You may have convinced yourself that you’re not hurting anyone, or you deserve to feel good about yourself and the affair seems to do that on the surface. You may be angry at your spouse for some action or inaction, and tell yourself this is your justifiable response.
Whatever your inner dialogue about the affair, or the vigorous, convoluted gyrations you may make to justify it, underneath it all you will know quite simply that you are wrong. That this is a sin. You will know you are breaking a vow and harming the one person you are literally sworn to protect, love, honor and cherish.
This means that on some level, you will know that you are the bad guy in your own story. The effort you put into believing you are somehow justified will actually do damage to your psyche over time. Trying to believe a lie creates cognitive dissonance in our minds, which can eventually lead to delusional thinking.
#7 – Your Relationship With God Will Suffer For It
If you have a relationship with God, you will find it impossible to sustain if you want to keep having your affair. The Bible is very clear about adultery. It made the top ten for things not to do. God hates sin because of the damage it causes in the lives of his loved ones.
By choosing an affair over God, we are saying, in essence, “I choose the damage and get off my back.” There is a place in the Bible where it says that God “turned them over to their lusts.” He basically said, “Fine. Have it your way.”
This is a horrifying condition to be in. The God of the Universe is not going to stop you. You can continue down the road of your affair, and enjoy all the fleeting benefits and soul-crushing, long-term heartache, all on your own. But if on any level you love Him and want to live for Him, why allow yourself to go down this road at all?
#8 – You Made a Vow
Many marriages still happen in a church, before a group of witnesses, family members, friends, and include vows to love, honor, cherish and forsake all others. These vows are made before our community and before God for a reason. They matter greatly and are the most important vows we will ever make. Marriage is also a contract.
When we violate our vows, we also break that contract. This is why divorce still has to be dissolved in the courts. One of the greatest threats to those vows is allowing yourself to be lured into an affair. Breaking those vows is no small thing. We should be guarding them with sober determination. Not all flirtations are harmless.
No one wakes up one morning and says, “I’m going to have an affair and destroy my marriage!” Because we are moral beings and have internal restrictions against that kind of behavior, it happens gradually, one seemingly harmless step at a time.
An attractive coworker shows up in the break room at the same time. You talk and find you have some common interests. Someone says something funny and both laugh, then look into each other’s eyes a little too long. Now you’re thinking about them at your desk, and you can imagine the rest. No matter where you are in the attraction cycle, the time to stop it is right now.
Some years ago, I was working on a proposal in a city four hours from home. There was an attractive temp working beside me and after several days, we had a conversation and shared one of those humorous moments that turns into the little-too-long look. That evening, I heard a knock at my hotel room door. She was there inviting me downstairs for a drink. I had two responses: excitement and panic. It is thrilling to have someone show interest in you, and I’m human.
The panic was because I knew this moment, right here at the door, was the decision point about which path I was going to walk. At that moment, I realized that “No” happens at the door, not at the bar downstairs, not as she’s opening the door to her room. I made an excuse and she left, and I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had made a choice that spared me, my wife, my children, and our friends from years of pain and heartache.
You may have heard the phrase, “she drove him into the arms of another woman” or “he drove her into the arms of another man” in response to news of an affair. Though the unloving, unkind, or disengaged behavior of the spouse may drive the choice, what makes this an unhelpful way of thinking is that it makes it sound like the person who had the affair had no other option.
There is always a choice. They may have ended up in a situation where the choices were limited, either through substance use or escalating desire to the point of no return, but there is no such thing as an affair that happens by accident. We prepare our hearts for loyalty or we prepare our heart for infidelity by how we think about our spouse, how we think about our intimate emotions, how we regard our commitments, and what we do to communicate our needs and desires.
If you have strong or increasing feelings for someone who is not your spouse, get into counseling immediately so you can understand what is driving those feelings. Don’t try to fight it alone. You will probably need to bring your spouse into counseling to work on the dynamics of your relationship, and identify unmet needs, but the most important thing right now is to interrupt the attraction cycle before it goes any further.
If you are already in an affair, you need to confess your sin to your spouse and stop it immediately. The reason you have to confess to your spouse first is that jilted lovers often go immediately and tell all to the betrayed spouse as an angry stab at their ex-lover. Once you decide to end it, any thought of somehow hiding it from your spouse is over.
Your spouse will likely be enraged and hurt. Don’t try to defend yourself. Your only reply at first should be, “I am so sorry.” The time for talking about what led to the betrayal is in counseling together, which you should start immediately if your spouse is willing.
If you don’t want to end your affair, have the decency to put it on hold and end your marriage as amicably as possible. The most damaging course of action is to imagine you can have your affair and your marriage and somehow keep everyone happy. You can choose the narrow path and prefer your marriage.
Be tough with yourself; identify your selfishness for what it is, identify your pain for what it is. You get to have your feelings, but our feelings drive our actions and our actions have consequences. If you are struggling with infidelity, admit it’s a problem that needs addressing, set your feelings aside long enough to find a therapist to help you figure out why it’s happening and begin to make a change.
“Listen,” courtesy of Monse PB, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Alone,” courtesy of Gianluca Zuccarelli, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rain, ” courtesy of Sveta Survorina, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Downcast,” courtesy of Austin Prock, unsplash.com, CC0 License