By Karen McKenny
My lover is mine and I am his. ~ Song of Songs 2:16
Passage: Song of Songs 2
During the last few years I have communicated with a number of wives and husbands who are concerned about their mates’ other relationships. The scenario goes like this: My mate is very good friends with someone of the opposite sex. He/she spends lots of time with this person either on the phone or in person. I even overhear him/her talking about me and our marriage. I have expressed concern over this friendship, but my spouse repeatedly tells me that they’re nothing but friends and I’m just being jealous.Sometimes the friendship existed before the couple got married, so the mate has had a platonic-but-close friendship with this special friend for years and has no intention of putting boundaries on it. Often the spouse who is expressing concern feels deeply betrayed and frustrated. And well he or she should. Many times what is going on is an emotional affair.
Emotional affairs happen when a platonic friendship turns into a crush or thoughts are entertained such as, “If I were single, this is the person I’d go after.” Sometimes light flirting happens. When the spouse involved in the emotional affair gripes or puts down his or her spouse or discusses negatives about the marriage, verbal infidelity has occurred. Often verbal unfaithfulness coupled with an emotional affair leads to sexual infidelity. Emotional affairs resemble a sexually chaste dating relationship. When coworkers have emotional affairs, they regularly do special things for each other, such as bake cookies or small repair jobs. They might walk to their cars together at the end of the day and spend breaks and lunchtime with each other. Many times when a man has an affair with his secretary, she starts out doing thoughtful, wifely things for him. This grows into a friendship, which blossoms into an emotional affair, which eventually becomes sexual. In order to combat any chances of an emotional affair, some Christians run every time they see someone of the opposite sex. This is really only necessary if the person is spiritually, emotionally, or sexually weak. In such cases, the remedy lies in strengthening the marriage and his or her relationship with God to the point that fierce loyalty to the spouse and the Lord overrides temptation.
People have to work and interact with people of the opposite sex. In our ministry, my husband and I are surrounded by male and female acquaintances and associates. We’re both very careful to not let any of these friendships grow into a relationship that might lead to an emotional affair. If we sense someone is too interested, Daniel and I report to each other with a “What do you think? Am I being paranoid or do you think this person might be trying to warm up to me?” Many times Daniel and I validate what the other is sensing. Then we quietly put boundaries on that person. I’ve found that sometimes Christians who are wholly dedicated to the Lord can go from one emotional affair to another without realizing or recognizing what’s happening. Occasionally baking cookies for business associates or walking to a vehicle together or having a business-related lunch doesn’t automatically mean someone is having an emotional affair. These deeds can be a necessity or simply a polite consideration and nothing more. However, it’s wise to be on guard so that habitual kindnesses don’t grow into more…not only for you, but also for the other party.
As the outgoing, friendly sort who talks to everyone, I’ve learned the hard way that those who are emotionally needy can view the offer of friendship as something more personal and serious. Now that I’m a much older and wiser woman, I’m polite but careful to never give men a reason to think I’m available emotionally or otherwise. I also frequently mention God, my husband, and my family and keep conversations benign. If you or your mate has experienced an emotional affair, perhaps the marriage isn’t meeting the needs or fulfilling the one involved in the affair. I’m not saying that the emotional affair is the fault of the other spouse, but I am saying that often trouble in a marriage can drive inappropriate emotional attachments. In most cases problems in a marriage exist because both spouses contribute in some way. If an emotional affair turns into a sexual affair, and then a divorce and remarriage occur, the people involved will likely fall into a similar dysfunction again.
Examine your heart for any signs of an emotional affair. If your spouse is uncomfortable with a friendship you nurture, put some boundaries on that friendship. Don’t enable a spouse’s inappropriate jealousies that are bred by control and insecurity, but be sensitive. If you’re spending time with and getting attached to a person of the opposite sex, your spouse will sense that and voice objections. Listen to your mate. Don’t discount what he or she says. Father, please show me any emotional affairs I might be blind to. Also, make me aware of anyone who is too close to me. Help me put kind-but-firm boundaries on that relationship. I want to be faithful to my mate sexually, verbally, and emotionally. And, Lord, please give my mate the same desires. Give us the wisdom and discernment to avoid unhealthy emotional attachments that violate our wedding vows. Bring us to a point in our marriage where we can joyfully say, “My lover is mine, and I am my lover’s” and mean it.