To those who have no sense [Folly] says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!”
Provers 9:16-17 (NIV)
Data on infidelity in committed relationships are difficult to quantify. In a few studies done in the 1990’s and 2000’s, the following general trends were identified:
- The lifetime prevalence of infidelity is 25% for married men and 15% for married women.
- 44% of divorced men and 40% of divorced women reported having been involved in at least one extramarital liaison.
These statistics are as representative of reality inside and outside the church. The obvious question would be “why is there such consistency, given the prescriptive nature of Christian teachings against infidelity (adultery)?” If Christians are instructed in the moral error of such behavior, shouldn’t these numbers be lower within our congregations?
An explanation lies in the fact that our “flesh” (that aspect of our being that carries our natural desires) can work against the cause of spiritual growth and maturity. When this happens, the book of Galatians describes the battle in the following way:
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? Galatians 5:16-18 (The Message)
If you are experiencing the heartbreak of the betrayal of a committed relationship, your pain is acknowledged and validated. It can feel like a deeply sinking feeling in which all firm ground has been eviscerated by the discovery of deception and subterfuge. Every day seems to be an exercise in survival, an attempt to not be swallowed by despair, anxiety, anger, grief, shame and aloneness. Life loses all hope, joy and certainty. If you are the perpetrator, the feelings of shame and guilt are overwhelming. You want to propel yourself into a future where the destruction you have caused is behind you. You may be wrestling with deep feelings of regret and remorse, unable to answer your partner’s question of “why”, trying to avoid uncomfortable and awkward disclosures. If you are the affair partner, you are equally heartbroken. Your pain and grief are usually invalidated and have to be hidden for fear of shame and ridicule. You are labelled in the most horrendous ways and the feelings of abandonment and rejection are intense.
The truth is that infidelity is subtly alluring. It crouches at the door, offering its wares to us seductively (“stolen water is sweet”) and reminding us of the excitement of rediscovered desire (“food eaten in secret is delicious”). The seduction of infidelity exploits our natural desire to be wanted (to be desired). This seduction beckons in a way that tempts us to avoid out present relational difficulties and be immediately translated to the novelty of infatuated attraction.
Our susceptibility to this seduction is dependent on the intentionality around personal barriers and boundaries. The lower the barriers, the easier the transition to infidelity. This seduction is particularly pernicious because the effectiveness of the trap is not dependent on the presence of an outward action. We can fall into the trap, even while sitting quietly by ourselves. All we need is our minds to be working, reliving a previous experience or objectifying a present circumstance. For many of us, we have taken the external precautions but yet the internal allure remains. Its embers burn hot in our chests every time we are triggered by individuals around us.
If this is where you are, be encouraged. This is the place where the work begins. and the resolve to overcome the intrigue of seduction meets reality. The truth is that our flesh will not give up this hidden pathway easily. Our broken need to be desired is under grips. For many of us, the absence of desirous expressions from caregivers (parents, teachers, extended family) has caused a chasm in our souls. We are not equipped to experience the only desirability that satisfies, that of a loving God. Instead we search for counterfeit replacements that promise life but only result in death. Even those who love us are baffled at our inability to be satisfied by the genuine desire that they extend. The apostle John describes God’s expression of our desirability in this way
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1
The prophet Jeremiah described God’s expression of his desire for us in this way:
…“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
The seduction of infidelity is only overcome by a practiced realization that we are unconditionally desired by the Creator of the universe.
Every person deserves to receive an expression of desirability, belonging and “wantedness”. This may be an unhealed part of your soul that continues to search, even though outwardly you are coping and restraining. If this is a place of struggle for you, take some time to meditate on the passages above (1 John 3:1 and Jeremiah 31:3). Incorporate this meditation into your daily quiet time. Ask God to manifest his desirability for you in a real and powerful way. If you ask him, he will do it! (Matthew 7:7-8).
If you are someone who has been betrayed or the perpetrator of betrayal or an affair partner, reach out to us for help.