I love premarital counseling. It’s a nice respite from what is so often crisis response. Instead, I get to see two incredibly happy people excited for the day when they shall become one flesh. My job in these sessions is to listen, laugh, and challenge.
I typically do three sessions. The first two are certainly a joy, but the last one, if I’m honest, is my favorite.
I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, but I want couples to have a little bit more realistic picture of what life will be like after the cake has been cut and toasts have been given. To this end, I have at least one private meeting with each person where I ask this question, “What are you going to do the first time you begin to feel about someone else the way you feel now about your significant other?”
A Ring Won’t Restrain Sin
It’s a nasty question, I admit, and one that most couples don’t see coming. The very idea that they could begin to have amorous feelings toward someone other than their betrothed — at any point in their lives — seems like an assault on their love and their moral fiber. But don’t be deceived. Putting a ring on your finger does nothing to restrain the rebellion that is in your heart. According to The Truth About Cheating by M. Gary Neuman, nearly seventy percent of men who had an affair thought that they would never do such a thing.
Further, those who affirmed the statement, “I would never cheat on my spouse,” were at an exponentially greater risk of actually having an affair later in life. Satan would love for you to believe that you are invulnerable to some category of sin because then you will stop protecting your soul from its terrible effects. As Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Or as Robert Murray McCheyne once wrote, “The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart.”
Once the indignity of the question has begun to dissipate, we can move on to the second step: Have a plan. People rarely (only six percent, according to Neuman) just “fall into bed together.” The vast majority of time when an affair is consummated, it is done with someone that they’ve known at least a month and with whom they have had multiple interactions. That means that there is time to notice the warning signs. And time to do something about them well in advance of something egregious. Some of those signs may include,
you really look forward to seeing this person
you are willing to go out of your way to make sure that you have regular interactions with them
you rearrange your calendar to find ways to sneak more time in with that person (like early morning meetings, long lunches, late evenings, and more)
you are growing increasingly critical of your spouse, especially as compared to that other someone special
you are looking for reasons to be out of the presence of your spouse
your recreational life becomes more and more exclusive of your spouse
your desire to be intimate, physically or emotionally, with your spouse is dwindling.
What happens if you notice some of these warning signs in your life? Here are three steps, among others.
1. Cut the relationship off.
If you can cut them out of your life completely, do it. But sometimes because of work, church, or family, that is difficult or impossible. At that point, you need to cut them off from anything resembling emotional intimacy.
Emotional intimacy is the lifeblood of an affair. Sometimes people disclose their feelings for one another hoping that it will help keep them from acting, but all it really does is provide gasoline for a budding romantic flame. You want to starve, not feed, that fire.
2. Get help.
Find someone who will encourage Christian growth in your covenant relationship. One of the worst things that can happen is to find a friend who is actually sympathetic to any wandering tendencies. More than three-quarters of men that had an affair had a friend who did the same. As Proverbs 13:20 states, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Or as Paul states it more bluntly, “Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
It’s best if this friend or even mentor can be found in advance. I often encourage my premarital participants to identify in advance who the person is that they could call in the middle of the night and confess, “I think my heart is beginning to wander.” More importantly, let that person know who they are, and allow them to check in with you about this issue from time to time.
3. Renew your commitment to a happy marriage.
Contrary to what movies and songs often lead us to believe, only around ten percent of those that cheated did so with someone they considered “more attractive” than their spouse. Men and women who have an affair often do so because of emotional needs rather than physical ones. For men, it is usually the need to feel appreciated, respected, and valued that leads to an affair; whereas for women, it’s the drive to feel heard, loved, and cherished.
When you perceive a lack of these in your own marriage, be willing to pray together, go to counseling, read books, attend workshops and seminars and conferences —whatever it takes in order to rekindle your own passion in your marriage.
Most importantly, be willing to own your own mistakes, and try to display something of the love of God to the one whom you made that promise in the first place. As Ligon Duncan says, “People don’t just fall out of love; they fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”
In the midst of all the prep for that special day, it’s never too early to plan for the day when it could all hang in the balance. Recognize your own propensity to sin, have a plan to deal with it the moment it rears its ugly head, and stand strong in your commitment to rejoice in the wife (spouse) of your youth (Proverbs 5:18).