Thanks for being open with me.
Over your latte, I saw the concern in your eyes. I know this isn’t who you want to be; that you’re afraid of your own heart. But I know longing runs deep.
If only “I do” meant our eyes–or especially our spouse’s eyes, right?–never swiveled from our mate’s. But reality is, though marriage helps keep our attraction in one place, it doesn’t flip that switch for us.
“Married” is, sure, a big choice we make once. But it’s also “I do” over and over and over again. When you’re drowning in wet wipes and Goldfish. When he’s flipping on the news and tuning out right when he gets home from work. When you’re depressed after your mom dies.
Unfortunately, Christians can fail to discuss how our hearts are “prone to wander” until it’s too late. Emotional affairs, in particular, can flourish because there’s not a clear line between appropriate…and not. We drift into them.
So thanks. For telling me the truth and keeping yourself accountable, for the sake of keeping what God stuck together. For the sake of your family and your own heart.
I cobbled together some ideas for days like these, when you feel your mind, body, or heart tugged away from “one flesh” with your spouse.
Be fierce, friend. Fight in the way you’d want your spouse to fight for you.
- Rather than comparing your spouse to someone, understand the soul-hole underneath your attraction. It’s often the areas where we don’t feel fulfilled that nudge us toward satisfaction elsewhere, right? And sometimes, our life circumstances leave us feeling particularly vulnerable. I hear you’re wishing you’d feel attractive. Or maybe wanted. Appreciated. Connected. Happy. Free. Obviously, these desires are legit. It’s when they become demands–things we must have, that we’re entitled to, that we’re filling outside of their proper place–that they become a problem.
- Allow me to shoot you straight, friend. No man or woman can fill this gap for you. Tim Keller takes a remarkable look at the story of Jacob in the Bible, who after 7 lustful years for Rachel woke up following his wedding night: Behold, it was Leah!
When you get married, no matter how great you think that marriage is going to be; when you get a career, no matter how great you think your career is going to be; when you go off to seminary, no matter how much you think it is going to make you into a man or a woman of God–in the morning, it is always Leah. You think you are going to bed with Rachel, and it in the morning, it is always Leah. Nobody has ever said this better than C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy…something has evaded us.
If you get married, and in any way do as Jacob does and put that kind of weight on the person you are marrying, you are going to crush him or her. You are going to kill each other. You are going to think you have gone to bed with Rachel, but you get up and it is Leah.
…You can blame the things and drop them and go try new ones, better ones. That is the fool’s way.
Hear me: Yes, your desire is legit–but no, it another person will not fully meet this. In Psalm 27, David begs God, One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.
No, I’m not trying to oversimplify our emotional and sexual and other hungers. But I do think that when we’re unsatisfied in our souls, it shows up elsewhere. When we finally satisfy the longings of those sucking holes, it becomes a lot easier to get the rest of our desires in place.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Julius Caesar, I, ii
- Set up hedges: “fences” you and your spouse agree on to avoid compromising situations (for ideas, here are some of Jerry Jenkins’ top 6). So another friend of mine who’s exploring Christianity recently asked me about the rather prudish guidelines of Christian men not being in a house alone with a woman they’re not married to. I explained the concept of our lives being “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). And I mentioned this blogger’s comparison of Harvey Weinstein and Billy Graham: Would volatile situations be as accessible if we had more “hedges” in place protecting what women feel “obligated” to do? (Personally, I’d rather be in public with Mr. Graham and his wife than alone with Mr. Weinstein.) Before my husband and I married, my parents requested that the two of us never be in a house alone together. It protected us then, and I still hold that general rule for men who aren’t my husband.
- The clever lie: “It’s never a sin to love another human being.” I heard this expertly-crafted line in a recent TV drama. I’ll grant them this: Love is never a sin. But in the context of this show, the writer was justifying both affairs and other sexual sin. Our culture can translate love as getting to do what you want and be happy with the person for whom you have affection. (Ask the spouse of the person who has the affair, or the child whose home went up in smoke, if he or she felt “loved.”) But the Bible defines love as laying down your life, your happiness, your dreams, for what’s truly best for them. Hint: Sin is never the best. Feeding our idols is never the best.
Here are some questions to help you evaluate if you’re going too far emotionally. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking, How would I feel if my spouse was thinking this way about someone else? This author, too, suggests a no-secrets policy between you and your spouse (Hint: Share your social media passwords.)
- Think of hidden struggles like a fungus: They thrive in dark places. Occasionally in Uganda, we’d have a water spill that went undetected, soaking the bottom of my handmade baskets and soon, hosting a fuzzy gray mold. Our best solution to stop the disintegration: flip the baskets over in the sunlight. Get a close friend (of the same sex, you turkey) who you can talk to about your temptations. Get ’em in the light.
Ignatius of Loyola writes,
The enemy also behaves like a false lover who wishes to remain hidden and does not want to be revealed…
Wherever he find us weakest…he attacks and tries to take us by storm.
- And then, like Joseph in the Bible, flee. 2 Timothy 2 talks about “fleeing youthful passions”. Fleeing which shares a root with “fugitive”: I.e, Do not get caught in this. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Whatever causes you to flirt with these fantasies or that emotional connection–cut it off. Flee in the battleground of your mind, too: “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).Don’t just flee away: flee toward. Toward God, hiding yourself in Him. Toward your spouse, acting in the ways of love–out of trust that your heart will follow. (Affections can be catty little things. Yes, cultivate them. But drive them, too. Choose.) For 30 days straight, at least twice a day, pray for desire for your spouse.
- You’ll think I’m simplistic. But one surprising antidote is my same go-to for any other form of discontent, suffering, greed, or waiting: Gratitude. Africa cemented in me this conviction that thankfulness can take my eyes from myself, from what I don’t have and am weeping over–and turn them upward. It’s not some kind of glib positivity. It’s a belief–a choosing–that God is enough for me, and will give me enough.
After all, friend. Marriage is a form of faith, but not faith in your spouse or yourself. It’s that God will give you everything you need to stay married.
Like this post? You might like
- 12 Ideas to Bring Back that Lovin’ Feeling, Parts I and II
- Did I Marry the Wrong Person?
- Know Thy [Stressed] Self: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage
- 9 Ways to Pray for Your Marriage in Tough Times
- Hungry: When Soul-cravings Leave Us Vulnerable
- The Thing Between Us