In my practice, I (Steve) see a trend that alarms me. Increasingly, I meet women who are living out their fantasies on the Internet. “It’s just a game,” said one of my clients. “I don’t know the men and they don’t know me, so how can it be wrong?” Women who think an Internet Affair is safe and innocent couldn’t be more wrong. Like quicksand, it keeps sucking you in deeper and deeper even when you are seriously trying to get out.
It progresses quickly from curiosity to flirtation, to emotional involvement, and eventually to contact. Even if you resist actually meeting a man, once you start sharing on an emotional level, this fantasy person has captured part of your heart and soon will seem better and more interesting than your husband.
Why Fantasies Can Hurt You Whether acted out on the Net or in real life, such fantasies can be harmful for a number of important reasons — aside from the difficulties of divorce. The most obvious is that even an emotional affair can cause irreparable damage to an imperfect but workable relationship. Nothing hurts like betrayal. And while a marriage can recover from an affair, the road to such recovery can be steep and painful.
Yet another danger of “I can do better” fantasies is that they are usually just that — fantasies. They are usually based on delusions and can lead to even deeper disappointment than what you are now facing. After all, anyone can put on a good front for a short period of time — or in cyberspace.
But the handsome, charming, exciting — or gentle, understanding, and tender — man you believe will rescue you from your relational doldrums is likely to look quite different once you really get to know him. If he is single and knows you are married, research shows that he is most likely narcissistic, alcoholic, or has problems with commitment. If he is married as well, then you are getting involved with a married man who cheats on his wife. Is that really the kind of person you believe will help you discover something better?
In The Many Loves of Marriage, artist and author Thomas Kinkade points out another important problem with fantasizing about the perfect person or the prefect relationship:
“People get a divorce, link up with someone new, and suddenly they’re doing all the fun romantic stuff — moonlight walks and bicycle rides and exotic getaways. They could have done all of those things with the spouse they just left, but they didn’t. As a result, they endure the trauma and humiliation of a wrenching divorce, shattering change in their lives, great financial loss, and bitter, deeply wounded children… all for the sake of “new romantic experiences.”
And then Kinkade asks a very pertinent question: “And how long do you think that relationship will last?”
As men and women have discovered through the ages, infidelity and delusion form a very shaky foundation for happiness. No matter how painful your marriage is now and how unhappy you are in it, your chances of finding lasting happiness in the form of “someone better” are slim indeed. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest your time, energy, and emotions into making your current marriage better?
Have You Gone too Far? The idea of “I can do better than this” often begins with seemingly innocent questions like “What if I were single?” or “What if I had married someone else?” These questions are reinforced by the idealistic — and unrealistic — depiction of love in romantic movies, television, music, and novels. It’s easy to become attached to the illusion of finding someone other than your husband who can meet all your wants, needs, and desires.
Remember that every time you think about being with someone other than your husband, you are undermining your marriage and breaking your vows. God’s word is clear that fantasizing about having sex with anyone other than your spouse is sin. That may sound severe, but every sin that we eventually act out in our bodies begins in our minds — and the easiest place to stop it is in the mind as well.
The first step in ending an affair, in other words, is never allowing it to start. If there is someone you are seriously attracted to — whether a checker at the grocery store, a friend’s husband, or someone you met casually — we urge you to do what you must to put him out of your thoughts. In most cases, this will involve avoiding all contact with the person.
One woman found herself very attracted to a man at her church. They had never met, but he was the kind of man women notice, and seeing him stirred her romantic imagination. She changed where she sat in church so he wasn’t in her line of vision and avoided places where she might bump into him. Eventually he moved away and she was thankful she had succeeded in never having a conversation with the handsome gentleman.
If you have allowed conversations with another man (whether in person, on the phone, or on the Internet) to move to a personal level, you may be on the brink of or already involved in an emotional affair. Dennis Rainey, award-winning author and founder of FamilyLife ministries, gives the following sever warning signs that you are too involved:
- You’ve got a need you feel your mate isn’t meeting — for attention, approval, affection — and that other person begins meeting your need.
- You find it easier to unwind with someone other than your spouse by dissecting the day’s difficulties over lunch, coffee, or during a ride home.
- You begin to talk about problems you are having with your spouse.
- You rationalize the relationship by saying that surely it must be God’s will to talk so openly and honestly with a fellow Christian.
- You become defensive about the relationship and protective of it.
- You look forward to being with this person more than with your won mate.
- You wonder what you’d do if you didn’t have this friend to talk to.
- You hide the relationship from your mate.
Another quick test is to ask yourself if you would like your husband to know about or to listen to the conversations you are having. If your answer is no to either question, chances are that you have gone too far.
What should you do if that’s the case? We urge you to break off your connection with that individual immediately, no matter how fulfilling your conversations have become. This means no more e-mails, no more meeting for lunch or coffee, and no more private conversations. Period! Fill the void by choosing a girlfriend or a mentor who is in a healthy marriage and ask if you can vent with her for a few months while your marriage gets back on track.
If you are involved sexually with someone other than your husband, it’s even more crucial that you make a commitment right now to end the affair immediately. Do it today.
Adapted from The Walkout Woman by Steve Stephens and Alice Gray, published by Multnomah. Copyright © 2004 Steve Stephens and Alice Gray, used with permission.