Are All Affairs Alike

As you care for couples where infidelity has occurred, it is important to take the first step and encourage them for seeking help. I will develop this more fully in future posts, but this is exactly why the church exists and why Jesus came! It is also important to realize that not all affairs are alike. Taking the time to determine the nature of the affair will inform your ongoing care for the couple.

Here are a few types of affairs likely happening in your congregation as we speak:

  • The one night stand with a stranger: this type of infidelity does not tend to be built on much relational capital. It could be motivated by many things such as pleasure, excitement, or power. Sometimes it is driven by anger and a person will have an affair to hurt their spouse. The obvious concern is how often the person has engaged in this type of infidelity.

  • Multiple one night stands with strangers (philandering): this type of an affair has a habitual, possibly life-dominating nature that will be harder to address than the isolated one night stand.

  • The one night stand with a friend: this type of infidelity tends to develop within the context of a relationship. Even if it was a onetime event, there could be more going on than infidelity with a stranger. Also, if the friend knows both spouses, the relational fall out will be significant. The spouse who has been cheated on will always struggle to trust his or her spouse around that person or other friends.

  • The emotional affair: this type of unfaithfulness stops short of any physical intimacy, but it has all the other aspects of an affair. In essence, the person begins to think about being in this person’s company more than they do their spouse’s. This type of an affair often goes unnoticed because no sexual intimacy exists. This can also occur between people of the same sex.

  • The Cyberspace Affair: this is a relatively new kind of affair. There are two ways this affair can progress. It may start simply as a personal interaction through facebook. It may also start with impersonal online pornography which moves to a more personal interaction. It can ultimately move to an arranged meeting and ultimately physical involvement. This kind of affair is on the rise as internet pornography engulfs the wired world.

  • The long term affair/second spouse: this is an affair where someone stays in their marriage for certain reasons (family, children, reputation), but is more committed to their extra partner who functions more like a lover/companion while the spouse functions more like a father/mother. These kinds of affairs can thrive for a long time and are difficult to end.

If the affair has gone on for a long period of time (several months) and the emotional/relational side has developed, it will be more challenging. It may take much longer to deal with the implications and consequences on the marriage. The longer someone is in an affair, the more deluded they are about needing the other partner in their lives.

You can see that there are many variations on a theme. Each affair has unique nuances that you don’t want to miss. Being a patient, good listener will serve you and the couple well as you embody the grace of Christ in these early stages of care.



Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.