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.