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Understanding Emotional Affairs

understanding emotional affairsUnderstanding Emotional Affairs

In my mind, it’s really sharing anything personal with any member of the opposite sex other than my spouse. Remember, emotional affairs usually begin as friendships. They can happen anywhere—at work, at church, in the neighborhood—, but wherever they happen, they send us down a very slippery slope, and we need to be extra careful because they can come from anywhere and can become an extremely close call…or worse.

Childhood Experience

I first saw emotional affairs when I was a kid, courtesy of Pop, my grandfather, modeling them for me. My childhood was pretty broken. I had a lot of stepdads and ended up living with my grandparents. I did not see the sexual activity from Pop so much as I saw the emotional activity and how it affected our family during dinners and on vacations. At that point, cell phones weren’t even a thing, so it was only the rotary phone, his office phone, that technologically enabled his emotional promiscuity. Mind you, his co-workers, secretaries, and business associates all saw these things, yet said nothing. It was the seventies, and emotional affairs probably looked tame compared to everything else.

Growing up in my broken childhood made survival my life’s focus, and it wasn’t just physical survival. It was emotional survival, and my broken childhood triggered a lot of questions for me. Did people like me? Was I good enough for anything? I remember watching a late-night, sexually violent movie at the drive-in with my mom and one of her many husbands. I was only eight or nine years old; my brother was four years younger. You have to wonder what they were thinking to bring us to something like that.

Teenage Years

By the time I hit sixth grade, I was over 200 pounds at only 5 feet, 3 inches tall. Let’s just say that my looks were not too manly. During this time, I remember my friend and me hiding out in the bathroom to look at his dad’s Playboy magazines.

Over five decades later, those visual images from childhood still haunt my mind, and what I learned played a big role in what happened next.

Once my grandparents adopted me, my physical survival became less of an issue, but my emotional survival was another story. My Gram fed me healthy food, literally fresh from the farm. I started running with Pop in the mornings, and it didn’t take long until I got into shape and things started to happen. Girls started to notice me, and I met my first “real” girlfriend. She was so beautiful, had several sisters, and a mom—all of them pretty—, and at almost 15, my brain thought it was love. She was about a year older than me, and after we dated for a couple of months, my first sex happened.

It took a grand total of about 30 seconds. She was mad and immediately broke up with me to be with her old boyfriend. Once again, someone that I cared for so much quit on me, and for no reason, as far as my almost 15-year-old mind could see. She just didn’t love me anymore, and because I thought this was love, my heart broke.

From this point on, my trend was moving from girlfriend to girlfriend. I did not want to be alone, so I kept contact with my old ones and stayed “friends” with many others. It was odd. Many girls were just friends and nothing more, and other girls were more like “emotional maybes” in relationships. Those “maybes” caused me not to be able to be totally “in” in any relationship with the opposite sex. I thought I really felt love for my girlfriends, but I was never all the way committed. I needed to keep my options open. My childhood taught me that most relationships were temporary. I had to survive.

Married Life

Once Kath and I married, I thought I knew a lot. I knew that my relational habits were going to change because marriage is a forever thing. I had seen so much divorce that I knew I would never let it happen to us. I just knew that being true to Kath would happen and that all my old relationships and ways would come to an end. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

As soon as we were married, we started going to church and doing other things that I really thought would change me. My problem was that my old self came right back into our marriage, and my need to survive—physically, emotionally, and in any number of other selfish ways—still occupied the forefront of my mind. I constantly worried that Kath was going to leave. Would I be alone again? When she told me that she had an emotional affair, even though I had had so many of my own, let’s just say the wagons circled, and I did everything possible to get back in control. I had to survive.

Turning Point toward Understanding Emotional Affairs

This survival mode was constant for me until my 47th year of life. The Bible says, most emphatically and in three places, that every knee will bow to Jesus (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10). In the middle of that year, after a series of events—debilitating anxiety, insomnia, and the inability to work, have sex, and even function—my knees bowed.

Looking back on it now, I probably deserved it when Kath’s mom asked her if she was considering leaving me. Kath, however, assured me that she was going nowhere, even if we lost everything. In my opinion, that’s the very first time I saw Jesus, and I saw Him through Kath and felt unconditional love. Finally my need to be emotionally connected with women other than my wife came to a complete halt. All the ongoing conversations, the on-the-road dating, and the inappropriate family activities came to an end.

The easiest part was giving it all to Jesus. Once that happened, the rest of me came alive, and so did our marriage. Not only did God forgive me, all simply because I asked Him to do it, but Kath forgave me as well. I fell in love with Kath really for the very first time, and, with so much emotional baggage out of the way, was able to go “all-in” on our marriage. Growing together in Christ through 14 years of trust, with no more secrets, has healed our past. He expects obedience, and now we try to live in Christ’s image every day, knowing that He has a calling on our lives.

As for my need to survive…I lost it…because we both have HIM.

  • Rene Bird - April 24, 2023

    Wow, very honest and powerful!