Friday, January 25, 2013

What's it like to have an affair? Or for your spouse to have one?

What happens in the aftermath of an affair? Or what's going on inside a person when they're in the midst of an affair? Those aren't the kinds of questions I want to be able to answer first-hand. But they're important, because I think the answers can help hold me (and perhaps you) to a better path.

Wendy Plump answered those questions in a NYTimes article a few years ago, which made the rounds on Twitter this week for some reason. She writes as one who has had an affair and been the victim of an affair. The best thing you can do is stop reading this post right now and go read her article. I only have a few small thoughts to add to what is a bracing, genuinely gut-wrenching glimpse of the damage done.

First, let's face it -- our lives are usually boring. Having a family is, a lot of the time, unexciting, to say the least. It's the mundane reality of cleaning up after meals, fixing broken window blinds, driving kids to soccer practice, paying utility bills. And sometimes we feel trapped and long for something different. And that's what the affair offers. But eventually that wears out, and 'you will come to long for simple, honest pleasures like making dinner with your sons or going out to the movies without having to look over your shoulder'.

We need to train ourselves to enjoy and appreciate those simple, honest pleasures. Perhaps part of the problem is that we're not seeing the significance in the everyday, that we're looking more generally for what's exciting. Even if we do it for legitimate things, like looking forward to the trip to Disneyland in order to get us through the winter drab. The danger is that we look to the extraordinary, and forget that the life of faith consists precisely in holding on and trusting in the midst of the hard slog of the everyday. But knowing that God is Lord of the mundane, and everything has meaning when done for Christ (reflect on Paul's instructions to slaves in Col 3:23-24), should bolster us to see the everyday routine differently.

Second, I've been thinking this week about the importance of trust in any relationship. Trust - a synonym for faith - is the essence of what God is looking for in our response to him. It's what Abraham had (Gen 15:6), and God accepted that as the equivalent of him doing what was right and being justified (Rom 4:1-8). And trust is essential, indeed foundational, for human relationships. And it's precisely trust which is broken by an affair. And so after the excitement fades, or the hurt, it's trust that you're longing for. Plump writes, 'You will just want to be with someone who does what he says he is going to do, goes where he says he is going to go, and can be found any time you need him because he is not hiding'. The longer I am in relationships, and the more aware of how I may break trust with people, the more I realize just how important it is to be that kind of person. It's actually one of the most alluring, sexy things we can do.

Finally, one of the ways we can allure ourselves with monogamy and faithfulness is to remember what we want to be true decades from now. We want the fruit of long-term faithfulness. We want the reward that comes from staying with and loving our spouse. And that is worth working for, denying ourselves for, and persevering through the hard patches. I'll close with Plump's closing, haunting reflections:
I look at my parents and at how much simpler their lives are at the ages of 75, mostly because they haven’t marred the landscape with grand-scale deceit. They have this marriage of 50-some years behind them, and it is a monument to success. A few weeks or months of illicit passion could not hold a candle to it. 
If you imagine yourself in such a situation, where would you fit an affair in neatly? If you were 75, which would you rather have: years of steady if occasionally strained devotion, or something that looks a little bit like the Iraqi city of Fallujah, cratered with spent artillery?
From where I stand now, it all just looks like a cheap hotel room, whether you’re in that room to have an affair or to escape from the discovery of one.
And despite the sex and the excitement, or the drama and the fix of everyone’s empathetic attention, there is no view from this room that is worth having.

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