On Addiction and Infidelity (#4 of 12)

12 Lessons on Marriage:  #4

Maybe your avoidant/withdrawn/detached coping strategy has left you disconnected from your own emotional experience - your insecurities and longings.  You haven’t yet recognized that you’re in a state of emotional need in the marriage.  You’re on auto-pilot and just coasting through marriage and family life.  Maybe work or some hobby has captured your attention.  Perhaps you’ll won’t wake-up until mid-life - or as the kids age out of the house.  Suddenly you realize that you’ve lost a decade or two.  And then there’s a sense of urgency.  

Maybe you are painfully aware of the deficits in your marriage but you have some little addiction to help you cope.  Porn, alcohol, sexual acting-out, weed, over-eating and/or spending can all medicate the emotional turmoil of a difficult marriage.  They can also sate the underlying relational/spiritual needs.  In my profession, we call all of these activities “competing attachments”.  Like someone parking their car in the handicapped space, they illicitly fill the emotional/relational/spiritual space inside of you that your relationship with your spouse and your God were meant to fill.  Once that parking space is filled, there’s no space left for your spouse.  Although only a temporary salve that is ultimately self-destructive, they are often more reliable and more predictable than the challenge of engaging your spouse at a meaningful level.  

Even worse (though not by much) you meet someone else along the way who shows you attention… or compliments you… or touches you… and your heart leaps in a way that it has not in a long time.  You can’t help but fantasize that you could be happier with someone else.  This idea is alluring enough that when this someone else seems to understand and accept you… to have more in common with you…. to genuinely make you feel enjoyed, known, wanted and happy again… you lean into them when you know you shouldn’t.  You get too close, say too much and your heart or your body gets swept away.  You jump in and ride the limmerance wave again.  It is an awesome ride… not all that different from a cocaine high, but all natural.  Strong threads of shame and guilt are woven through the relational euphoria this time, but as long as you are focused on them it’s manageable.  

  Eventually, you will find that the shock-waves of your affair reach further into your heart, mind and world than you had anticipated.  It effects you, your spouse, your children, your extended family, your friends, your church and your community.  It will impact your children directly - and their marriages - and probably the generation beyond that.  The damage to your own heart alone - even if no one ever finds out - is breath-taking in its extent and subtlety.  The effect on a spouse - even if they don’t find out - is profound.  The emotional distance necessary for one spouse to sustain the secret of an affair is disorienting and crazy-making to the other, altering their view of themselves and their way of relating.  

If the affair comes out and your spouse stays - and if you work hard - it will take a couple of years to recover from the relational trauma.  If you don’t do the work, the damage of the trauma is like a toxin that will eventually kill your heart and the marriage.  Deception is ultimately more destructive than infidelity and even if you divorce, it will take your spouse years to recover from the betrayal of trust.  

Next: #5 Marriage Is Hard Work, but Good Work 

Previous: #3 You Probably Married The Wrong Person

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