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Emotional adultery

by Jacob Ninan

Question: My wife is very friendly with another man, and spends a lot of time talking to him. She says she is not doing anything wrong, but only meeting her need for emotional outlet which she is not getting from me.

Answer: It is very true that people have emotional needs, and one of the reasons they get married is because they can link to another person intimately at the emotional level also, in addition to every other aspect of the marriage relationship. As people who have a greater place for emotions in their lives, women have a bigger need here compared to men. But many times husbands do not understand this, since many of them have never learned to acknowledge or manage their own emotions at a conscious level because they have come to believe falsely that emotions are a sign of weakness. They tend to think that their wives shouldn't be so emotional, instead of thinking that wives are that way by nature and that it is their duty as husbands to provide for meeting their wives' need in this area too.

Having said that, all of us must realise that having needs does not justify meeting them in illegitimate ways. Just because we feel hungry we don't have the right to steal food from someone else. Just because we have emotional needs we can't tell ourselves it is our right to meet them from whoever offers to meet them for us. Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman on three basic counts. These are essentially what we agree to when we get married.

1. An exclusive relationship. Out of the billions of people available for us to get married to, we choose one individual, and that is the person with whom we will relate in every way. This is to be an exclusive relationship where no one else is supposed to come between the married couple. God tells us to 'leave father and mother' and cling to our spouse (Ge.2:24), meaning that even the people we were closest to before marriage should now cease being as important to us as our spouse. Jesus also reiterated it by saying that we were not to allow anyone to come between us and our spouse (Mt.19:5,6).

2. A lifelong relationship. When we get married, we agree to stay with each other and be faithful to each other till we die. This adds to the stability and happiness of the marriage, in contrast to live-in arrangements or contract marriages where people live in uncertainty. When we have this lifelong commitment to each other, we make every effort to overcome obstacles and difficulties that come along the way, instead of calling it quits.

3. An unconditional commitment. This is what we mean when we commit ourselves to each other and agree to stay together for better for worse, for richer for poorer, and in sickness and in health. No one knows what all situations they may face in their life together, and what they are promising each other is that they will face every situation together and remain loyal to each other.

One of the strongest needs for women in marriage is for affection. They need to receive it every day, all the time, from their husbands in the form of words, physical touch, concern, care, acts of service, conversation, spending time together, doing things together, etc. One common mistake men make is to think that as long as they work and provide for their homes, everything should be fine. They don't understand this strong emotional need in their wives and they don't realise that they need to provide for that also. If a wife finds a vacuum in this area in terms of her husband she is tempted strongly to look for emotional support from somewhere else, just as a man is tempted in his sexual area. This is where she can fall, when someone else shows interest, concern, appreciation, etc., and makes her feel good.

But such a wife does not understand that meeting her emotional needs from another man amounts to unfaithfulness towards her husband at the emotional level. She is allowing herself to 'enjoy' a man other than her husband at the emotional level. If Jesus would call a man looking at a woman with desire as adultery of the heart, what this wife does would fall under the category of emotional adultery. Just as some men try to say that they are only 'looking' and not commiting any physical adultery, this wife could also try to justify herself saying that she is only talking and spending time with a man 'on a friendly level'. But this kind of extramarital friendship is what is called an affair. Given enough time and suitable cirumstances this will finally lead to physical adultery also.

What can you do as a husband? Of course the first thing you need to do is to correct your own relationship with your wife in order to show your love and affection for your wife at the emotional level also, consistently and deliberately. This may need a conscious effort on your part especially as you will be feeling betrayed and hurt by what your wife is doing. But you cannot correct her before correcting things on your side. Once she begins to notice the change in your attitude and behaviour towards her you can bring in the subject of her relationship with the other man. While you have to avoid accusing her outright or putting it as if all the blame is on her, you may need to be firm in insisting that she needs to give up her friendship with the other man. Suggest that you may go for counselling together to understand things better.

If she has already become infatuated with the other man and is not willing to give him up (insisting that it is only a platonic friendship, it is not crossing any boundaries, she is only trying to meet her needs which she is not getting met with you, etc.), you may have to consider raising the matter with her parents, other members of the family, the pastor of the church, etc., in turn. If you have to go to that level of action make it clear to her that you are not trying to attack her or defame her, but only trying to protect her and your marriage. Depending on how tough she is in her position, your action has to be just as tough.

Pray that God will speak to her heart and give her true understanding of the situation. Sometimes infatuation can be very difficult to deal with, and may take much time and patience. But don't stop loving her, or being patient with her. That is your first responsibility towards her as a husband.

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