“We just started as really good friends.” Over and over we hear the same theme from individuals who have had affairs. A relationship with someone of the opposite gender begins crossing lines from friendship into emotional adultery. For many people the emotional attachment turns physical as well.

Emotional adultery happens when one spouse is investing their time, energy, and attention intimately into a person to whom they are not married. Most often these relationships begin in the workplace. However, they can happen in the intimacy of church, through researching old flames on social media, or by dabbling on dating websites.

Proverbs 4:23 lays out this challenge: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” To that end, we’re first going to lay out eight signs that the “friendship” has crossed the line into emotional adultery and four steps to address it.

Eight signs of an emotional affair:

  1. You identify this person as someone who just “gets you.” They understand and connect with you in ways that your spouse doesn’t. 
  2. You choose to hide the relationship or aspects of the relationship from your spouse. ANY time secrecy creeps into a friendship it’s an immediate red flag that you are in danger.
  3. You engage in spiritual intimacy with the other person and there’s no third-party present. Spiritualizing the relationship is deceptive because we somehow think that God will bless it or at the very least, not judge it as harshly. Sometimes couples will pray together or use “Christian talk” in their conversations. Often we’ve heard phrases to describe emotional affairs like, “They are a really good Christian,” or “Their faith is very important to them.” That’s deceptive thinking. If those things were true of them OR of you, there would be strong boundaries around your hearts and these lines wouldn’t have been crossed.
  4. Your connection and communication with this person is almost obsessive. You are pouring your time and energy into a relationship that is not with your spouse. With each interaction there’s anticipation for the next opportunity to connect. Physically, each engagement releases dopamine into your system and that creates an excitement that is similar to cocaine use (see this article for more).
  5. You negatively compare your spouse to this person. This includes sharing the negative details of your marriage with them. Often two individuals find solace and understanding when they are both going through struggles in their marriage and they bond over their shared pain.
  6. You look forward to seeing the other individual. Perhaps you dress with them in mind and choose to put on cologne or perfume for them. 
  7. You fantasize and imagine what life or situations would be like with the other person. “I bet we would have fun on a vacation to _______ together.” “I know life with them would be way better than life is right now with my spouse.” Or when you think about them in romantic or sexual ways.“I wonder how they kiss?” “We would be SO sexually compatible.”
  8. Your spouse has red flags about your interactions with the other person.

Do you know someone whom you suspect is committing emotional adultery? Do you know what steps to tell them? Do you see the signs of it in a relationship you’re in? Or if you know you are in a relationship that has crossed the line into emotional adultery–what do you do?

Four steps to end an emotional affair:

1. Confess it.

First, confess it to God. You want God’s blessings and favor on your life. God will not be mocked and he will remove his protective favor from you as long as you choose to live in rebellion to him. 

Get on your knees and agree with him that the relationship you are in is sin and dishonoring to him and to your marriage. Confession includes repentance. This means a desire to reverse course from the direction you’re going. Through the years Brad has prayed alongside several courageous men who got on their knees and prayed this prayer. 

Second, confess it to someone of the same gender who will hold you accountable. James 5:16 says to “…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” You break the bond of sin when you bring it into the light and let God heal what sin has broken. 

2. Crucify it.

You are going to get rid of a relationship that has brought you pleasure. It has met needs. It has propped you up where you felt unsupported. Recognize that what you have to do is painful and hard, but it must be done.  The Apostle Paul wrote that “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). 

This means you are choosing to remove that relationship and its intimacy from your life. Don’t be concerned with the other person and what will happen to them. Do what is right. God is big enough to take care of them and guide you through any consequences that may arise from your choices. Do what you have to do to protect your relationship with Jesus and to guard your marriage. In fact, your marriage will rise in value in your heart when you choose to sacrifice for it.

3. Conquer it.

This will be an ongoing battle of the mind and the heart. Because this relationship has fed you relationally and with the addictive hits of dopamine, you will go through withdrawal. Stay strong in Christ and firm in your resolve to be a man or woman of character and integrity. Repeat over and over the promise found in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Then, move forward confidently in that truth.

4. Change it.

You spent an inordinate amount of time pouring into this relationship. Reclaim that time and use it to grow closer to Jesus and to your spouse. Feed your mind with scripture–perhaps starting with the Gospel of John. Ask God to reintroduce you to Jesus and his love. Listen to Christian music. 

Every time you are tempted to reach out to the person with whom you had the affair, reach out to your spouse instead. The old adage still rings true, “The grass is greener where you water it.” So pour yourself with renewed focus into your marriage even if you don’t feel like it as feelings often follow right actions. 

As you take steps to honor God in your life, you will put yourself in a position of receiving his blessing and as a result, you will build your marriage.