Note: This post is longer than most but there is much to cover.
Yesterday I received a call from a reporter in Nashville wanting my thoughts on why powerful people engage in inappropriate relationships. Having fallen into that trap myself when I was a State legislator, I had some experience with the issue.
Over the past few years the list of inappropriate relationships that have been exposed nationally include former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer, Sens. John Edwards, David Vitter, and John Ensign, Congressmen Anthony Weiner and David Wu, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Now former CIA Director David Petraeus can be added to a list that doesn’t even include pastors or prominent businessmen.
But first I believe you should eliminate the word “powerful” to arrive at the obvious answer for why affairs begin, which is original sin. Such relationships have existed since man’s fall and unfortunately our world keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
As one of my editors at The Christian Post asked during a conference call on Tuesday when we were discussing the recent affair involving Petraeus, “When will people who hold prominent positions learn their affairs are oftentimes revealed on the front page of every national news site?”
I had no good answer. Why didn’t we learn our lesson from studying the biblical account of David? But let’s return to the original question.
The reasons affairs begin vary and are many, but the first mistake people often make is to allow themselves to be placed in a vulnerable position with a person they are attracted to (emotionally or physically). If you are married and that person is not your spouse, it is a recipe for disaster. Trust me.
Growing up, my mom insisted I be home at 11:30 p.m. on weekends even when girls my age could stay out later. “Nothing good ever happens after midnight,” she would say. And she was right. The same applies when we allow another married person access to the intimate physical and emotional world God intended only for married couples. Nothing good will come of it.
The Rev. Billy Graham always made it a practice never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Today that is not enough.
There are basically two types of affairs. The first is purely of a sexual nature and occur when two people engage in sexual acts with someone other than their spouse or someone who is married to another. As we discovered in the case of former President Bill Clinton, an intimate sexual act can be more than just intercourse.
The second is an emotional affair. It doesn’t involve intimate sexual contact but rather a connection of feelings and emotions shared outside the boundary of marriage. Many affairs involve both.
Dr. Floyd Covey has a doctorate in theology and counseling and sees the damage from both types of affairs in his Collierville, Tenn., practice.
“Lots of people minimize the impact of emotional affairs. There’s really not much difference as far as the damage they both evoke,” Covey remarked. “Many times it’s easier to move beyond the effect of a purely physical affair but more difficult as long as there’s still an emotional tie.”
From what I have learned in covering the story between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, I believe their sexual affair first began as an inappropriate and very dangerous emotional one when he allowed an attractive and aggressive woman to get close to him with no barrier of protection.
To my point, some of his former aides have expressed surprise at the access he gave her during the time she was covering him in Afghanistan.
Today’s technology (cellular, text, email), including the use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter give us instant and more private options of communicating with others. While their advantages are many, so are their liabilities because so many inappropriate relationships today begin outside of earshot or vision of others.
Michael Malone, a licensed family counselor in Tupelo, Miss., sees the workplace as the most common environment where emotional affairs begin.
“Most affairs, especially emotional ones, start in the workplace and this is by far the most dangerous environment. Everyone is looking for a connection and if they cannot find it at home with their spouse, they’ll look for it elsewhere, and the workplace is the most convenient place. Oftentimes the element of fantasy from an emotional affair overrides the passion from a physical affair,” he said.
“No longer do people have to meet in the break room or find an out-of-the-way restaurant to communicate during business hours. Chatting on social media sites or texting is easier and certainly more conducive for sending personal or intimate messages.”
Petraeus and Broadwell thought they were being smart. They employed a technique often used by terrorist to communicate. They set up an email account where both had access. Instead of composing a message and hitting the send button, they wrote their message and saved it as a draft. Then the other person would log into the account, open the folder and read the message.
What I know from those who have engaged in both physical and emotional affairs in recent years, the common denominator and greatest culprit is technology.
Brace yourself because I realize what I am about to say will anger some, however, I firmly believe that if you are married you must allow your spouse complete and total access to your cell phone, text messages, email and social media accounts.
That’s what I said: COMPLETE and TOTAL access. In other words, when you lay your phone down on the kitchen table, you should have no fear what your spouse would read if they picked it up. (And no, you can’t have a disposable phone or second computer.)
The other piece of advice I would offer is to find group of fellow Christians of the same sex who can hold you accountable and with whom you can share your challenges and thoughts with in a confidential manner. Marriage is hard and challenging and these guidelines are not foolproof, but they will go a long way in keeping your marriage within the boundaries God intended.