Standing at the kitchen counter, drying dishes with a towel and wiping the sweat from my neck, I knew it was finally time to come clean to my husband.
“I have been attracted to him for months.”
And I wasn’t talking about my husband.
He looked at me, without much surprise, and said, “I think I knew.”
This conversation came after months of working closely with another man in Southeast Asia. We were part of a small close-knit team with daily interactions. And I had “fallen” for a coworker – developed a crush, felt a strong attraction, whatever you want to call it, they were feelings that a married woman should not have for another man.
For months, I suffocated under the weight of guilt and shame. My attraction magnified my husband’s flaws in my eyes, and I found myself seeking out this man’s time and attention in unhealthy ways that perhaps weren’t noticeable to anyone but my husband.
I was terrified to share my struggles with anyone. I labored under the idea that as a cross-cultural worker, it was unacceptable for me to admit my feelings. And I felt ashamed that I couldn’t control my desires.
Thankfully, God protected me from ever acting on those emotions. Eventually, the feelings faded in intensity and stopped occupying the forefront of my mind. God gave me the courage to admit it all to my spouse, even if it was after the worst of the struggle. Yet I wonder how many others have felt the same, and how many have given in and made decisions they deeply regret and have a terrible impact on their marriages and ministries.
There are so many things I wish we’d done differently about preparing our marriage for going overseas. I am sharing these in the hope that they will help you and your spouse strengthen your marriage, even if you never experience the same struggles.
TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF AFFAIRS
Denying your own vulnerability to affairs is denying your own brokenness. If we cannot remain faithful to a perfect Savior at all times, how can we expect to remain faithful to an imperfect human partner?
It is an incredibly awkward conversation that no one in a healthy marriage wants to have or thinks is necessary. But cross-cultural work often puts us in close emotional and spiritual proximity with others. Emotional intimacy can slowly grow between people without notice. And we can often seek comfort and approval from the wrong places, if we are not aware of our tendency to drift from purity.
So talk about it with your spouse – what do we do if we feel attracted to someone else? How can we stay accountable to one another, pray for one another, and be honest with each other? Talking about it before it happens also releases the expectation (and accompanying shame if it happens) that we will never be attracted to another person.
RECOGNIZE SATAN WANTS TO STEAL, KILL, AND DESTROY
Satan wants to steal your joy in marriage, kill your intimacy in marriage, and destroy your witness in marriage. Our relationship with our spouse is the most intimate way God shows his relationship with the church to the outside world. If Satan can steal any of marriage’s power for displaying the Gospel, he will do it.
It’s only by God’s help we can keep our marriages strong. Pray for your spouse. Ask others close to you to pray for your marriage. Cherish your relationship, and look for ways to make it stronger.
GET SOME ACCOUNTABILITY
I wish I had had the courage to share what I was feeling with other women. But because our expat group was so small, and we worked and fellowshipped so closely together, I was terrified of how that disclosure would affect our relationships. And I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my struggle over Skype with friends back home.
Being proactive could have helped this, by asking my support group back home to ask me about my marriage and praying for my weakness. The Bible tells us to bear each other’s burdens, but we can only do that if we actually share them with others. Ask other same-gender friends if they are willing to carry the hard burdens with you.
SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES FOR MARRIAGE
This looks so different in everyone’s relationships. I can’t lay down the rule that you should never be alone with someone of the opposite sex, for example, because sometimes that just happens in work or travel situations. But you and your spouse need to talk about how to protect your marriage. Boundaries aren’t about making rules; they are about protecting what matters. I knew I couldn’t trust myself to be alone with that person, because my heart wanted to share things with him that were too intimate. You need to pray and talk with your spouse about how to protect your relationship.
KNOW THERE IS STILL LOVE AND GRACE WHEN YOU FAIL
Not “if” you fail – because we will all fail in marriage, whether through full-blown affairs or through our inability to love our partners well enough. We are broken, sinful people – and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can throw ourselves on Jesus. He is the only hope for marriage. He can give us the power to love our spouse selflessly and to say “no” when temptations come our way.
And when we mess up, he still loves and accepts us. Our value in the eyes of God is not found in our ability to love another person perfectly; it is found in Jesus’ perfect love for the Father and for us, and in his life given for ours on the cross. Knowing that gives us hope that, despite our sin and helplessness, we are still loved by him.
This article was written by an anonymous worker. If your heart has been touched by this story and you (like the author) wish to remain anonymous, we invite you comment anonymously. The author will also be responding anonymously.