By Letitia Suk
Julie bounced out of bed, glad to see she had a full hour before leaving for work. The sales team was meeting today for lunch and she wanted a little more time to choose her outfit and coax her hair into that style that netted so many complements. “I’m just trying to present well so our product will have the best chance of going forward” she muttered to no one in particular. Somewhere in her heart, though, if she really asked herself the question, she knew she wanted to present well for Jeff, her co-worker who usually worked from home but was due to show up for the meeting today.
Glancing at her still-sleeping husband, Matt, Julie assured herself that “nothing was ever going to happen with Jeff” and leaned over to give Matt a kiss on the cheek before heading out the door.
Attractions outside of marriage drop in from time to time on most Christian women. Like Julie, it might be someone from work, a guy you met through your kids, or even your husband, someone in your small group, or even your pastor.
How can we ride the waves of an attraction while still staying blameless? Cheryll Hanawalt, MA, LCPC, Evanston Illinois says, “It is important to recognize that attraction is common, and in itself means nothing. Just because a person is attractive to us doesn’t mean we have to do anything with it. In fact, immediately finding ways to avoid feeding that attraction through fantasy or making attempts to be around that person is essential to protecting the most important relationship in your life.”
Through the stories of four Christian women (names have been changed), here are five steps to avoid an attraction turning into adultery.
1. Tell the truth to yourself; you are attracted to another man.
Staying in denial keeps you stuck in the attraction.
Sarah … As I would come to watch my husband’s soccer games, one of the men on another team was very friendly, spending lots of time in conversation with me while I waited for my husband’s game to finish. The attention was of course flattering. I am not sure if this man was attracted to me, or simply outgoing and attentive. After several conversations over the season, it suddenly occurred to me that I was enjoying this man's attention too much. It really was an awareness that clicked on like a light bulb.
Jenna …. I met this man on the job where I was working at the time, and we spent a fair amount of one-on-one time because of projects we worked on together. He was several years older than I, and not married -- divorced for many years and had grown children. Because he was single, I rationalized somehow that my attraction to him - and flirtation - was not as bad as if he were married (there wasn’t a wife I was hurting, was, I suppose, my rationalization). It soon became apparent that I was always very much anticipating the times that we’d spend together at work, and that time spent with him felt significantly emotionally charged, sparking my energy and enthusiasm in general. I also was very aware that I wanted him to find me attractive as a woman.
2. Starve the attraction, what is not fed cannot easily grow.
“Lead us not into temptation” starts with being intentional about avoiding opportunity.
Katie … Early on in our marriage I noticed an attraction I had towards another man over a week-long period and this is how I responded, and feel we as women need to respond in these situations. Pretty basic, but important...Flee!
Jenna … I made some efforts to distance myself emotionally in this relationship, which helped. God extended incredible grace to me. I left that job and didn’t maintain contact with this man.
Sarah … And then I made a conscious decision not to go into my husband’s soccer games anymore.
3. Let someone else in on your attraction for accountability.
Bringing it in to the light usually weakens the attraction and sets up boundaries that someone else is helping you keep. It is important to do full disclosure for complete accountability. Often talking to a trusted friend or counselor is effective.
Jenna … I did mention to a friend who also knew this man that I was very attracted to him, hoping that would help discourage the attraction. But I didn’t do a full disclosure, so it didn’t have much impact.
Sometimes, confessing to your husband is also needed.
Jackie … I did meet a man once at trade show, he was in the booth next to me and I really enjoyed talking to him. Three of us ended up having lunch together but as the weekend went on I started to feel weird and decided to talk to Rob about it when I got home. I would not want Rob talking to or going out to lunch with a woman that found him attractive! So it was a good talking point in our relationship.
Katie …. In my case, I mentioned it to my husband a bit later, in a light-hearted manner. It wasn’t serious, but a little scary to think of how easily it can/did happen, mostly recognizing that I loved the attention I was receiving from this other man outside of my marriage.
Sarah …. I knew I had to set some boundaries to protect myself from indulging in this attention. I shared what was going on with a few close friends for accountability. Then I had a very painful conversation with my husband to explain what I was feeling.
4. Notice what is “waking up” in you.
Often, we are attracted to our new self that gets opened up in an attraction. We feel attractive, smart, confident, or fun….qualities that might have gone dormant in our marriage. Identifying these traits can help us bring them back into our marriage.
Jackie ... I have to admit, as a mom of four, it is nice when a good looking man seems to find me attractive. It makes me feel good even though I don’t act on it or pursue anything. It easy to see, however, that enjoying an attraction can easily lead to relating on an emotional level which can quickly derail a marriage. I want to keep my “attractive” self for my husband.
Jenna ... Initially, I was simply intrigued with this man -- who he was as a person, how he functioned in his work in ways that I particularly admired, and how he stood up to other people while always remaining true to himself. In retrospect, I realize that these were all things that I wanted for myself, and to experience in myself.
5. Focus on fixing and feeding your marriage.
A vulnerable time for an attraction can be extreme busyness or an unresolved conflict in your marriage.
Jenna ... I rationalized my disloyalty because there were ways in which I felt Brian wasn’t paying enough attention to me, so I somewhat unconsciously reasoned that he didn’t deserve my full loyalty. Later, I felt tremendous sorrow over what I’d done, over my selfishness and thoughtlessness and disloyalty. At that point, I fully repented of my inappropriate emotional interest in this person and the ways in which I’d encouraged it. I’m so grateful that God protected me from what I know I was fully capable of -- acting on the attraction beyond what I had already done. And of course grateful for God’s and Brian’s understanding and forgiveness.
Sarah ... My experience with this type of attraction occurred during a long-standing conflict with my husband over when we were going to start having children- I was ready, and he wasn’t yet. I think this really set the background for an out of marriage attraction. It was interesting to me that when we resolved our conflict and began having our own children, I was able to participate in social activities again where this man was present, without feeling any attraction to him. That did make it clear to me that the attraction was fueled to some extent by that longing and our unresolved conflict.
Katie ... For me, it was a sign of what’s missing in my marriage at that time and a wake up call to pay attention. Get away from that guy, pray, repent, and set up a fun dates with your husband and other interactive opportunities to grow closer.
Attractions will likely come, but they can go quickly by staying alert and using the tools these women did to safeguard their marriage.
Letitia (Tish) Suk, www.letitiasuk.com, invites women to create an intentional life centered in Jesus. She is a blogger (hopeforthebest.org) and author of Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat (November 2016) and Rhythms of Renewal. She is a speaker, personal retreat guide and life coach in the Chicago area.