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(I’m using the pronoun “he” in this article, but everything said here applies to any person regardless of gender. If it’s best for you to switch the gender to “she,” please do that.)
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Though all of these labels are legit in the sense that they diagnose a problem or identify a reality, the terms nearly always lead an individual away from God’s solution. While you do not want to become the “word police” because that attitude is “off-putting,” people can perceive you as arrogant. You do want to patiently and compassionately shepherd people back to a biblio-centric way of thinking. The closer your diagnosis matches the Word of God, the more hope you will have to help someone.
The problem with an “emotional affair” is that it is more than unhelpful; it misses what is going on in a person’s life entirely. Emotions are what the person may feel or experience, but it does not accurately identify what is going on inside his spiritual heart. I’m talking about cause and effect. Emotions are the effect, but it’s the thoughts that create the effect (the emotions). A person caught in an emotional affair has evil thoughts. He has a distorted thought life, which has him entangled in a relationship with another woman. He thinks he wants to be adulterous because he’s hooked on a feeling (emotions). His “affair” did not just happen.
There is a long trail in a person’s thought life that leads to the experience of “emotions” in a relationship. His thinking is evil, and it’s been that way for a long time. Maybe he is addicted to porn, which was the precursor to having a human adulterous relationship. I’m not sure how long the trail is or the “mile markers” along the journey, but I do know he did not “just fall in love.”
A person in an emotional affair is devious; it takes a lot of deception to “hook up” with someone who is not your wife. More than likely he’s angry at God and his wife. He is a lust-filled man with many “warring thoughts” as James talked about in James 4. He is choosing (clear thoughts) to satisfy his discontentment and anger by lusting after another woman. All of these things are part of his thought life (strongholds), which is a clearer perspective than an emotional affair. I want you to think about some of the biblical labels I’ve used thus far to describe the innocuous-sounding “emotional affair.”
It’s important for the spouse of a person in an “emotional affair” to know these things, so she understands what’s going on with her husband. An emotional affair sounds like a Hollywood movie that a victim could spin to his advantage. He wants someone to “understand him,” which is why he “accidentally” fell for someone else, and now they are having an “emotional affair.” If you’re not careful, you’ll permit him to play the role of the victim because of his “insensitive wife.”
Perhaps his wife was insensitive, but that does not justify adultery. But that is what the term emotional affair does to the mind. It dulls the conscience to the point of making it more palatable than reality. And that’s the point–to distort reality, which inadequate labeling will do.
No, he’s a devious man with a plotting and deceptive heart. Labeling what he’s doing may mute the pain, but it does not help ultimately. Rather than “rounding the corners off” the language, it would be better to acknowledge that he’s in an adulterous relationship with another woman. Remember what Jesus said, “If you look upon a woman to lust, you committed adultery in your heart.”
His thoughts and actions are way above the culture’s sentimentality language of an emotional affair. That label softens the blow of what’s going on, and it keeps everyone from truly seeing what’s going on, which also keeps the helpers from knowing how to respond biblically.
Paul said we are to “put off” the old person that is corrupt with deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22). If you do not identify what to put off, you won’t be able to follow Paul’s advice. Again, this is not a call to be a snobby word policeman, but we must be sound and humble teachers of God’s Word.