Church Support for an Emotional Affair?

Reader’s Question

My husband had an emotional affair with a woman, where he sat with her as A COUPLE, IN CHURCH, for many years. I’m having a great deal of difficulty getting past this betrayal, especially since church is meant to be a spritual place, where one reflects on life, with others. I was true to my vows and committed to my husband and family. However, the location in which this took place, makes me feel as if I’m the one who was wrong, or that I somehow deserved this, because I chose not to attend this church. Though my husband was a friend to the minister, NO ONE questioned that improper realtionship. It seems to have the been quietly sanctioned by the church. How can one get past such a betrayal from their spouse, and so many people? It has been a year since I made this discovery, and I am still waking up with bad dreams of how I was regarded as invisible, and how that relationship was accepted by so many.

My husband and I are of different Christian faiths. In 25 years of marriage, my commitment to my husband, and our family, has never waivered. There was a period of time when I could feel my husband’s desire for a different life. He wanted to do things separate from me, and the family, and accused me of stopping him from enjoying himself. He disengaged from our children, and the difficult teenage problems within our hoursehold. At the same time, our eldest child was about to leave for college, and the need to launch him from the nest was the priority. So, I gave my husband some space because I thought he was either going through some mid-life crisis, or reacting to stress on the job. I trusted him and thought he would somehow work this out.

Just recently, I learned why my husband had been acting stranglely. He had been in the midst a PUBLIC emotional affair, with a woman 10 years younger than him. It had gone of for years. As hurtful as that is, in itself, IT OCCURRED IN A CHURCH, where they sat together shoulder to shoulder, as a couple, in front of the woman’s children, and members of the church. The church attendance was poor, and the pews were empty, so there was no need to sit that close. The public view of this was fundamentally wrong, but beyond that, this couple discussed feelings for one another, and exchanged sexually seductive comments with one another, IN CHURCH. As it has been explained to me, by my husband, no one dared to question the realtionship, though just the manner in which they were seated, as a couple, was clearly sinful, from the Biblical perspective (from both the Catholic or Protestant perspectives — we are one of each). My husband had separated himself from the woman, and this place several years ago.

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For the most part, he has come clean, but I have have learned the separation from the woman was not a clean break. She continued to communicate with him via email, at work. Futhermore, her best friend from church started an email relationship with him. Until recently, my husband continued to keep those lines of communication open with them, and even the spritual leader of the church.

It has been a difficult process, but for the most part, my husband is now trying to repair the damage done. I think he has finally taken some trustworthy steps to cut off this part of his life. He has finally cut ties with this unhealthy place, and is refocusing on the marriage. Despite his efforts, I am having a great deal of trouble getting past the fact this happened at a church. It seems hard to believe, but it feels like there was a conspiracy to break apart this marriage. Most knew of “the attraction”, as some refer to it, yet they continued to seek out my husband, and wish for his return. I am blown away by this.

In an attempt to seek answers, I tried reaching out to the minister. He will NOT speak of what happened at his church beyond saying it was my husband’s free will, though it was happening right under his nose, FOR YEARS. Somehow I think it would be a tad easier for me to get over if it didn’t happen with what appears to be the church’s approval and encouragement. It is as if our vows have been undone because that betrayal was sanctioned by a church. This feels painful and surreal. I have given up trying to come to an understanding with the minister. I think he has somehow lost his way.

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, you’ve probably not faced the church’s conspiracy, approval or encouragement. Rather, the church has been indifferent and uninvolved toward the emotional affair/relationship. Protestant churches, in my experience, run the entire range when it comes to involvement in the lives of the church members. Some take the position where the minister is the “shepherd” of the church flock and is to be consulted in all major decisions by church members. As the “shepherd”, the minister has the right to involve himself in the lives of church members as he feels is appropriate based on their belief. On the other end of the scale are churches and ministers who provide spiritual guidance when asked but otherwise don’t involve themselves in the intimate lives of their members. In both Catholic and Protestant churches, involvement in the personal business of the church members also varies based on the personality and attitude of the specific priest or minister.

From a healing standpoint, your focus on the church is unhealthy. While you have reason to be bitter, angry and resentful — continuing those feelings (even if directed at the minister or church) will not allow healing and recovery. Your anger has a lot to do with your feeling of being both betrayed and embarrassed. You may have a sense that you have been humiliated which produces powerful feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment.

The vast majority of both emotional and sexual affairs occur when the person is under high stress. When marriages are placed under high stress levels, different strategies emerge. For some, the husband and wife become a problem-solving team. For others, as in your case, each husband and wife are left to develop their own strategies to deal with the stress — this approach almost always creating significant marital issues.

I’d recommend seeing a marriage counselor — one without religious affiliation. I’d also recommend memorizing a “press release” — a brief paragraph/statement to use when anyone brings up the situation. Keep in mind that we feel what we think. When you imagine fantasies of betrayal by the church, friends, etc. — your feelings will create the anger, resentment, and bitterness to match those thoughts. Rebuilding the marriage is more important that finding out the who, what, where, when, and whom.

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