There are times when a man and a woman, even though they’re good people, even though they’re both married and committed to their respective spouses, even though these spouses love them, find themselves falling in love with another person whom they think is their soulmate. It isn’t planned. They’re not looking to cheat. But out of the blue they meet someone else and begin thinking, “I might be happier with this other person.” Then they have a choice to make. That, at least, is the premise of the new Showtime drama, “The Affair,” which began airing earlier this month (October 12). One of the co-creators of the show, Sarah Treem, told Hitfix, “The idea [for the show] was that you’re in a marriage, you love your wife, she’s a good woman, you’re a good man. You have kids and then you meet somebody by chance who [sic] you think is your soul mate. What do you do?”
Yes, that is the pressing question: what do you do? To begin with, you drop the pretense that you're still being faithful. You're not. If you: (1) “fall in love” with another person; (2) confuse “falling in love” with real love; (3) know the other person so well that you think he/she is your soulmate; (4) are already imagining that life with the other person might make you happy then you may not have opened your bedroom to that person but your heart is already a mess of tangled sheets. So it’s not a question of whether you will begin an affair, but whether you will escape from the one you’re already in.
There are countless articles and books about how to “Affair-Proof” your marriage, complete with lists of five or ten or twenty things to do to protect your marriage from infidelity. And many of these have helpful suggestions. I’m not writing another such list. What I want to urge is one main point, one truth that undergirds so much of this discussion: affairs don’t begin with lust, or discontent with your spouse, or boredom in a long-term relationship. Affairs always begin by believing lies.
Falling in Love is Not Love
Chief among these delusions is that “falling in love” is the same as loving the other person. As I’ve written about elsewhere, “falling in love” has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with love. No exceptions. It is not the prelude to love, nor the foundation of love, nor the ongoing nurture of love. What we term “falling in love” is stumbling into a state of emotional bliss with another person. True love, on the other hand, is the willful choice to act selflessly for another person, to commit yourself to that person, regardless of the emotional ups and downs. A man and woman who commit adultery together cannot love each other. It’s impossible. That’s like saying two people who are stabbing each other are giving life to each other. If they loved each other, they wouldn’t be harming each other through adultery, harming their spouses and children, and living a lie. Adultery begins in selfishness, continues in selfishness, and breeds yet more selfishness. It is not, and cannot be, a relationship of love. They may mouth the words, “I love you,” but what they really mean is, “You are meeting my selfish emotional needs and I am meeting yours. We are using each other.” In “The Affair,” Noah and Alison will “fall in love” but they cannot, by definition, love each other.
With a Soulmate Like That...
A second delusion, so often believed by men and women who travel the adultery road, is that they’ve found their soulmate. They think that fate has led them to that one person, within the vast sea of humanity, whose soul is a perfect match for their own. Now, leaving aside the fact that soulmates are a figment of a romantic’s imagination, that no such thing even exists, let’s assume for a moment that they do. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that all of us have this soulmate out there, just waiting for us to meet them. Would such a person, so intimately bound to you, presumably wanting only what is best for you, actively encourage and participate with you in breaking the oaths you swore to your spouse, assist you in ripping your family to shreds, and become one flesh with you in a union God Himself condemns? If that’s what these closest of confidants do, then perhaps C. S. Lewis should have named his bestseller The Soulmate Letters. If you’re married, you have a mate. And that mate has a soul as well as a body. Your spouse is your bodymate, your soulmate, your heartmate—the whole shebang. No one else is. You left your father and your mother to become one flesh with your husband or wife. You are no longer two, but one. To look elsewhere for this fictional soulmate is to deny that God has joined you to another person already in holy matrimony.
Fantasizing About Adultery is Adultery
Finally, the third delusion is that you can fantasize about having an affair without actually committing adultery. You can live out your fantasy vicariously through Noah and Alison in “The Affair,” or Robert and Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, or through the million other books and movies that revolve around this theme. But, of course, you don’t need media for these mental games. You can daydream about what you’d like to do with that guy from work who is always flirting with you. You can close your eyes while you’re having sex with your wife and imagine she is that newfound friend that’s stirring feelings within you that you thought had died long ago. The heart is the bed where most adultery takes place. As Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart,” (Matthew 5:27-28). If you’re imagining that life with the other person might make you happy; if you’re romanticizing about him or her; then you have already betrayed your spouse. You have willfully chosen to adulterate in your heart. And your heart has your body on a leash; where your heart goes, your body is sure to follow.
Escaping from the Lies
Affairs always begin by believing lies. They dress themselves up as sexy lies, beautiful lies, fun lies, but beneath this lovely veneer there is the stinking, rotting, worm-infested corpse of adultery that your lips seek to kiss.
Affairs are all about lies—lies that ultimately destroy. Christ is all about truth, and true love, the kind of love that pursues even the rebellious to bring them finally to repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. He did that for me. And He wants it for all who have entangled themselves in the web of adultery. There is healing, and that healing is in His wounds. There is new life, and that new life is in His death and resurrection.
If affairs always begin by believing lies, then repentance always begins by believing the truth: the truth that you are in the wrong, the truth that you have a God who loves you in Jesus Christ, and the truth that He and He alone can save you not only from adultery but from every sin that seeks to lead you down the path of destruction.
If you enjoyed this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!
The poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com. Thank you!