A reader asked about being alone in the building with the female church secretary, on those days that he is the only minister on duty. I’m not sure I have the answer, but before even attempting an answer, I need to cover some ground some readers may not be familiar with.
A very important book regarding how affairs begin is Not Just Friends, by Shirley Glass. The book is filled with the results of extensive studies and research in this area, and the author knows what’s she’s talking about.
Nowadays, the majority of affairs begin at work. They begin as male-female friendships, often over lunch. The two talk about work. Soon, they talk about family and marriage. They come to realize that their friend is far more sympathetic and easier to talk to than their spouse (there are no kids around, no one is exhausted from a long day, etc.). Pretty soon, they’d rather be with their office buddy than their mate. Over time, the relationship becomes physical.
Before the relationship becomes physical, it’s known as an “emotional affair”; that is, the couple has formed an emotional bond that they should have with their spouses — only their spouses — rather than each other. It’s the illicit emotional bond that leads to the illicit sex. The cure is to avoid the bond by avoiding intimate conversations with members of the other sex. By “intimate” I don’t at all mean “about sex.” I mean conversations in which you reveal your inner self, your problems with your mate, child-rearing issues, life goals — the stuff that men don’t normally talk about and that they really should be talking to their wives about.
If anyone has such a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, end it right now. If it’s with a fellow employee, fire the employee — no matter how competent. You can’t go from emotional affair to “just friends” or even “friendly co-workers.” (Call me a “Puritan” or over-reacting, but I’ve seen too much of this to doubt it.)
These quotes are from the Preface to Glass’s book, which is online. If you’re an elder, minister, or otherwise involved in working with couples struggling in their marriages, buy the book.
Among the 350 couples I have treated, approximately 62 percent of unfaithful men met their affair partners at work.
The significant news about these new affairs–and what is different from the affairs of previous generations–is that they originate as peer relationships. People who truly are initially just friends or just friendly colleagues slowly move onto the slippery slope of infidelity. In the new infidelity, secret emotional intimacy is the first warning sign of impending betrayal. Yet, most people don’t recognize it as such or see what they’ve gotten themselves into until they’ve become physically intimate.
Most people mistakenly think it is possible to prevent affairs by being loving and dedicated to one’s partner. I call this the “Prevention Myth,” because there is no evidence to support it. My experience as a marital therapist and infidelity researcher has shown me that simply being a loving partner does not necessarily insure your marriage against affairs. You also have to exercise awareness of the appropriate boundaries at work and in your friendships. This book will help you learn to observe boundaries or set them up where you need to. It will tell you the warning signals and red flags you need to pay attention to in your own friendships and in your partner’s.
Most people also mistakenly think that infidelity isn’t really infidelity unless there’s sexual contact. Whereas women tend to regard any sexual intimacy as infidelity, men are more likely to deny infidelity unless sexual intercourse has occurred. In the new infidelity, however, affairs do not have to be sexual. Some, such as Internet affairs, are primarily emotional. The most devastating extramarital involvements engage heart, mind, and body. And this is the kind of affair that is becoming more common. Today’s affairs are more frequent and more serious than they used to be because more men are getting emotionally involved, and more women are getting sexually involved.
Consider this surprising statistic: At least one or both parties in 50 percent of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship. It has been difficult for us researchers to arrive at this absolute figure because of the many variations in how research has been conducted, in sample characteristics, and in how extramarital involvements have been defined. After reviewing 25 studies, however, I concluded that 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have had extramarital intercourse. This is startling news indeed. …
- You can have an affair without having sex. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust.You can have an affair without having sex. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust.</blockquote>
Now, I don’t have any statistics for ministers regarding emotional affairs, but ministers seem to me to have a particularly tough problem. Not only will there be women working with them in the office, these women are likely the sort of women who are good listeners and who enjoy being involved in counseling situation. They’ll be glad to listen to the minister talk about his problems at home.
Worse yet, ministers often work with church members on a daily basis. A youth minister or campus minister will be around the same girls daily for months at a time. Some will be adoring fans of the man of God. Other ministers will work with female volunteers on a regular basis — perhaps sharing more time with a particular volunteer than his secretary — or even his wife.
Therefore, it seems to me that ministers have far more temptations to enter emotional affairs than the typical office worker. They are around far more women, are likely to be far more admired, and are likely to be far more inclined to talk about relationships and emotional needs than the typical man.
And some ministers (certainly not all) chose the ministry because they love having an audience of admirers. And a woman who flirts with the preacher provides just one more form of admiration, which can be addictive. After all, lunch with a pretty woman to hear how much last week’s sermon meant to her — what could be wrong with that?