In my ministry work with singles, I’ve heard numerous stories from women who are having an emotional affair. Some women fantasize about a man who doesn’t even know their name, while others imagine a life of romantic bliss with a coworker they barely know. Women with relationship addiction tendencies take mind affairs to an obsessive level. Their imagination is consumed with thoughts and dreams not surrendered to the Lord. They mentally plan their wedding, where they will live, and how many children they will have.
Women caught up in mind affairs have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and often are convinced they have heard from God. Their discernment is distorted by their own obsession. They have made a love interest an idol of the heart. Married women can have emotional affairs as well. They are especially vulnerable when seasons of their marriage become ordinary and mundane.
Women with relationship addiction tendencies take mind affairs to an obsessive level.
Maybe the thrill is gone. Maybe unresolved issues in your marriage are straining your last nerve. Maybe you are struggling with the responsibility of changing diapers and putting your career on hold, or maybe your babies have left for college and you suddenly find yourself devoid of affection and purpose. Maybe you are hungry, tired, and lonely.
Lysa TerKeurst, president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, tells about a married woman who was caught off guard by an emotional affair:
A few years ago, I watched a friend get tangled up in an emotional affair. She was a strong Christian woman who loved her family, but the attraction to this other man seemed unavoidable. She tried to talk herself out of it, but her heart played tricks on her mind, and the justifications for letting things continue down this path soon led her to a very dangerous place. She was becoming emotionally attached to this other man.”
Out of desperation and fear, the woman confided in Lysa what was going on. “As she described how she got pulled into this place, I found myself being challenged by the realization of how subtly this had happened. She hadn’t planned on being emotionally attracted to this other man. As a matter of fact, she’d always prided herself on being a woman of strong conviction and had scoffed at the idea of ever being tempted to have an affair.”
Lysa recognized from this woman’s story how subtly such relationships begin and evolve.
“It starts off simple enough—his comment that you mull over one too many times, a conversation in which you find a surprising connection, a glance that lingers just a second too long, or one of a thousand other interactions that seem innocent yet aren’t. These are the dangerous seeds that can easily sprout into an emotional affair.”
An emotional affair not surrendered to the Lord can easily turn into a physical affair, but even if it doesn’t get that far, an emotional affair will divide your affections and cause disappointment with your current situation or relationship.
Is a Mind Affair Adultery?
Diane had never considered engaging in an adulterous relationship, yet she had many mind affairs. Daydreaming about Dennis, the handsome chief financial officer at work, she wondered what it would be like to be his wife.
“I saw the pictures he had neatly displayed in his office—his botoxed wife and private-schooled children were proudly displayed on his bookshelf like trophies. Every day, I saw him walk in the front door. It was always the same time—8:45. I made it a point to be at my desk. I didn’t want to miss his greeting. ‘Good morning, Diane,’ he would say with a casual smile and wink. He was only being friendly, but to me, that little wink meant so much more.”
Soon Diane found herself replacing his wife’s face with her face on his wall of fame. Diane soon discovered that emotional adultery and emotional affairs can be just as destructive as a physical affair. Thoughts of Dennis consumed her. At first, her symptoms were mild disappointment. She thought she’d never find someone as perfect as Dennis. She was right. The next three men she dated didn’t stand a chance. None of them could measure up to the fantasy she’d created in her head.
Just because Diane never indulged in a physical affair doesn’t mean she wasn’t guilty of adultery. Under the New Covenant, it’s possible to be innocent of physical adultery but be guilty of entertaining adulterous thoughts. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:28 that the act of adultery begins in the mind: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman [or man] lustfully has already committed adultery with her [or him] in his heart.”
To lust means to desire something eagerly, to long for something or someone, or to have an unlawful desire of carnal pleasure. It’s not just about a sexual appetite, and men aren’t the only ones who lust. For women struggling with relationship addiction, emotional affairs are common and even more dangerous to their emotional health. I challenge you to consider a paraphrase of Matthew 5:28:
The more we think about something, feelings begin to surface. The more we feel, the more we want.
“But I tell you that any woman who fantasizes, longs for, or yearns for a man, relationship, or romance lustfully has already committed adultery with him in her heart.”
You may think this is a harsh statement—and it is—but the reason emotional adultery is so dangerous is because an emotional affair will grow out of control if the fire is not put out. The more we think about something, feelings begin to surface. The more we feel, the more we want. The more we want, the more our resolve diminishes. And then what began as a thought has grown into full action. The bottom line is that an act of physical adultery always begins in the mind.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” He knew the progressive nature of sin. That’s why he considered an unyielded lustful thought in the same category as adultery.
As soon as you recognize that a thought contradicts the promises or commands in the Bible, pluck that arrow out! Take that thought captive like a prisoner and surrender it to the only one who can handle the enemy—Christ.
Want more clarity on how to overcome mind affairs?
Find out more in Love Junkies: 7 Steps for Breaking the Toxic Relationship Cycle where I discuss this in more detail in the chapters on imagination.