Marriage: Ripe for the Picking—The Top 10 Signs of Vulnerability to an Extra-Marital Affair
“Ripe for the picking” are words that describe fruit on a tree that is perfectly ready to be taken and devoured immediately – fresh, enticing, and delicious. The same concept can be applied to understand marital vulnerability in the social orchard. When is a person ripe for the picking? What makes stolen fruit – someone other than your spouse – appear to taste sweeter? As you’ll see, when conditions are wrong at home, the climate is right for a serious harvest of temptation.
As a counselor and pastor, I have had a front row seat to witness the very difficult challenges brought upon a family because of an extramarital affair. One spouse was ripe for the picking. Why? How could this happen? From my vantage point, I can tell you. I have been up close and personal to hundreds of these unraveling marriages that have been fractured by unfaithfulness, though not always beyond repair. Just today, I prayed with a woman on the phone as she wept recounting how she had confirmed through an email search when hubby was away that an affair has been going on. I face tragic moments like this with someone almost every week.
I hear the same stories over and over again, usually from both parties in the marriage, of how and why a breech of trust like this happens – what made them ripe for the picking. Their accounts are hauntingly similar. It is out of this well of the woundedness I have witnessed that I share with you the Top Ten Signs of Vulnerability to an Extra-Marital Affair. Warning: the more of these signs you find existing in your marriage and in your heart, the greater danger you have in either becoming or pursuing forbidden fruit. Be wise and be warned.
God hasn’t changed His mind about wanting to warn people about being unfaithful to their spouse. It’s pretty clear. Heed His warnings. Be on your guard. Get His perspective on marriage and then work through the 10 warning signs below.
“You ask, ‘Why [does the Lord not accept our offerings]?’ It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the [spouse] of your youth. You have been unfaithful to [them], though [they] are your partner, the [spouse] of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the [spouse] of your youth. “The [person] who hates and divorces his [spouse],” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one they should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” Malachi 2:14-16
Warning Sign #1 – STRUGGLES AT HOME
If the couple is experiencing ongoing stress between them, the relationship is prone to unravel. With growing unhappiness comes a growing distance. It is especially hard if problems are reoccurring and there is constant rehashing of the same old unresolved issues. This takes its toll. Ones central relationship ~ the marriage ~ designed to be an anchor and safe haven has become a constant and perfect storm. Be warned. A void is growing.
Warning Sign #2 – SIGNALS OF DISAPPROVAL
It is one thing to be fighting over issues all the time but it gets worse when the attacks get personal. If you feel like you cannot please or get approval from your spouse no matter how hard you try, you become discouraged. If you are continuously being talked down to, feeling hurt by unkind words, being invalidated on opinions and basically not important to your spouse, the emotional connection between you gets lost. You will start looking for someone who appreciates you. You are at risk.
Warning Sign #3 – STAGNATION IN THE BEDROOM
Often, in keeping with the emotional distance and frustration, sexual intimacy fades. Instead of bringing a true sense of fun, unity and closeness, there are fights, hurts and disappointments in the bedroom. The frequency is way down, the interest is scarce and effort has dissipated. And the satisfaction…well, let’s say that you haven’t enjoyed each other freely and passionately for quite some time. Your sexual connection is lost. Problem. You aren’t dead yet. The sexual void leaves you in libido limbo.
Warning Sign #4 – SEPARATION OF LIVES
Complicating your relationship further is when life calls for you to be apart – work, schooling, traveling, deployment, whatever. Being away for extended periods of time, actually sleeping in different locations adds to the disconnect. While it is said that distance can make the heart grow fonder, when the marriage is struggling, distance often makes the heart falter! It is also unhealthy when your daily life and work schedules cause you to see each other less often. If you are not making an effort to connect, to date and maintain your friendship, your relational connection fades. It can be worse when you find yourself wanting to be away from your spouse more and you start making excuses for not coming home. Big dangers. You could start looking for someone to fill the void.
Warning Sign #5 – SLIPPAGE FROM GOD
For many people, their faith in God anchors their life. It does for me. But for God’s grace and guidance, Donalyn and I could have easily become a divorce statistic in our early years of marriage. He sets the moral compass. But with any erosion of our faith roots there can be a corresponding collapse of values. Also, when things aren’t going well, we can tend to blame God and pull away instead of pressing in. Then, we often let go of the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer. We can even stop going to church to avoid people who love God and stand for what is right. We don’t want them to ask how we are doing. When our spiritual connection is lost, we are weak and defenseless to the many temptations that come.
Warning Sign #6 – STRESS BUILDING WITHIN
Whether the problems are related primarily to your marriage or other frustrations in life, inner stress is hard for anyone to carry. It could be job pressures, extended family pressures, addictions, financial crises, and problems with kids or career; if an internal dissatisfaction with your life and where you are going grows, you will become vulnerable. For some in their 40’s, it’s called a mid-life crisis. Inside you feel that your life isn’t turning out as you thought it would. You don’t like how things are going in your marriage and you don’t like how things are ending up. It feels unfair. In your mind, you feel you deserve better. At this point, you start blaming your spouse for causing you such pain and holding you back. If this kind of selfish thinking is brewing, you could find yourself tempted to look for a change. Warning.
Warning Sign #7 – STANDARDS ERODING
What happens when your emotional condition leaves you susceptible to the attraction of others? If, for many reasons, your core values are waning and your marital covenant is weak, your discretion with other people can easily be suspect. There was a time when you loved your marriage enough to protect it. You had clear relational limits. But when you find your once solid standards eroding and the relational boundary lines start blurring, you are in danger of compromise. You find yourself saying yes to things you never used to do. You are now flirting and seeking attention when before you were just being friendly. Patterns are changing, habits are changing, and you are changing ~ and not in a good way. Beware.
Warning Sign #8 – SEDUCTION OF ATTRACTION
As the marital void grows, you start developing hungry eyes that look for interest from others of the opposite sex. In your loneliness, frustration and distance, you discontinue normal caution. By failing to guard your heart, you become easily attracted to people whom you seem to have chemistry with. You are flattered by their applause or compliments – encouragement you don’t now get at home. You feel heard, appreciated, and noticed. You start seeking this kind of attention and are drawn to its source. It feels good to be admired and even more to be pursued. These seductive attractions rarely start sexually but rather emotionally. Warning, you are ripe for the picking.
Warning Signs #9 – SIGNS OF DISHONESTY
Speaking the truth in a marriage maintains the trust between you. But before an actual step of marital unfaithfulness is taken, a host of half-truths have usually been spoken. Have you started a pattern of denial and lies? Are you finding ways to cover your tracks, hide emails, erase texts and conceal your whereabouts? There is a huge difference between privacy and secrecy. Privacy allows you to be a unique person with a healthy sense of separateness, but in no way harms your mate. Secrecy is when you are hiding things that if told, would jeopardize the stability of your relationship. Remember, keeping secrets and blatant lies both produce the same results. You are justifying your choices and excusing these outside interests. Internally you are convincing yourself that what you are doing is somehow okay because nothing is happening between you and this other person. You are just friends. Yet, you resist being accountable to both your spouse and others. Remember, an affair doesn’t start in the door of a bedroom but in the window of your mind. You are clearly in terrible danger of marital tragedy.
Warning Sign #10 – LOSS OF PERSPECTIVE
When the justifications for your questionable behavior increases and the dissatisfaction in the once strong marriage continue, you start to lose overall perspective. You forget that the answer to a struggling marriage is not finding someone else but rather going for help to address the problems and restore the passion. You get lost in the euphoria of the potential bliss with another person and don’t count the cost. The full implications of these still pending choices are lost. You quit thinking clearly. Your drive for pleasure selfishly wins out. You start to regularly visualize yourself with another person other than your spouse. You have been speaking out your doubts about your marriage to friends with supportive ears and garnering strength to consider separation. As negative as your thinking has grown, never doubt whether you can still make a turnaround and restore the marriage. But with this thinking unchecked, you are on really thin ice.
The answer to a struggling marriage isn’t to go looking for low hanging fruit elsewhere. The answer is to tend to and harvest your own crop of marital goodness. Think about it; if the grass really was greener with someone else’s relational orchard than why is the divorce rate of second marriages significantly higher than for first marriages?
Heed the warning signs of vulnerability. Fight for your marriage. Fight against the temptation of unfaithfulness that is so justified in our society. Live your life to honor God and respect the vows you made. You’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first.
© Dr. Dave Currie – December 2011