How to know when friendships with the opposite sex have gone too far.

by Dennis Rainey

Direct Link to Article on FamilyLife: Emotional Adultery: Unfaithfulness of the Heart

High school chemistry taught me a very valuable lesson: When certain
substances come into close contact, they can form a chemical reaction. I proved
that one day during my senior year of high school when I dropped a jar full of
pure sodium off a bridge into a river and nearly blew up the bridge!

What I’ve learned since then is that many people don’t respect the laws of
chemistry any more than I did as a teenager. They mix volatile ingredients
without giving much thought to the consequences. I’ve discovered that many
married people don’t understand that a chemical reaction can occur with someone
other than their spouse.

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not just talking about sexual attraction. I’m
referring to a reaction of two hearts, the chemistry of two souls.

This is emotional adultery—an intimacy with the opposite sex outside
of marriage. Emotional adultery is unfaithfulness of the heart. When two people
begin talking of intimate struggles, doubts, or feelings, they may be sharing
their souls in a way that God intended exclusively for the marriage
relationship. Emotional adultery is friendship with the opposite sex that has
progressed too far.

I’ve talked with many men and women who have fallen into full-fledged
adultery, and I’ve discovered that, in most cases, the adulterous relationships
started as a casual relationship at work, school, or even church.

Hearts igniting

A husband talks with a female co-worker over coffee and shares some struggles
he’s experiencing with his wife or kids. She tells of similar problems, and soon
the emotions ricochet so rapidly that their hearts ignite and ultimately become
fused as one. To those who have experienced it, this bonding seems too real to

An email I received shows how real the problem is:

After my husband walked out on me and our
four kids a month ago, I found out he was having regular phone conversations
with a woman. Long conversations and texting back and forth all day long for the
past six months at least. He finally admitted talking to her (although I think
it went farther), saying that it was okay for him to talk to other women and I
was too controlling.

Another wrote to describe the relationship her husband started at work:

There was this new 25-year-old intern and
he constantly raved about her. They would go to lunch together and I voiced
concern over it. He shot down my concerns and told me I was paranoid. Then
rumors started flying around the office that they were having an affair. They
told me about them and laughed them off.

Finally I caught some text messages
between them. They were telling each other that they loved the other and that
they couldn’t wait to be with them. He denied it as to only being “friends.” How
dumb did they take me for? I finally caught them again two months later. … My
husband was the most amazing, caring husband. This was the one thing I never
ever worried about.

Connecting with another person as a substitute

You may be converging on a chemical reaction with another person when:

  • You’ve got a need you feel your mate isn’t meeting—a need for attention,
    approval, or affection.
  • You find it easier to unwind with someone other than your spouse by
    dissecting the day’s difficulties over lunch, coffee, a ride home, or through
    email or social media.
  • You begin to talk about problems you’re having with your spouse.
  • You rationalize the “rightness” of this relationship by saying that surely
    it must be God’s will to talk openly and honestly with a fellow Christian.
  • You look forward to being with this person.
  • You wonder what you’d do if you didn’t have this friend to talk with.
  • You hide the relationship from your spouse.

When you find yourself connecting with another person as a substitute for
your spouse, you’ve started traveling a road that ends too often in adultery and
divorce. But how do you protect yourself to keep this from occurring?

First, know your boundaries. Put fences around your
heart to protect sacred ground, reserved only for your spouse. Barbara and I are
careful to share our deepest feelings, needs, and difficulties only with each

Second, realize the power of your eyes. As it has
been said, your eyes are the windows to your soul. Pull the shades down if you
sense someone is pausing a little too long in front of your windows.

I realize that good eye contact is necessary for effective conversation, but
there’s a deep type of look that must be reserved for your spouse. Frankly, I
don’t trust myself.

Some women may think I’m insecure because I don’t hold eye contact very long,
but I don’t trust my sinful nature. I’ve seen what has happened to others, and I
know it could happen to me.

Third, extinguish chemical reactions that have already
If a friendship with the opposite sex meets needs that only
your mate should be meeting, end it quickly. To stop a chemical reaction, one of
the elements must be removed. It may be a painful loss at first, but it isn’t
nearly as painful as temptation that has given birth to sin.

Years ago, Ruth Senter wrote an incredibly candid article about her
friendship with a Christian man she met in a graduate school class. Her struggle
and godly response to this temptation were graphically etched in a letter that
ended the relationship: “Friendship is always going somewhere unless it’s dead,”
she wrote. “You and I both know where ours is going. When a relationship
threatens the stability of commitments we’ve made to the people we value the
most, it can no longer be.”

Fourth, beware of isolation in your marriage. One
strategy of the enemy is to isolate you from your spouse, especially by tempting
you to keep secrets from your mate. Barbara and I both realize the danger of
isolation to our marriage. We work hard at bringing things out into the open and
discussing them.

Finally, never stop courting your spouse. One of
the most liberating thoughts I’ve ever had in my marriage relationship is that I
will never stop competing for Barbara’s love. As a result of that commitment, I
stay much more creative in how I communicate with her emotionally and

I am well aware that if I start taking her for granted, someone else could
walk into her life and catch her at a weak point. My constant goal is to
strengthen her and let her know that she is still the woman I decided to carry
off to the castle in 1972.

Many people who commit adultery express surprise that it happened; they talk
as if they were carried along by an irresistible force of nature. But remember
that nobody falls off a cliff if they’re standing 40 feet away. Instead, they
inch closer and closer to the abyss until they find themselves in danger.

You need to make your marriage relationship such a priority that you don’t
come anywhere near the edge.


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