FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What Causes Affairs?

with Dave Carder | April 21, 2009
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Why do affairs happen in the first place? Find out on today’s broadcast when author and pastor, Dave Carder, points to the root cause of a marital affair.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Why do affairs happen in the first place? Find out on today’s broadcast when author and pastor, Dave Carder, points to the root cause of a marital affair.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Why do affairs happen in the first place?

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What Causes Affairs?

With Dave Carder
April 21, 2009
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Dave: You're going to walk around with this guilt all the rest of your life, and this is so unpleasant – nobody really wants this to happen to them.  The fallout of an affair is worse than atomic history.  It just destroys everything – so forewarned is forearmed – you build better boundaries, more secure protection around yourself and your marriage.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 21st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Are there some specific things a couple can do to affair-proof a marriage?  We're going to talk about that today – stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  We are talking about a very sober subject this week, and, really, it's part of the reason why we are encouraging our FamilyLife Today listeners to consider going to one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We have already had thousands of couples attend a conference this spring, and we still have two or three dozen conferences taking place in the rest of this month, in May and in June, and we've heard from enough of our listeners who have said, "You know, we've thought about going to a conference," but who have never signed up. 

We decided it was time to kick it into high gear.  So if you register for a conference between now and the end of the month, and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, here is what we're going to do – when you register and pay the regular registration fee, we're going to give you a second registration for free.  That means you pay your own way, and your spouse comes along with you at no cost – absolutely free.

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Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  If you have any questions, we can answer them for you.  We can get you registered over the phone.  Just make sure you let them know you listen to FamilyLife Today and that you want to take advantage of the special offer and make sure you get in touch with us ASAP because the offer is only good until the end of the month and, in some locations, we're having to go ahead and close things down because we're sold out.  Let us hear from you as soon as possible and plan to join us for a Weekend to Remember.  It's a great weekend – fun, romantic, a great getaway for couples and right now with the special offer, it's unbeatable.  Buy one registration, the second one is free.

Register online at or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  And, really, as I said, this ties into what we want to talk about today.  I don't know what the statistics are, but it sure seems to me like I am hearing more and more about infidelity in marriage than I have ever heard at any point in our nation's history.  I don't know about the history of the world, but I can't imagine that there has ever been a time when there has been as much infidelity as we seem to be hearing about today.

Dennis: Bob, if you just take, maybe, dozen years, 15 years, and reflect back on how attitudes have changed and just the prevalence of this – I don't have the data in front of me, but I know what it feels like.  It feels like something has dramatically changed in the cultural landscape even within the Christian community. 

In fact, Barbara and I were just talking about this.  I asked her the same question, and she said, "Absolutely."  She said, "I believe today the reason affairs are occurring is because the purpose for marriage has switched."  She said, "Marriage today is for me."  A generation ago, it was for security.

Bob: Yes, we still had some sense that it wasn't just all about me.

Dennis: That's right – it was for security, it was for survival – people coming together as a couple to make things happen.  Today it is really focused on my needs, what I want, my happiness, and the number of believers who have told me that they are stepping out of their marriage to marry a person they have had an affair with because they are unhappy at home, and they want to have their needs met with this other person.  Well, it's a legion of people.

Bob: Well, and, of course, the culture has taken it from being shameful behavior to being celebrated behavior. 

Dennis: Well, all this week we're looking at the subject of extramarital affairs and helping people stay out of them; help people recover from them; and provide hope and healing, and Dave Carder joins us for a second day.  Dave, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Thanks a lot, I look forward to it.

Dennis: Do you agree with what we're saying here?  Do you think affairs are more prevalent today?

Dave: Oh, yes, I really do.  Women will eat whenever they're depressed and discouraged, but men will always get involved in sexual activity of some sort.

Bob: But they're getting involved in sexual activity with women, so it's not like it's all the men who are off doing this.

Dave: Well,  [unintelligible] going is in a relationship that's sexual, erotic, et cetera, it's huge.

Dennis: There really is something that happens to the adrenalin or chemically in the body …

Dave: … oh, it does …

Dennis: … when you're attracted to another person?

Dave: It's a real stress-reducer, it's an anger-reliever, it's a sense of fulfillment, a sense of belonging, a sense of attachment, and we're going to see more of it.

Dennis: You know this firsthand from your ministry at First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California, and you have written a book called "Torn Asunder," and we've featured this book over the past few years.  A number of times you've updated this, revised it, and I believe it is the finest book to keep people out of affairs and to help people recover from an affair, and I just commend you for writing it.

Dave, as a look at affairs, what would you say are the primary causes of an affair occurring?

Dave: Well, let's look at environment first.  One of the things we say about an affair is it's built on a three-legged stool.  There has to be a willing partner, there has to be a prepared infidel, because I've never met anybody who planned on having an affair, at least in Christian circles.  And there has to be the component of secrecy.  So this guy or that gal is really more prepared than they recognize, but if secrecy or a willing partner is not available, an affair will not happen.

Dennis: You used the word "infidel."  Now, that's an interesting word.

Dave: Well, I believe that.  This guy is breaking a contract.  He is not practicing integrity, or she is violating her vows.  I think infidelity is a good word.

Dennis: So the covenant is being violated.

Dave: It is, and that also is why I think disclosure is very important, because when you break a contract with somebody, the other partner in the contract has a right to know that you broke it and has a right to choose if they want to come back into it with you.

Bob: So you're saying if you've had an affair – because people will ask the question all the time, you know, "My wife doesn't know about it.  It was five years ago, I never told her anything.  Do I bring it up?"  You're saying yes?

Dave: Yes, absolutely.  You broke a contact, you made a promise, and no forgiveness can take place until confession occurs.  So you're going to walk around with this guilt all the rest of your life, and your marriage will never make improvements because the two of you can't talk about what drove this affair.

Bob: We're going to want to talk about that whole issue later as we talk about how you work your way back from an affair, but this three-legged stool you're talking about, where you have a willing partner, an infidel, and secrecy.  How do you get prepared for an affair without realizing it?

Dave: Well, this preparation concept sometimes surprises individuals, but we talk about it in four different levels.  First of all, what kind of history you bring to your marriage.  If you come out of a blended family history, for instance, you're more likely.  If you have a sexual abuse history, you're more likely.  If you have an attention deficit disorder or other kind of learning disability, you're more likely to act out.  If you have a history of poor impulse control, you are more likely to do this kind of thing. 

So then you go to family history.  If it has occurred in your history of your family, your parents practiced infidelity, you're more likely to do it.  If you come out of a blended or divorced family, you are more likely to act out.  So we know those factors are involved in that.

And then you plug in your personal history – promiscuity in adolescence, you're more likely to act out like this.  And then, finally, we take the two years prior to the actual onset of the infidelity, and we look for certain things that drove the affair; certain things that brought together a critical mass at which point we say an affair was inevitable, it's just a matter of when, not if, it would happen.

Bob: What kinds of things?

Dave: Things like life transitions.  Pregnancy is a huge one.  Guys get involved in affairs all the time when wives are pregnant; a major loss, like a death; or a loss of health; or loss of career.  I think a great illustration of this is Judah in the Old Testament.  He buried his wife – she died –  he buried his wife, 30 days he grieved for her, walks out to check on the sheep, has sex with Tamar, his daughter-in-law.  All those life experiences are critical.  I think also the marriage itself oftentimes hits a point where there is a – everybody seems consumed with everything but us – kids are consuming time and money, and career is consuming the husband, and you just bring all these critical factors together, and it's huge.

Bob: So I'm a Christian today.  I grew up in a broken home.  My dad was unfaithful to my mom – that's what led to them getting a divorce.  We got into a blended family.  I was sexually active before I came to Christ during my teenage years, and I also was involved in binge drinking during college.  You're saying that that kind of a background puts me more at risk to an affair than somebody who grew up in a Christian home, mom and dad were together, and they didn't go out partying during college.

Dave: Exactly what I'm saying. 

Dennis: And one thing we want to point out here – the person who is sitting there, and as Bob was checking those off, you're going, "Yeah, that's me, and that's me, and that's me – oh, well, it's no wonder."

Bob: It's inevitable.

Dennis: You know, we live in such a victimized age, of where people feel justified because they've been damaged – "Well, no wonder I feel this way, I'll just go ahead and give in."  We're not saying that.

Dave: No, forewarned is forearmed.  You build better boundaries, more secure protection around yourself and your marriage.  Now, actually we – I know exactly what you're saying, and lots of people might respond that way – "Well, now, I am at greater risk."  But this is so unpleasant, nobody really wants this to happen to them.  The fallout of an affair is worse than atomic history.  It just destroys everything.

Dennis: I want to tell you, if you've ever confronted someone who has been in an affair, there is a look in the eyes, Dave, that, obviously, you’ve seen because this has been a part of your ministry for the past couple of decades.  There is a look of death, of guilt, of shame, and, in fact, a part of your ministry is helping those who are being tempted toward an affair, understand what they're about to give up.

Dave: You'll never get over it.  The children in that situation will not let you get over it.  The ex-wife or ex-husband in that situation won't let you get over it, the courts won't let you get over it.  Everywhere, you are constantly reminded of the infidelity if you leave this marriage.

Dennis: If you look at Proverbs, the one time it talks about the impact of an affair, what does it compare it to – like taking fire and putting it into your bosom. 

Bob: I want to make a statement here, and I want both of you to see if you agree with the statement I'm about to make – Matthew, chapter 19, when Jesus was asked about the subject of divorce, He brings up this exception that people have referenced, and the exception is except for the case of infidelity – pornea – sexual sin.

Now, my understanding of that is not if someone has had an affair, the magic button has been pushed and now divorce is somehow something that God smiles on.  But instead, what Jesus was trying to say is if you have what you described yesterday as a Class III sexual addict who is perpetually involved, unrepentantly involved in ongoing adultery, and you need protection.  In that case God, because of the hardness of heart, will allow for protection through a divorce.  But, Dave, I hear so many people who say, "Well, I have biblical grounds because you cheated," and I don't think that's what the Bible is saying – just because there has been unfaithfulness in a marriage that that automatically gives you de facto biblical grounds to go ahead and divorce your spouse.

Dave: I would agree with that.  I would also say that the two grounds that most people recognize for divorce are usually present in lots of infidelity – abandonment and the infidelity – the spouse leaves, runs off with somebody else, and so that's kind of a dual whammy, so to speak.

Dennis: But the marriage relationship is a covenant.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: And it is a commitment, and the reason – Bob, you and I have interacted on this many, many times – the reason I could never counsel someone to sever the relationship and end it in divorce, even if there were biblical grounds for doing that, is I would always lead them toward restoration and redemption.

Bob: They may need protection in the process …

Dennis: Yes, that's right.

Bob: They may need a time of separation, but the biblical goal always ought to be restoration and reconciliation.

Dave: If you don't work through the marriage first, you will drag all the unfinished business from this marriage into the second relationship. 

Bob: That's right.

Dave: And, I'll tell you, you'll pay for it forever.  So one of the first steps in a healing restoration process is to go back to lead the other person out of the picture, be sober, if you will, and work on this marriage for a period of time before you decide what you're going to do in the future.

Bob: Dave, let me tell you a story of something that I will never forget as long as I live.  I got a call from my pastor one day – this was in another city, and someone in our church, and I'll call him "Doug."  He said, "Doug just came to me and confessed that he has had an affair with someone at work.  Doug was the manager of a health club.  It was one of those things where I was shocked, but when you looked at the environment you understood.

Well, Doug had just come and confessed this, and he had not told his wife yet what had happened.  He had come to the pastor and said, "I don't want this," and we talked about a strategy, how we were going to address this with Doug; how we were going to address it with his wife; how we were going to help them try to put their marriage back together in the midst of this.  But I'll never forget my pastor looking at me, and he's saying "You know what?  No sex is that good."  He said, "No sex is as good as the pain Doug is about to walk through for years."

And I've reflected back on that over and over again, and I've thought, "If anyone was thinking, they would never have an affair."

Dave: Oh, I agree. 

Bob: This isn't about anything we think beyond the next 15 minutes on, is it?

Dave: No, it's not, and it's terribly depressive, even if you decide to run off with the other person just because it lingers like a cloud over your life constantly.

Dennis: I had a conversation last night about a ministry leader who lost his ministry – a very prominent personality, and I'll not get any more specific than that.  But he divorced his wife of more than 30 years, he had four children – he left it all, and today he remarried the woman he had the affair with, and they are living in, like, an 800-square-foot house and supposedly in "bliss" saying, "This was the woman God had for me all along."

Dave: Well, I tell couples all the time, "At least in America, there are not arranged marriages, and you weren't psychotic when you chose each other, although you might swear you must have been at certain times later on in the marriage, but the point is you need to work through the reasons you made the choices to choose each other and what you saw in each other that first attracted you to one another."

And as you work through that stuff, then you will rekindle some of that love and affection.  Here is what we say – if you can find 20 percent of your marital history at level 4 or 5 on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being high, you have better than a 93-percent chance of making your marriage better than it's ever been in two years.

Dennis: Now, say that again.

Dave: Okay.  If you would draw out your marriage, a little marital satisfaction timeline across the history of your marriage – it's in the workbook there – and if 20 percent of your marriage seen by both of you is at level 4 or 5, 20 percent …

Dennis: … just 20 percent?

Dave: Just 20 percent – you have better than a 93-percent chance of saying in two years your marriage is better than you ever thought it could be.

Bob: And you have talked to literally hundreds of couples …

Dave: Ah, thousands.

Bob: Who can testify to the fact – they'll look back, and they'll say, "I thought there was no way I could ever live with this person again after the pain, after what was inflicted.  And now they say, "This is better than I ever imagined it could be."

Dave: That's right.

Dennis: The problem is they look at the 80 percent.

Dave: That's right.

Dennis: That they're not satisfied with.

Dave: And the 80 percent is usually just prior to the affair.  It's the easiest part of the marriage to remember.  Usually, the 20 percent, the good stuff, is before the children arrive or early in the marriage when it was just the two of them trying to hammer out life and make it.

Dennis: What you're really talking about here is another cause of an affair, which you refer to in your book as "marital styles."  And you say that if we have certain patterns in our marriage, this is going to make us more vulnerable toward an affair, and so if we're focusing on the 80 percent, and the 80 percent becomes 100 percent now, all of a sudden, we justify an attraction to another person.  It makes us feel like, "Well, I'm getting nothing at home, because she's a zero."  "He's a zero.  He's passive.  He doesn't meet my needs.  I'm not happy.  This person makes me feel special."

Dave: Well, they do make them feel special.  It's like a junior high crush.  Remember what it was like?  It was irrational, but you couldn't stop your heart from beating fast and perspiring in that older person's presence, but you were crazy about them, even though they could care less about you.  So it's very much a junior high, adolescent crush experience when an affair begins to happen initially.

Dennis: You're comparing adults with the irrational …

Bob: With a 13-year-old.

Dave: Oh, really?

Dennis: Now, I want our listeners to hear this because you're a counselor, you've watched them march into your office.  You're saying that people that go have an affair are acting like teenagers?

Dave: Oh, you go to the mall.  I promise you, here is a clue – you can find people having an affair.  Go to the mall, sit in the parking lot – if you see two people talk in the parking lot, and then they part, then they come back together and talk some more, then they part, then they come – they're having an affair, because couples – husbands and wives never do that.  They know they will see their spouse that night, and they can talk about that stuff then.  But this inability to part, this inability to separate is just like junior high kids.  It's huge.

Bob: Unbelievable.

Dave: It is.

Dennis: You know, Bob, I'm frustrated here, because I know how much good stuff is in this book, "Torn Asunder."  Dave, you have a "Personal Patterns for Predicting Infidelity."  It's not a test, but it's a questionnaire of more than 20 – well, it's 28 questions that you can actually go through, and what we're going to do is, we're going to put this on our website because one of the purposes of our broadcast is to preserve and protect marriages, and I believe there are people right now who are listening to my voice.  They've been riveted to what you've said, Dave.  They need to go look at this test, this questionnaire, and they need to go take it on the Internet and evaluate where they are emotionally and, most importantly, where their hearts are spiritually.  An affair begins as a matter of the heart.

Bob: Yeah, and we would encourage couples to go to our website,  There is a link there to the questionnaire that Dennis is talking about, and you can just see if you're in the danger zone or if there are warning signs you ought to be alert to. 

Again, the website is, and while you're on our website, let me remind you about the special offer we are making this week to FamilyLife Today listeners.  We are trying to encourage all of our listeners to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference when it comes to a city near where you live and, as a result of that, we are making this special offer.  You sign up today to attend one of the upcoming conferences, and you pay the regular registration fee for one of you, we'll pay the registration fee for your spouse.  So you pay one registration, the other one is free.

Now, to qualify for that, you need to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, which means if you're filling out your registration form for a Weekend to Remember on our website, FamilyLife, you will want to write my name, "Bob," in the keycode box on the registration form, or if it's easier, call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  We can get your registered for a conference over the phone.  We can answer any questions you have about the Weekend to Remember, and if you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you buy one registration, and the second registration is free.

So – call us at 1-800-FLTODAY or register online at  And keep in mind that we have copies of Dave Carder's book, "Torn Asunder," in our FamilyLife Resource Center along with companion workbook that he has put together for couples who are working their way back from the explosion of an extramarital affair.  Our website, again, is  You can order the book from us online, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and order the book over the phone.  You may want to get this book and pass it along to a couple you know that has experienced the reality of infidelity in their marriage.

Again, it's called "Torn Asunder," and details about the book are on our website at

Now, tomorrow we want to talk about how you draw boundaries around relationships outside of marriage.  How do you do that in a way that you can still have a relationship, but it doesn't cross whatever that line is, and it keeps you safe from the possibility of an affair.  Dave Carder joins us back again tomorrow, I hope you can join us as well. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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