FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Where do Affairs Start?

with Dave Carder | April 22, 2009
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A wink, a listening ear, a coy smile. Is this just flirting or the start of something much more dangerous, like a marital affair? Listen to today's broadcast to hear pastor Dave Carder, author of the book Torn Asunder, tell how an innocent act or gesture can wind up, over time, turning into infidelity.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • A wink, a listening ear, a coy smile. Is this just flirting or the start of something much more dangerous, like a marital affair? Listen to today's broadcast to hear pastor Dave Carder, author of the book Torn Asunder, tell how an innocent act or gesture can wind up, over time, turning into infidelity.

  • 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.

A wink, a listening ear, a coy smile. Is this just flirting or the start of something much more dangerous, like a marital affair?

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Where do Affairs Start?

With Dave Carder
April 22, 2009
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Dave: You'll rob time to spend with this individual, you'll spend mild amounts of money on this individual, you will begin to think of ways – gifts or things that you could get them they would like.  You will think to yourself in your head, "You know what?  That's exactly what he likes."  And they say to themselves, "My spouse hasn't generated this in me for 20 years.  This must be the person I've been looking for for 15 years."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 22nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If you're experiencing any of those kinds of warning signs – you need to stay with us.  You may be in danger. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  I think, really, it's appropriate this week, as we are talking about infidelity in marriage and recovering from an affair, that we also let our listeners know about the special opportunity we're making available the rest of this month to FamilyLife Today listeners to attend one of our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.

We have had thousands of couples this spring who have already been to a conference, and some of the stuff we hear back from folks who attend these conferences is really remarkable – how God is at work during these weekends, pulling couples closer together, getting them over some rough spots in their marriage, or just deepening their relationship with one another.

And you and I have talked to enough people who have said, "You know, we've been thinking about going to one of those, we just never have," that we talked with the team, and we've decided that this week and through the end of the month, if our FamilyLife Today listeners will register for one of the upcoming conferences – we still have two or three dozen conferences coming up – you register at the regular price, and we'll give you a second registration for free.

So – basically, you pay for your registration and your spouse comes free.  Now, this offer is good for FamilyLife Today listeners but only through the end of this month, and you need to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener to qualify.  So as you fill out the registration form on our website,, you need to write my name, "Bob," in the keycode box on the registration form so that we know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and then you'll automatically qualify for the special offer, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-368-6329.  Someone on our team can answer any questions you have about the conference.  We can get you registered over the phone.  Just make sure you tell them you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to take advantage of the special offer, and you buy one registration and the second one is free.

And we hope, if you've ever thought about attending the conference that maybe this kind of incentive will get you to go from thinking about it to actually joining with us and being part of a fun, romantic getaway for couples – the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.

Again, details are available online at or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

Now, we're talking this week about adultery, about infidelity and how a marriage can be rebuilt after it has been torn asunder.  Dennis?

Dennis: Bob, would you like to receive a crown in heaven?

Bob: Yeah, you know, I hope to have crowns to cast at the feet of Christ.

Dennis: Well, there is the promise in Scripture that you can cast a Crown of Life at the feet of our Savior.  Do you know how you get that?

Bob: It's from – now, wait – we were looking at this just the other – it's from James, chapter 1?

Dave: It's amazing.

Bob: Amy and I were looking at this just the other day – "Blessed is the man who endures temptation for when he" …

Dennis: … "has been approved" …

Bob: … "he will receive the Crown of Life."

Dennis: "Which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."  And it goes on to say …

Bob: "Let no man say I am being tempted by the Father for God Himself tempts no man."

Dennis: Right.

Bob: Yeah, that's as far as I can go, sorry.

Dennis: I'm reading along here, Bob, and we had a translation that you memorized from, but verse 14 goes on to say this – "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death."  Now, I began by asking you …

Bob: The Crown of Life.

Dennis: If you wanted to have a crown.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: And I concluded with the opposite extreme of death, and that's what we're going to look at today.  We're going to take the anatomy of sin, the anatomy of an affair, and help you understand from start to finish what takes place when two people conceive sin.  And to help us do that is a counselor, an author, a father, a grandfather, and a minister – Dave Carder.  Dave, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Thanks a lot, Dennis.

Dennis: Dave has written a book called "Torn Asunder," and if you've listened to FamilyLife Today for any number of years, you know we have featured this book before, and we're recommending to every married couple to not only help those who are recovering from an affair but help those who are in marriage prevent an affair.

Dave, as we look at an affair and how it occurs, you've counseled thousands of couples, tens of thousands of hours of counseling in a local church.  How does an affair start?  Where is the initial chemical reaction?

Dave: An affair starts – this is a very precise point – when both parties admit to having mutual feelings for the other person.  They might never have touched each other, they might never have been inappropriate in any way, but if they share verbally or in e-mail or written form the fact that they have feelings for the other person, an affair is underway because from that point on everything is supercharged – the sight of that person, hearing that individual's voice, getting an e-mail from them, smelling the perfume or cologne they wear – it's all heightened.  It's just like, whooom, and they begin to look forward to it, because they know this person has an affinity for them that's unique.

At that point, though, an affair often can last for a number of months, and I've had them go on even years before it becomes erotic or becomes wrong.

Dennis: Now, why is that?

Dave: There are several reasons.  I think sometimes Christians know that if they take the next step it really spells disaster in their lives.

Dennis: So they're cheating emotionally, but they're not going to cheat physically?

Dave: That's right.  And they will sustain that relationship until the second step.  The second step, when it's really on the verge of becoming sexual is when they begin to complain to that first individual that shared those feelings with them about their marriage.  When they start robbing the marriage of emotional energy; when they start saving conversational topics to talk with this friend about versus their spouse; or when they start complaining to this friend about their spouse, they have stepped through the second bridge that will lead to infidelity.

Dennis: So the first application we can make here just in preventing sin – if you're married, or if you're a single person, if you ever have feelings for another person, and you do not want it to end in an affair, a physical relationship, then you must be very careful to never express feelings for another person.

Dave: To that person.

Dennis: That's right.  But to your spouse, I would say it's a very good thing to do.  In this culture, I think there's going to be many attractions that are just going to be natural in the course of working together, serving Christ together, bumping, rubbing shoulders together, and that's when you really need to talk about with your spouse.  There are dangerous men and dangerous women out there for every one of us.  Not all women would be appealing to you; not all men are appealing to a certain woman, but they need to know what that profile looks like to be forewarned.

Bob: Yeah, but, Dave, there are some women – you know this – and probably some men, too, who if their spouse comes home and says, "I've just got to tell you, I saw this gal at work today, and she was a knockout, and I was just attracted to her."  There are some women who would hear that, and they go, "I don't want to know that.  Just don't tell me stuff like that.  It makes me feel insecure, what's wrong with me, how come you're not" – so the husband is going to go, "Well, okay, I guess I better not share that with my wife, she'll freak out."

Dave: Okay, but I would say that the marriages that recover from infidelity always say, "We wish we'd had this level of openness, this level of honesty, this level of depth in our marriage beforehand.  I would never have had an affair."  So you are 100-percent right – it is difficult to get started, but this is the world in which we live.  This is the age in which we are involved in.

Bob: Once you've gone through this second doorway, and you're sharing dissatisfaction about what's going on at home, and you're opening up on new levels with this person, there starts to be deceit in your relationship with your mate, right?

Dave: Oh, right.  You'll rob time to spend with this individual, you'll spend mild amounts of money on this individual, you will begin to think of ways – gifts or things that you could get them they would like.  You will think to yourself in your head, "You know what?  If Sandy was here, she'd love that."  "Oh, that's exactly what he likes."  And so you're thinking about another party all through this process, and once you get to that stage, the very next thing is going to be touch – some kind of physical or verbal expression of those feelings. 

Bob: And that's the next doorway you're walking through.

Dave: That's the next doorway.

Bob: Is that the hand on the shoulder, even?

Dave: The hand on the shoulder that means more than it should, the touch across the desk – it just means way too much.

Dennis: And it's back to the 13-year-old …

Dave: Oh, it is.

Dennis: The adolescent emotion – it's puppy love again. 

Dave: Oh, it is. 

Dennis: It's a rush of …

Dave: Your heart's beating.

Dennis: Of adrenalin.

Dave: Oh, it is.

Dennis: Of chemicals, and the person gets burned.

Dave: And they say to themselves, "My spouse hasn't generated this in me for 20 years.  This must be the person I've been looking for for 15 years."

Bob: Is this a testing of the waters, a mutual testing of the waters, when you reach over and put your hand on someone's shoulder?  Is that a part of this – you know, the – where you're getting around somebody in a meeting, and you put your hands on his shoulders, and you kind of brush against him?

Dave: Well, and there can be eye contact, and there can be notes sent in those meetings, and codes begin to develop between these two people, and, really, once you get to this place, it gets – it's just a matter of time until it becomes a euphoric trip.  And if you make an intervention at that point, trying to stop somebody or trying to catch somebody or trying to call somebody out of an affair, you'll lose. 

Bob: What do you mean?

Dave: You won't be successful.

Bob: If I see something going on between a guy and a gal at work, and I go to that guy, and I say, "I've just got to tell you, I'm concerned about what I see going on," he'll just say, "Oh, you're wrong?"

Dave: That's right.  Usually they deny it, and they go underground, and they start protecting it, hiding it, and you can't intervene.  You think, "Well, it's finally – it's over.  They've gotten ahold of it, and they've changed it.  Not true.  You don't come back from that point easily.  There's depression, there's sadness, there's upset, there's …

Bob: … loss.

Dave: Loss, huge loss. 

Dennis: I have seen the power of these individuals to lie.  And when they've been confronted about what they've done physically – in other words, I know of a Christian leader who was seen kissing another woman who was not his wife.  When he was confronted by his board about what he had done, he denied it.  "You didn't see me kiss her," but it was done in a public place.

And, I'm telling you, I stood amazed at the persuasive power of a lie.  Even though you know the truth, you could begin to go, "Well, I must have not seen that."

Dave: "Maybe I didn't," that's right. 

Dennis: Yes.

Dave: Well, that's what happens when you behave in a way – psychologically, we call it "ego dystonic."  When you violate your own standards, values, and belief systems, and you know that violation can be destructive to you.  You will lie, and you will actually split off and practice denial.  You will say it so convincingly it seems like you're creating truth.

Dennis: Is this what you call the "destabilization phase?"

Dave: Well, actually, that destabilization phase occurs after the euphoria has begun to wear off of an affair, and it's kind of become an on-again, off-again.  One spouse will say, "You know, we've got to stop this, we've got to quit acting this way.  It's going to ruin our marriages, it's going to ruin our careers," and so one will say, "We've got to stop it," and they'll part.  And then an excuse will come up, they'll check with each other, "How are you doing?  What's going on?"  Then it starts again, then it stops, and that is the destabilization phase.  That's a good place to intervene.

Bob: The starting and stopping you're talking about – are you saying this has already resulted in a consummation?  They've come together sexually, and they're going back and forth …

Dave: Well, it's certainly erotic.

Bob: Okay, all right.

Dave: Right.  And at that point, when it's destabilized like that, it actually is what – the same dynamic that drives people to Vegas and keeps putting money in slot machines.  You never know when it's going to start up again.  It's that behavioral modification principle called "intermittent reinforcement."  It's what keeps monkeys pulling on pellet bars for food samples, and this couple will try – they'll say, "Well, I'll call today and see how she's doing.  We'll just see what happens," you know, and they'll start it up again, and it will just flame out of control, and then "We've got to stop this.  We've got to quit doing this."

Bob: And they say to themselves, "I just can't help myself.  I don't know what it is."

Dave: Oh, they do all the time, and they get so depressed and so confused and so exhausted at work they often need medication to get out of this.

Bob: Dave, we kind of skipped to destabilization – we had a couple with touch across the table, but it still – there's still a step to take to go from touch across the table to being alone together and consummating this affair.  And I have to be honest with you, I have often thought how do people do that with conscience?  Isn't every bell and whistle screaming at them – "This is wrong!"

Dennis: Or do they have a conscience?

Dave: Well, yes, they do have a conscience, but they have shut it off in the other person's presence.  It's like the Bible says – temptation overwhelms them, and it's, like, "I don't care.  I don't worry about the future.  I'm not going to be concerned about that, I've got to have this."

Bob: I know it is wrong, but I can't help myself.

Dennis: It's the ox headed to the slaughter.

Dave: Oh, it is – the deer, yeah, and the bird going into the net and everything else in Proverbs, yeah.

Dennis: And it's a mindless but emotion-driven act?

Dave: "I'll pay the consequences later whatever they are" – and so you just trash it all.

Bob: Do most couples who have walked through these doorways and arrived at the point where the relationship has become sexual – do they come in and face the other person the next day with a sense of shame and, "I can't believe we did that?"  Or is it a sense of "This is a new beginning for us."

Dave: "It's a new beginning for us."

Bob: Really?

Dave: Yes.

Bob: So they come in thinking, "Now, how do I make this thing go on, and how do I quietly close off the other deal?"

Dave: Or, "How do I keep them both sustained and going on?"  Remember, there's a huge relationship that's developed over the years, maybe, or certainly over months, and now it's just become erotic in nature.  So it's like we have so many things going for us.  We have so many commonalities and so many common threads.  So at that point, they try to sustain it.  Rare is the couple involved in an affair who tries to manage the sexuality of it.  They let it become almost a spontaneous part of the relationship.

Dennis: Now, what do you mean by that?

Dave: Well, they don't try to stop the erotic part.  It becomes just a part of the expression of love and care and concern for each other.

Dennis: So it's not the central part of the relationship?

Dave: No, it's the emotional nurturance.  It's all about the stuff – those five As we talk about that first day – the accommodation, the adoration, the affection, the appreciation, and the affirmation that just nurture and care for each other.

Dennis: I think most of us think of an affair, and we just think of a sexually driven …

Dave: Oh, I did, too.

Dennis: … relationship.

Dave: I did, too.

Dennis: But you're saying that most affairs not only don't start sexual, they start emotional, and many of them start spiritually, I believe.

Dave: Oh, I believe that's very true.

Dennis: But they move to the physical, but the physical does not become the target or the center of it all.

Bob: It's still about emotional needs.

Dave: It is.  The only affair where they back out of it sexually after it's become sexual is the one-night stand, where they maybe contain it on a business trip, they don't see each other again, they don't talk to each other, they have connection, no emotional relationship. 

Dennis: There is one last phase here that, before we're finished, I want you to share with our listeners, but I just have to turn, Bob, to our audience at this point, and I have to say, you know, if you've stepped through these doors that Dave's talking about, it is time for you to turn around; it is time for you to turn back to your Savior; it is time for your heart to come clean.

Bob: Time to flee youthful lust; to do what Joseph did and run out of the room.

Dennis: That's exactly right – run back through the doors, and I want to take you back to James, chapter 1 – "What do you want at the end of your life?  Go out to the end of the matter and evaluate what it is you want.  Do you want a Crown of Life that is given to those who resist temptation?"  And I can hear you say at this point, "Dennis, I've already caved into temptation.  I forfeited the Crown of Life," and I say, "No, you haven't.  No, you haven't." 

There is grace, there is redemption, and I believe you can recapture that Crown of Life with repentance, or do you want to end your life in death?  And it says, "When sin is conceived, it does bring forth death."  For the sake of your legacy, for the sake of the generations that follow, do not do this thing nor continue on in this relationship.

Bob: The whole message of the Bible is that whatever doorways you've stepped through; if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins; to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  You can walk back through the doors through confession, through repentance.  You can re-establish that Crown of Life, and you can dig up the root of death that you sowed a seed toward in the midst of that affair.

Dennis: This Book, this Book, the Bible, is a Book about redemption.  It's the story from Genesis when Man blew it until the close of time in Revelation – it is all about redemption, and our God, our God is a gracious, merciful God.  Don't you believe a lie that He is anything else.

Bob: Yes, and I'm thinking about the number of people we've talked to over the years who have come to one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and this has been a part of their story.  In fact, this has been one of the things that's caused them to wonder whether their marriage could go the distance, because there has been infidelity, there has been unfaithfulness.

And, over the course of that weekend, we've seen God do some amazing things with a lot of these couples.  In fact, we hear back from them, and for a lot of them it's a dramatic turning point in their relationship – not just couples who have experienced affairs but couples who have found themselves in ongoing conflict, or they're alienated for whatever reason, or just the couples who come to us and say, "You know, we needed a tuneup, and it was a memorable weekend for us."

In fact, a lot of these couples will make sure they come in every couple of years for a good marital checkup and, in fact, right now is a good opportunity for FamilyLife Today listeners to schedule their marital checkup because this week and into next week, we are making a special offer available to FamilyLife Today listeners.  If you register for one of our upcoming conferences, and we still have two or three dozen conferences that are taking place this spring – if you buy one registration at the regular price, we'll pay for the second registration – you get it absolutely free.

So you pay your own way, your spouse comes free.  In order to take advantage of that special offer, you have to do two things – you have to contact us before the end of the month, and you have to identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  So if you decide to register, and you're registering on line, there is a keycode box on the registration form.  Just type my name in there, just type "Bob," and you'll automatically qualify for the special offer.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-368-6329.  If you have any questions, we can answer those for you, let you know about dates and locations, and if you register over the phone just identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener and you will qualify for the special offer – you pay for one registration, the second registration is absolutely free.  Again, the phone number, 1-800-FLTODAY, or you can order online at

Let me also encourage you to get more information about Dave Carder's book, "Torn Asunder," and the companion workbook.  We have both of them in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can order from us online, if you'd like, or when you call, ask how you can get a copy of the book and the workbook.  We really think this is helpful material for couples who are working to recover from infidelity in their marriage relationship.  Dennis?

Dennis: You know, as we've talked about the subject of an affair, we've talked about how there are doors we walk through – there is the initial attraction, there is the developing intensity, there is the physical consummation, there is that period of destabilization where there is fear, guilt, grief, and it's on-again, off-again.  But, Dave, there's one last phase of a relationship that you describe as "disclosure and resolution."

Dave: And that's the part where you tell your spouse so the two of you can work upon this issue together.  It is imperative that a husband and a wife join hands, join forces in working through an infidelity in a marriage.  The spouse who was not involved didn't make the affair happen, but they did contribute to the marital decline that allowed this affair to flourish in the marriage, and it's going to take both your parts to do this.  And both of you need to make contributions to the kind of marriage you want in the future, so disclosure is going to be important.

Bob: And for the rest of this week, we're going to talk about how a couple walks their way back from the abyss, from that point, and, as you said, it begins with disclosure.  We'll talk more about that tomorrow. 

 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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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