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How to avoid (or remedy) “adultery of the heart” when you’re married

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Shutterstock | Diego Cervo

Marzena Devoud - published on 03/13/23

How can we avoid falling into this trap when the opportunity arises?

In the life of a couple, there are many ways to be more or less unfaithful. Glances and thoughts, gestures and words, at work or on a smartphone … It may seem like nothing at first, but the enemy of our souls knows how to manipulate us subtly and make one of the spouses slide unwittingly into “adultery of the heart.”

“While the forms of infidelity may be interpreted differently by each person, there’s no doubt that adultery of the heart, or emotional infidelity, can hurt as much as sexual infidelity,” explains Raphaëlle de Foucauld, a marriage counselor, speaking to Aleteia. “Whether it’s chatting with your colleague on social networks or staying in the office late at night with him or her, emotional infidelity occurs when a spouse enters into an emotionally intimate relationship with someone else. It can damage the marriage as much as sexual infidelity.”

Flirting with your colleague may seem like harmless fun — just a way to boost your ego. But this “innocent” flirtation can easily turn into a real intimate relationship that pushes you to go further.

An important warning sign is the desire to keep the relationship a secret. What starts as keeping a secret slips into telling lies. As a result, all the elements are in place to hurt the neglected spouse: feelings of betrayal, jealousy and insecurity. These are as powerful and real as in the case of physical infidelity. “For a marriage to last, a couple needs three essential pillars: trust, respect, and security,” says Raphaëlle de Foucauld. When these fail, the marriage will fall into a crisis.

Of course, you can have friendships outside of your relationship. However, none of them should be hurtful to the spouse. “When someone becomes the privileged confidant of a spouse, especially in regards to the relationship, then the risk of crossing a red line is significant. This type of infidelity of the heart can become dangerous because it usurps the place reserved for the couple’s relationship,” analyzes the marriage counselor. In the same way, similar dangers can affect the couple because of friendships on social networks. Virtual relationships are real in the sense that they can hurt the other in an all-too-real way.

Tips for avoiding adultery of the heart

But how can you avoid falling into the trap of adultery of the heart, when the opportunity arises?

Fr. Paul Habsburg, who prepares couples for the sacrament of marriage at the parish of Our Lady of Auteuil (Paris), suggests that the devil, who wants to destroy our marriages, is “not going to suggest committing adultery. It doesn’t happen that way.” Sometimes, however, we can be “a little too excited about having an intimate conversation with this or that person at work. What can be completely innocent can also mean that we have given too much space in our heart to this person,” he says. Here are his tips on how to avoid this trap:

1. Understand the subtlety of adultery

It’s essential to probe our heart and its nature, recognizing when welcoming a slight infidelity into our heart causes a little pleasure. The question is this: when we accept small gestures of affection from someone who isn’t our spouse, are we really being faithful to our wedding vows? Are we faithful in our heart? If adultery of the heart starts to manifest itself, is it not an unexpected invitation to renew our unconditional “yes” to our spouse and to renew our reliance on God as the ally of our marriage?

2. Rethinking the ideal of fidelity

By committing themselves in marriage, the spouses promise each other mutual love and respect for life. However, the little “yes” of however-many years ago has probably become too narrow. It must be renewed and adapted to the new situations of life together. A marriage is never static; the two spouses change, and the circumstances also change. Life confronts each couple with unexpected situations in which it’s essential for them to renew their ideal of fidelity and exclusivity, the total gift of self to the other.

3. Choosing your relationship anew

A situation where we detect a movement towards infidelity of the heart can be a great opportunity to renew our preference for our marriage over other relationships, to re-choose our spouse and to renew our commitment. To be sure that you remain faithful, the recipe is simple. All you have to do is ask yourself the question: can you talk openly and peacefully about this other relationship with your partner?

4. Listening to Jesus

Jesus knew only too well that in all matters that touch on the areas of affection, human beings are often very bad judges of themselves. That’s why Christ speaks so clearly in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).

“If Jesus uses such strong language, it’s certainly not to tell us that we’re evil – for he knows that everyone sometimes struggles in this area – but rather to wake us up and to protect us from ourselves and from our incredible capacity for self-justification,” Fr. Paul Habsburg emphasizes. “Jesus doesn’t blame us for the mutual attraction between men and women at all. It’s normal and good. But he warns against having a divided heart, looking at others in a way that desires to appropriate them. This look of desire can contain a double intention, and creates a rupture in the human heart. We pretend to be giving ourselves, but are actually seeking our own pleasure,” he concludes.

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