Today’s guest post is from Kay.
I’m a young woman and a devoted Christian. I have been faithfully married to the same man for over six years. We have a child. We are very much in love.
So imagine my shock when I discovered, last Sunday, that I’m in the throes of adultery.
Like many pastors around the country, my pastor chose the month of February to preach a sermon series on marriage. It started out really well. The first message was on the roles outlined by Ephesians 5—usually a sticky topic, but one he handled brilliantly. The second sermon was flat-out gold, describing the different kinds of communication in marriage. I went home ready to put the principles I learned into practice.
Then came “Affair-Proofing Your Marriage.”
My pastor began by reading a definition of adultery:
“Adultery defined…is taking the most sacred expressions of intimacy in marriage and giving them to someone other than your spouse.”
Now, let me be clear, this is not a Webster’s definition. Nearly all dictionaries, ancient and modern, define adultery as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” I suppose if we consider sex to be the most sacred expression of intimacy in marriage, then the first definition makes sense. But then he continued:
“You can have an affair without having sex. You can have an affair on an emotional level. Affairs happen in our feelings and thoughts long before they become physical.”
He then went on to describe how one can know whether they are engaged in an emotional affair:
- Meetings and conversations with the other person are kept secret.
- You say and do things with the other person that you wouldn’t say or do in front of your spouse.
- You arrange private talk time with them.
- You share things with them that you wouldn’t share with your spouse.
I was able to check three of the four boxes. Why? Because I’m currently seeing a therapist.
I am a victim of childhood sex abuse. I was molested by my father at a young age. I thought I had prayed through the worst of it, but something occurred recently to reopen my wounds. A few months ago, my ability to continue coping with the pain failed and I very nearly experienced a full mental breakdown. I entered therapy on the verge of suicide. Through the tender care of my therapist (and the support of my husband and friends), I’m gradually recovering my life. But at a price.
See, I’m experiencing a phenomenon in therapy common to most victims of childhood abuse, called ‘Erotic Transference.’ It basically refers to an attraction—often romantic or sexual—that develops towards one’s therapist. Many times, these feelings are unwelcome, painful and humiliating, and are completely unrelated to the therapist’s age, physical attractiveness, or even gender. The feelings often have little to do with what’s happening in the present; instead, they are indicative of unmet needs in the past. The best way of dealing with the transference is, of course, to talk it out in therapy and use the feelings as a way to connect to and resolve past issues.
Yet, according to my pastor’s sermon, by having these feelings, I’m being disloyal to my spouse. Aside from God, my spouse should be the only one hearing my deepest thoughts and meeting my emotional needs. The way I should be dealing with these feelings is to a) confess the feelings to my husband, b) cut off all contact with my therapist, and c) maybe find a new therapist.
The problem is, finding a new therapist won’t solve the problem of my ’emotional adultery,’ even if the therapist were female. Such is the nature of therapy and the nature of my wound. The transference will just come up again. And again. Until it is fully dealt with. So if I follow my pastor’s teaching to its logical conclusion, I shouldn’t go to therapy at all. And I most certainly shouldn’t discuss these feelings with my therapist, even if it can aid in my healing. That’s, supposedly, wildly inappropriate.
According to my church, only two people are approved for meeting my emotional needs: God and my spouse. Whatever one can’t meet, the other will. Funny how not a single scripture was quoted to back this up.
The problem with doctrine like this is that it allows no room for genuinely hurting people to get help. I had walked into service that morning finally at peace after wrestling all week with emotions of terrifying intensity, only to be made to feel ashamed of it all. I could just imagine how many other people might have been sitting there that morning, in the same situation, listening to those words and making a decision that might negatively impact their health and vitality for years to come. I know the Bible calls us to high standards of love and holiness in marriage. I’ll be the first to defend that. But this is the danger when the Evangelical Church decides to redefine words for its own benefit.
Pastors: Stop. Think. There is a wasteland of hurting hearts all around you, and real consequences to what you choose to teach.