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"Well no, not exactly."
"Well then you have nothing to be complaining about."
This is a real exchange that took place between a woman and her in-laws. Unfortunately, there can be a pervasive attitude that if a spouse is not in bed with an individual to whom they are not married, the maladies of the relationship are petty or minor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While sex may be a symptom of infidelity, it is not necessarily at the absolute core of the wandering heart. And hear me when I say that a spouse can be unfaithful without ever having sexual contact with another individual.
So much of our marital bliss can begin to unravel when our attention is drawn elsewhere. This happens in two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Our prideful, selfish attitude of entitlement tells us, "I deserve much better than what I'm getting here." We become disenchanted with the way a spouse behaves, looks, achieves, and suddenly, our heart wanders.
Scenario 2: We become so distracted that the most important things suddenly become drowned out. This "marital ADHD" puts the walking shoes on the ol' heart and off we go.
The result may be a sexual relationship. Someone at the office catches our attention. We spend a disproportionate of time together on a project. The team goes out for drinks. Next thing you know... Poof! Our fidelity is up in smoke.
More often, however, the wandering plays itself out in other asexual ways. We love our hobby. We love our friends involved with that hobby. Over time, we spend more time with that hobby and those friends than we do on our marriage. The hobby becomes our "lover." Or we find ourselves feeling a sense of accomplishment over our work. And after all, the job does provide for our family. Suddenly, we find more excuses to spend longer hours at work than at home. We don't take vacation time we have earned. Our spouse in turn experiences even more of the isolation already inflicted by simply being the parent of a child with a special need, disability, or chronic illness. The job becomes our "mistress."
Lest one gender point a bony finger at the other, EITHER partner in a couple is capable of this type of behavior. Emotional infidelity is possible when the wife is scrapbooking with her friends more than she is spending time with her husband. The same is true when a husband is out hunting with his friends more than he is with his wife. Ministry leader and father, Jeff Davidson calls these men "Vacant Dads," but women can be vacant on the marital front as well. It all happens when one, or even both, partners in a marriage stop trying.
Since antiquity, the heart has been seen as the seat of our affections. To this day we hear of people sharing "straight from the heart," those deepest, most connected, dearly-held places inside of them. God should have possession of that main throne inside of us with our spouse next in line. When we offer those critical thrones to something or someone else, infidelity, betrayal, unfaithfulness has taken place.
So how does a couple who already finds themselves overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities of a child with extra challenges keep from those scenarios of disenchantment or distraction? It takes daily, intentional work.
A 1951 quote from CS Lewis is helpful reminder for us to live by, "Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things." When we get our priorities straight as a child of God and a marriage partner, the other things will more noticeably fall into place. If we find our heart in a wandering place, it's time to do the tough work of self-examination and eliminating unnecessary distractions. It is worth more than the effort for everyone involved.
PRAY: God, we confess that our hearts have been unfaithful to You and unfaithful to those You place in the position of highest priority in our lives. Beginning right now, we repent and ask for Your help in returning to first things first.
~ Barb Dittrich