When you've been married as long as John and I have you get to watch other people's marriages. I've written about the friends we've seen crumble. About how we hit the wall ourselves.
So I've spent a lot of time wondering why. Because the stories people tell aren't always true ones.
One of my friends believes after 22 years of marriage that she finally met the love of her life in one of their friends. She walked away from her family and affirms it was the right choice. Watching the pain that fell on her husband and children, I have to ask....really? Another friend left her husband for a volitile relationship, and also affirms she is happier. But it doesn't reach her eyes when she says it.
Others who have had affairs stayed to try to repair their marriages. One person said, "I can't believe I was going to give up so much for so little." If affairs were logical, then the people participating in them would honorably leave their family first to pursue this new 'love' instead of hiding and lying--caught between their normal life and the world of the affair.
As much music and movies tell us otherwise, I don't believe affairs are about love at all. I think they are about validation. "I am worth something because this other person finds me sexually attractive." We live in a culture where a man's worth is increased by the number of women he can seduce and a woman's worth is found in her physical desirability. Mix this concept with the fact that few of us believe we have worth and we become targets. Pornography, emotional or physical affairs act like drugs to our worth-starved souls--because believing you are beautiful (or desirable, or worthy) is a high that once experienced is hard to live without.
While most marriage counseling focuses on issues between the couple, I think the problem is actually an individual one. And I believe each person's vulnerability has to do with the way they see themselves.
We are beautiful. Unique. Special. Wonderfully made. But we let regrets, places we don't perform as well as others and guilt of our mistakes shape our identity. Then we get busy in activity to lift that guilt. To prove our worth. All the while building walls around our hearts so we can't feel the longing for the love we don't believe we are worthy to receive.
People who are healthy sexually are people who believe they are loveable. Loved by God. Loved by their spouse. Loved by themselves. (On this last one, it is about actual love...not about artificial love like arrogance or ego.) Because the more love you believe in, the easier it is to give it away. Sex is no longer about validation. It becomes a natural expression of the joy of being together.
Oddly enough, the emotion of love is something we generate inside. It does not come from outside of ourselves. We initiate it in response to another. Most of us love our pets more deeply than we love people because we are not afraid of them. We allow ourselves to open.
The scriptures say that "perfect love casts out fear," but I would argue the converse is true as well. "Fear casts out perfect love."
If we want to be more healthy in our sexual lives, we have to deal with how we see our own worth. And as it turns out, the One who made us finds us incredibly precious and of great value. We just have to be unafraid enough to connect with that.