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Ripe for the picking

by Dr. Dave Currie

Ripe for the picking are words that describe fruit on a tree that is perfectly ready to be taken and devoured immediately – fresh, enticing, and delicious. The same concept can be applied to understand marital vulnerability in the social orchard. When is a person ripe for the picking? What makes stolen fruit – someone other than your spouse – appear to taste sweeter? As you’ll see, when conditions are wrong at home, the climate is right for a serious harvest of temptation.

I have had a front row seat to the very difficult challenges caused by an extramarital affair. I hear the same stories over and over again, usually from both parties in the marriage, of how and why a breech of trust like this happens. Their accounts are hauntingly similar. It is out of this well of woundedness I have witnessed that I share with you the top ten signs of vulnerability to an extra-marital affair. Warning: the more of these signs you find existing in your marriage and in your heart, the greater danger you have in either becoming or pursuing forbidden fruit. Be wise and be warned.

God hasn’t changed His mind about warning people to be faithful to their spouse. Heed His warnings. Be on your guard. Get His perspective on marriage and then work through the ten warning signs below.

“You ask, ‘Why [does the Lord not accept our offerings]?’ It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the [spouse] of your youth. You have been unfaithful to [them], though [they] are your partner, the [spouse] of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the [spouse] of your youth. “The [person] who hates and divorces his [spouse],” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one they should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” (Malachi 2:14-16).

Warning Sign #1 – STRUGGLES AT HOME

If the couple is experiencing ongoing stress between them, the relationship is prone to unravel. With growing unhappiness comes a growing distance. It is especially hard if problems are reoccurring and there is constant rehashing of the same old unresolved issues. This takes its toll. One’s central relationship,   designed to be an anchor and safe haven, has become a constant and perfect storm. Be warned. A void is growing.

Warning Sign #2 – SIGNALS OF DISAPPROVAL

It is one thing to be fighting over issues all the time but it gets worse when the attacks get personal. If you feel like you cannot please or get approval from your spouse no matter how hard you try, you become discouraged. If you are continuously being talked down to, feeling hurt by unkind words, being invalidated on opinions or even being attacked by your spouse, the emotional connection between you gets severed. You will start looking for someone who appreciates you. You are at risk.

Warning Sign #3 – STAGNATION IN THE BEDROOM

Often, in keeping with the emotional distance and frustration, sexual intimacy fades. Instead of bringing a true sense of fun, unity and closeness, there are fights, hurts and disappointments in the bedroom. The frequency is way down, the interest is scarce and effort has dissipated. The sexual gap is huge! And the satisfaction…well, let’s say that you haven’t enjoyed each other freely and passionately for quite some time. Your sexual connection is lost. The sexual void leaves you in libido limbo.

Warning Sign #4 – SEPARATION OF LIVES

Complicating your relationship further is when life calls for you to be apart – work, schooling, travelling, deployment, whatever. Being away for extended periods of time, actually sleeping in different locations adds to the disconnect. While it is said that distance can make the heart grow fonder, when the marriage is struggling, distance often makes the heart falter! It is also unhealthy when your daily life and work schedules cause you to see each other less often. If you are not making an effort to connect, to date and maintain your friendship, your relational connection fades. It can be worse when you find yourself wanting to be away from your spouse more and you start making excuses for not coming home. Big dangers. You could start looking for someone to fill the void.

Warning Sign #5- SLIPPAGE FROM GOD

For many people, their faith in God anchors their life. Without God’s grace and guidance, Donalyn and I could have easily become a divorce statistic in our early years of marriage. With any erosion of our faith roots there can be a corresponding collapse of values. We can also tend to blame God and pull away instead of pressing in when things aren’t going well in the marriage. We doubt and get discouraged. Then, we often let go of the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer. We can even stop going to church to avoid people who love God and stand for what is right. When our spiritual connection is lost, we are weak and defenseless to temptations..

Warning Sign #6 – STRESS BUILDING WITHIN

Whether the problems are related primarily to your marriage or other frustrations in life, inner stress is hard for anyone to carry. It could be job pressures, extended family pressures, addictions, financial crises, and problems with kids or career; if an internal dissatisfaction with your life grows, you will become vulnerable. Your mind wanders to other possibilities. Inside you feel that your life isn’t turning out as you thought it would. You don’t like how things are going in your marriage and you don’t like how things are ending up. It feels unfair. In your mind, you feel you deserve better. At this point, you start blaming your spouse for causing you such pain and holding you back. If this kind of selfish thinking is brewing, you could find yourself tempted to look for a change. Warning.

Warning Sign #7 – STANDARDS ERODING

What happens when the emotional condition of your marriage leaves you susceptible to the attraction of others? If for many reasons, your core values are waning and your marital covenant is weak, your discretion with other people can easily be suspect. There was a time when you loved your marriage enough to protect it. You had clear relational limits. But when you find your once solid standards eroding and the relational boundary lines start blurring, you are in danger of compromise. You find yourself saying ‘yes’ to things you never used to do. You are now flirting and seeking attention when before you were just being friendly. Patterns are changing, habits are changing and you are changing.  Beware.

Warning Sign #8 – SEDUCTION OF ATTRACTION

As the marital void grows, you start developing hungry eyes that look for interest from others of the opposite sex. In your loneliness, frustration and distance, you discontinue normal caution. By failing to guard your heart, you become easily attracted to people with whom you seem to have chemistry. You are flattered by their applause or compliments – encouragement you don’t now get at home. You feel heard, appreciated, and noticed. You start seeking this kind of attention and are drawn to its source. It feels good to be admired and even more to be pursued. These seductive attractions rarely start sexually but rather emotionally. Warning, you are ripe for the picking.

Warning Signs #9 – SIGNS OF DISHONESTY

Speaking the truth in a marriage maintains the trust between you. But before an actual step of marital unfaithfulness is taken, a host of half-truths have usually been spoken. Have you started a pattern of denial and lies? Are you finding ways to cover your tracks, hide emails, erase texts and conceal your whereabouts? There is a huge difference between privacy and secrecy. Privacy allows you to be a unique person with a healthy sense of separateness but in no way harms your mate. Secrecy is when you are hiding things that if told, would jeopardize the stability of your relationship. Remember, keeping secrets and blatant lies both produce the same results. The bigger the secret and the longer it’s kept, the more power it has over you. You are justifying your choices and excusing these outside interests. Remember, an affair doesn’t start in the door of a bedroom but in the window of your mind. You are clearly in terrible danger of marital tragedy.

Warning Sign #10 – LOSS OF PERSPECITVE

When the justifications for your questionable behavior increases and the dissatisfaction in the once strong marriage continue, you start to lose overall perspective. You forget that the answer to a struggling marriage is not finding someone else but rather getting help to address the problems and restore the passion. You get lost in the euphoria of the potential bliss with another person and don’t count the cost. The full implications of these still pending choices are lost. You quit thinking clearly. Your drive for pleasure selfishly wins out. You start to regularly visualize yourself with a person other than your spouse. You have been speaking out your doubts about your marriage to friends with supportive ears and garnering strength to consider separation. As negative as your thinking has grown, never doubt whether you can still make a turnaround and restore the marriage. But with this thinking unchecked, you are in a real danger zone.

The answer to a struggling marriage is to tend to and harvest your own crop of marital goodness. Think about it; if the grass really was greener with someone else’s relational orchard than why is the divorce rate of second marriages significantly higher than for first marriages?

Heed the warning signs of vulnerability. They are so subtle you almost don’t notice the slippage at first. But STOP. Heed the warning here. Fight for your marriage. Fight against the temptation of unfaithfulness. Live your life to honour God and respect the vows you made. You’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first.

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