Accountability to another person about your visual and emotional infidelity can be helpful—but not as helpful as we like to believe. After a while, one husband told me, “It’s pretty easy to lie to the person who is questioning you. It’s so autonomous--how are they really going to know?”
Putting computers out in the open is helpful as well in order to break the power of autonomy. But what happens when no one is around to see you on that website or watching that soap opera? There is a more lasting approach: Addressing the reasons why a husband or wife would turn to someone other than their spouse when desiring sexual and emotional intimacy, then creating a realistic level of intimacy within your existing marriage.
As mentioned previously, virtual infidelity increases when we are lonely, in duress, angry or spurned. These are threshold experiences, portals toward infidelity but also intimacy since conflict can sometimes be intimacy in disguise.
Though there is overlap, husbands and wives tend to take two unique paths toward intimacy. It’s important to understand where they lead and that sometimes we may have to force ourselves onto them in order to create a stronger and co-mingled path toward intimacy.
Generally speaking, women prefer talking and thinking together as men prefer touching and other forms of physical togetherness. I was unaware of these distinctions for the first 15 years of my marriage and this ignorance lead to unnecessary heartache. When my wife would desire to sit down and talk and think with me about everyday matters, I did not understand just how important these activities were to her. I treated them like items on a To Do List—check them off and be done with them. I did not understand that like foreplay, she enjoyed talking and thinking together with leisure and creativity. I have since learned to force myself to slow down and to be a better listener, knowing that she finds pleasure in these experiences and her pleasure is important to me. Now I find pleasure in these activities as well, but they still are not my primary paths toward intimacy. I’m still, after all, a guy.
Likewise, some wives may at first have to force themselves to move in the direction of their husband’s path toward intimacy. This is not to say that wives do not enjoy touching and other forms of physical togetherness. It’s just that for some it isn’t their primary form of expression. So for some wives, this could mean going on more walks together or taking up an activity that requires touching, like dancing. It may mean making sex more creative and frequent than before.
No discussion about the intersection between sexual and emotional fidelity and contemporary Christianity is complete without addressing pervasive passivity. Studies show that people who attend church have a more passive personality than the population in general (one study has the discrepancy at 60% to 85%). Passivity is sometimes a manifestation of cowardice, which is a sin (Revelation 21:8).
Passive people are more prone toward addiction. And this is particularly damaging when it comes to virtual infidelity, an ideal hiding place for the passive personality. Here passive people have their needs placated but never truly met; sexual arousal and emotional titillation, but never tenderness, adoration, and a soulful repose. Here the passive do not have to undergo the challenging duty of standing their ground and stating plainly what they desire as normal human beings. Passive personalities prefer that their spouse guess as to what they really want, which is unfair, confusing and fertile soil for inevitable resentment. And most passive spouses behave this way because they are fearful. There is a great acronym for fear that is helpful when understanding this side of virtual infidelity: False Evidence Appearing Real. Many times, though we might feel very uncomfortable at first, the fact remains that many of our fears are unfounded. Many spouses are willing to at least try to help the person they love to have their needs met in their marriage.
So for some husbands, an honest and frank explanation of just how important sexual intercourse is to them is in order. Wives are not born with this knowledge and our culture rarely reveals it, so they need husbands to tell them how difficult it is for them to keep their thought-life pure without their wives’ help. Likewise for wives, an honest and frank explanation of emotional connection may be in order, and probably has been for a while. Both genders need help understanding each other’s inner regions, which are both similar and unique, and they need to express these truths without anger, sarcasm or contempt (eye-rolling is the most common expression of contempt). During such times, putting your thoughts on paper beforehand helps to keep them straight in our minds. It is the foolish spouse who does not heed and honor such a tender and powerful revelation of the soul.
Being sexual and emotional are normal, healthy and right in marriage. There is no good reason to apologize for either desire since both come from the good hand of God. Having both needs met in a realistic fashion is among the main reasons we marry in the first place. These facts help to give us the courage we need to talk about them without whimpering or yelling.
And finally, a word of warning for all of us who live in our hyper-sexualized age: Erotic and highly emotional experiences are not meant to be consumed with great regularity. Like all things deep and sacred, they are not designed to be on tap 24/7. They are powerful, too powerful it seems, for the human soul to regularly absorb, very much like radiation, which also possessed a mysterious capacity to heal and curse. These facts help to put our good desires in perspective during our age of virtual infidelity.