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Friendship or Flirtation? Danger Signs for Couples (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 07/22/2011

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Pastor and author Dave Carder explains how couples can guard against inappropriate intimacy in relationships outside of their marriage. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: On our last "Focus on the Family," radio program Pastor Dave Carder shared the dangers of contacting an old flame.


Pastor Dave Carder: If you are at a difficult spot in your marriage and you are up at midnight, trying to keep a baby happy and you suddenly have a thought to contact Susie or Bill. I wonder how they're doin'. To contact an old girlfriend or an old boyfriend at that stage of your life is like playing with dynamite. You don't have to create infatuation with an old girlfriend or an old boyfriend. It's already in your brain.

End of Recap

John: You'll hear ways to protect your marriage on today's "Focus on the Family," with our president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, we're talking about guarding your marriage by avoiding friendships that get a little too close. And we all know what that means. Last time our guest, Dave Carder, shared his experience of having two senior pastors abandon their families and their churches for an adulterous relationship. Think of the trail of pain involved in that.

That's what launched Dave on his 30-year quest to quantify the lure of infidelity and how to stop it before it gets started. And Dave's advice is coming from counseling sessions with church people who were walking through a first-time experience with infidelity. There's a lot of insight here, John and you know what? If you don't think that could be you, think again. It can be anybody, any one of us.

Just like those pastors that Dave is talkin' about, they didn't wake up that day and say, "I'm gonna take this left turn." Don't destroy your marriage. And boy, if you missed that last time, be sure to contact us for the CD or the audio download. You really should hear how Dave got the conversation started.

John: And this message is intended for married couples, but there are singles who are gonna benefit from this, because you may get pulled into something if you're not aware of the warning signs that Dave shares that a friendship is crossing the line.

Pastor Dave Carder oversees the counseling ministry at First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California. He's the author of several books, including Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage.

And here he is on today's "Focus on the Family." Let me note, we're rolling back a bit so you can hear the beginning of his list of 19 dangerous behaviors that could lead to an affair. And by the way, we're gonna post that list for you at


Dave: First of all, a close-call friendship, when you begin to save topics of conversation for somebody other than your spouse, because they understand you best or they understand you better. And you feel like you've got this connection between the two of you. When you look for and save topics, plan on topics of communication between you and your friend, that's one of those stages or steps.

Secondly, if you begin to share spousal difficulties under the guise of, "You know, you're a woman. Help me understand how my wife works." Now that's a very interesting topic. It's really a form of criticism. You're actually blaming your wife. You're actually sharing confidential information with somebody who has no right to know it. It's between you and your spouse. But we'll do this. Now I can't tell you how many times I've heard this from people. "You know, she was sharing this story," or "I shared some things."

And the next one is the friend shares relationship difficulties. And now you're off the business relationship or off the hobby or the interest or whatever else and now you're on to really personal stuff.

Fourth, when you begin to anticipate seeing this person more than going home and seeing your spouse, you are slidin' sideways. You know, we see our spouses at the two worst times of the day: in the morning, when we're tryin' to get out the door, get the kids fed, get the books together, making sure everybody's happy, got their lunch. The shoes they need for the baseball practices or the karate clothes. It's terrible. We had four kids. I know, okay. And then, in the evening you come back and you start the same thing in reverse and you go to bed exhausted. It's very easy to begin to anticipate seeing somebody who's fully dressed, clothed in their right mind and who has been thinking maybe even about you, okay. It's just easy to do.

When you begin to compare the spouse to this friend, saying, "Oh, I wish she was more like that." "Oh, if he would just do that" or "He would talk to me like this other guy does." It's easy. I just want to keep saying to you, it's easy.

You begin to provide special treats for this friend. There is nothing wrong with this. I want to say over and over, it's how it all kind of collects and builds, but you provide special treats. You're buyin' some mints at the store and you think, "You know, Bill really likes those. I'll get him a box of 'em."

You become more concerned about your friend than your spouse. And you say, "Oh, I don't do that." Tell me. It is the easiest thing in the world to ask this friend, "How'ya doin'? Did you sleep okay last night?" Now when was the last time you ever asked your spouse that, okay, or you check in with them? Or sometimes you're just grateful that we made it through another day or another month. You don't really do this easily or often enough.

You might even fantasize about marriage with this friend, just fantasy, just thinkin' about it, not plannin' it or anything like that, but just fantasizing about it. I really do think in my experience, that women do this more than men. But I could be wrong, okay. I could be wrong. I've been wrong about a lot of things, okay.

No. 9, you begin to spend more alone time with the friend than with the spouse. And you say, "No way." Oh, yes, this happens easy if you're on a softball team, a coed volleyball team. If you're on a worship team at some church and you're singing at rehearsals and if you're in a mission, feedin' the poor or if you're on a hiking club, you can very easily spend more alone time with this friend than you do with your spouse. It's unbelievably easy to do.

If your spouse does not have access to all your conversation and in this culture, they don't, e-mail and texting and all kinds of ways you can relate to each other. The spouse doesn't know half the things that's going on that you're communicating with, that should read "no spousal access," okay.

Eleven, you spend money on this friend without the spouse's awareness. You buy the treats. You maybe do the lunch. whatever, you're just bein' nice. You're just bein' friendly, but the spouse doesn't know you're spending money on this person. And it might not be a lot and it might not be regular, but it's one of those things that I've heard through the years that has [sic] been part of this drift into emotional infidelity.

You might even argue with your spouse over this relationship. Now we get really personal. He or she notices. "You know, they're hittin' on you." Or "They seem to sure smile big when they see you," or whatever the case is. Or "Her name sure comes up in a lot of your conversations." "What's goin' on here?" And you begin to argue about it. You begin to be upset with each other over this. You're gonna see a little later on, you might even accuse your spouse of jealousy. That's a low blow.

You might even lie to spend time with your friend. Now that's just so easy to do, okay. You're going to work for a special project. Work starts at 8 o'clock. You tell your wife, "You know, I gotta be there at 7:30 prior to the meeting." Or we're stayin' afterwards to review how the dinner went that night that we put on together, the group of you. You begin to lie, little white lies. You don't have to be there till 8 o'clock, but you're goin' in at 7:30. You're stayin' late. You're goin' early. You're doin' things just to kind of spend more time with this friend.

You hide interactions with the friend from the spouse. Now where I see this most often are people who go to church. Maybe they're in a ministry together. Maybe they teach somewhere together. Maybe they have a clothing store for the poor or shelters or somethin' like that. And you say to this friend, "Don't smile at me next time you see me. My wife is watching." Or "Don't say anything to me. Just ignore me and overlook the fact that I might be somewhere close to you." And you begin to hide interactions with this friend from your spouse."

And here comes the jealousy thing. Spouses just sense this. Now a lot of us guys are pretty naïve and pretty dumb. My wife has said to me, "You know, she's really payin' attention to you." And "Oh, no, you're just makin' it [up]." No, you need to pay attention to your spouse. They have radar out like this. You need to listen to that radar, okay. Don't accuse them; they're sensing somethin'.

Sixteen, you develop special rituals with this friend. A ritual is any regular experience highly anticipated by the two parties. If it didn't happen, there's lots of disappointment. That's a ritual. Has nothin' to do with the calendar.

So, maybe you have coffee together, 10 o'clock at the company restaurant. Or maybe you meet at the water fountain. Or maybe you e-mail each other a certain time every day. Maybe you check in by text of somethin'. Or some other way you begin to build little rituals. Nothing wrong, evil, wicked, they're just rituals.

Program Note:

John: Some common sense and very wise insights today from Pastor Dave Carder on "Focus on the Family," and he's working through a list of 19 dangerous behaviors that can take a friendship over the line and into adultery. And in a moment, Dave will help you determine what personality type you're most attracted to, because that's a person you need to be on your guard with.

Now get a CD of this program or request Dave's book, Close Calls when you contact us at 800-A-FAMILY or get the instant download and look for a link to the list of 19 behaviors and an article that Dave wrote about this topic at

End of Program Note

Dave: The friend shares feelings or touches to which you inwardly respond. This is a trigger. If this friend lays a hand on your shoulder and you shiver inside, you're at the top of the precipice and the only way is downhill. You are automatically emotionally responding to what is an innocuous, maybe, touch or comment.

Sexual content in conversation, you know, "Friends" and "Seinfeld" changed forever the way young adults talk. I have four adult children—28 to 38. And they're good kids and all of 'em; my son's not married, but the three girls are. But they will talk about things I would never think of talkin' about with a member of the opposite sex. Anything goes. If you have young adults, 17 to 25 or 30, you understand exactly what I'm talking about and it seems like a normal part of conversation.

And last of all, this last one I call corporate dating. You participate in business travel, delicious meals you could never afford to buy with your wife and she would never think of fixing for you. You go to entertainment venues that you would never afford if you were at home and have never done with your family.

And then you return to the same hotel at night. You might have separate rooms, but I can't tell you how many stories I've heard that it didn't stay that way. That's what I call a close-call friendship.

Now there are people who build these kind[s] of friendships intentionally. They like this kind of closeness, this kind of flirtation or even this kind of teasing or they like the tension between them and this other person. So, the question comes about, well, how does this happen? What makes this or takes this over the edge? We're gonna talk about that in just a second.

But first, we're gonna take a visit [sic] of the Dangerous Partner Profile and I'm gonna have to hurry here just a bit as we kind of skim through this. This is a work in progress, but when you've seen some of the people call[ed] girlfriends and boyfriends, you will understand why I would think there has to be more than just what meets the eye, okay.

First of all, everybody has an internal age that's different from their chronological development. The chronology just keeps right on movin', but internally, you might yearn to go back when you were 15 or 17 or 25 or in college. We've all seen 50-year-olds try to dress like teeny-boppers and have the shirts unbuttoned to their belly button. We've all seen 5-year-olds run families. So, everybody has an internal age, okay. (Laughter)

Sometimes there's a developmental lag. Especially if there's been alcohol or drug abuse, other kinds of trauma in the family history like divorce, it can delay normal development processes.

A personality style, maybe that we admire or look up to or wish we had married or always kind of thought we would love to have close to us, but we didn't choose a spouse like that. We didn't have a partner like that.

We have hobbies and interests that maybe our spouse doesn't really have an interest in. If I had time, I could tell you a lot of stories about those kind[s] of things.

And we all have a different kind of attachment pattern. Maybe you like to be the one to give the chase or initiate. Or as one guy said, "I've taken care of so many people, I finally found somebody who would take care of me." So, the attachment pattern that makes you particularly vulnerable.

Maybe there's a deficit in the family of origin. Maybe you've never had a dad in your home to mentor you or encourage you. Maybe your mom was a single mom and so busy, she didn't have time to nurture. And just getting' food on the table was all she could manage. And you've come into this marriage, always hopin' that maybe your spouse would make up some of those deficits. And you soon find out, they can't be your dad or mom and still be your spouse. It doesn't work that way.

Maybe there's a marital void, a long-standing emptiness in the marriage that just makes you vulnerable to somebody who wants to provide it.

And last of all, this whole pursuit pattern of being chased, being cared for, being sought out, etc., enters into this picture, as well. Now you put together--these are bits and pieces—you put this together, take adolescent pieces that are undone and you can put together a dangerous partner profile. You are especially susceptible to an individual with this kind of a template. I've come to believe that.

I had a lady in our church, we have a large church, several thousand people and I had a lady one time tell me, "I can look out over the audience and I can tell exactly who is unhappy in their marriage." I said, "You're kidding." She said, "No." She said, "Unhappily married people send out signals and I'm lookin' for them, because I hate rejection and I never want to engage with somebody who's gonna reject me." [I] hope that doesn't scare you too bad.

The old flame, okay, the Internet searches, reunions, high school reunions, so many stories about college reunions, high school reunions, going back to those happy days. Remember the infatuation is already stored in your brain. This is the old flame. Now the question comes up: What makes this really dangerous? Here's the trigger. I think up to this point, most of the people who would engage in what we're talkin' about to this point are pretty innocent and they're not intentionally tryin' to create a problem in their marriage, but there is a trigger. It's sustained stress--two years of sustained stress.

But you have to have a starting point to figure this out. What is the starting point? Here's the starting point. When you and your friend or you and your classmate or you meet somebody that just really triggers some interesting feelings in you and you share with each other, "I have feelings for you." You might never have touched each other, kissed each other, anything, but when you share mutual feelings of attraction with that person, from then on, everything is supercharged. You are under the influence of a mood-altering substance. You see her at the water fountain. You hear her voice on the phone. You get a text message. Your mood changes. And infatuation is the chemical that's changin' your mood.

Now what kind of sustained stress are we talkin' about? Unusual stress such as legal issues, career-threatening things, maybe your business has been bought out. Maybe there's some downsizing going on. Maybe there's severe financial crises. You're on the verge of losing your home. Maybe you've had some health issues, a diagnosis that suddenly cropped in their lives and that you had no knowledge about. And relationship breakups, children that are acting out, maybe even other things with your grandchildren. These are the unusual stresses.

So, we take that time when you begin to share feelings with somebody else. You go back two years and this is what I look for. This is the trigger and it looks like this. Sustained stress makes you especially vulnerable to what has been a normal platonic friendship or it makes you especially susceptible to a person who meets your dangerous partner profile or makes you recall happier days when things were so innocent, when you knew Bill and Susie, those times in your life when things just kind of worked well.

You know, you never forget adolescent music, adolescent loves, adolescent sporting experiences, adolescent dances. You never forget those. You're very impressionable in adolescence and that is exactly what causes close calls that you begin to have to manage in a very special way.

The language of attraction between you and this friend often becomes the language of seduction. I want to read to you an e-mail that I received.

"I am really struggling with how this could happen to me, when I sincerely didn't want it to happen. When my partner first expressed her feelings to me, I tried to get her to join me in a discussion with our boss. She steadfastly refused. I only wish I had insisted. At the time, I thought I could control the situation on my own. Formonths, I counseled her about the emotional problems she was dealing with and kept telling her that an affair between us was not going to happen.

"Even when my resolve began to wane, I prayed with her. I prayed for God to take this temptation away from us. I prayed to God to bless and protect her spouse, our spouses and her children. I prayed to God for guidance and direction to help us. Of course, I knew what to do. Get up and run away as fast as I could. Oh, how I wished I would have. Still it troubles me greatly that this has happened and that I somehow allowed this to happen, that God let it happen, when I prayed to Him earnestly for help. Why? Why did this have to happen to me? I'm a good person who has never done anything like this in my life. Was it an attack of the devil? Was it my own weakness?"

I want to tell you, you never, ever want to feel the feelings that this man was going through. They are the world's worst feelings.


John: A sobering conclusion for this message on today's "Focus on the Family" from Pastor Dave Carder. He's the author of the book, Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage.

Jim: John, that final story, it puts a chill down my spine and it underscores the fact that we need to be vigilant in protecting our marriages. We need to put up a hedge so that we don't end up like that man Dave was talkin' about. And as we said at the start of the program last time, no one deliberately sets out to destroy their marriage. I don't believe that. That's insanity. But if we allow these intimate friendships to develop, we are definitely playing with fire.

John: Yeah and the reality of the workplace, where we're working alongside members of the opposite gender and interacting with 'em at church or at our kids' school, it's pretty easy to see how an attraction develops and especially if you're not actively nurturing your own marriage, if you're not proactive in setting up those boundaries you're talking about.

Jim: That's right, John and we've had Jerry Jenkins here to talk about his book, Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It and he gives very concrete ideas on how to avoid that close-call relationship, like try not to be alone with a member of the opposite sex; invite a third person if you have to go to a business lunch, for example. If that's not possible, at least tell your spouse about it, so that there's accountability, so that she or he is aware of what you're doing and where you're at.

John: Uh-hm, yeah, everything in the light and while that can be inconvenient, if you're never alone with someone else, you'll never have that conversation that gets too personal or maybe even downright flirtatious.

Jim: Well, and here's another one and I think a lot of people step over this boundary. Don't make personal compliments. There's a big difference between saying, "That's a nice dress" and "You look amazing." I mean, that's night a day and you need to dial it back a bit. In fact, I've gotten in the habit, you just don't comment on someone's attire. It's again, dangerous ground. Remember your wedding vows. Look at them often and be deliberate about cherishing your own spouse.

John: The truth is, your marriage is worth protecting, even if it takes some effort. In fact, it will take effort, just like the things we do to protect our health. You know, we exercise. We watch our diet. That's what we're talkin' about here.

Jim: Well, and Focus on the Family believes in the importance of marriage and that's why we produced today's program and we want to help you nurture and protect your relationship. In fact, marriage is so important to us here that we have taken the National Institute of Marriage [NIM] under our wing. It is now a part of Focus on the Family and we are so excited to offer really this amazing counseling center to couples whose marriages are hurting, perhaps even almost dead.

And let me say, those couples who were on the brink of divorce say that the National Institute of Marriage restored their relationship. And almost 85 percent are still happily married after two years. Here's a note we received about the Institute just the other day.

"The practical steps developed in the curriculum are brilliant and the way you implemented them was genius. Our time at the Institute was the best investment we've ever made and no dollar figure could match the value we received. My wife and I witnessed a miracle last week. We are living a miracle, happily married today."

John: What an encouraging note.

Jim: (Chuckling) That's great.

John: I love that line there, "No dollar figure could match the value we received." When you think of all the lifelong implications of divorce, it's so good to hear from a couple that went through the National Institute of Marriage, which has a campus in Branson, Missouri and found restoration for their marriage.

We should note, as well, that in Canada, we have a program called Kerith [Creek] retreats and that's growing day by day. They offer a similar kind of service.

Jim: That's right, John and we're really stepping up our efforts to help save marriages. You're gonna hear that if you're a regular listener to the broadcast here. We need you to partner with us financially. Listen, marriage, it's back is up against the ropes in the culture and we need to be there for the institution of marriage thatGod has designed.

We are a non-profit ministry. We rely on your donations to get this work done. You can play a role in healing a marriage and when you make a generous donation of any amount to Focus on the Family, I want to send you a copy of Dave Carder's book, Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage. Call us today and be a partner with us.

John: Yeah, you can reach us at 1-800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or you can donate at .

And when you're at the website, look for that interview with Jerry Jenkins called "Practice Advice for Protecting Your Marriage." In fact, here's a short segment, where Jerry explains one of his own protective hedges.


Jerry Jenkins: I don't flirt with anyone but my own wife. Flirting is fun. Flirting gives a sexual rush. It can be fun and funny. I like to be a funny person and so, when I'm with people, I tend to ... to lean toward the humorous. And sometimes the double entendre is the funniest thing. But I've just decided that that's off limits for me. So, my rule is, I'll flirt with my wife and you flirt with yours.

End of Clip

John: Well, I so appreciate that insight from Jerry Jenkins and again, find the entire conversation about boundaries in your relationships at our website.

By the way, if you still like to use paper checks and the U.S. Postal Service, go ahead and send us a check if you will, please. Our address is 8605 Explorer Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. You'll hear Kevin Leman sharing practical advice for raising your teenager, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Dave Carder

View Bio

Dave Carder is the pastor of counseling ministries at First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton located in Fullerton, Calif. He holds graduate degrees in biblical literature and in marital and family therapy and is a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Dave has authored several books including Torn Asunder and Secrets of Your Family Tree. He and his wife, Ronnie, have four adult children and eight grandchildren. Learn more about Dave by visiting his website: