Ask Dr. Merry: How to Respond to a Friend’s Affair

» Posted in Ask Dr. Lin, Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth, Psychology and Faith | 0 comments

 lonely lady

I’ve found myself in the middle of a very complicated and confusing situation. Basically, I have a friend who has “unintentionally” fallen in love with her closest friend. My friend is a Christian, she’s married and has two kids and the friend she’s fallen in love with is a woman who is also married with a family. Suffice it to say that things are pretty messed up in this family right now. She is an incredible woman who really loves God and she’s never considered herself sexually or romantically attracted to women. So this situation she finds herself in has just blown the doors right off her conservative Christian views. I guess the background on this is that her husband hasn’t really been there for her over the years. He’s a workaholic and totally emotionally detached from her. They’ve just been cohabitating in the same house for quite some time. Over time, she developed a really strong and close friendship with this other woman and recently, well, they crossed the line from friendship into an affair – emotionally and physically. She says she’s really confused but that her feelings are so strong that they are just overpowering her and she can’t imagine her life without this woman. I’d really like some advice as to what I should say to my friend. I disagree with what she’s doing, but I want to help her. WHAT THE HECK DO I DO?

Wow, what a tough place to find yourself in.  I can hear your love and concern for your friend balanced with your desire to help her find her way back to living in a God-honouring way.  And I’m sure it must grieve you to see the negative impact this is having on her marriage and her kids.  Regardless of the gender of the person with whom a spouse is having an affair, any kind of extra-marital relationship is devastating to the marriage and family, and it can often take years to repair and restore the marriage.

First of all, you need to realize that while you have a responsibility to speak truth to your friend, you have no control or responsibility over her actions.  And so ultimately, there really isn’t a lot you can DO other than tons of prayer – too often, in our love for our family and friends, we try to “rescue” them from their choices – but we just don’t have that kind of power or responsibility.

Having said that, often in these types of situations, the Christian friends will tend to disassociate themselves from someone who is having a lesbian affair and leave her very much alone.  So one of the best things you can do is to love your friend and remain in her life as her friend; in fact, that’s really the only way you can have any influence with her down the road.  Of course, if you can’t separate your feelings of distress over her choices from your love for your friend, then this may not be possible.

Your friend already knows that what she’s doing is “wrong”, and so continuously, telling her she’s wrong isn’t actually helpful – she has to come to the place herself where she chooses to let go of this relationship.  You can make it clear that you disagree with her actions and are concerned for the impact it will have on her life, but beyond that, let it go.  The focus should always be on the person, and not the sin – that kind of grace and love is what redeems us and helps us turn around from our sinful choices.  It models what Jesus does for us.  Like the Samaritan woman at the well who had 5 husbands and was living common-law with her latest partner (John 4), it was only when she encountered Jesus and his love for her that she was able to turn away from her sinful choices.

I can hear from your letter that your friend has a lot of unmet emotional needs.  God has created all of us with a legitimate need for love and validation and emotional closeness with others.  When those needs aren’t being met, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to meet them in illegitimate ways – which unfortunately blocks us from receiving healing for our broken hearts with true love.

Beyond the emptiness of her marriage with her husband, I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend grew up in a home environment where her emotional needs were neglected or she experienced emotional abandonment.  This just sets her up to be even more vulnerable to experiences that supposedly meet her emotional needs – so part of her healing will be to face these early wounds, to grieve them and to understand how the emptiness in her heart has driven her actions and to make better choices for herself.

Your friend also needs to learn that it can’t be her emotions and feelings that drive her actions but that it’s actually her actions that will ultimately shape and impact her emotions.  Having legitimate emotional needs and a genuine desire to love and be loved doesn’t mean that she can do whatever she wants to meet those needs or to feel “happy”.  That is faulty thinking, perpetuated by the world’s way of thinking – if it feels good, do it.  Having a traumatic past or a wayward husband doesn’t mean she can do what she wants to compensate for those hurts.  Right actions first, and then emotions will follow – if she waits for her emotions to change before severing her extramarital relationship, it is unlikely to occur.  It’s wrong thinking for her to believe that her feelings are so “overpowering” that she doesn’t have control over them or the ability to make wise choices in spite of how she feels.

I have worked with women who have been deeply in love with their best friends, but in making the difficult choice to severe the relationship and seek out healing for the hole in their hearts, they have been able to change their emotions – to shift from sexual love back to friendship love.  Likewise, they have been able to fall back in love with their husbands by virtue of their choice to act in loving ways and remain committed to their marriage.  I have always found that God honours our decisions to make right choices and that there are many blessings we experience as a result of choosing – in sometimes very difficult circumstances – to do the right thing.

Beyond speaking truth to your friend about your stance on her choices, you can encourage her to seek out counselling from a reputable Christian therapist.  Through that process, she will experience acceptance and grace for her personhood so that she can receive healing for her wounded heart.  And in that environment of grace, she is much more likely to choose to turn away from her wrong choices and receive redemption from God and restoration of her relationship with her husband and her family.

 

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