I keep hearing about people who commit “emotional affairs.” What does this mean? And what does the Bible say about it?
An “emotional affair” refers to a situation when people develop an extra-marital friendship that begins to provide the kind of support a marriage relationship should. Emotional affairs do not include sexual relations and thus often enable married parties to excuse themselves of any guilt.
But the difficulties of these kinds of affairs ensue when parties begin complaining about spouses to each other, lying to their spouses about the time they spend together or sharing thoughts, feelings and problems a person normally would share with a spouse. These kinds of actions betray the marriage relationship as the one in which both parties should find primary emotional support and trust, and they can lead to further unfaithfulness.
Because of the dangers of emotional affairs in compromising marital relationships, I often have heard the caution given, especially to men, to not even become friends with someone of the opposite sex for fear of a connection that might lead to something more. But while it is true for both men and women that friendship can be an avenue that leads to a deeper relationship, when we forbid ourselves from being friends with someone simply because of their gender, we are eliminating our ability to learn and grow with half of God’s created beings.
Community among humanity is a part of God’s design for creation.
In Genesis 1:26-27, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image … in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Without considering to whom the “divine we” is referring—a question debated by scholars and theologians for years—we can see there is a plurality in God’s work of creating people. God didn’t create just one person; God creates people.
Additionally, God’s first command to the new humans was, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). From the beginning, there was a divine intention for numerous people to exist and for them to live together.
Connections and community
And part of living life with other people means we make connections—we make friends. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reads: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”
Friendship and community are important to living life. We need other people to help us find our way. And the role of friendship can be fulfilled for all of us through men and women. Both males and females, as the reflected image of God, can enrich our lives and give us insight into relating to the Originator of that image.
So, while there is no doubt we should be careful in all of our friendships outside of marriage in order to be sure the marriage relationship is honored, as a part of God’s created community, we should not deprive ourselves of meaningful relationships with people—both male and female.
Director of Ministry Guidance and Instructor of Christian Ministry & Scripture
Logsdon School of Theology, Hardin-Simmons University
If you have a comment about this column, contact Bill Tillman, consulting ethicist for “Right or Wrong?” at email@example.com.