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The Affair-Proof Pastorate
Reflections On Lana Staheli's "Affair-Proof" Your Marriage

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 294

The studies have been done. The results are out. Who are those most likely to have affairs?
 
Anybody.
 
Staheli On "Affairs"
 
According to Lana Staheli in her book, "Affair-Proof" Your Marriage (New York: Cliff Street Books/Harper-Collins, 1998), anyone is likely to have an affair. In coming to this conclusion, Staheli gives a broad and comprehensive analysis of affairs, their origins, and their consequences.
 
Staheli indicates that several studies have shown married men have affairs, middle-class educated women have affairs, and those who have had premarital sex have affairs. And so do those with a lower-quality sex life, those with lower-quality marriages, those who live in large cities, and married people under the age of 25.*
 
The List Includes Pastors Too!
 
But the list doesn’t end there. It also includes pastors. In fact, they are among the most likely groups of people to be susceptible.
 
Don’t be deceived. Religion is not a deterrent to affairs. In fact, those involved in religious leadership often have more unmet needs and opportunities than others.
"Men and women with more resources have greater control over their time, energy and money. They also have more sexual freedom…. Opportunity, education and control over time make a person more prone to having extramarital affairs. People who are accountable for their time to either their spouse, employers or families are the least likely to have extramarital affairs."   (Lana Staheli, pp. 11,13)    
Pastoral "Opportunity"
 
Opportunities for pastors abound, opportunities which offer remarkable potential for pastors and other Christian leaders, especially when their emotional and/or physical needs are not met. Such opportunities abound and are seized with striking regularity. A 1988 survey in Leadership magazine reported

* Nearly one in four pastors admitted doing something "sexually inappropriate" with someone who was not their spouse;

* One in five pastors confessed to sexual misconduct of some kind;

* One in eight admitting adultery; and

* Only 4 in 100 were found out by their local church.

This and other data is more startling when the potential for multiple affairs is considered. Staheli indicates "people who have affairs are likely to have more than one, especially men…About 25% of men and 15% of women who have affairs have four or more [affairs]." (Staheli, p. 19).
 
Why Pastors Have Affairs
 
Pastors have affairs for many of the same reasons non-pastors do. They have needs, drives, and opportunities. The degree and intensity of these three factors vary from individual to individual. Staheli suggests that certain generalizations can be made on the basis of several factors, including gender.

Male Affairs

Chapter Three of Staheli's "Affair-Proof" Your Marriage (pp. 23ff) cites numerous studies relating to men’s affairs. Some of these studies include:
 
1) The Hite Report on Male Sexuality indicated over 70% of all men have had extramarital sex during their married life. Those men who do not have regular hour jobs, though busy, often are able to find easy ways to make time for affairs. Those who do can find the desire for multiple sex partners "natural and normal" (Staheli, p. 24).
 
2) Jan Halper’s Study of "successful men" is simply starting. Halper found that the more "successful" the man, the more likely he is to have an affair. One study of 4,126 male business leaders, executives and professionals reported that 88% of the men questioned had at least one affair.
 
3) Daniel Perusse’s 1995 Study of Canadian men also demonstrated a very high correlation between single men with high income, education and job status and the likelihood of affairs than any other group of men. Staheli concludes, 
"The highest incidence of affairs is found among…businessmen, professionals such as attorneys, physicians and dentists, executives, salesmen, pilots, truck drivers and sailors" (Staheli, p. 25).
This certainly begs asking. "Does this include clergy, too???"
 
Men's Top Seven Reasons For Having An Affair

Staheli suggests the following reasons men have affairs (p. 25):
1) To enjoy sex with more than one partner;
 
2) To enjoy a greater quantity of sex;
 
3) They act on an opportunity believing they won't get caught;
 
4) The thrill of the chase and the catch;
 
5) Men enjoy flirting and seducing;
 
6) The wife is "unavailable" (e.g. out-of-town, pregnant, sick, prolonged abstinence, etc.);
 
7) He has difficulty "performing" with his wife but not with other partners.
 
Female Affairs
 
If pastors have affairs for many of the same reasons non-pastors do, then women have affairs because, like men, they have needs, drives, and opportunities. According to Staheli, 
"Women are every bit as willing as men to have an affair!" 
(Staheli, p. 29).
When are women most likely to have an affair? In this they are no different from their male counterparts. 
"Women engage in intercourse with multiple partners as readily as men when they have the freedom and opportunity" (Staheli, p. 29).
Whether enjoying the freedom resulting from birth control, exhausted and overwhelmed by work, feeling lonely or tired, or having a husband frequently "too tired" from their work, woman also have affairs…in dramatically increasing numbers...from approximately 29% reported in Kinsey’s 1953 study to 70% in Shere Hite’s report entitled, Women in Love.
 
Women's Top Seven Reasons For Having An Affair
 
According to Staheli, women have affairs for the following reasons (Staheli, p. 33):
1) Improve self-esteem by savoring the attention and compliments on her abilities and body;
 
2) Seeks a new and varied experience by which she can experiment and explore with someone other than her husband;
 
3) Desire for emotional intimacy and closeness;
 
4) Loneliness--she needs someone to talk to that will listen to her;
 
5) Deeper understanding of self by sharing her feelings with someone who really cares for her;
 
6) To feel young and sexy; and
 
7) Fear of aging and loss of attractiveness.
Women's Most Common Reason
 
Though men and women may have affairs simply to have "fun," the vast majority of women—as many as 60 percent according to the Hite report—have affairs to improve their self-esteem. The attention and compliments of her abilities and her body improve her self-esteem. Combined with loneliness and/or a desire for emotional connection, perhaps it is not surprising that, on the average,

"one-fourth of the women said they initiated it and half said it was mutual. Men unilaterally initiated fewer than one-fourth of the affairs" (Staheli, p. 24).

Types Of Affairs

Affairs come in all types and varieties. The types of affairs listed below occur separately or in combined form with other types of affairs.

1) "I-Need-Communication-And-Intimacy" Affair: In this affair, though there is sex, both men and women find it easier to communicate, confide, and be more sexually expressive with friends in affairs.

2) "Pre-Meditated" Affair: More typical of women than men, this affair is the result of having considered the safety, confidentiality, etc. of the potential candidate.

3) "Peer-To-Peer" Affair: Such affair, common especially to women but also to men, is when participants are on an equal footing. For example, when a married woman has an affair with a married man. Such arrangement often works well for both their time schedules and helps to avoid tendencies toward becoming overly-dependent on each other. Other "Peer-to-Peer" affairs include those between full-time employed women and full-time employed men, etc.

4) "Work-And-Mutual Respect" Affair: This affair evolves when two individuals work together in the same area. Friendship and mutual respect grow as the mutually encouraging energy evolves into something more "satisfying."

5) "Fulfill-What’s-Missing-In-My-Marriage" Affair: Repeated and ongoing unresponsiveness to sex, feeling of worthlessness, lack of affirmation, and loneliness can be a major trigger for an affair.

6) "I-Need-An-Alternate-Family" Affair: Some marriages not only lack the capacity for support. They destroy every possibility for affirmation, self-esteem, and shared love. Such marriages, often characterized by dramatic dysfunction and/or mental illness, do not provide any marital fulfillment. In order to cope, partners may seek and develop an alternate family. This family usually begins with a friend and develops into an affair.

7) "Let's-Just-Have-Fun" Affair: Whether a one-night-stand or a multiple event, this affair is just "for kicks." The release from pressure and monotony provides an added "lift" to life via sexual involvement. 

8) "I-Can't-Stand-The-Loneliness" Affair: When other strategies and attempts to cure loneliness fail, the affair can offer a "quick fix." The sexual connection made can trigger pheromones and hormones long suppressed by loneliness and other depression-related syndromes.

9) The "Mother/Father-Figure" Affair: Freud was right. Normal individuals do seek after opposite-sexed individuals emulating parents or idealized parents. Sometimes this affair will be marked by a great age disparity between individuals. In other instances the affair will be between like-aged individuals with extremely similar personality traits to parents. Pastors and others in the helping professions are extremely vulnerable to this type of affair as they can be perceived as substitute parents.

10) "I-Don't-Believe-I-Did-It" Affair: This affair happens when individuals suddenly let down their guard. It could be a friendship which suddenly becomes an "intimate encounter." Or it could be a counseling session, renewing of an old acquaintance, or something just "out of the ordinary." However it happens, it may be either premeditated or spontaneous.

11) "We're-Reunited-Again" Affair: The euphoria of being reunited with acquaintances can often trigger feelings of longing for "what could have been." Acting on these feelings, an affair is sure to follow.

12) "Let's-Risk-Getting-Caught" Affair: Sometimes the thrill of doing what is wrong--and getting away with it--produces an attraction and euphoria greater than the sexual act itself. For some, this euphoria is irresistible.

13) "I'm-Grieving" Affair: One of the most tell-tale signs of grief is that it brings back memories of former attachments which have been taken away. These attachments come with striking force as current grief brings back the fond memories of past relationships. This, strengthened by the need for bonding in time of loss, make grief a common--and formidable--trigger for affairs.

14) "We-Don't-Need-A-Reason" Affair: This affair occurs "just because it's there" or for a number of other possible reasons. Whatever the reasons, this affair really doesn't care. It just "happens." It wasn't there yesterday. It may not be there tomorrow.

15) "I'm-Doing-It-For-Revenge" Affair: Designed to "get back" at one's spouse, this affair is a way that individuals act out and direct their anger at their spouse. Other variations of this type of affair include engaging in affairs to hurt, betray, damage or destroy another person. This type of affair is all-too-common in political arenas and is the plot of one of the Bible's most famous affairs, Samson and Delilah.

16) "I-Want-Attention" Affair: Individuals who lack a history of being able to make strong, positive relationship bonds often seek substitutes for this lack of bonding by getting attention. Too often, the best way to get attention is to have an affair with someone by whom they can get lots of attention. When caught, they get it...by being thrust into the public spotlight with their partner.

17) "Vicarious-Encounter-With-A-Stranger" Affair: When one has an unquenchable longing for a sexual partner forbidden or inaccessible to them, they may seek substitutes. Pornographic media (TV, Internet cyber-affairs, magazines, etc.) may be used at a lesser level "Vicarious Encounter."

At higher levels, massage parlors, topless bars, and other such "pay-for-play" places provide a greater sense of realism for fantasy fulfillment. In the vast majority of cases, either or both of the partners' names are not known. They may also use aliases. This, however, is irrelevant since the partners will never see each other again. Nor would they recognize each other.

18) "Give-Me-What-I-Want" Affair: In this affair, there is an exchange of sex for something desired by the other partner: power, position, advancement, money, things, etc.

19) "I-Can't-Keep-Burning" Affair: In First Corinthians 7, Paul said it is "better to marry than to burn." Those who can no longer contain the burning find release in having an affair.

20) Other Types Of Affairs: The listing is virtually endless. What is most important, however, is that since the listing is virtually endless, the needs, drives and opportunities for affairs are also virtually endless. Given the "right" dangerous combination, affairs can--and will--happen to pastors, Christian leaders, congregational members and even you!

Affair Myths

Myth #1: "I’m having an affair to save my poor marriage."
Subsidizing or trying to save a poor marriage with an affair "seldom works out." As Staheli noted, "The contrast with a more caring relationship, in fact, makes the marriage unbearable" (Stahelli, p. 41).
Myth #2: "Affairs stabilize marriage."
Affairs do not stabilize marriages. In one 1975 study (Linda Wolfe, 1975), only 3 of 21 women who had affairs to "save" their marriage remained married. Studies such as Annette Lawson’s study of 500 British subjects demonstrated "Spouses who did not have affairs had the lowest rate of divorce" (cf. Adultery: An Analysis of Love and Betrayal, Basic Books, 1988).
Myth #3: "Affairs give me a lasting feeling of self-worth and self-esteem."
Though affairs may give short-term self-worth and self-esteem uplifts, few affairs last longer than a year or two. Many are much shorter. Some, however, may develop into lifelong friendships—without sex—after that time.
Myth #4: "Men have extramarital affairs more than women."
Across most of the modernized western world, each gender engages in extramarital sex in nearly equal numbers. An early 1990’s University of Hawaii study conducted by Elaine Hatfield, however, indicated that "nearly 75% of happily married men admitted to a desire to extramarital intercourse while only 27% of women acknowledged that desire" (Staheli, p. 44).
Myth #5: "Men and women tend to avoid affairs which involve 'emotional' involvement."
While less than half of all men are emotionally involved in affairs, nearly three-quarters of women are (Staheli, p. 44).
Myth #6: "There are more affairs today than in previous generations."
Though it is not possible to prove, the "one significant difference between us and our ancestors is that birth control has allowed women to have affairs without becoming pregnant" (Staheli, p. 44).
Myth #7: "Women get more satisfaction from affairs than men."
Though there are gender-related differences, Staheli’s conclusion bespeaks the obvious conclusion that both men and women receive satisfaction from affairs. "Both men and women long for acceptance and appreciation; to be understood, enjoyed and loved" (Staheli, p. 45).
Myth #8: "The euphoria from my affair will be long-lasting."
The truth is that a great deal of euphoria from affairs is tied to physiological causes. Most common is phenylethylamine (PEA). This amphetamine-type hormone causes the "high" which is commonly described as being "in love." Norepinephrine, dopamine and other chemicals also stimulate the "sense of euphoria, excitement, sleeplessness and giddiness associated with being 'in love'" (Staheli, p. 50).
 
The "nose" also "knows." Pheromone receptors in the sense of smell (known as vomeronasal organs [VNO]) pick up the scent of sexual hormones. Staheli notes that scientists have proven that women are most attractive to men whose smell is opposite hers. Ovulatory scents also have been shown to increase attraction between sexes. In fact, when women are ovulating is the time they most likely to be involved in an affair (Staheli, p. 41).
 
Whatever the origin of the good feeling, it is likely related to physiological factors. These factors can come as easily as they can go. They may not give constancy. They are not the good makings for long, stable, God-pleasing relationships.
Myth #9: "As long as nobody knows, nobody cares."
This statement indicates at least two major problems. First, it indicates an unhealthy detachment from intimate, trusting relationships. Second, it indicates an unhealthy autonomy that defies accountability. Neither are healthy. Both mark an unhealthy condition of brokenness.
Myth #10: "God and the congregation don't care about their affair. In fact, it's none of their business."
This attitude is the expected corollary to Myth #9 (above). As the detachment and autonomy from people increase, it necessarily spills over into one's spiritual life. For leaders this is most serious, as their Biblical expectations for trust, character and witness of God's servant is remarkably compromised.
 Affair-Proofing Your Marriage
 
Certainly the temptation of affairs is with pastors and other leaders. Where there are people, needs will be expressed and addressed. Friendships will be exchanged. Hurts will be felt and healed. Admiration will be expressed as will anger, betrayal, loneliness...and love.
 
The local congregation is a remarkably fertile ground for affairs. Pastors and other Christian professionals are remarkably vulnerable. It is this combination which continues to threaten pastors, spouses, Christian leaders, support staff, congregations, denominational executives, and others inside and outside the church.
 
Given the remarkable ways that affairs can give temporary sensation of "feeling good," perhaps it is not so surprising that so many Christian leaders take the risk to get appreciation, sense of belonging, release from fear, a sense of belonging, security, optimism, and respect.
 
Unfortunately, like the forbidden fruit of the Garden, the promise of pleasure also bears the consequence of pain, loss, anger, betrayal, despair, humiliation and faith. When one participates in an affair, one is flirting with the possibility of a painful personal and professional death.
 
Pastoral Pressures
 
Affairs do not happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of day-to-day pressures of ministry for a variety of reasons.
 
The parsonage, though thought to be a "fortress", is often overloaded by a barrage of arrows which continually attack its foundations. These arrows put pressures on the parsonage which can make pastors and their families remarkably vulnerable to a variety of pressures, including affairs.
 
One such pressure is cultural decay. Dr. Al Barry, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, cites cultural decay as an added inducement for pastoral immorality.
"It does seem that our society is slipping ever further into a moral and ethical vacuum. This perhaps is the most dangerous aspect of our popular culture. It seems that from just about every source in the media the dangerous opinion is inflicted on us that there are no 'absolutes' and no concrete 'right or wrong.'" (A.L.Barry, Moral Decay In Society, http://www.lcms.org/president/stdecay.html).
Of course, the oft-mentioned mantra of poor salaries, lack of congregational support, unresolved congregation-pastoral conflict, unsupported families, parsonage marriages afflicted by lack of time and meaningful intimacy, expectations of others all add to the pressure. These pressures are real. They will continue to be real until realistically addressed by all parties involved--denominational, hierarchical, congregational, pastoral, and individual.
 
What Can Be Done?
 
John H. Armstrong, director of Reformation and Revival Ministries, Inc., suggests eight steps in his book, Can Fallen Pastors Be Restored? (Moody Press, Chicago, Ill., 1995). The following is a partial adaptation of his suggested steps and commentary.
 
1. Sexual Temptation Is Real. Sexual feelings are common to every man and woman. Pastors must anticipate and prevent sexual temptations. Recognize it is also possible to be involved in a sexual relationship without touching or entering into an obviously illicit relationship...
 
2. Understand The Power Of The Seduction. The person - man or woman - who acts provocatively must be resisted without hesitation. Be careful of the flirtatious look; be alert to excessive praise, and be on guard for those who want repeated counseling...
 
3. Guard Your Mind. Pastors need to aggressively resist sexual fantasies in order to remain pure. A recent Leadership survey found that 39% of responding pastors regarded sexual fantasies as harmless. Such fantasies may be one of the principal doorways to overt sexual sin. Stay away from explicitly erotic material, as well as television programs, and images that fuel the fires of lust...
 
4. Make Sure Your Marriage Is Healthy. Without a doubt, being in love with your mate provides the best defense against a sexual affair. If your marriage is not satisfying, find those opportunities and qualities that provide an atmosphere of hope. According to Staheli, healthy marriages have common themes: the couple is focused on each other exclusively for the time; they listen, share and accept one other (Staheli, p. 41).
 
5. Take Precautions. Be extremely careful where, when, and how you see members of the opposite sex in your ministry routines. Avoid any long-term counseling. Consider counseling in your home with your spouse nearby. Be careful in dealing with young adults. Discretion is needed for each situation, as well as in dealings with other staff members - particularly crucial in light of the high incidence of pastoral adultery with a member of the church staff. If difficult situations arise in the normal routines of ministry, immediately inform your spouse and one or two fellow leaders in the church.
 
6. Maintain Relationships Where Accountability Is Real. Every pastor needs several relationships where he/she is mutually accountable for actions and relationships with others.
 
7. Be Careful Traveling. While traveling, stay away from hotel cable movies and bring with you healthy reading material. In counseling, realize how easily emotional bonding can occur. The jump from a warm relationship to one with sexual overtones can be subtle.
 
8. Cultivate Your Spiritual, Emotional, And Physical Well-Being. Pastors are so busy preparing, teaching, and preaching that they may neglect to care for their own souls. Expand and develop your prayer life, the reading of the Word, and personal devotions.
 
Planning: The Most Important Strategy
 
Perhaps Armstrong's most important self-defense strategy to avoid affairs is to plan how you will handle sexual temptation. Armstrong suggests...
* Don't leave it up to chance.
* Develop a list of the specific consequences of sexual adultery.
* Consider what this sin means for your wife, your family, your congregation, your closest friends, and your future ministry.
Planning, of course, is the basic way that all sin is to be resisted. Given all the warnings relative to adultery, one gains an unmistakable awareness of the need to plan to avoid sin. St. Peter, who fell into the sin of denying love, warns,

"Be calm, temperate, and always cautious for the calamities which Satan lays before you. Be self-controlled and alert! Your accusing adversary (the Devil), like a powerful roaring lion, never ceases hunting for someone like you to overwhelm, devour and destroy." 
I Peter 5:8 (Personal Paraphrase)

Plan and prepare now for an affair-proof marriage. The soul you saved from being devoured and destroyed may be your own.
 
Thomas F. Fischer 

 * Cf. Richardson (1985), Quinn (1987), Macklin (1980), Spanier & Margolis (1983), et al.

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:54 PM