I remember the moment I felt an unmistakable attraction to a man who wasn’t my husband. It would mark the beginning of an infatuation that waxed and waned for nearly a year. He and I were both active in a local community organization. For at least six months, we had greeted each other and exchanged superficial pleasantries on a weekly basis without anything remarkable transpiring. But on this particular day, we had a long, substantive conversation. Through it, I discovered that we not only shared many of the same perspectives but also clicked well—to the point my heart rate increased and the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up.
I don’t know if he had felt any of the same things as I did. If so, he didn’t show it. Our parting was casual and friendly. We didn’t hug or shake hands. But as I got in my car, I couldn’t stop grinning. I was hyper-aware of all my senses.
Looking back, it’s not surprising it happened. I was in the midst of a major identity shift that was changing the way I saw myself and how I fit in the world. After learning previously unknown stories of my family, I had come to embrace my Taiwanese heritage—a development that caused me to abandon many of my long-held beliefs about race, class, money, power, and social responsibility. The opinions and ideas that had once fostered solidarity between my husband, Peter, and me were now a source of friction.
At home, I constantly felt hurt, misunderstood, and frustrated. I prayed about these negative feelings, but doing so didn’t magically erase the pain and isolation caused by not feeling seen or understood by my life partner. I still loved Peter and knew he loved me, but an ideological and personal chasm had opened up between us.
Now, some other man had listened to what I had to say and had given me nothing but validation. When the desire to keep that feeling alive provoked a deep longing, I knew I was in trouble. Before I even put my key into the ignition, I reached for my phone, called Peter at work, and told him about the conversation, who I had it with, and what I was feeling. He didn’t miss a beat. He thanked me for letting him know about it and said we would talk more when he got home.
I should offer some background here.
Two months before our wedding in 2006, some important but undisclosed information came to light in a way that caused deep emotional pain and destroyed trust between us. Up to that point, our courtship had been easy and conflict-free. The unexpected revelation blindsided us both.
In the New Testament, there are 18 occurrences of the word apokalupsis, the Greek word from which the English word apocalypse is derived. Modern usage of the word apocalypse refers to a world-ending cataclysm, but in the Scriptures, apokalupsis connotes the process by which something hidden is revealed, laid bare, or uncovered. What happened during our engagement seemed apocalyptic in both senses. It felt cataclysmic, but it also led to a deeper uncovering of the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ—of his suffering and death on the cross.
Immediately after discovering the truth, the person who had been hurt by the deception considered ending both the engagement and the relationship but also wrestled with how and what it meant to forgive. A breakup would have been easy to justify, but the wrongdoer had taken full responsibility and shown obvious indications of deep and specific repentance. As a result, it became impossible to separate the option of ending things from vengefulness (the desire to make the other person pay with a permanent consequence) and self-righteousness (an underlying belief that the wrongdoer was more sinful and therefore deserved scorn and rejection). Yet the thought of staying in the relationship conjured up a different kind of intense pain. As New York City pastor Tim Keller writes, “In all cases when wrong is done there is a debt, and there is no way to deal with it without suffering: either you make the perpetrator suffer for it or you forgive and suffer for it yourself.”
In spite of the agony, we leaned into our “apocalyptic” state—even when it scared us. The author of Hebrews writes, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). These verses used to fill my imagination with frightening images of the Last Judgment, where every shameful thing in my life would be aired out before the world. Paradoxically, the shocking exposure of something hidden between Peter and me—something that never should have been hidden—ended up being the catalyst that enabled us both to better understand, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
In the weeks leading up to our wedding, we began practicing confessing our disordered thoughts, feelings, and habits to one another and learning to be emotionally safe people for one another. This practice, coupled with the ongoing work of forgiveness, helped us rebuild enough trust to make it to the altar on our originally scheduled wedding day and exchange vows before God and hundreds of witnesses. Because of Christ, we learned that apokalupsis wasn’t something to fear; it was something that led to freedom from shame and punishment, from having to manage and hide behind façades.
Those Who See Me
By the time I called Peter, our policy of transparency and commitment to being emotionally safe for one another was well established. It’s why I didn’t hesitate to call and tell him everything. It’s also why he was able to listen without being judgmental and without feeling threatened. When we finally spoke face-to-face in our kitchen, his exact words were, “I get it. He’s scratching an itch that I can’t right now.” We prayed together and asked the Lord to help us. After that, I confided in my best friend, two other female friends, and even my live-in mother-in-law. They were all mature Christians who committed to pray for and walk with me through this struggle.
Sharing what was taking place in my heart with the people closest to me initially diffused the power the attraction had over me. The endorphins dropped off. But I soon found out the struggle wasn’t going to resolve as easily as I thought. The other man and I still had commitments to the community organization, so running into him was unavoidable. In-between sightings, the feelings would lose their intensity and I would start thinking it was no longer a problem. But whenever I did see him, they would come flooding back, and I would have to resist the urge to seek out more time with him and replicate the sense of synergy I had felt with him that one time.
While Peter was understanding and always willing to listen, I soon realized that it wasn’t healthy for him or his self-esteem to hear me articulate every unfiltered thought or feeling I had about this other man. The women in my life became a lifeline to me because I regularly processed my feelings with them as the struggle became more chronic and repetitive in nature. Their involvement enabled me to maintain the same level of honesty in my marriage without becoming careless with Peter’s heart and also to be sensitive to his feelings without compromising transparency.
A year of emotional ups and downs culminated in a particularly dramatic moment. I hadn’t seen the man in a while, so my guard was down. One day, I was out running errands when I spotted him in a parking lot. He was about 50 feet away from me, walking toward the entrance of a store. I felt this overpowering impulse to call out to him. I took two steps in his direction and opened my mouth to shout his name, but when I thought about Peter and his mom and my friends, I stopped, did a 180, and walked back to my car. When I got in and shut the door, a giant wave of grief, remorse, and self-pity came over me. Feeling like I had just betrayed my heart’s best interest, I felt dizzy and short of breath. I prayed out loud, “What is happening, Lord? Help me!”
And help me he did. Right after I prayed, that wave of grief crystallized into a decipherable message: “You’ll never be seen by anyone now.” One of the devil’s flaming arrows had surgically delivered that message to the most vulnerable corner of my heart. But once I made out the words, the lie became obvious and lost its power. For a long time, I thought my attraction to this man had to do with shared perspectives and good chemistry, but the real hook had been the one experience of feeling seen by him in a way that I wasn’t feeling seen by Peter.
From that initial attraction on, I had operated under a subconscious belief that if given the opportunity, he would fulfill my unmet emotional needs. Now that I saw the belief in plain form, I could consciously reject it. I can’t explain what happened next except to say that the Lord’s presence filled the car, and grief gave way to joy.
My mind went straight to Hagar’s story in Genesis. Hagar was an enslaved Egyptian woman with no dominion over her own body and only terrible earthly options. The people around her saw her only for what she could do for them but never for who she was. Sarai had forced her to have sex with Abram so that Hagar could produce Sarai and Abram an heir, but when she actually got pregnant, Sarai resented and tormented her.
Twice, in her misery, Hagar ran off into the desert to face death by starvation and exposure rather than continue to be abused and diminished by her master Sarai/Sarah. Twice, God sought her out in the desert, comforted her, and empowered her to choose life for both herself and her son. In response to God’s attentiveness, Hagar called him El Ro’i, “the God who sees me.” My circumstances were nowhere near as desperate as Hagar’s were, and yet, God had cared enough to visit me and release me from what had held my heart captive. Lord, you are the God who sees me.
Eden and the Eschaton
In Genesis 2:25, we read, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” By the time we get chapter three, however, two significant things have taken place. Eve has chosen to act on the serpent’s invitation to distrust God’s motives and to seek equality with God through a direct act of disobedience. And Adam, after witnessing the invitation and choosing to let Eve serve as a guinea pig in the experiment, has followed suit. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen. 3:7). Also, Adam said in response to God, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (v. 10).
Eve and Adam’s choices introduced shame into their relationship and shame between them and God. From that point on, the Bible is filled with stories of God’s people sinning, covering things up, and attempting to hide from God and one another. Cain murders his brother, then hides and lies to God (Gen. 4:8, 9). Joseph’s brothers sell him to slave traders, then fake his death and lie to their dad (Gen. 37). King David abuses his power, takes another man’s wife, gets her pregnant, then has her husband murdered to cover up what he has done (2 Sam. 11). And on and on.
Because Christ took on our sin and all of its shame (Isa. 53, Heb. 12:2), Christian marriage provides a unique opportunity in this life to taste, even if remotely, what conditions must have been like between a husband and a wife in a pre-fallen state—physically, spiritually, and emotionally naked before one another without any of the shame that sin inevitably introduces. We spend the duration of our marriages leaning into this possibility in progressively deeper ways.
But what Jesus has done for us has implications that extend way beyond marriage; it introduces radical possibilities for communities of broken people. In Christ, we are called to one body (1 Cor. 12:12–31). We’re called to care for one another as if we’re caring for parts of our own physical body. This orientation serves as a prophetic witness against the competitive posture that the world imposes on its inhabitants—one that breeds distrust, abuse, unfaithfulness, covetousness, and violence. Where the world seeks to humiliate and expose, believers in Christ “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed” (James 5:16).
A Christian community that operates in this way, even imperfectly, is a preview of the eschaton (John 6:39-43, Rev. 21:5–6), our future, fully redeemed state. I experienced a glimpse of this with the women in my community who listened to my confessions and prayed for me during my yearlong struggle. If I had not had them in my life, I very well may have committed adultery. Instead, my spiritual community snatched me from fires I would have gladly walked into (Jude 23) when I was in a weakened, disgruntled state.
A Word of Caution
What I’ve shared here is not meant to be taken as advice or a prescription for all married people struggling with extramarital attraction. The dynamics of every marriage are as unique as the souls who form them. It’s essential to respect and be sensitive to the conditions that exist within each relationship and within each spouse.
Being open with my husband about my attraction to another man strengthened and protected our marriage because of the unique spiritual architecture of our relationship and because of Peter’s unusual capacity to recognize that my struggles were not an indictment of his adequacy or worth. For others, however, that exact sort of transparency could be harmful, even disastrous. It’s one of the reasons I dedicated so little of this essay to describing the details of our conversations on the matter and much more of it to describing both the spiritual underpinnings of the marriage and the power of deep Christian community. Regardless of your ability to share these kinds of things with your spouse, it’s vital to identify and confide in trustworthy, spiritually mature people who can hear your honest confessions, walk with you, and pray for you and your spouse.
Judy Wu Dominick has ministered as a lay person in a broad range of professional, cultural, and socioeconomic contexts. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.