Inside adulterous love: “It’s all about me!”

There’s no denying that forbidden love lust generates massive pleasure–even if it leads to equally massive despair, guilt, and/or destruction. If it didn’t, few would allow an affair to develop and continue risking all that is dear to them (respect, trust, family, friends, even job). Like heroin, the pleasure within adultery screams to be experienced again. Often those caught up in this kind of pleasure feel they have found their soul mate, their completion as a person. But let’s take a look at this “love” for a moment and the lies told.

1. “You complete me.” Sounds like it is a compliment to the other, right? Nope. It is all about how the speaker feels. That is the focus. Very self-indulgent.

2. “I can’t wait to be with you again.” Again, the focus is on what you do to me.

3. “You get me.” Ditto #1 and 2.

The funny thing is, if you were to remove the “love” phrases being bantied back and forth in an affair from their context, you see how self-focused the expressions of pleasure and satisfaction are despite the pretense of care for the other. But both parties delude themselves that it is real love as long as the “drug” lasts. As long as both feel that the other exists to bring them pleasure it feels like mutual love.


Filed under adultery, deception, love, Relationships, self-deception, Sex

6 responses to “Inside adulterous love: “It’s all about me!”

  1. I’ve been thinking on this post for most of the day. Partly because I agree with your main point, while not being so sure about your specific points.

    The chemicals of legitimate love and sexual relationship in marriage, particularly dopamine, are also in many ways like heroin and scream for repeat of experience. I realize there are factors which make a forbidden liaison perhaps even more addictive. But I think the addictive/drive nature of sexual attraction and fulfillment isn’t something that is bad, in and of itself. And I’m not sure there’s any way around that aspect, even in the most legitimate of love relationships.

    And while your three points, indeed, are not the sum of true love, I find it hard to dismiss them as only the lies of forbidden love. They are part of the package of lies in adulterous relationships. But, in and of themselves, I think they are part of the package deal of legitimate romantic love/marriage, and are not necessarily lies, unless they are assumed to be the end-all of real love. They aren’t. But they are, I think, actually one part of the package of romantic love.

    I don’t think it’s the statements that are deceptive as much as those statements standing alone as the pull into and the foundation of a relationship.

    So, while a marriage cannot only be built on the idea of two people feeling like they complete each other, understand each other and can’t wait to be back in each other’s presence, those realities are, I believe, one part of the glue that holds people together. Not the only part and certainly not the most important part. But, there is a selfish aspect to romantic love. If there is only selfishness there is a problem. But relationship without some of that “selfishness”–the valuing of how another completes me and makes me feel good–I’m thinking is maybe a rather monastic ideal.

    I do stand firmly with you that adultery is wrong, though I’m not so convinced about building the case against adultery on some of the more selfish realities of love that are also present with romantic love in the legitimate context of marriage.

  2. I’m not sure what I’m hearing here. I love the whole concept here – it’s not love if the other person isn’t really a person to you, but rather just someone who does something for YOU – and yet – all we can really express is how we feel, what’s going on with us – “I feel good with you…” “I feel happy with you…” “I long for you…”

    To me – all infatuation and love relationships look like this some of the time – an affair, however, is something else. An affair is all about lying. If you have an open marriage, and you’re telling the truth – that’s an agreement in the marriage, but if you’re doing anything behind someone’s back, that’s lying, and that’s just complete betrayal.

    Seems to me, if you’re married, and you meet someone you want to have sex with – it all comes back to “what’s wrong at home and is it fixable…and what can I do to fix it…” And that telling the truth to your wife or husband would cause so many problems you just don’t want to deal with.

    If a relationship outside a marriage was deep and meaningful, the conversation would go much deeper before you resorted to lying and cheating. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Sarah

  3. Eclexia,

    Good points. I’m not denying the drive aspect of love and sex. I’m also not saying there aren’t selfish sides to romantic love. In fact, romantic love is commonly found when two people scratch each other’s itch. In many ways, that is very selfish. But it works until one stops “scratching.”

    Biblical love is other centered and doesn’t depend on 50/50 giving.

    Let me admit something here. I feel very connected to my wife and can’t imagine life without here. And yet, I also cannot imagine my saying “you complete me” to her. Maybe I’m biased here, but I’m tempted to see that phrase as very self-focused, even in a non adulterous relationship.

    My point was only this: those in affairs often feel very connected–at a soul level when in fact they are merely focused on the self.

  4. Thank you, Sarah and Phil, for further thoughts and clarification on this. I’m still sorting out these things for myself.

    I like what you said, Phil, about the selfish sides of romantic love working until one stops “scratching”. Real, lasting, godly love and connection is most clearly revealed when one is not able to “scratch” the itch of the other. There must be more to sustain the relationship when the feel-good feelings aren’t there. The issue, I guess, is whether the “selfish” feelings are received as a happy perk to be enjoyed, or whether they are the point—something to be had at any cost. (And the cost for demanding those feelings is perhaps most tragically seen in an affair.)

    And I agree with both of you that affairs are all about lying and deception (both lying to ones spouse, Sarah, and to oneself, Phil).

    So, I’m thinking that both adulterous relationships and legitimate romantic love that leads to and is present in marriage (to varying degrees at different stages) have some element of selfishness in them. The problem is not the presence of some “selfishness” (I use the word in quotes, because selfishness IS a sin, but I’m not sure how else to refer to what you are discussing Phil–the part of people that does enjoy the times and parts of romantic love that ARE satisfying and pleasing to each individual, without it being a sinful thing).

    Maybe the “allure” of an affair is believing that (1) self-satisfaction and pleasure–the way another person makes me feel good–are the MOST important things and (2) should be had at any cost and (3) the grass will be greener (and easier to get) on the other side.

    I’m struggling with this from a backwards angle, because for a long while, after coming out of an abusive marriage, I hated the fact that I was a chemical being with the ability to be made to feel good by another person. The fact that a person could choose to make another person feel good by pushing all the right buttons (not just physically or sexually, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually, etc.) was used by my ex as a way of having power. Not necessarily manipulating me to DO something he wanted–it just gave him a great power rush to make me (or another person) feel good. In hindsight I could see that interpersonal skills for him were like a type of mental masturbation. Even when it looked like it was about me, it was all about him.

    After living through that degree of violation and betrayal, it has been really difficult to come back to accepting that it’s okay for me to feel good in response to another person’s interactions with me. I am dating someone now, and at first it reached almost post-traumatic proportions for me to be able to feel freely how wonderful it is to be loved, understood and connected by him. It was hard for me to let myself feel and admit that I felt how strongly I anticipated and “couldn’t wait” to be around the man I am dating. It was hard for me not to hate myself for enjoying the ways that our personalities complement each other (I agree on the troublesome semantics of one person “completing” another. But, still, there’s some kind of complementary something—compatibility?—that does really feel good between two people who hit it off well). I could not deny that being in relationship with this man made me feel good, but I was doing both myself and him an injustice, I think, to try to be “above” feeling those things which are part of the mix of even legitimate attraction and romance.

    If I come across too strongly in defense of the feelings of connection which can look more selfish, it’s because I’ve had to fight to learn to accept those feelings in myself as real and okay. It has taken a lot of effort to admit, again, that it does feel good to be with a person who makes me feel good, who understands me, who I look forward with great anticipation to being together again. Those feelings aren’t the sum of our relationship, and they aren’t a demand on the relationship, but they are real no matter how much I’d preferred to have thought of them as some kind of selfish deception/trap to be avoided even beginning to feel.

    At the same time, I really do hear you, I think, on how those kinds of feelings cannot be the root or grand total of feeling and BEING connected. They may be a part of the process of deeper, longer lasting connection, but they are not the culmination or point of the connection. Those feelings and the continuation of them cannot be a demand, either on the other person to have to keep me feeling good, on myself to have to attain or “get” those feelings from the other person or on God to have to make this relationship work out. I think an affair is demanding those feelings at any cost. An affair IS selfish, because it becomes about possessing the other person as a means to get those feelings. The point, then, I guess in an affair is the lie that I MUST have those feelings. In a legitimate relationship leading to marriage, or in a marriage, there is freedom to enjoy the feelings, when they are there, as part of the bigger package of what it means to be connected. But, I’m not connected because of those things. Those are perks that come with connection and must be rooted in something deeper than just having all my itches scratched.

    Maybe the feelings are part of the process, but they can’t carry a relationship. Like you suggested, the real test of love is what happens when the other person cannot “scratch” my itch or push my feel good buttons. In an affair (or really any sexually-involved relationship pre-marriage, I would think), it’s only about keeping the feelings going, without any “real” life interaction or give/take apart from scratching itches.

  5. Mark O.

    A question I’ve thought about for a few years is, “Is a human capable of disinterested love?” It seems like what you are saying Phil is that biblical love is disinterested and does not depend on reciprocity. However, even if I love my wife without expecting anything back from her I think I am still gaining something because I believe “it’s the right thing to do.” I’m sure an on unconscious level it is me earny browny points with God, my wife, or someone.

    Yet, there is also a quality about that kind of love that does seem to be more disinterested than selfish love…it’s just not perfect love. I answered my own question I guess.

    Thanks for the great post.

  6. Scott Knapp

    Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy , O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” (KJV). I usually don’t use KJV as my study version, but the old chorus we used to sing in Campus Crusade used the KJV. What struck me about this verse was the statement that “all things” are created for His pleasure; God alone claims the place of being deserving of getting pleasure from any part of creation He chooses. I can attest as a one-time adulterer (ashamedly) that an adulterer is looking for someone who will make him feel like God (or at least a god for a time)! I think that’s the primary draw of both adultery with a person or with pornography…the illusion that someone else is making himself or herself available in an enthusiastically complicit way, to give you mind-blowing pleasure, and for a moment or so make you feel like diety! For as much damage as this self-worship does to relationships, the only “cure” truly is deep repentance of idolatry first…then other relationship damage has opportunity to heal…and that’s from personal experience.

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