Attracted to Another Man
I have developed feelings for another man in our congregation. I feel guilty. What should I do?
By Gabriele Rienas
Q: I never thought I would find myself in this situation. Over the past several years my relationship with my husband has become increasingly tense and distant. He annoys me when we are together, and I prefer the times when we are apart. Recently I have developed feelings for another man in our congregation. We serve in the same area of ministry, and I feel alive and happy when we are working together. We have not talked about it, but I think he feels the same way. We have not done anything yet, but seeing him is one of the few bright spots in my life. I feel guilty. What should I do?
A: Asking this question requires courage, and I commend you for that. Your guilty feelings are danger signals, and they are accurate. This is a potentially hazardous situation. You feel distant from your husband and attracted to another man. Your emotions may seem compelling, but they are symptoms of something amiss in your life. In this case, they highlight problems in your marriage. Your difficulties with your husband need attention. Ignoring the root problem and pursuing these good feelings will eventually lead to greater despair.
Facing the disillusionment in your life can be painful. Your attraction for this man is an escape from reality. Though difficult to admit, your relationship with this man is shallow.
Real life is not the basis of your relationship. You do not share the same tube of toothpaste or decide which way to hang the toilet paper. Your attraction to this man is only based on mutual need.
Your feelings for this man bring moments of emotional relief and pleasure. Relief from pain is a legitimate desire. Pursuing this relationship with your friend, however, is a solution that will bring you much greater pain in the future. If you believe you can keep this relationship at the level of mutual admiration and friendship without doing anything for any amount of time, you are mistaken. Your feelings will compel you to move forward.
Attraction demands expression. This is the reason parents do not allow their teenage children to spend large amounts of time alone with their boyfriend or girlfriend. No matter what promises you make to yourself and God, you will be at war with your feelings, and your feelings will win given enough time.
As you know, the relationship with this other man does not stand still. You have already progressed from acquaintance to mutually fulfilling service to mutual admiration to wondering what he thinks of you. You have progressed through four levels in a relationship. If not stopped, this relationship will continue to progress to the next level and to the next.
No fulfilling, secure relationship can come from your attraction to this man. Many will be devastated in the wake of this relationship — your husband, your children, members of your congregation, and your extended community. You will feel regret and unfulfilled within a short amount of time. This is not the basis on which to build a long-term, intimate, mutually fulfilling relationship. You already have the potential for that with your husband.
To extract yourself from your feelings you must take some drastic, painful steps. Remember, your marriage, ministry, and future are at stake. Remind yourself of your commitment to God and to fulfilling His purpose in your life. Cling to what you know by faith. Then, follow these practical steps.
First, tell someone. Preferably, this should be your husband. If this seems too drastic, tell a trusted friend who will hold you accountable and urge you to take the right steps.
Second, cut off your relationship with this man. You cannot stop the feelings you have for him by an act of your will. Being with him only serves to intensify your desires. The only way to diminish feelings for another person is to starve your feelings. Extract yourself completely from this relationship and leave no room for further interaction or contact. You may grieve and go through a hard time. Expect it.
Use this time to strengthen your relationship with Jesus who is your Comforter. He understands your every pain. You will need support to walk through the pain of your situation just as a bereaved person needs support and compassion from others. Find a counselor, mentor, or trusted friend who will be more concerned about your future happiness than about your approval of her.
One warning — do not, under any circumstances, discuss your feelings with this man. This would be another step forward in furthering the development of this relationship. It will only inflame the emotional war and make it more difficult to extract yourself.
Third, focus on your marriage as soon as possible. Do something about the cold war that has entered your relationship with your husband. Talk about it, and request help. Let your husband know how serious the difficulties have become. Do not let your desire to stay at a church hinder your active pursuit of finding help for your marriage. No ministry is worth the break up of a marriage. Hopefully, you will be in a fulfilling relationship with your husband long after the various ministry venues have ended.
You are at a crucial crossroad in your life. Remember, you are not powerless over your feelings. You have the power to choose your integrity, your family, and your future. This means trading immediate gratification for the long lasting joy won through pain and perseverance. Choose wisely.
GABRIELE RIENAS, MA, a pastor’s wife for 27 years and a professional counselor, lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She speaks at retreats, conferences, and events worldwide. Contact her at 503-705-9230.
If you have questions you would like Gabriele to answer, e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail your questions to: Q&A for Pastors’ Wives, Enrichment journal, 1445 N. Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802-1894.