Feelings aren’t wrong; it’s what you do with them

| Father Michael Schmitz | September 10, 2015 | 1 Comment

Q. I fell in love with a married man. We had been such close friends and then developed feelings for each other. We haven’t done anything wrong, but I really care about him.

A. What you have described is something that almost every human being who is alive and who has any kind of significant contact with another person will experience at some point.

Right off the bat, I want to be sensitive to your feelings. Most likely, you are very hurt. Even if you weren’t looking for anything like this, it is very easy to feel guilty or to feel used or misled. I do not want to add to that guilt or hurt.

The first thing is to note that your feelings are neither right nor wrong. Of course, this is not the same thing as claiming that one’s actions are neither right nor wrong. What we choose to do with our emotions can certainly be good or evil, but the simple fact of feeling a certain way is neither good nor bad.

I am sure that you are aware of this: While your feelings for your friend are neither good nor evil, what you do with those feelings has the potential to be sanctifying or damning. Our actions have the potential to be liberating or devastating.

It is very likely that you didn’t want these feelings. You probably didn’t do anything to conjure them into existence. My guess is that you just started spending time together and those feelings developed on their own. This is another reason not to panic; feelings just “happen.”

Feelings are not a reliable indicator regarding the next action a person should take. They kind of just “are.” Your feelings can no more discern between right and wrong than your sense of smell is able to tell you what color the walls are painted.

Romantic feelings are of the exact same category. One of our modern problems, however, is that we seem to treat romantic feelings as having some special power or insight. They don’t. In fact, if you live for any number of years, you will realize that romantic feelings come and go almost more easily than any other emotion.

Sheldon Vanauken wrote about this in an essay titled “The (False) Sanction of Eros.” He pointed out that many people claim some kind of special privilege or dispensation from their promises or vows because “being with so-and-so makes me want to be a better person.”

Hogwash. “Being a better person” means making the choice to keep one’s vows or helping the other person keep their vows by removing yourself from the situation.

What to watch out for

You indicated that you haven’t acted out on these feelings. This is very good. But it seems that many people can be tempted to think that cheating is limited to acting out sexually. While this is the most obvious form of infidelity, there are many steps that are potentially just as destructive and harmful on the way to these actions.

I invite you to reflect on some other ways that could reveal where your heart is:

  • The amount of time spent with your friend.
  • What you say and how you speak with each other.
  • The number of times you text. Would you want his spouse to read your texts? Not just the words, but the frequency and the time of day or night?
  • Do you find yourself sharing things with him that only his wife should share? Are you his source of intimacy?

When a couple gets married, they promise fidelity. In simple terms, this means my spouse is the only legitimate source of romance in my life.

Other relationships exist. Other friendships exist. There may be other people (members of the same sex only) who are confidantes. But when it comes to romance, your spouse is the only place you look. Not books. Not movies. Not Facebook. Not old letters from old flames. Not co-workers. Not friends of the opposite sex.

No ‘buts’ about it

You have a crush. Crushes are very simple to deal with. There are only two responses. You either feed a crush or you starve it.

“But, but, but we are old friends!”

But, but, but he is married.

And, and, and your relationship with each other has changed; it is no longer platonic. So the decision is made. I don’t mean to be rude or insensitive about this, but the sooner all people in your situation take a step back and clear their heads, the better for everyone involved.

“How can I keep this relationship?” I don’t mean to be a jerk, but you can’t. Unless you want to make some decisions that will destroy your life and devastate his family, you have to choose to starve this relationship.

The next step is simple. It is not easy. But it is clear.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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Category: Seeking Answers

  • Nan Koenig Ahlgren

    Dear Father Schmitz,
    Whereas I applaud your initial comments about feelings and actions, I find your conclusions regarding her options very harsh and not al all in accordance with the whole of Scripture. Certainly Paul was abrupt with some members of the church at Corinth who were involved in sexual sin. However, our LORD Jesus Christ demonstrated he could have an intimate relationship with a female and remain without Sin. Mary, like Susanna, was a female disciple who traveled with Jesus. By Mary’s response at the tomb, “Rabboni!”, we infer the closeness of their relationship for this title was only used by disciples of the particular rabbi.
    I would suggest to the woman that she bring the relationship with the married man into the Light of Christ, through prayer individually and with others, by confession and by being honest with the man’s wife in a conversation. It would need to be a location where she and the couple are surrounded by spiritually mature friends and professionals who will create a ‘safe’ and respectful place for truth to be spoken and spiritual support to be provided. When everything is ‘brought into the Light’, healing can happen.
    Perhaps if all individuals involved understand these feelings are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but actions from those feelings may “miss the mark’ of what God intends, then the temptation my be dissolved and the friendships saved but with the wife included in the friendship. If the feelings emerge again, these people can pray openly and honestly together and ask for God’s help again. If the feelings continue to be a distraction to the friendships and the marriage then it might be considered best to end the friendship for the sake of the marriage. But let us try to live as children of the Light, considering the best interest of the other.