Early on in the counseling process we were encouraged to identify how the affair happened. What was going with me (Chris) personally and in our marriage at the time? What was I thinking? What was life like? In some ways we'll never completely understand. There are some things that were so irrational that I simply don't have a good explanation. But it did help us to try and understand. Understanding helped us to move forward primarily because it helped us to know what to look for. The things to guard against. Not necessarily that I would stumble in the same way again, but that we could identify the unhealthy patterns that I have a tendency to follow.
There are many obvious reasons-- temptation, stupidity, arrogance, etc. But these are a few that stand out above the rest:
Sin - The first and most obvious reason is sin. I'm a sinner. Sin dwells within me. Given the right circumstances and opportunity sin will manifest itself in ways we'd never dream. You can't swear yourself away from sin or "bootstrap" your way out of it. I was operating outside of the ways of God, not living submissively to the Holy Spirit's leading and allowing the desires of my flesh to play out. When I'm living that way, this (and much worse) is what I am capable of. I gave sin an opportunity to manifest itself. Once it did, I gave myself over to my flesh. I did things I swore I'd never do and others that I never imagined. I invented ways to lie and be unfaithful. And when I decided that I was done, I couldn't get out. I couldn't turn back. That's what sin looks like and that's why I need a Savior.
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-25)
Lack of judgement - I continually, over the course of that year, made bad decision after bad decision and showed a serious lack of judgement. I previously would have considered myself to be fairly mature and wise for my years. However, in that season, I made decisions without considering consequences. I followed my own selfish desires and didn't step back to count the costs or effects. I ignored the things I did see coming and was blind to the things that I should have seen. I allowed sin to lead me around like an animal. One of my more memorable days in counseling was when our counselor stated in his own way that I just wasn't very smart. He had determined that I wasn't an addict or that it wasn't that I didn't love my wife, but that I was simply foolish. He was right. What I did was immature and just plain stupid. My stupidity was my downfall. I'm embarrassed by this whole story but the simplicity of this is one thing is what gets me the most -- If only I had used better judgement, none of this would have happened.
He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself.
People-Pleasing - I really struggle with the idol of approval. Since I was a teenager, I've struggled with being self-conscious, self-loathing and overly needy of the approval and affirmation of others. When not held in check, these struggles can control the motivation for my actions and pursuits, often striving for the approval of certain people. But the flip side is just as damaging. I have a tendency to take everything in a negative way. This is a dangerous and unhealthy way to live and something that God has given me tremendous healing from in recent years. However, I was a different person back then. Marriage and parenthood were proving to be much harder than the idealistic view I had carried. Pressures of a young family were mounting and I took my wife's every word and every cry of my children as confirmation that I was a failure. A perfect storm was brewing. I was a sinner with a serious lack of judgement and desperate for attention and words of affirmation, receiving attention and flattery from someone other than my wife. This was a dangerous combination and it did not end well.
Lack of boundaries at work - Early in our marriage, Suzanne and I strived to have healthy boundaries at home as well as our other relationships. We'd been encouraged not to be alone with someone of the opposite sex and to guard our relationships closely. In general we tried to avoid dangerous situations. In hind sight this was probably more so for the sake of appearance. At that point in our marriage, I'm not sure we would have believed or been honest about what we might be capable of. In the months leading to the affair, I completely ignored those boundaries at work. Too much time spent around someone led to talking to her too much. It began as casual/surface conversation but over time led to deeper more intimate conversation that I had no business engaging in. Eventually breaking those initial boundaries led to breaking others. If I had only stayed within the boundaries, I would have never given opportunity for my sin, lack of judgement or desire for approval to play out into an affair. That's what the boundaries were there for in the first place.
As I said earlier, I don't have all of the answers and there is obviously much more to our story. But these points are the main answers to the question of how could you. Let me be clear that I accept full responsibility for what I did. None of these things excuse any of my actions nor do I mean for them to be excuses. But they have given some comfort in knowing where it came from, and understanding these things has played a large part in rebuilding and restoring our marriage.
"Always be killing sin or it will always be killing you." John Owen