“I can resist everything but temptation.” – Oscar Wilde

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” – Bible

Just a few days ago David H. Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, resigned after issuing a statement saying that he had engaged in an extramarital affair. “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Petraeus wrote. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”

A simple definition of temptation is “the desire to perform an action that one may enjoy immediately or in the short term but will probably later regret for various reasons.” We all face temptations – frequently! When we were created with the ability to choose, temptation immediately entered in, and it has been with us ever since.

Facing the temptation isn’t necessarily wrong; giving in to the temptation may be. So the question isn’t whether or not we will be tempted, but what we will do when we are, and whether or not we will make efforts to avoid it.

Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and marriage therapist, suggests there are three main temptations that destroy marriage: addictions, affairs and anger. She also asserts that there is a way to vaccinate yourself from temptations: recognize that we all make mistakes, admit immediately when we do, repent and determine to change our behavior. In other words, learn from our mistakes – and don’t delay.

However, repeatedly making the same mistakes can lead to one of the three A’s.

In the case of addiction, it can be just about anything that we indulge in to the point of depending on it (physically, mentally, emotionally) in spite of negative consequences. It can be alcohol or drugs or excessive shopping or sports-watching. It may be something that is beneficial in moderation but, when carried to the extreme, interferes with that which is more important.

The biggest problem with addictions is denial that we are addicted. Quoting Dr. Heitler, “Denial is tempting and extremely self-defeating. Resist this temptation, and you have a chance at averting the potentially marriage-threatening consequences of an addiction that you persist in sustaining.”

The temptation to which Petraeus succumbed was an affair. Affairs are so easy to slip into because they usually come from normal and innocent relationships at first, be it at work, in church or with friends. Dr. Heitler says the remedy is to plan ahead with your spouse by agreeing on prevention policies, for example, what is OK and what isn’t OK with people of the opposite sex. Prevention is always better than intervention.

The third major A in temptation is anger. When we get angry, that usually means something has happened that has affected us in a negative way. There is such a thing as righteous anger, but that isn’t our concern here. The problem is selfish anger.

Anger can manifest itself in anything from quiet sarcasm to physical abuse. None of us are immune to the emotion of anger, but we can prevent it from escalating by evaluating why we are angry, and then expressing that anger in a healthy fashion toward the issue of concern and not the person.

Mary Fairchild, involved in full-time Christian ministry, suggests five steps to avoid temptation.

First, recognize that we all have the tendency to yield to temptations because they appear at first to be good for us. So don’t be surprised; be prepared.

Then, once you recognize the temptation, run from it.

In the process of running from it, resist it with the truth. God has designed us to behave in a certain way, and, when we follow the truth, we will succeed in resisting the lies that bring the temptation.

Next, focus on what’s good or at least not bad. Get your mind off the temptation.

Finally, repent quickly when you fail. As Dr. Heitler says, learn quickly from your mistakes, before they pile up and destroy your marriage.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, can be reached at 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com or www.aikenfamco.com.