My Affair with the Sea Captain

How a few everyday decisions almost shipwrecked a marriage

Judy Starr with Jennifer Abegg

I had been married 5 years and almost gave it all away.

My husband and I borrowed a 39-foot catamaran for 4 months to use for a big mission project. We were going to take the boat from the southernmost island in the Caribbean all the way up through the Bahamas.

Working with local churches, we wanted to show the JESUSfilm, Christ's story based on the Gospel of Luke, on each island.

A huge part of this operation was putting the trip together. I'd get up early each morning and work until late at night.

Before this project came up, I usually spent time daily reading my Bible and praying, but with my new workload I thought I'd maximize my time by skipping my appointments with the Lord.

I remember one day when I said to myself, Wow, I haven't spent time with God in five days, and I'm really not doing too badly! 

The First Big Lie

I thought that living independently, rather than relying on God, was working for me. But my habits were actually leading me into a trap.

When I didn't come each day and read God's Word and give Him control of my life, my spirit became insensitive.

My perspective became selfish, I refused His warnings, and I responded to temptations on my own power. I'd cut off the power of His Holy Spirit.

So when Stottler, my wonderful husband, and I flew to the island of Grenada to start the project, I was already vulnerable to spiritual entanglement. There we met the boat and the captain.

Right away I felt an attraction to this tanned sailor.

We had so many similarities: He was a master scuba instructor, I had my assistant scuba instructor rating. He was a professional musician; so was I. He loved the ocean; so did I.

Ignoring the Holy Spirit

And almost before I knew what was happening, I had allowed my heart to become entwined with his.

We would sit on the boat for hours and talk. We went scuba diving together. Several times I even sent my husband and the evangelistic film team on at night without me under the pretext of being too tired so I could stay and chat with the captain.

God has graciously given Christians an alarm system -- He's called the Holy Spirit.

When I sensed warning lights and flares going off inside me, that was Him saying, "Warning! Danger!"

But I chose to ignore Him. Instead, I continued devising ways to spend time with the captain.

Right in front of my loving, unsuspecting husband, I was allowing my heart to pursue this relationship and nurture that giddy excitement that should have been stopped before it began.

The Second Big Lie

God designed marriage as the total surrender of two people to each other -- forsaking all others -- for life.

Marriage was created for two people to give themselves completely -- body, mind and spirit -- to only one another.

So my emotional bonding with the captain was wrong. Yet I chose to continue.

After a month of the mission, Stottler returned home to California to do some work. That left me on my own with the film team and the captain in the land of sun and sand.

Because I chose to nurture those growing feelings and to rationalize them each day, it only took about 2 months before I began wondering if I even wanted to return home to my husband, or if I would just stay with the captain.

Then the night came when I needed to make a decision to stay or go. I didn't know what I'd do.

Faced with a Decision

Here I was, in full-time ministry, married to a godly man, and I was trying to decide if I was going to stay in the Caribbean with a boat captain I had just met or return to my husband.

I believe this all stemmed from me not allowing God to change my heart daily through input from His Word.

Obviously, I had developed a hardened heart toward Him for this to happen.

However, by God's grace, I chose to return home.

The Confession

When I got there, I confessed to Stottler what I had done. Usually emotional affairs start when both spouses are making poor choices.

But Stottler has always been the best husband. I just chose to give in to feelings and to form an emotional bond with another man.

By God's grace, nothing physical had happened between the captain and me.

But emotional infidelity can be just as devastating to a marriage as physical adultery, because the emotional bond is the core of the relationship.

How My Husband Responded

After I admitted what I had done, my husband and I cried together. We also prayed together, and then cried some more.

I also reconciled with God and determined to spend daily time with Him.

Stottler and I chose to work through the mistrust and the damage that I had so quickly caused to our marriage.

Healing took time. God had to heal both of us from the consequences of my sin.

Fortunately, our God is in the resurrection business, and He restored my feelings and love for my husband.

We've been married now for 14 years; and, in hindsight, I see that my marriage is not the only thing affected by whether or not I spend daily time in the Word and in prayer.

All my relationships are affected. Even my understanding of how to handle each day's problems and temptations is affected.

"The Ball on a Hill"

There is no such thing as a stagnant Christian. We are like a ball on a hill. It takes work and effort to push that ball up the hill. But the moment we let go, it starts rolling back down.

We never stand still. We are either growing to be more and more like Christ each day, or we are rolling away from Him.

I had to go all the way to the Caribbean to realize my propensity to roll away from the Lord and His gifts.

But now I am determined to meet with Him everyday to do my part in the relationship.

Consider This:

Judy had an emotional affair stemming from a lack of intimacy with the Lord.

  • When we don't spend time with God, it doesn't necessarily mean we will have an emotional affair, but there are consequences.
  • What might they be in your life?
  • How can you prioritize time with Jesus?

Judy has written more about her experience in a book called The Enticement of the Forbidden. To order, visit or visit Judy's Web site.

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