• Ryan Dunlap

Sacrificial Affairs: Are You Cheating on Your Family?

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

I was willing to sacrifice my life for strangers, but wouldn't sacrifice my time for my family.

Confession time.

I cheated on my family. I did it for years actually. I wish I could tell you when it first happened, but I can't. I can't even tell you how many times it happened, but I can tell you that while I was doing it, I liked it. It didn't matter if it was a holiday, a birthday, or a normal day. I was regularly stepping out on my family and I was looking forward to it.

As a cop, I was a task-oriented machine. I worked constantly and at one point in my career, I saw my co-workers more than I saw my wife. At my peak, I was working in the Special Victims Unit and frequently on call, serving as a hostage negotiator with the SWAT team and always on call, and introducing new tech in the form of forensic audio enhancement capabilities, and I was doing these things all at the same time. I remember coming home one day after a multi-day work marathon to my wife who said to me, "I'm feeling like a single parent." Ouch!

That conversation led me on the path to eventually leaving law enforcement and stepping into ministry. My family got their "me" back.

It's hard to undue 14 years of selfless service to strangers coupled with selfish service to family. I call this a "Sacrificial Affair." In other words, sacrificial affairs are the result of sacrificing our families and personal relationships for our own personal affairs or interests. What's worse is that we convince ourselves that we are doing it FOR our families, not recognizing what we are doing TO our families. My family simply wanted my presence, focus, and attention, but I was always too busy offering the sacrifice of my body, time, energy, and potentially my life, to strangers. I neglected to sacrifice much of anything for my family.

The Difference Between Being United and Untied Is Order.

In marriage, there are a number of things that compete for your attention. Your hobbies, friends, careers, personal interests, even your fears all tend to speak louder and pull harder than the pull of your spouse. When your priorities are out of order, even if just by a little bit, you will discover that you are Untied from your spouse, and no longer United.

It didn't always look like this, but for Alicia and I, we had to make sure that order looks like this for us:

1. Faith

In order to effectively understand what it means to sacrifice for another, we took Jesus as our model. Simply put, He put us first, so we put Him first. Furthermore, we know that healthy marriages require grace, mercy, forgiveness, patience and relentless pursuit. We found no other person capable of demonstrating that kind of love and commitment than Jesus.

2. Family

My wife has a few non-negotiable requirements that I've had to learn to honor over the years. If I'm honest, I'm still learning to honor some. Dinner with the family every night, intentional interaction with the kids, undistracted intimacy with each other, consistent date days / nights, not harboring anger or animosity toward each other, and most importantly, not complaining while I'm doing it. It sounds simple, but remember, I'm work driven. In much the same way that I would work for days on end and never complain, my wife desires to see that same drive and heart for that which we've built together. I have to consistently demonstrate that my desire to engage with my family exceeds my desire to engage elsewhere. If I fail to do that, then I'm committing a sacrificial affair. There may be times when work is required and family time has to yield for a moment. On those rare occasions, I don't dare take my family's patience in waiting for me for granted.

3. Fun

Whatever your fun is, it goes after family. As lame as it sounds, work is fun for me and sometimes I don't know how to turn it off. So is making music and riding my motorcycle. But, if I take care of any of those things before taking care of my family, I'm failing as a husband and as a father. And I get it, especially for those of us in the first responder community. We 'need' time to decompress and to unwind from stressful days. Some of us isolate ourselves from our families in order to get the energy and motivation up to connect with them, but even then, we allow our bodies to show up while our minds are elsewhere. We don't put nearly the same amount of energy into our families as we do our fun. Our families see this, even when we don't. When they call it out, don't blame them for bringing it to your attention. Instead, pay attention and bring yourself back to them.

Final thought for husbands out there. Maybe you don't agree with this, but that's your issue. As the saying goes, just because you have an opinion, it doesn't mean you have an option. As a man, it's been my revelation that I can't blame my family for my poor leadership as the head of my house. In much the same way that you can't blame a poorly led unit for it's inability to achieve missional objectives, my family is a reflection of my leadership as a husband and father. If they aren't healthy or thriving, I've got to start with myself and fix me first.


We are Ryan and Alicia Dunlap, marriage coaches and the the founders of ThisIsKnotLove.com. Like a knot, we believe there are two types of marriages; those which are miserable, tangled messes and those which are intentionally fashioned together to join two separate things together as one. We work to remove the bad knots that cause marriages to unravel, and fashion secure knots that hold marriages together. We're just here to help you get the kinks out! #TIKL #KnottyLove