Infidelity. It seems like it is everywhere. With the recent news about the leak at Ashley Madison, and the revelation that Josh Duggar had an account there, I have been thinking a lot about this. I see the devastation that cheating causes in my office every week. I feel like the news that a high profile pastor, politician, actor, etc. has cheated on their spouse is almost not even news anymore it has become so common.
So what’s the deal?
Why do so many people continue to cheat on their spouses despite the devastation that it inevitably causes?
The long answer is that we are selfish, short sighted people that seek to numb the pain that we are experiencing in our lives instead of getting to the root of it, and treating it in a healthy way. The short answer is because we don’t believe we’ll ever do that, and so we don’t protect against it.
Infidelity is absolutely devastating. Absolutely. It doesn’t matter if you ever get caught. It is devastating none the less. Let’s say you do get caught. Research shows that being cheated on very often leads to very real symptoms of PTSD. Research also shows that being cheated on is often more painful than the death of a spouse. If you don’t get caught, cheating is damaging to your own health. Unless you are a sociopath, which then this is going to be just one of many of your issues, living a lie takes its toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health. It might not happen right away, but it will eventually happen. Cheating hurts your marriage. Even if you never get caught, the relationship will suffer. Cheating also hurts the person you are cheating with. I have had clients who are the “other woman” in an affair, and the reason they became my clients is the intense pain that comes with being in a relationship where you are the secret, and you are not the one he’s “really” with. Pain is everywhere!
So how do you prevent it? I actually think that taking simple steps, and setting up simple rules in your life can make it fairly easy to protect yourself from infidelity.
1. Believe you are capable of having an affair.
Please hear me in this – if you do not believe that you are capable of having an affair, you are not going to do anything to protect yourself and your marriage from it. It is much, much easier than you think to cheat on your spouse. That’s why so many people end up doing it!! Most people who have affairs do not set out to do so. If you are living a life that involves intentionally cheating on your spouse, then there are bigger issues at play with you as a person that should be addressed in therapy! But what I hear in my office 90% of the time is the spouse who cheated eventually shouting in frustration, “It’s not like I woke up one day, and decided to have an affair!!” And that’s probably true. Affairs happen slowly and subtly until you are in so deep emotionally that it is difficult and painful to extricate yourself from the relationship. That is why it is so important to stop it early, and you can’t do that unless you can recognize the early warning signs, and you will never do that unless you believe you are capable of going there.
2. Do not complain about your marriage to members of the opposite sex.
Look, living with anyone is going to take some of the bloom off the rose. If you are married, and living together, you are going to have fights, you are going to be disgusted by your spouse from time to time, they are going to do things to hurt you, and frustrate you. That is a guarantee. Wow! I make marriage sound so fun! So if you complain about those things to a member of the opposite sex, guess what is likely going to happen. They are going to sympathize with you. They are going to listen. They are going to say something like, “I would never treat you that way!” It is incredibly easy for them to say those things, because THEY DON’T LIVE WITH YOU! If they did, they would probably feel the same way that your spouse does. This is an incredibly dangerous road, and a very important rule to protect yourself from having an affair.
3. Once you are married, do not be friends with members of the opposite sex.
This may be a controversial one, but I think it is so important. If you are a married woman, you can be friendly with other men you know, but you should not be close friends with them. You should not be texting back and forth, you should not be facebook messaging, you should not be meeting for lunch just the two of you, and I could go on and on. Listen! If the conditions are right, having an affair is the default! You don’t have to try to have an affair. It WILL just happen. You have to try NOT to have an affair, which means not putting yourself in situations that are risky. Why is this rule important? See rules number one and two to answer that.
4. Know the warning signs of an emotional affair, and should we even call it that?
Most affairs that become physical start as emotional affairs. This article from the Huffington Post is really great at outlining some good warning signs, such as, “You find yourself not being fully honest with your partner (or others) about how often you see this person or what you share with them.” I would recommend going and reading this article for the full list.
I recently heard a therapist who I really admire say there is no such thing as an emotional affair, and he refuses to use that term with his clients. He said that all affairs even if you never touch the other person have a sexual energy behind them. That’s what makes them affairs! He believes we add the term “emotional” to those types of affairs to soften the blow, and make them seem less shameful. And I think I agree with him. An affair is an affair.
Affairs are fun and exciting in the beginning. That’s why people do them. But affairs are also a lot of work. It’s a lot of work to live a lie. You spend money, you spend time sneaking around, you spend a lot of energy. If your marriage is struggling, or if you are feeling unfulfilled in a way that makes you vulnerable to having an affair, try taking the energy you would have spent having the affair, and SPEND IT ON YOUR MARRIAGE. The grass is greener on the other side, because it hasn’t been used yet. No one has trampled on it. No one has overwatered, or underwatered it. It’s green because it’s new. When your relationship with your spouse was new, the grass was green there too. So instead of burning down your own lawn with infidelity take some time to figure out what it needs to thrive.
Join me next week for a post that so far is entitled “You Want to Have an Affair? Why Don’t You Have it With Your Own Spouse?” It’s going to be a good one!