Much of my practice is oriented towards helping couples. One of the occupational hazards of this kind of work is dealing with the ugliness of affairs. These choices spare no one from damage: the spouse or partner who’s cheated upon, the children if any are involved, friends and co-workers who attempt to harbor secrets in the name of loyalty, and even the individual him/herself who has engaged in the affair. All suffer and all deserve help and compassion.
I wonder, though, whether affairs can be prevented before they happen? Premarital counseling is available and offers some hope. However, rarely is it the case that newlyweds enter into premarital counseling with an eye out for the potential threat of an affair. New love is safe and it’s comforting. What could possibly go wrong?
Lots. Estimates of the rate of infidelity vary widely (with some estimates suggesting more than 40% of marriages will have infidelity) but it’s fair to say that the problem is rampant within American culture. It’s an even bigger problem when you consider emotional infidelity. In other words, someone doesn’t have to have extramarital sex to have an affair – developing a close, romantic bond with someone other than one’s partner is all it takes.
Threats come from all angles. Boredom. Routine. The workplace romance. The old friend who has begun to flirt with you. The increasingly popular social networking sites. Heck, there’s even a website called ashleymadison.com that promotes infidelity – its slogan is “The World’s Premier Discreet Dating Service.” Over four million people are members.
Getting back to the point of this entry: can affairs be prevented? In some cases, yes. Couples must be aware of boundary crossings, or steps over the line that threaten the security of their relationship. These boundary crossings can be big or small. Here are a few examples: (1) minimal disclosures about private information that are better kept within the couples’ relationship, e.g., taking bedroom conversation out of the bedroom and complaining about one’s partner to someone outside the relationship; (2) flirting that starts innocently but through the magic of reciprocity becomes more than playful; (3) having a private series of communications that one’s partner is not aware of.
The basic guideline for knowing whether your relationship is at risk is simple. If you can’t tell your partner about who you’re friends with and if you feel as though you need to keep secrets and use deception to keep an extramarital relationship alive, it becomes very likely that an affair will happen. The shared deception increases the risk level and, therefore, the thrill of that relationship. This in itself is seductive for many. It’s not long before an affair becomes consummated.
My advice? If you have secretive relationships that you feel can’t be discussed with your partner or spouse this is all the information you need to know that your relationship is in troubled waters. The solution is as simple as the problem – share of yourself, your thoughts, your fears, and your hopes with your partner. Seek help and stop the problems before they start.