Some unhappy spouses stray, and some never do. Many unfaithful spouses are actually happy in their marriages. An overwhelming number of affairs happen simply because people allow themselves to overstep emotional and physical boundaries with friends or colleagues, sometimes so gradually that they may not realize, at first, that they have taken a wrong turn.
The majority of unfaithful individuals don't start out with the intention to cheat. The shift of boundaries that causes a friendship to transition into an affair is typically the result of too much opportunity combined with a series of bad choices. An attractive friend voices compliments and admiration that make the married person feel flattered and special. The soon-to-be affair partner expresses emotional vulnerability that leads to intimate conversations. A spark of physical attraction makes it very enjoyable to spend even more time together. The growing need for secrecy makes it even more exciting. The relationship exists in an unrealistic atmosphere, where the affair partners see each other at their best and never have to deal with the realities of daily life that can make the marriage seem dull and burdensome by comparison.
Unfortunately, being a loving and dedicated spouse, devoting time and energy to the marriage, and just generally doing everything right will not guarantee that your spouse stays faithful. Love, emotional happiness, and sexual satisfaction do not necessarily make a marriage immune from affairs. Only if both people are fully committed to respecting the healthy boundaries of friendship and marriage will they be safe from betrayal. The bottom line is, you cannot affair-proof your marriage. You can only affair-proof yourself.
Over the course of a long marriage, it is inevitable that we will occasionally meet attractive people, and we may very well face temptation. But attraction and temptation will never become serious threats if we understand how to deal with them.
Here are my guidelines for preventing infidelity, based on expert research. I've gone into detail, to make it easy for those who may be facing challenges to their integrity to see exactly how they need to protect themselves. Under normal circumstances, these guidelines are very easy to follow without much conscious effort. This is how I live.
- Avoid emotional intimacy with potentially attractive people. Do not try to help unhappy people who want to pour out their hearts to you. If someone begins confiding in you about their troubled relationship, suggest counseling and drop the subject.
- Protect the privacy of your marriage. Do not discuss intimate relationship issues with opposite-sex friends. Do not mention relationship problems to anyone who dislikes your spouse or is anti-marriage. Do not discuss issues that would embarrass your spouse or make them look bad to someone else. Remember that relationship issues are best discussed with your spouse or in counseling.
- Stay out of situations that could lead to trouble. Never meet alone (for drinks, dinner, or any other reason) with a potentially attractive person at the hotel where one of you is staying, not even in the bar or other public areas. Do not meet them anyplace where there is privacy and a bed or couch, such as their apartment or their office after hours. When you are at conferences or out of town meetings have dinner and drinks in groups rather than one-on-one. Do not do anything with a potentially attractive person that could be construed as a date.
- Do not initiate flirting. If someone starts flirting with you, don’t flirt back. If necessary, end the conversation and talk to someone else instead. Avoid one-on-one conversations with someone you already find sexually attractive (even standing up in a social situation such as a party or conference).
- Avoid physical contact that can be misconstrued or that can lead to sexual attraction. Greeting kisses should be on the cheek (or in the air) rather than the lips, and hugs should not be prolonged. Do not put your arm around their waist or on their knee, pat them on the butt, hold hands, massage their shoulders, etc. If someone is trying to get overly physical with you, make it clear that this is unacceptable.
- Do not be romantic, flirtatious, suggestive or sexy with anyone via email, texting, Facebook, or other online venues. If someone other than your spouse sends you a flirtatious or sexy message, delete it and do not respond.
- Do not allow old flames back into your life. If you know that a former crush or lover will be at a business event, invite your spouse to attend with you. If this is not possible, avoid all unnecessary contact with the person in question. Any contact from an old flame or any encounters (such as running into them by chance or seeing them at an event) should be disclosed to the spouse.
- In general, follow three basic rules. (a) Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your spouse to do. (b) Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if your spouse were present. (c) Walk away from temptation, not toward it.