People rarely set out to have an affair, and yet they are common. Janis Abrahms Spring, author of After the Affair, says that infidelity now affects 37% of couples. Often, such opportunities present when people are not feeling strong in themselves or their marriage. When the marriage is weak, obligations to spouses are not strongly felt, so not having an affair because of the marriage isn't a big enough draw. As a therapist, I have seen this many times with clients who feel they have fallen out of love with their partner. Because of this, they make dangerous compromises leading them right into the path of others who are also hurt and disillusioned and thinking a new romance is just what they need.
The Bottom line—affairs are never the answer. If you can't avoid infidelity for your spouse, do it for yourself.
Five Principles to Discourage an Affair:
1. The Purpose of Marriage:
Marriage is about growth, not happiness. Dr. David Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriage, says that marriage is a people growing machine, stating that struggling with sex and intimacy is important to go through, as it changes us. Basically, a good marriage will make you a better person, and it might take some painful pruning for both of you. If you are chasing happiness through another person and not cultivating it from within, you will be disappointed.
2. Novelty vs. Intimacy:
There is a huge difference between novelty and intimacy, and in a marriage, little is novel. Novelty is exciting, but intimacy runs deeper, bringing the good and the bad and, frankly, the reality. A quick weekend away won't reveal all your baggage and truths the way years of marriage brings light to them. Everyone can be on his or her best behaviour for a dinner out or a secretive phone conversation. The grass might seem greener with someone new, but even affairs lose their newness and excitement.
3. Do the Right Thing:
Commitment, promises, and responsibility are not bad words, nor are they archaic. See Relationships with Integrity. They are honourable, and you can sleep at night by keeping them.
4. What Affairs Say to Your Children:
As a parent, you are modelling relationships of all kinds for your children. In your marriage you show love, communication, and conflict resolution. Failure to have space and healing between relationships give confusing messages to children. Although people often appropriately try to protect their children from affairs, things often come to light and the effects will be present. Children will at least pick up on your distracted state. Many clients I have worked with have spoken about secret texts going back and forth and being glued to their blackberry during intense moments of vulnerability or co-dependence in the affair.
5. Wherever You Go, There You Are:
If you don't deal with your issues in your current relationship—like insecurity, jealousy, anger—they are bound to repeat in the next. I have seen people go from one affair to the next due to the root problems being avoided. Clearly another relationship wasn't the solution. Instead of dealing with the actual issues, new distractions were sought.
In the end, adding a new person to the mix will never help you make a clear and emotionally healthy decision about your relationship. Affairs are fraught with conflict, and painful for all involved. When you are having an affair, peace is elusive. Relationships built from affairs have to work through tons of trust issues. I have sat with clients feeling torn down the middle—lost between what they feel they should do and what they want to do, and it is excruciating for them. The results of taking this slippery sloped direction in life are painful, difficult, and best avoided.
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