One of the quickest ways to threaten the viability of a family is to have an affair. This entry offers 10 tips for avoiding one.
Tip #1: Be humble. Realize that an affair can happen to anybody. Affairs just don’t happen to people in problematic marriages, though they certain can. The key is to realize that anyone can lose control if enough of the wrong circumstances line up; one does well to stop the progression before it passes the point of no return.
Tip #2: Through water on the spark. If you start feeling titillation towards another person do something to kill that. Putting some distance between you is always a good idea (e.g., stop having contact, make sure you are never alone together, don’t complain about your spouse to this person or encourage the same from him or her, avoid mixing contact with substance use). Another strategy is to tell a wise friend, therapist, or clergy person about it, with an eye towards having them say back to you what you already know. Pre-affair flirtations are like mushrooms: they thrive in the dark. Throwing light on them makes them ill.
Tip #3: Spice up the fun and sex you have with your spouse. There is a concept in psychology called “hedonic adaptation.” It means we all start losing pleasure in doing things that become too routine or familiar. Novelty in having fun and sex enhances your interest in your spouse and weakens pre-affair titillations. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen it happen that someone gets bored with their spouse, has an affair, marries that second person and then gets bored with that person as well.
Tip #4: Fix any impairing psychological pain in your life. Affairs can be used like medicine for mental agitations. If your mental health is troubled, seek out a consultation with a qualified mental health professional. You may be amazingly surprised at how helpful this can be. It can also have way fewer side effects and be much less costly than medicating your pain with an affair. For a referral click here.
Tip #5: Explore accounts of people who have been cheated upon by a spouse. Perhaps you know someone who’d be willing to tell you what it’s like to have his or her spouse cheat on him or her. If not, there are plenty of accounts to be found on the Internet. As a marriage therapist, I find many people are surprised by how much pain it causes their partner. Being connected to this awareness, instead of avoiding thinking about it, throws water on pre-affair sparks.
Tip #6: Explore accounts of people who have cheated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known people who felt wracked by guilt over an affair, and were really surprised by how much so. Such individuals often end up feeling in a terrible bind: if they don’t tell their spouse they feel a horrible, crushing guilt. If they tell their spouse it could end the marriage.
Tip #7: If your marriage is stuck, seek out a consultation with a skilled marriage therapist. If the foundation in a marriage is strong, marriage counseling can go a long way to getting things back on track. In my experience there are four characteristics of a marriage that is working well: the couple has fun together on a regular basis, the sex life is mutually satisfying (in its frequency and nature), arguments don’t get toxic and couples share what matters in their lives. For a referral for someone who can help get you there click here.
Tip #8: Reflect on what the pain from divorce is like. Engaging an affair significantly increases the likelihood of a divorce and few human experiences are more stressful or painful than that. Moreover, if you share children you could find yourself having to co-parent with someone who feels significant hurt and anger towards you, even years later.
Tip #9: If you believe you wouldn’t feel guilty over an affair, can keep it sufficiently secret while continuing to be in a relationship with your spouse (very few can and it takes tremendous energy to do so) and are seriously thinking about moving forward with one, please seek out the services of a mental health professional. This profile suggests that you may be suffering from some very significant interpersonal problems, even though you may not be in conscious distress. The alternative is to put yourself at high risk for facing some of the common painful consequences that affairs tend to bring.
Tip #10: Do what you can to keep stress from getting toxic. It’s remarkable to me how often this profile keeps stress from getting out of hand: getting a recommended night’s sleep, being physically active on a daily basis, maintaining a healthy diet, and having fun with friends regularly. A regular spiritual and/or meditation practice can also be very helpful, which may or may not mean practicing a specific religion. And, if you really want to get into it, try implementing strategies from positive psychology (e.g., see the book The How of Happiness or multiple blog entries on this site).
I hope these tips are helpful and I welcome others to share theirs.
Thank you Dr. Stephanie!